It was exactly a year ago when Florida fans began to hear that Latroy Pittman — a fresh-faced newcomer to college who should have still been roaming the halls of North Marion High School — was perhaps the standout receiver of the spring.
Listed at 6 feet and 208 pounds, the thickly built Pittman was quickly garnering a solid reputation within the Florida program, impressing early at a position which had become a sharp thorn lodged into the collective side of Gator nation.
After a few weeks of organized practice, Pittman was labeled as a physical receiver who was adept at blocking on the perimeter, while simultaneously making those imperative catches which keep the chains moving.
To top it all off, Pittman turned in arguably the best performance of the spring-ending Orange and Blue Debut, hauling in two catches for 51 yards — 43 of which came on a bomb from quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
The spring game performance had done little to quell Pittman’s reputation as a possible diamond in the rough at the receiver position. And upon the birth of the 2012 season, many eyes would be focused on the young freshman, hoping that a solid spring was a mere prelude to a spectacular fall…
It was just over a year ago when Florida recruitniks had even heard Raphael Andrades’ name. Despite playing under the tutelage of a former star Gators receiver at an in-state powerhouse, Andrades’ had flown well under the radar during his recruitment.
When it became known that Florida would abruptly whiff on it’s top receiving targets of the 2012 class, Andrades’ name began to circulate amongst Gator-themed message boards — a reluctant pickup by fans who were only slightly soothed by his Florida ties.
Listed at 6 foot and 190 pounds, Andrades sported a decent collection of highlights — and his 4.5 speed in the forty-yard dash would give the Gators some incoming speed as opposed to the “runs solid routes” — code for slow — description attached to Pittman.
Fans were understandably disturbed by the lack of new bodies at a struggling position, but considering the circumstances, the Gators still possessed two potential contributors in Pittman and Andrades.
It was early, but some weren’t sure the two pass-catchers couldn’t be an immediate boon to the Florida receiving corps.
Then fall came…
When Pittman addressed reporters last week, expectedly, the first question aimed at him centered on his disappointing 2012 season.
“It wasn’t too much pressure, but it’s a lot to take in coming in the SEC and expecting to be that guy for a team,” Pittman said.
Indeed, Pittman was held in lofty regard heading into Florida’s season. The true freshman only started one game, but he played in every contest, except one, for the Gators in his inaugural collegiate season.
The result after 12 games played? Two catches for six yards — disappointing for a player with practically no expectations let alone a potential savior.
After such a strong spring, was it possible the transition into SEC-style football was too much for the freshman to handle?
“I wouldn’t say that,” Pittman said. “Coming off my spring everybody expected me to be that guy, and I accepted that from myself too, but it just so happened we became run-heavy coming out to start the season.”
“It wasn’t a great start for us at all and it wasn’t what we expected as an offense. Every game was hard for us to get started in the first quarter; the first half was always rough for us … overall it wasn’t what I expected, but this year I’m hoping for a better outcome.”
Andrades surpassed expectations by starting three games in his first season of action.
However, like Pittman, the results were minimal — three catches for five yards.
With little to no pressure placed on Andrades last season, the disappointment after the year was less than that of his classmate, but still stinging.
After football season’s close, Andrades quickly shifted gears to ready for UF baseball.
He’s yet to hit the diamond for the baseball team this season, and while that may be a personal disappointment, the lack of playing time has allowed for him to fully participate in spring practice this year, something he readily admits is a necessity.
“Since the (baseball season) started, I have still been working to perfect my craft,” Andrades said. “I’ve always started behind. I catch up quick. I’ve done that all my life.”
With only fall camp to get ready for the season, Andrades was behind the eight ball to start his Gators career. The short timeline to prep for the rigors of SEC play admittedly wore on him.
“Coming in here I didn’t know much,” Andrades said. “I used to get nervous … when you know the play you get a little more confident.”
Having a full season under their belts, both Pittman and Andrades are looking to quickly improve.
With a quintuplet of talented freshman receivers set to play this year, both players are aware their windows of opportunity won’t be open for long. When asked if the newcomers provide motivation, Pittman replied “of course.”
Right before the Sugar Bowl, Florida’s wide outs received a boost in the hiring of former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips as their new teacher.
According to Andrades, the hire of Phillips — who actually recruited him in high school — was met with immediate praise.
“He is a great coach and an even better person,” Andrades said. “He was always straight up with me and he was always telling me he would try and make me the best player I can be. And that’s what he’s done here. I’m glad he got the chance to coach.”
Both Pittman and Andrades have gone on the record saying that they feel more comfortable with the playbook and their surroundings heading into the upcoming season.
The receiver position as a whole still remains as a rather large question mark for this Florida team and just about everyone in the program knows it.
With veteran players still fighting to become relevant and a thirsty pack of freshman itching to make their mark, Florida will have an interesting mix of players come fall. However, don’t expect any tension within the core.
According to Pittman, the receivers are aware of their less-than-stellar reputation, and are a united front heading into 2013’s slate.
“When you say maybe like since 2008 or 2006 we haven’t had a receiver contribute to the team as we should be,“ Pittman began — “We’ve always been seen the past three years as the weakest link on the team.
“Somebody has to step up. Myself, Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and just the guys coming in, Ahmad [Fulwood], Alvin Bailey —those guys can contribute too.”
The 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons were perhaps the toughest three-year stretch for Florida receivers in recent memory.
The Gators were able to ride a strong run game to an 11-2 season in 2012, but with the backfield workhorse Mike Gillislee departed from Gainesville, Florida will need immediate production on the outside in 2013.
Florida has a couple of veterans in Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar. True freshman Demarcus Robinson is already on campus and will be flanked by Fulwood, Bailey, Marqui Hawkins and Chris Thompson in the fall.
Sitting in between them all are both Pittman and Andrades.
And they’re both very eager to prove that 2012 was simply an anomaly.