The state of Florida has been a hotbed of football talent for as long as anyone can remember. Thanks to a series of determined Gators coaching staffs, the Gator Nation has reaped the benefits of such astounding homegrown talent by enjoying countless winning teams and All-American student-athletes.
Today, enjoy reviewing the exploits of some of the greatest men to ever grace a backfield for the University of Florida.
Obviously, with over 100 years of history behind the program, there have been a great many star running backs, so this will inherently be an incomplete list. Let the debate begin!
5. Jimmy DuBose
DuBose may have technically been a fullback, but at least, according to coach Doug Dickey, he was the “picture perfect fullback”; think of a combination of Pittsburgh Steelers legend Jerome Bettis and Fred “Twinkletoes” Flintstone dominating old school UF football.
DuBose, standing in at 5’11’’ and 217 pounds, was big enough to bash and smash right through people but remained light enough on his feet to make people miss in the open field. While most Gainesvillians were busy doing the disco dance in the mid-1970’s, DuBose had other designs in mind for those fleet feet of his.
Basically, the young Gator was a baller well before ‘baller’ was a part of the vernacular. His career rushing total of 2,159 yards remains in the top-10 on the all-time UF rushing yards list, but the senior season DuBose would put together is what cemented his legacy as one of the greatest to ever don the Orange and Blue.
On his way to being named the SEC Player of the Year and finishing sixth in the 1975 Heisman Trophy balloting, DuBose bashed little brother Florida State over and over to the tune of over 200 yards rushing and going for a long of eighty yards on the team’s very first play from scrimmage against Vanderbilt.
One can safely assume that no one in the SEC was calling him “Twinkletoes” that year.
4. Fred Taylor
Mr. Fred Taylor is a Florida boy, through and through. Born and raised in Pahokee, Florida, Taylor so thoroughly dominated his high school competition while at Glades Central that following his enrollment at the University of Florida he would be named one of the “100 greatest players of the first 100 years” of Florida high school football.
Every year, at universities across the country, there are incoming recruits who unfortunately fail to live up to the hometown hype.
Fred Taylor was not one of those recruits.
As a wide-eyed true freshman Taylor burst onto the SEC scene (say ‘SEC scene’ ten times fast, double dog dare ya) and racked up 873 yards and eight touchdowns. However, Taylor was injured for large portions of the next two seasons, including the championship run of 1996, and thus found the motivation to return for his senior season as an elected team captain.
No one wants to sit and watch helplessly as friends and teammates take home the ultimate prize, and Taylor took out his frustrations on the rest of the country in 1997, averaging just a hair over six yards per carry on his way to 1,292 yards, 13 touchdowns, First Team All-American honors, and a Gators MVP award.
Not bad at all, but even bigger things are expected for Kelvin Taylor, Fred’s son and a 2013 UF recruit.
3. Errict Rhett
Unfortunately for the SEC opponents Rhett so thoroughly dominated in his time as a Gators Great, UF does not even carry the sport in which Rhett was truly gifted.
As a 220-pound high school force, Rhett won two state championships as a wrestler.
His loss as a prospective wrestler was coach Steve Spurrier’s gain, however. Rhett looked totally natural in the Orange and Blue, and sometimes it seemed as if Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was his actual home, not some shoddy college dorm room.
Rhett led the team in rushing all four years he was with the program before graduating with his Bachelor’s degree, and in that time he was named to the All-SEC First Team twice, in both 1991 and 1993. In that history-making 1993 season, after being named All-SEC and finally First Team All-American, Rhett earned Sugar Bowl MVP honors after rushing for over 100 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s blowout victory over West Virginia (Those Mountaineers had forgotten that they didn’t belong on the same football field) and subsequently was voted Team MVP.
All of his statistics are impressive, but one number stands out, reigning supreme above all the rest: 4,154.
The most career rushing yards in the century-old history of the Florida Gators football program.
2. Neal Anderson
Anderson initially accepted a scholarship to play for the Gators on the understanding that he would be sharing the backfield load with fullback and fellow Gator Great John L. Williams (some may believe Williams should have made this list also; those folks may also have a point, he was great), but after ripping off 197 yards rushing as a freshman against Kentucky in 1982, Anderson had announced to the Gators universe his intentions of rewriting the UF record books.
Three years later, in 1985, Anderson was so much more than yet another All-SEC Florida tailback. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,234 yards on the ground – a number that has since been surpassed – as well as a team captain, AP honorable mention All-American, and the recipient of the Fergie Ferguson Award, one of the strongest diagnostics of outstanding moral fiber within the program.
He was drafted by the Chicago Bears as the future replacement to Walter Peyton. If that doesn’t demonstrate the type of talent Anderson brought to both the collegiate and professional ranks, nothing will.
1. Emmitt Smith
Gator pride runs deep, and a lot of that strong love within the rank and file of Gator Nation begins and ends with Emmitt Smith, the National Football League’s all-time leader in rushing yardage.
The statistics Smith built over a three, not four, year career as a superstar for the Gators are staggering.
Let’s try starting at the very beginning.
Smith was not the starter heading into his freshman season. He began the first two games of his college career on the bench, but, despite the lack of touches, still managed to rush for over 100 yards in the week two Tulsa game.
He reached the 100-yard milestone on only ten carries. After the game, in what has gone down in history as one of the greatest ‘Duh!’ moves of all time, coach Galen Hall handed Smith the starting job to open SEC play. The schedule called for a week three matchup with Alabama, and he took it upon himself to make sure the entire nation had heard of a young, dominant Emmitt Smith.
In that, his very first game as the starter, Smith broke UF’s 40-year-old single-game rushing mark with 224 yards on 39 carries for a 5.7 yard per carry average. Only four games later, Smith’s seventh overall as a collegian, he broke the 1,000-yard barrier, becoming the fastest in the history of college football to reach the milestone. It would be years until he could drink any champagne to celebrate his achievements.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Smith piled up a total of 58 school records, despite the fact that the teams he played on had hardly any semblance at all of a passing game. He was the focal point of the offensive game plan each and every week, and never disappointed, earning such accolades over his career as National Freshman of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, and unanimous First Team All-American.
Despite all the numbers, records, and awards, however, Smith never finished higher than seventh in Heisman Trophy balloting.