Florida Football: 10 Players Who Could Lead the Gators in 2011

John PattonContributor IApril 19, 2011

Florida Football: 10 Players Who Could Lead the Gators in 2011

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    Tim Tebow was one of the greatest leaders in college football history.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    In recent seasons the Florida Gators have had their share of outstanding leaders on the football field.

    Players like Ahmad Black, Brandon Spikes, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey and of course, Tim Tebow, have done all they can to make sure their teams have been ready to go on Saturdays in the fall and winter.

    But all of those standouts now are referred to as "former Gators." So, who will step up in the 2011 season to fill the void?

    Here is a look at 10 upperclassmen who might give it a shot.

     

QB John Brantley

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    John Brantley will be a senior next season.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Like point guard is for basketball, quarterback is the most natural leadership position in football.

    Entering his second season as Florida's starting signal-caller, Brantley has the respect of his teammates but must perform better on the field (he had nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2010) to be more than just a vocal leader.

    New coach Will Muschamp came to UF already with some familiarity with Brantley, who committed to Texas (where Muschamp was the defensive coordinator) prior to changing his mind and signing a national letter of intent with the Gators in 2006. And so far, Muschamp has said he likes what he sees out of his fifth-year senior quarterback.

    If Florida is going to contend for the SEC East championship next season, Brantley must make improvements from last year and emerge as one of the team's primary voices.

CB Janoris Jenkins

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    Janoris Jenkins hopes to help the Gators rise up in 2011.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    It truly was a surprise when cornerback Janoris Jenkins decided to foresake the riches of the NFL to return for his senior season. After all, the 5'10", 183-pound lockdown defender had a first-round grade, and the possibility existed he could have been the second cornerback (after LSU's Patrick Peterson) selected in late April's draft.

    Always a talented athlete, Jenkins has become more mature in his three years at UF.

    After his Pahokee High School team ripped previously unbeaten Newberry to win the Florida High School Athletic Association's Class 2B state championship in his senior year, instead of celebrating with his teammates, Jenkins mocked his opponents with a sign. It was classless and didn't go unnoticed by fans in Orlando's Citrus Bowl that afternoon in December of 2007.

    However, Jenkins hasn't shown similar behavior in Gainesville, and on the field, his eight interceptions are one more than Peterson had his entire college career.

    Expect Jenkins to not only cut off one-third of the field in the fall but also to be in the ears of his fellow Gators.

RB Jeff Demps

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    When the fastest man in college football gets into the open field, look out!Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The owner of multiple NCAA sprint championships, Jeff Demps has earned the distinction of college football's fastest player.

    He's also earned the respect of his teammates.

    Sure, they admire his insane speed, but what really has gotten their attention is the fact that at just 5'8", 181 pounds, Demps isn't just a perimeter threat. He also has no problems running up the middle.

    Demps missed Spring practice to compete for UF's track team, but he has assured coach Will Muschamp he will be back for his senior year of football in 2011. Naturally soft-spoken, Demps has expressed a great deal of excitement about the 2011 season. Look for him to emerge as one of Florida's leaders on and off the field.

RB Trey Burton

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    Trey Burton found the end zone a team-best 12 times as a freshman.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    It isn't often a sophomore is called upon to be one of a team's leaders.

    But Trey Burton is no ordinary sophomore.

    As a freshman in 2010, Burton played quarterback, receiver, running back, tight end... anywhere then-coach Urban Meyer needed him. And the results were at times spectacular, like the night he scored a Gator-record six touchdowns in a beatdown of Kentucky.

    Burton's willingness to do anything to help his team, as well as an infectious natural charisma, endeared him to fellow Gators - young and older.

    Count on the 6'2", 222-pound Burton to be one of the main voices for UF in the Fall. His teammates are.

DL Jaye Howard

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    Jaye Howard should be one of the SEC's best defensive linemen in 2011.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    At 6'3", 302 pounds with good strength and a quick burst off the snap, Jaye Howard probably could have left Florida for the NFL after his redshirt junior season and possibly been an early-round pick.

    However, despite recording a career-high 5.5 sacks despite missing two games with an ankle sprain, the Apopka, Fla. native decided to return to Gainesville, much to the delight of teammates and Gator fans.

    A fiery presence on the field, Howard will be counted on to provide leadership to a talented, but young, group of defensive tackles that includes highly regarded sophomores-to-be Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd, as well as promising redshirt freshman Leon Orr.

NT Omar Hunter

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    Omar Hunter packs a nasty punch - even to teammates.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Once referred to by former coach Urban Meyer as the "Tim Tebow of his recruiting class", redshirt junior nose tackle Omar Hunter hasn't quite lived up to expectations so far at Florida.

    However, the belief among many Gators is that Hunter could just be a later bloomer than expected, ala former Auburn All American defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

    At 6'1", 305 pounds, Hunter is a load in the middle, and he possess one of the quickest first steps on the team. He's also outspoken in the huddle, and teammates will rally around him in 2011.

OT Xavier Nixon

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    Arguably UF's most talented blocker, Xavier Nixon tries to hold off former Alabama All American Marcell Dareus.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    A high school All American out of Fayetteville, NC, Xavier Nixon has been surrounded by leaders his entire life.

    The product of a military family, the 6'6", 290-pound Nixon has battled injuries and been good, but not great, in his first two years at Florida.

    It is expected he will make a big leap in 2011 on the field. And with All American center Mike Pouncey, the vocal leader of the line in 2010, gone to the NFL, look for Nixon to take more of an authoritative role with the Gators in 2011.

LB Jon Bostic

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    Jon Bostic should play a major role on the Gator defense in 2011.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Second to cornerback Janoris Jenkins in tackles among returning Gators, 6'1", 238-pound junior Jon Bostic could be the Gators' top linebacker in 2011.

    Not only should he improve on his numbers (57 tackles, three interceptions, three pass breakups, two sacks), Bostic also will be called upon to mentor a group of 'backers that includes talented youngsters like sophomore Gerald Green and redshirt freshmen Gideon Ajagbe and Michael Taylor.

    No one is asking him to be Brandon Spikes - one of UF's all-time greatest leaders at linebacker - but Bostic will be expected to be much more vocal in his third season on campus.

PK Caleb Sturgis

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    The Gators are happy to have Caleb Sturgis back for his senior season.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    It isn't often kickers are called upon to provide leadership. After all, those guys most often are mocked for not being "real football players", so how could other be asked to follow their lead?

    However, in the case of Caleb Sturgis, 2011 could be quite different.

    The Gators are expected to start a true freshman, Kyle Christy, at punter. A talented kid with a very strong leg, Christy probably will have a few kicks where he struggles, and at age 18 with 90,000+ watching, no doubt he will battle nerves.

    A 2009 Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Sturgis played in just the first four games of the 2010 season before a back injury kept him out of the final nine. Look for the senior to bounce back and become one of the team leaders on special teams. 

RB Chris Rainey

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    Chris Rainey hopes to take the Gators up and over the opposition in 2011.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    It's tough to imagine a guy best known for being suspended for sending a threatening text message to an ex-girlfriend could be a team leader. But Chris Rainey might be the exception.

    Very popular among teammates, the fifth-year running back/receiver says he has learned from past mistakes, and fellow Gators say that shows on and off the field.

    Already one of the most productive UF players (he has more than 2,000 combined career rushing and receiving yards), look for Rainey's childish days to be over.

    The Gators are counting on him.