OUTBACK NOTEBOOK

Crowder eager to turn pro

Seniors Ratliff and Scott were disciplined for missing curfew.


Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 1:07 a.m.

TAMPA - With Pittsburgh sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald likely to follow suspended Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett in challenging the NFL rule prohibiting players who haven't been out of high school three years from entering the draft, more players may follow if those two are, as expected, successful in their efforts.

One could be Florida freshman linebacker Channing Crowder, the nation's leader among freshmen in tackles per game (8.2).

"I'm going to leave as soon as possible," Crowder said following Thursday's Outback Bowl. "So I could jump. I haven't heard anything (about scouts' opinions), but if I'm good enough, yeah, I'll go - definitely after my sophomore year."

Crowder, a Freshman All-American who led the Gators with eight tackles in the 37-17 loss to Iowa, said there is an "outside possibility" he would leave after this year if Clarett and Fitzgerald win their cases, adding "every young football player's dream is to play in the NFL."

"I want to get there as early as I can. If that can happen now, that would be what I'd do."

PUNISHED GATORS: Florida senior defensive backs Guss Scott and Keiwan Ratliff did not start in the Outback Bowl after missing curfew earlier in the week.

Ratliff said he and Scott went out Monday night and got a cab back to the team hotel but arrived a few minutes too late.

"Of course, we as seniors have to be leaders, and we don't want to let our teammates down," Ratliff said. "We let them down."

Scott was replaced at strong safety by junior Cory Bailey, while junior Reynaldo Hill made his first career start at cornerback and sophomore Vernell Brown returned punts until the third quarter in place of Ratliff.

Freshman Dee Webb replaced Hill in the game's second series.

Ratliff and Scott entered the game with 21 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Also, Chris Hetland kicked off most of the game in place of Matt Piotrowicz, who didn't play until the fourth quarter because he was being disciplined for an incident at the team hotel, according to a teammate.

NOT AN IDEAL HOMECOMING: Perhaps no player wanted to have a big Outback Bowl more than Gator receiver Andre Caldwell.

But the freshman struggled with drops on kickoff returns and caught no passes.

"I had some problems on kickoffs dealing with the sun," said Caldwell, UF's freshman record-holder for returns (22) and yardage (454). "I tried to do too much in front of the home crowd. I would have liked to have played better."

ALUMNI GATHERING: Former Gators Rex Grossman, Todd Johnson, Jerome Evans, Mike Nattiel, Andra Davis, Johnie Church and Kenyatta Walker were on the Florida sidelines for the game.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Burn that tape." - senior offensive guard Shannon Snell.

EXTRA POINTS: Crowder said Iowa's vaunted offensive line, which paved the way for the Hawkeyes to run for 238 yards against UF, is "overrated." He added that Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery is good, but that Arkansas' Shawn Andrews is better. Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas said Iowa's line was the second best he saw all year, behind Tennessee.

Gator quarterback Chris Leak set a school record for passing yards by a freshman (true or redshirt) with 2,435, topping the 2,230 Danny Wuerffel posted in 1993. Leak's number is second in the SEC record books for freshmen behind former Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter, who threw for 2,484 in 1998.

Leak's 190 completions broke Carter's old conference record by 12. Leak's 16 touchdowns also set a school record for freshmen.

Former Gator quarterback Ingle Martin was mistakenly listed as UF's punter on the official first quarter stat sheet provided by the Outback Bowl. Martin, who left the team and transferred to Furman following the Florida State game, wore No. 10 for the Gators, the same number as punter Eric Wilbur. Martin did punt for UF in the 2002 season.

You can reach John Patton by calling 374-5074 or by e-mail at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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