The Florida Gators kicked off fall practice this week, which means actual games are only a few weeks away.
Football fever is officially in the air.
To celebrate the return of college football, I will be looking back at my personal top-10 favorite Florida Gators from the 2000s.
This top 10 list was tremendously hard to try and judge, trim down and order, but it heavily considered stats, years played, awards won, overall success of the team and so much more.
However, I will admit from the start that my own personal biases are present, and I encourage you to comment with yours as well.
I hope you will take a trip back down memory lane and stroll through the greatness of Gator players of the 2000s.
I hope you will even take the time to tell me who I left off, who you would have where and just in general what you would do differently.
To start, here is a list of seven honorable mentions who just missed the cut:
Earnest Graham, HB, 2000-2002: 486 carries, 2,411 yards, 28 touchdowns
DeShawn Wynn, HB, 2003-2006: 446 carries, 2,077 yards, 25 touchdowns
Andre Caldwell, WR, 2003-2007: 185 catches, 2,349 yards, 16 receiving touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, one passing touchdown
Chad Jackson, WR, 2003-2005: 120 catches, 1,586 yards, 16 touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez, TE, 2007-2009: 111 catches, 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns
Channing Crowder, LB, 2003-2004: 174 tackles, 108 solo, one forced fumble, three fumbles recovered, one interception, four sacks
Jarvis Moss, DE, 2003-2006: 86 tackles, 63 solo, five forced fumble, one fumble recovered, 15 sacks
Without further ado, let’s get into the top 10. Enjoy.
It wouldn’t feel right to do this list of top 10 players throughout an entire decade without the presence of the big hogs up front. There were numerous tremendous talents who came through the University of Florida and played on the offensive line. They opened up holes for the running game or protected the passing game, but only two were twin brothers.
The Pouncey twins came on the scene in 2007, with both seeing time as freshmen. Maurkice would see time on the offensive line while Mike transitioned to the defensive line to cover up injuries. Both players would move back to the offensive side and would play prominent roles as sophomores on the 2008 BCS National title team.
Maurkice would go pro after two seasons in Gainsville, but Mike would stay another year and take over as the team's starting center in 2009.
Not only did both men have successful career at the university, but they were also both first-round selections in the NFL draft. Maurkice was selected 18th by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, while Mike was selected 15th by the Dolphins in 2011. Not bad for a couple of brothers.
Quite possibly the guy with the least amount of “fan fare” on the list, defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham had a terrific career for the University of Florida.
Cunningham saw serious time as a freshman, playing in seven games before going on to be the season-long starter the rest of his three years at the school.
Cunningham was able to compile 152 tackles, with 80 of those being solos, during his time in Gainesville. Cunningham got to the quarterback a remarkable 19.5 times in his career, forced five fumbles, recovered a fumble and had one interception. Cunningham compiled stats that not only stand up to other defensive linemen, but also linebackers.
Cunningham was a part of both the 2006 and 2008 BCS national-title teams and was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 53rd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
QB Rex Grossman finished his Gator career with 9,164 yards and 77 TD's.
No. 8 is an appropriate number for the gunslinging quarterback, as it is the number Rex Grossman wore during his career at the University of Florida and now in the NFL.
Grossman found himself splitting him with Jesse Palmer for his first couple years at Florida under then-coach Steve Spurrier.
However, Grossman would clear up any kind of notion of a quarterback competition in 2001, as he had one of the best seasons in Florida history and finished second in the Heisman trophy balloting, behind only Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch.
Grossman would go on to finish his career under Ron Zook, enjoying a somewhat successful season, before finishing with some of the most impressive stats in school history. Grossman completed 677 of 1,110 passes for 9,164 yards and 77 touchdowns. In addition to being the runner-up to the 2001 Heisman, he was also the AP Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a three-time, first-team All-SEC selection.
Grossman would go on to be drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears and would help lead them to the 2006 Super Bowl.
The wide receiver is one of the two positions that comes up the most on my top 10 lists and with good reason. The University of Florida has had some wide receivers who had great college careers, and in the 2000s, that all started with Jabar Gaffney.
Gaffney started his career in 2000 under Steve Spurrier with a carousel of quarterbacks throwing to him, which included Jesse Palmer, Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin. Gaffney was able to pull in 138 catches for 2,375 yards and was able to get into the end zone 27 times.
Because of his breakout season in 2000 when he hauled in 71 of those catches of 1,184 yards and 14 touchdowns, he was named the Sporting News SEC Freshmen of the Year and Player of the Year.
Gaffney was a first-team All-American in 2001, first-team All-SEC in 2000 and 2000, and he also set the SEC freshmen record with 71 catches and 14 touchdowns in 2000. Gaffney was selected with the first pick of the second round of the 2002 NFL draft by the Houston Texans.
LB Brandon Spikes enjoyed a role on both the 2006 and 2008 BCS National title teams.
Possibly one of the most consistent of all players on this list is No. 6 Brandon Spikes. Spikes saw some action as a freshmen in 2006 when he was the backup to the successful Brandon Siler. In 2007 when Spikes got his hands on the starting job, he would record 131 tackles—second in the SEC.
In 2008, the year of his second BCS National title in three years, Spikes would drop to 93 tackles, but it would still be enough to lead his team and capture first-team All-American and All-SEC crowns.
In 2009, Spikes' production dipped a little, to 68 tackles, in small part due to the fact he missed a game due to suspension. Despite the dip in production, he would complete his Gator career with 307 tackles, 178 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, six interceptions and four defensive touchdowns.
After completing his career at the University of Florida, Spikes would be selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots.
Oh how sweet it was. Dallas Baker the Touchdown Maker for the score in the 41-14 beatdown of Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National title game.
We’re halfway through the list, and here is where we find who could possibly be the most surprising entrant yet. Coming in at No.5 is the man who could have possibly been as high as No. 1 if this was the “coolest nicknames of the 2000s” list.
No. 5 is Dallas Baker, the Touchdown Maker. Baker may not have had the blazing speed that many of the Gator receivers have come to be known for, but he was a tall and lanky target who seemed to get better as he went. He was a guy who continued to improved and always seemed to come up big in the biggest games.
In his junior season, Baker doubled his reception total from his previous season when he compiled 56 receptions. In 2006, his senior season, Baker would set career highs in three key categories as he pulled in 60 catches for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Baker's career stats at Florida are 151 catches for 2,236 yards and 21 touchdowns. Baker was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2006 after being a second-team selection in 2005.
Like I said before, Baker always seemed to come up with the big play at the big time. You don’t earn the nickname" Touchdown Maker" for catching first downs. Baker caught the game-winning touchdown against rival Florida State in 2006 and also came up big in the 2007 BCS National title game against Ohio State, catching the opening touchdown of their 41-14 win.
Baker would later be selected in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
QB Chris Leak holding up the BCS National title trophy after the 41-14 win over Ohio State. It was the first Gator National title in ten years.
Quite possibly my personal favorite of all of the Gators to appear on this list is No. 4 Chris Leak. Leak wore No. 12 at the university, but for most of his four years at the school he was the team's No. 1 quarterback.
I remember seeing a then-senior in high school, Leak, declare his intentions to attend Florida during an Under Armor High School All-American game live on ESPN. I remember being ecstatic and thinking, “That guy is going to lead us to a National Championship.” Although he didn’t do it all by himself, it turns out I would be right.
After splitting time with Ingle Martin through the first few games of his college career, Leak would take over against the Kentucky Wildcats, lead the Gators to victory and never look back.
Although the first few years of his career were very successful, statistically speaking, it didn’t translate to team success on the field. Leak's first few years were marred by the “Ron Zook era,” and none of the Gator teams between 2003-2004 would reach their potential.
That is until Urban Meyer took over. Meyer, who was looking to run the spread offense at the time, tweaked his style to try and incorporate Leak’s abilities and stick with the junior at quarterback.
Leak would be somewhat successful throughout 2005, and although Tim Tebow had arrived as a freshman, Leak was again named the starter in 2006. Although the stats weren’t as impressive under Meyer for those two seasons, the team would ultimately improve and go further than most expected. Leak, along with that other freshman quarterback, would go on to lead the Gators to their first national title in 10 years.
Leak would finish his Gator career with multiple records. He completed 895 of 1,458 passes for 11,213 yards and 88 touchdowns. He would add another 13 rushing touchdowns for a total of 101 touchdowns. Leak was the 2006 BCS title game MVP, a 2004 and 2005 all-SEC second-team selection, a 2003 all-SEC freshmen first-team selection and the Sporting News 2003 Freshman of the Year.
Leak was not selected in the 2007 NFL Draft but would later be signed by the Chicago Bears.
One of the 12 interceptions Keiwan Ratliff had during his career for the University of Florida Gators.
One of the most underrated and under-recognized players (outside of Gator Nation) to appear on this list. Luckily for Keiwan Ratliff, his accomplishments did not go unnoticed by Florida Gator fans.
Ratliff played defensive back and played it mighty well for the Gators from 2000 to 2003. In addition to his defensive back skills, Ratliff also served as a kickoff and punt return man for much of his career and even holds the school record for punt return yards, with 860.
Ratliff also set the school record for interceptions in a season in 2003, when he had nine. That season included a three-interception game, also a school record. In 2003, it seemed like Ratliff was all over the field and making the big play when the defense needed it. Ratliff would be rewarded with a first-team All-American selection.
Ratliff completed his Gator career with 133 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two sacks, 12 interceptions and six touchdowns. Ratliff had a remarkable nose for the end zone and was always trying to put points on the board from the defensive side of the ball.
The defensive back was the 2003 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a 2003 first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC and a 2003 Thorpe Award finalist. Ratliff would go on to be drafted in the second round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Percy Harvin only stayed for three years, but accomplished things any four year player would be proud of.
In 2006, the University of Florida saw a speedster burst out on the scene like it hadn’t seen in quite some time. Sure, some guys can come out and look like track stars in a t-shirt and shorts during spring practice, but only a handful of guys can translate that speed to the field in full pads when the leaves change start to fall on Saturdays.
Percy Harvin was one of the guys who could translate that speed, and he did it better than anyone else on the Gators in the 2000s. The quick-footed receiver out of Virginia wasted no time getting acclimated to the Southeastern Conference. Harvin would contribute early, with 427 yards receiving and 428 yards rushing his freshmen season in 2006, collecting five touchdowns.
His biggest influence would be felt that season in the SEC title game in 2006 against Arkansas, where he compiled 62 yards in the air, 105 on the ground and a touchdown both ways. A few weeks later, he would also have a touchdown in the BCS title game against Ohio State.
Harvin would continue to improve in 2007, enjoying over 800 yards receiving and 700 on the ground. In 2008, his yardage would slip a bit to just over 1,300 yards combined, but he would reach the end zone a career-best 17 times.
Harvin’s efforts would again help the Gators to another BCS National title, this time against Oklahoma, as Harvin would carry the ball nine times for 122 yards and a touchdown while adding five catches for 49 yards on a bum ankle in their 24-14 win.
Percy was named a first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American selection in 2008. He was a second-team all-SEC selection in 2007, a 2006 All-SEC Freshmen team selection and was named the 2006 SEC Freshmen of the year. Harvin collected two BCS National Championship rings and very well could have been the difference on a third if he would have come back for his senior season in 2009.
The speedster finished his three-year career with the Gators with 133 catches and 194 rushes for a combined 3,781 yards. He also accumulated 32 touchdowns. During his three years with the school, the Florida Gators would go 35-6 and win two National Championships.
Harvin would go on to be a first-round selection of the 2009 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He earned the 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
QB Tim Tebow was a two time National Champion, a Heisman trophy winner, and an All-American selection. However, being #1 on this list is his most impressive accomplishment to date.
Was there ever any doubt who was going to top this list? Of course, it’s Superman.
Tim Tebow came on the scene with some of the biggest fanfare a Florida Gator recruit has seen in some time. Many people called for him to promptly supplant Chris Leak as the starting quarterback as only a freshmen in 2006. Urban Meyer chose not to go that route, instead installing expanding packages for Tebow as the 2006 season went on.
Gradually getting Tebow’s feet wet proved to be a good decision. The big-bodied, high-energy freshman would come on and give the Florida Gators a much-needed boost, often in the running game. He would often times pick up many of the short yardage situations that the smaller Gator running backs could’t convert, and he would rarely go to the air. The role proved to work, as Tebow was the spark the Gators needed to make it all the way to their first BCS National title in 10 years.
In 2007, Tebow enjoyed his first full year as the Gator signal caller. Although the team didn’t enjoy as much success (tough to repeat a National Championship), Tebow’s individual success would be through the roof. Tebow threw for 32 touchdowns while adding another 23 on the ground for a total of 55 touchdowns, becoming the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman trophy.
Tebow would use that experience to launch the team forward in 2008. Tebow’s numbers would dip a bit, dropping to 30 touchdowns through the air and 12 on the ground, again leading his team to an SEC and BCS National title. Tebow surprised most of Gator nation by announcing he would pass on his opportunity to go into the NFL draft to return for his senior season.
The Gators enjoyed success through most of the 2009 season, going 12-0 all the way up to the SEC title game against Alabama. Tebow enjoyed more individual success, with 35 total touchdowns, but would struggle a bit in the SEC title game, as the Gators lost. With it, they lost their chance at a third national title in four years.
Tebow would rebound to lead his team to a monster Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati and thus completed three BCS game victories in three years.
Tebow’s career numbers at Florida were outstanding. He completed 661 of 995 passes for 9,285 yards and 88 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 692 times for 2,947 yards and 57 more touchdowns. That’s a total of 12,232 yards and 145 touchdowns.
His list of awards is equally impressive. In addition to the 2007 Heisman trophy, he was a first-team All-American selection in 2007, a second team All-American in 2009 and a third-team selection in 2008. He was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and the Scholar-Athlete of the Year in both 2008 and 2009. He was also the 2009 Sugar Bowl MVP and was on the 2006 All-SEC Freshmen team.
In 2009, Tebow was inducted into the University of Florida football Hall of Fame. They should probably even build him his own wing.
During his four years at the school, the Gators would go 48-7, with two National Championships, two SEC Championships and three SEC East Championships. In 2010 he would go on to be a first-round selection by the Denver Broncos.
Had to find a way to fit in some cheerleaders since you clicked all the way to the end right?
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I am sure your list is quite different, and I encourage you to comment below with your tweaks, changes or completely different list. Again, thanks for taking the time to read the article.
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