The 2012 college football season is right around the corner. While many fans look forward to what promises to be another outstanding year, Gatorcountry.com presents the first in a new series looking back on many of the Gators who helped lead the program to prominence.
First up, five of the best quarterbacks to ever line up under center for the Orange and Blue.
Steve Spurrier was the first great Florida quarterback, being awarded the school’s first Heisman Trophy, but Reaves was the first to put up record-setting numbers, thus placing him on this list amongst the greatest Gators of all time. He laced ‘em up for the Orange and Blue between for the three seasons between 1969 and 1971, and by the time he was finished, he had shattered not only the UF passing yardage record, but the national mark as well.
In what has become quite the sore subject for fans of the Miami Hurricanes, Reaves was a few yards short of the NCAA career mark for most yards thrown for in the team’s final game of the season, a blowout win against their in-state rivals. The Gators defenders, with very little time remaining on the clock, decided to lay down and allow the ‘Canes to score an easy touchdown, thereby leaving time on the clock for Reaves to chuck a few more passes and thus break the record.
Now commonly referred to as the “Florida Flop”, the move made Reaves a Gator legend, both in the record books and for how he schooled the Hurricanes.
Possibly one of the most underrated players in the history of the Florida football program, Leak began his career as a Gator having won three straight North Carolina high school state championships.
Arriving on campus, all the five-star recruit wanted to do was continue to win football games.
He set an SEC freshman record with six wins to earn a spot on the Rivals.com Freshman All-America Team. As a sophomore, not only did he continue to win games for the Gators, but he started to mark his mark on the UF record books. In a matchup with South Carolina, he set a single game school record with six touchdown passes.
It was after his second season at the helm that the magic school bus got a flat tire.
With a quiet confidence, however, he dealt with the firing of Ron Zook, the coach he had chosen to play for. With a cool demeanor, Leak memorized three different playbooks over the hirings and firings of three different offensive coordinators. Winning was all he knew, and winning is exactly the thing he continued to do.
Widely respected for his quiet leadership in the locker room, Mr. Leak was voted a team captain twice. Of course, locker room love is nice, but it’s on-field performance that cements a legacy, and it was Leak’s senior campaign, in 2006, that would stamp his place in the UF record books forever.
Not only would Leak, with the help of then-freshman sensation Tim Tebow, of course, lead his Gators to the 2006 National Championship after successfully navigating the toughest regular season schedule in the nation, but he surpassed the UF career passing yardage record in the process. Leak’s 11,213 career yards through the air is more than Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, and his 88 career touchdown passes aren’t too shabby either.
Leak’s numbers and achievements, both on and off the field, would put him at the top of the heap at most universities, just not at the University of Florida.
Nowadays, Spurrier coaches the South Carolina Gamecocks, but it will always be Gainesville where the legend of the brash Ol’ Ball Coach began and where it grew. In fact, Spurrier gained an ever higher level of respect when, as a senior, he shooed the Gators’ starting placekicker off the field and booted a forty yarder through the uprights for a 30-27 victory over Auburn.
A few Tigers fans may have seen him as abrasive, but the mentality of a winner was proven on that day, and following his senior season he was awarded the Heisman Trophy having racked upwards of 5,000 total yards of offense spanning a three year career.
The Trophy was the first ever awarded to a UF student-athlete, thus cementing Spurrier’s legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history.
That was before he ever stepped foot on the field as a head coach.
Despite Mr. Wuerffel’s struggles in the NFL, the 1996 National Champion is still the best pure passer to ever stomp through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Ironically, he set all of his passing records and won all of his games while becoming the first Heisman Trophy winner to be coached by another Heisman winner in The Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier coached and Wuerffel captained a Gator offensive unit that dominated SEC opponents in such a manner that television announcers finally ran out of words to describe it. Eventually, these experts gave up trying and simply coined an entirely new nickname, one which all Gators fans are now very familiar with: The Fun ‘n’ Gun.
The public relations grad that led the Gators to four straight SEC championships and the 1996 National Championship was the first quarterback ever to post a quarterback rating of 170 or better in consecutive seasons.
Perhaps most importantly to Wuerffel, he is still the only player to have won the Heisman and the Draddy trophy for the nation’s top scholar athlete in the same season.
Danny Wuerffel showed his Gator pride both on the field and in the classroom. His exemplary work in both made him one of the greatest ever in Gainesville.
Tebow came into UF as a star but graduated a living legend. In the man’s very first play, as a freshman in 2006, Tebow snuck into the end zone on a designed quarterback keeper against Southern Miss. From then on, all of Gator Nation was his to govern. He helped starting QB Chris Leak and the Gators to a national title in 2006 before winning one on his own in 2008. Along the way, Tebow broke countless school and national records, all while staying on top of his studies.
Not only was Tebow the greatest quarterback in the history of the University of Florida, but the awards he racked up over four years arguably place him amongst the greatest to ever grace a college football field.
Tebow is the first player in the history of college football to have been awarded the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. The 2007 award seemed only fitting after he set the SEC single season record for the most total touchdowns with a staggering 55.
After four remarkable seasons with the Gators, Tebow graduated, as an Academic All-American, having rewritten the University of Florida record books with 28 new standards set. Of those 28, 14 were also SEC records, and five were the best ever for a collegian.
While those records may eventually be broken, the influence he has had on campus and the nation will only continue to grow over time.