Florida Football: Gators' Biggest Breakout Stars of 2012

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2012

In Will Muschamp's second season as head coach, Florida has morphed from a self-diagnosed soft squad into a smashmouth football team that knows how to finish in the fourth quarter. 

Although the Gators don't rely on elite superstars, this team does feature a handful of breakout stars, who have been catalysts to UF's surprising 7-1 start. 

While the offense sputtered in last week's 17-9 loss to Georgia, much of Florida's success can be attributed to its diverse running game. 

Mike Gillislee has been the benefactor of Brent Pease's run-first offense, but the senior tailback wouldn't be enjoying a monster year without the Gators' biggest breakout star on offense: fullback Hunter Joyer. 

The 5'10", 249-pound bowling ball arrived at UF as the consensus top fullback in the country despite being a running back throughout his prep career. 

Hunter enjoyed a prodigious high school career at Tampa Catholic and Wesley Chapel but underwent a rather dramatic role change at UF. 

Instead of being his team's bellcow, Joyer was tasked with doing the gritty, unenviable job of opening holes, pass-blocking and handling occasional short-yardage work as the team's fullback. 

Even though he's one of the strongest athletes on the team—he can bench press more than 400 pounds and squats over 550 (via Tampa Bay Times)—Joyer went through a transitional period as a freshman learning how to use his hands and maintain leverage as a blocker. 

After a solid but unspectacular debut season, the humble Joyer has emerged as one of the most valuable members of the offensive unit and his ability to contribute in multiple ways, particularly as a lead blocker, has been instrumental to UF's success on the ground. 

Joyer's rapid development hasn't been the only component to UF's much improved rushing attack, as redshirt senior James Wilson has managed to stay healthy and remind people why he was Rivals.com's top offensive guard of the 2007 recruiting class. 

Yes folks, that's 2007 we're talking about. 

Wilson's UF career has been marred by a litany of injuries, most notably to his creaky knees, so it's easy to forget that the 6'4", 323-pounder paved the way for Tim Tebow at Nease High.  

Overcoming adversity is one of Muschamp's mantras, and no player has had to overcome more setbacks than the team's starting left guard. 

Now that he's healthy and has conditioned his body to withstand the rigors of a starting spot, Wilson has been a solid addition to the front five. 

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Gators have finally reaped the benefits of a former five-star recruit who failed to live up to expectations throughout much of his career. 

Defensive tackle Omar Hunter was one of Urban Meyer's prized recruits, but the Georgia native failed to make much of an impact during his first three seasons as a Gator. 

Despite his impressive high school pedigree, Hunter made just seven starts during the past two seasons, often failing to get off blocks and make plays in the running game. 

Thanks to a new strength and conditioning program, the 6'0", 313-pounder has increased his explosiveness and is just four tackles away from matching his single-season high of 31. Hunter has already met his previous career-high of three tackles for loss, just eight games into the season.

If there's one player, however, who has epitomized Muchamp's fire, drive and desire to win, it's been cornerback and special teams extraordinaire Loucheiz Purifoy. 

The 6'1", 189-pound sophomore has immense physical talent but didn't always exhibit the maturity necessary to be an impact player as a freshman. 

Just a year later, the difference has been night and day. 

Described as far and away the best tackling corner on the team, Purifoy loves to get physical with receivers, and his penchant for making stops both on defense and special teams shows with his 35 tackles, which ranks fourth on the team. 

His fearlessness borderlines on cocky, but there's no questioning the value he brings in multiple facets of the game.

If there's one common denominator among all the Gators' breakout stars it's toughness.

So much for having a soft team, after all.  


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