For different reasons LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey decided to cut their college careers short in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. Both running backs are juniors, projected to be high draft picks and will sit out the Citrus and Sun Bowl game.
The Gators are no strangers to this sort of thing either. A sixth year senior at the time, Andre Debose chose not to practice with the team or play in the Birmingham Bowl. Debose had suffered a torn ACL previously and wanted to focus on himself and his future, rather than potentially risking injury in the bowl game. Running back Matt Jones dressed for the game, but never entered, nor did he plan on playing
“You know what, what we do with all our guys is we give them the information, and we’ve actually gotten some of that back for the juniors and their reports,” Jim McElwain said on Monday. “It’s one of those deals where it’s a personal decision in a team game. It’s hard. It’s hard on everybody.
The Gators have a slew of draft-eligible underclassmen including offensive tackle David Sharpe, defensive lineman Caleb Brantley and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson. All of those players have been participating in practice after meeting with McElwain personally before the start of bowl practices to discuss their future.
Throughout the year McElwain has had guest speakers come in and speak to the team as a whole, including some former general managers.
“At the same time former general managers, people from the league that we’ve had come talk to our team, one of the things they say over and over — and I think there was a great example in the Birmingham Bowl — it’s really more than 75 percent what you put on film,” Mac said. “For a lot of guys it’s an opportunity against a really good opponent to go and put out some really good film on themselves playing at a high level in a really good ballgame.”
Dante Fowler, who was projected as a potential top-15 pick in the draft, chose to play in the Birmingham Bowl. Fowler had three sacks and two quarterback hurries against East Carolina and was picked third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“When you think what Fowler did in that bowl game for his status, he actually jumped up in the first round based on those sacks and playing every down like he did really benefitted him,” said McElwain. “There’s something that’s close to the program right there.”
Tabor spoke last week about making his decision to leave early for the NFL or return to school “the right way.” He spoke about loving football and how happy he was to get back to practice.
At this time it doesn’t appear that the Florida Gators will have any draft-eligible players join the ranks or Fournette or McCaffrey, not to say either running back made the wrong decision. McElwain will meet with all of the players, their families and advisors again after the bowl game and discuss the plans for their future.
“We’ve had a lot of guys grow up and done a really good job. I’m proud of them,” McElwain said. “But like I said, we give them the information. We’ll meet with everybody individually again after the bowl game and we’ll see where it goes from there.”