Freshman Joe Haden came to the Gators as one of the top-rated athletes in the nation, spending most of his high school playing time as the signal caller at Ft. Washington (MD) Friendly. But with 4.3-speed, two top rated quarterbacks recruited by Florida and Tim Tebow ready to takeover where Chris Leak left off, it was all but set that Haden would join the Gators’ receiving corps.
Haden expected to be a wide receiver with the Gators, but Urban Meyer didn’t rule out the possibility of him seeing some time on the defensive side, primarily at the cornerback spot where Florida lost both its starters from last season. As spring practice drew nearer, it was Haden who made the ultimate call.
“Joe Haden came up to me before practice and said, ‘I want to take a shot at corner,’” said Urban Meyer. “So we put him there and later on this spring we might move him back to offense.”
Haden just didn’t start his Gator career on defensive, but lined up with the first team at cornerback.
“It feels real good to be out here,” Haden said. “It was a dream when they call out the first team defense and they call me out there. I was thinking I just got here and they’re already calling me on the first team, so I have to get my head right.”
For most of the afternoon, Haden looked like he had been playing the position for quite awhile. Lining up against some of the Gators’ most talented receivers, Haden held his own on the first day.
“This is my first time playing corner because I always played safety in high school,” Haden said. “My first time playing corner and I’m lining up against Bubba Caldwell. But if you can guard him then you can guard anyone.”
Haden said he’s already developed strong relationships with both Coaches Chuck Heater and Billy Gonzales, and he hopes between the two of them, they can work out any kinks in his technique.
“I need to get my footwork down at corner,” Haden said. “I need to make those cuts quick, and the drills that Coach Heater has us doing get us doing that quicker.”
With little depth at corner and a loaded receiving corps, Haden’s fastest track to the playing field next fall might be on defense. Heater has said in the past that cornerback is the one position that freshmen can come in and play right away, but Haden’s not concerned about the fall just quite yet. Instead, he’s just trying to get used to the different pace of the college level.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “Everyone here is bigger and stronger. The tempo of practice is a lot quicker. There are set times to do everything where in high school we could walk around a little bit, but this was high intensity.”
The complexity of both the offense and defense also has Haden concerned this spring.
“Running the plays is going to be the hardest thing,” he said. “They play more up-tempo and with faster guys.”
At least he has the advantage of early enrolling at UF, so he has the spring to get acclimated and can head into the fall with confidence. He still has one thing, though, that he’s definitely looking forward to this spring, and that’s when the Gators put the pads on this Saturday.
“Yeah, that’s when it’s going to get real fun.”