Florida Football: Every Starting Senior's Best Moment as a Gator
Their journey started out as wide-eyed freshmen joining a team that was coming off of their second national championship in three seasons. This Saturday, 18 seniors will run through the tunnel for the last time as Gators.
It hasn't been the easiest road for this senior class, as they have had to adjust to change throughout their entire career. The class has seen the coach who recruited them retire, un-retire and retire again. Other than two head coaches, the players have had three offensive coordinators and two defensive coordinators in just four years.
Of the 19 seniors who will run out onto Florida Field for the last time, 10 of them are starters or have made a significant impact this season. Let's take a look back at their careers and remember their best moments in orange and blue.
Xavier Nixon, OT
Xavier Nixon came into Florida a 4-star recruit and the No. 3 offensive tackle in the country. Nixon lived up to that billing early, making 10 appearances, including five starts as a freshman. His first start came against South Carolina on the road and was the first time a freshman had started at left tackle since Reggie Green in 1992.
His play in his freshman season earned Nixon spots on the 2009 SEC All-Freshman team and a honorable mention to CollegeFootballNews.com's Freshmen All-American team. Being named to those prestigious postseason teams is definitely the best moment in Nixon's four-year career.
James Wilson, OG
If it seems like James Wilson has been playing for the Gators forever, it's because he has.
Wilson was part of the 2007 recruiting class with players like Major Wright, Ahmad Black, Chris Rainey, Joe Haden, Cam Newton and the Pounceys. While those players are all playing in the NFL now, Wilson is playing his final season as a Gator.
Wilson is a sixth-year senior who has dealt with injuries throughout his career.
Wilson's best moment as a Gator is getting a medical redshirt that allowed him to return for a final season and make an impact for Florida. Wilson has more starts this season than he did in his previous five years on campus combined.
Caleb Sturgis, K
How many college football games are decided because of a kicker missing an extra point or a field goal? The answer is too many.
Caleb Sturgis is as solid and dependable as any kicker in college football, and he will be a very hard player to replace next season.
Sturgis has had a great career for the Gators, but his best moment is still to come. With 63 career field goals, Sturgis is just five shy of breaking the all-time record for field goals in Florida history. Scott Chandler is the current record holder, and with three more games, Sturgis should be able to pass Chandler and leave Florida as the Gators' all-time leading place kicker.
Lerentee McCray, LB/DL
Lerentee McCray came into his senior year with just six starts to his name and all of those starts coming at linebacker. His role on the defense changed when Ronald Powell went down with a torn ACL in the offseason. McCray stepped in and filled in at BUCK in Powell's absence and has been one of the best pass-rushers for the Gators this season.
McCray's best moment in orange and blue came this season against Tennessee. Tyler Bray came into the game completing 73.7 percent of his pass attempts for 643 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in just two games. Bray's play had Tennessee fans excited and believing that this would be the year they would beat Florida.
McCray set the tone early when he picked off Tyler Bray on Tennessee's second drive. It was the first interception of the season for Bray and the first interception of McCray's career. McCray finished the game with four tackles, two for loss, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Omarius Hines, TE
Omarius Hines has played everywhere for the Gators. Hines has seen time at wide receiver, running back, tight end and his newest position as the "F" back for Florida.
Hines was robbed of his best moment against South Carolina due to a holding penalty, but this is as good a catch as you're going to see in college football.
Hines has been used sparingly throughout his career, but he has shown a knack for making big plays when you least expect it. His shining moment for the Gators came against Missouri this season.
In the third quarter, with Florida trailing at home 7-0, Hines took a handoff from Jeff Driskel and carried the ball 36 yards for the score. Hines showed off his speed on the play and was untouched on his way to the end zone. Hines has shown an ability to make game-changing plays on very few touches, and this one was the best of his career.
Frankie Hammond, Jr., WR
Frankie Hammond has had a long career in Gainesville. Hammond has been used sparingly, but has been a team player and developed into a leader on the offense this season.
Hammond hasn't had a lot of highlights in his career, but his catch against Tennessee would make any highlight reel.
With Florida clinging to a one-touchdown lead on the road in Knoxville, Hammond caught a five-yard pass from Jeff Driskel and was off to the races. Hammond caught the pass and quickly turned up field, stiff armed a defensive back and scored from 75 yards out. The play gave Florida a 14-point lead, one that they wouldn't relinquish, and gave Hammond the highlight of his career.
Omar Hunter, NT
Omar Hunter came into Florida as a 5-star recruit and the No. 2 rated defensive tackle in the country. It didn't take Hunter long to make an impact for the Gators.
Hunter was named to the 2009 SEC All-Freshman team, an honor that is voted on by the league's head coaches. Hunter started 11 games .but saw action in all 14. He finished the season with 17 tackles including two for a loss.
Mike Gillislee, RB
Mike Gillislee has waited patiently for an opportunity to become Florida's feature back. In his final season for the Gators, Gillislee finally got that opportunity and created some headlines with his lofty preseason prediction. While Gillislee won't reach those goals, he has been the engine that makes Florida's offense move all season.
Gillislee's best game of his career is hands down this season's game against LSU. Gillislee set a career high for carries (34) and was two yards shy of his career high in yards (146) while scoring both of the Gators' touchdowns. Gillislee scored on two 12-yard touchdowns runs in the second half and was all the offense that Florida needed. After Florida took the lead in the third quarter, the Gators ran the ball on 24 consecutive plays with the majority going to the senior tailback.
Mike Gillislee hasn't topped 100 yards rushing since that game, but without his performance against LSU, the Gators would not have been able to come away from that game with a victory.
Josh Evans, S
With 21 starts under his belt, Josh Evans is the most experienced member of Florida's secondary. Evans is leading the team in tackles this season with 67 and is having the most productive season of his career.
Evans' signature moment came this season against Missouri. With a chance to ice the game, Brad Phillips badly missed a 24-yard field goal try and gave Missouri one more chance to tie the game. The Tigers drove down the field and deep into Gator territory with time still on the clock.
With time for one more play, James Franklin looked to the end zone but overthrew his receiver, and Evans was waiting for the game-sealing interception. Evans caught the ball in the back of the end zone for his first interception of the game. Evans finished the game with 12 tackles to go along with the interception.
Jon Bostic, LB
Jon Bostic committed to the University of Florida when Brandon Spikes was still roaming the middle of the field. With an All-American in front of him, Bostic was able to watch and learn the defense without being pressured to make an instant impact.
In his career, Bostic has made 29 starts at middle linebacker and has been the anchor in the middle of the defense for the better part of three years. With so many good games in his career, it was hard to find a game that really stood out.
To find Bostic's best game, we had to go back to last season against Kentucky. Bostic finished the game with 10 tackles (eight solo), a sack and a forced fumble. The game marked the first time Bostic notched double-digit sacks in his career.