Florida Gators Football: 10 Local Athletes Who Got Away
A few summers ago before speaking to a Gator Club in Jacksonville, then-coach Urban Meyer told a small throng of media one of the worst nightmares that could happen to his program was to have a standout local athlete sign somewhere else and then come back to beat the Gators.
During his time at Florida, Meyer grew to understand just how meaningful it was for a kid who grew up either in or near Gainesville to play for U of F.
Two examples he likes to give are former cornerback Vernell Brown (Gainesville High School) and former tight end Cornelius Ingram (Hawthorne High School - 15 minutes outside of Gainesville), each of whom Meyer referred to at one time or another as "The Face of Florida Football."
But just like it appears will be the case with The Villages' outside linebacker Noor Davis, a 6'4", 225-pound specimen who committed to Stanford over UF, Alabama, Notre Dame and USC last week, the Gators don't always get the local kid.
Here's a look at 10 who got away through the years, using the coverage zones of The Gainesville Sun and The Ocala Star-Banner to define "local" in these cases.
Played his prep ball for... Gainesville High School
Where he played in college: Miami
What came next: A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Portis was the second-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2002. He went on to be named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year that season. Currently a free agent, Portis played for the Broncos in 2002 and 2003, and his 5.5 yards-per-carry average remains an NFL record for a running back's first two seasons in the league. He also is the youngest player in league history to have a four touchdown and a five touchdown game. In 2004, he was traded to the Washington Redskins, where he played until the 2010 season. He was released by the Redskins on Feb. 28, 2011, but he likely will sign with another team when the lockout ends.
Played his prep ball for... Chiefland High School (45 minutes outside of Gainesville - he played DL and FB there)
Where he played in college: Alabama (where he played DE)
What came next: After being a two-time captain for the Crimson Tide, Johnson was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Playing nine years on one of the NFL's traditionally best defenses, Johnson has recorded 326 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 16 passes defensed and three interceptions (one of which he took for a touchdown).
Played his prep ball for... Union County High School (in Lake Butler, 30 minutes outside of Gainesville)
Where he played in college: Clemson
What came next: After an All-American senior season at Clemson where he also was named the MVP of the 2009 ACC Championship Game, Spiller was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft (ninth overall) by the Buffalo Bills. As a rookie he carried 74 times for 283 yards (3.8 ypc) and had 24 receptions for 157 yards (6.5 ypc) and a touchdown. Spiller also averaged 23 yards on 44 kickoff returns (that included a 95-yard touchdown) and 14.6 yards on 12 punt returns.
Played his prep ball for... Columbia High School (in Lake City, 35 minutes from Gainesville - he was a DL there)
Where he played in college: Florida State (he played DE)
What came next: After an All-American senior season where he recorded 105 tackles and 13.5 sacks, Wilson was selected in the first round (14th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals. He played for the Bengals from 1997-2003, and then spent his final season (2004) with Tampa Bay. Wilson finished his pro career with 54 tackles and 24 sacks. His best season came in 2001, when he had 40 tackles and nine sacks. Wilson was selected to the FSU Hall of Fame in 2009.
Played his prep ball for... Vanguard High School (in Ocala, 40 minutes from Gainesville)
Where he played in college: University of Central Florida
What came next: After setting more than 25 records at UCF, Culpepper was the first round pick (11th overall) of the Minnesota Vikings in the 1999 NFL Draft. That draft saw five quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks, and only Donovan McNabb has had a more successful career than Culpepper from that group, which also included No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch of Kentucky, Akili Smith of Oregon and Cade McNown of UCLA. Culpepper was with the Vikings through the 2005 season. He spent 2006 with the Miami Dolphins and 2007 with the Oakland Raiders. Culpepper was a member of the Detroit Lions in 2008 and 2009. He spent 2010 with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL. Culpepper was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000, 2003 and 2004, and was named All-Pro in 2000 and 2004. In his NFL career Culpepper has thrown for 24,153 yards with 149 touchdowns and 106 interceptions. His best season came in 2004 when he completed 379 of 548 passes for 4,717 yards with 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Played his prep ball for... Taylor County High School (in Perry, roughly 90 minutes from Gainesville)
Where he played in college: East Mississippi Community College/Oregon
What came next: After an up-and-down two years at Oregon that saw him carry 11 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue, but also saw him on the delivering end of a widely replayed punch to taunting Boise State defensive end Byron Hout, Blount went undrafted in 2010. He signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans, but was released on Sept. 5. One day later, the Tampa Bay Bucs signed Blount in what turned out to be a brilliant move. He led all rookies with 1,007 yards rushing, despite playing in just 13 games. He also scored six touchdowns. His best outing came in Week 16, when he carried 18 times for 164 yards in a 38-15 victory against playoff-bound Seattle.
Played his prep ball for...: Suwannee High School (in Live Oak, 85 minutes outside of Gainesville - while there, he played in the same secondary as future Gator safety Jarvis Herring and future Florida State safety Kyler Hall)
Where he played in college: Miami
What came next: After picking off six passes despite rarely being thrown at while playing for "The U", Jennings was taken in the first round (31st overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. In five seasons, the former Academic All-ACC selection has 207 tackles, 47 passes defensed and a pair of interceptions. His best season came in 2007, when he recorded a career-high 55 tackles and also broke up 12 passes.
Played his prep ball for...: Eastside High School (in Gainesville)
Where he played in college: University of South Florida
What came next: Jones became the first (and still only) Eastside Ram to ever be taken in the NFL Draft, when the New England Patriots used their fourth-round pick (96th overall) on the 6'3", 307-pound offensive tackle. He was with the Patriots through 2004, playing in 21 games with 13 starts. Jones was out of football until 2008, when he played for the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm. He spent 2009 with the New York Sentinels of the UFL, but was never activated. The highlight of his NFL career came in 2002 when he earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Patriots.
Played his prep ball for...: Santa Fe High School (in Alachua, 15 minutes outside of Gainesville - Joseph played OL, DL and FB for SFHS, the alma mater of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson)
Where he played in college: East Carolina
What came next: Originally a UF commitment, the Gators pulled Joseph's scholarship offer midway through his senior year at SFHS. Broken hearted, he signed a national letter of intent with East Carolina, where former prep teammate Melvin Patterson was a safety/linebacker. After seeing his weight get as high as 370, Joseph rededicated himself to football, and as a junior he was named All-Conference-USA after recording 60 tackles (13 for-loss). He declared for the NFL Draft after that season and was the second round selection (46th overall) of the New York Giants. Joseph saw limited action as a rookie, making eight tackles in six games. His best performance came in a Week 16 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay, where Joseph had five tackles.
Played his prep ball for...: Buchholz High School (in Gainesville)
Where he played in college: Miami
What came next: A third-round selection of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 1993 NFL Draft, Thomas played there through 1995. He signed with the Miami Dolphins in 1996 and stayed with the organization through 2000, though he spent his final two seasons on injured reserve. Thomas's best season came in 1998, when he caught 43 passes for 603 yards (14.0 ypc) and five touchdowns. He finished his career with 106 receptions for 1,558 yards (14.7 ypc) and 10 touchdowns.
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