This one's personal to Demps


Florida's Jeffrey Demps runs for a first down in the fourth quarter against LSU.

Sun file photo
Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 4:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 4:47 p.m.

Back at South Lake High School, Jeff Demps was a garnet-and-gold guy all the way. He wore Florida State T-shirts to class and walked the halls carrying his books and belongings in an FSU backpack.

Demps was a Seminole and everyone knew it.

"He was a die-hard FSU fan," South Lake coach Walter Banks said.

Demps loved the Seminoles. But when it came to recruiting, they didn't love him back. In fact, they rejected the star running back.

"It broke his heart," Banks said. "He was stunned."

Demps' dream of one day playing for the Seminoles was shattered early during the recruiting process a year ago. The FSU coaches took a cursory look at Demps and decided not to offer him a scholarship.

"I got recruited for track by FSU, but not for football," Demps said. "I was upset, but it is what it is."

What it is is the FSU coaches made the same assumption that some other schools did in the recruiting process. The Seminoles judged Demps to be a track star playing football a very fast kid in the 100-meter dash, but not a great football prospect.

"A lot of people thought of him as a track guy playing football," Banks said. "I kept telling people, 'He's a football guy first. He's more than a straight-ahead runner. He can stick his foot in the ground and make cuts and do all the things good running backs do.' But some schools thought he was more of a track guy. Florida State was one of those schools."

Florida coach Urban Meyer admits he nearly made the same mistake.

"I had the same concerns," Meyer said. "I wasn't completely sold either until I met him. They have a tremendous high school coach down there who has worked our camps. We have a great relationship with him. He kept telling us (Demps is a player). There's a connection there.

"A lot of schools passed on (Demps) and made a decision not to recruit him. There were certain things on film when you watched him. ... We had our concerns. The concern was cleaned up once he got here."

The concern, of course, was that Demps was more of a track guy than a football player. Given his size (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) and his speed (10.17 seconds in the 100 meters, the fastest time in the 100 in high school history), he seemed to fit the description of one.

Meyer said Demps changed the perception early in two-a-days back in August. Meyer said he knew Demps was a football player the first time he competed in the circle of life (a full-speed contact drill in which two players go one-on-one to determine a winner)."

"The first time we put his little tail in the circle drill, he came completely out of his shoes and threw every one of his 175 pounds into another guy," Meyer said. "That's the first part. The second was once (strength and conditioning coordinator) Mickey Marotti and (running backs coach) Kenny Carter (started working with him).

"He was trained basically his whole life to run 100 meters straight ahead, which is much different than what you're asked to do on the football field. In the summer, he had to work on some things. To this day, he's still working.

"The cut he had (on a 38-yard touchdown run) against South Carolina, he put his right foot in the ground, a little bit of Percy Harvin style, and cut back. That's self-made. He's worked on that."

As a true freshman this fall, Demps has shown everyone that he's not a track star playing football, he's a football player who happens to be very fast.

He's been a major player in the UF running game, rushing for 440 yards and five touchdowns and averaging 9.6 yards a carry.

Saturday, Demps will have a chance to fulfill part of his childhood dream by playing in Doak Campbell Stadium. He always thought it would be for the Seminoles, but now it's against them.

When asked if he had added motivation for this game, Demps said, "Yeah, a little."

Other than that, he's not saying much about the Seminoles.

But Banks said he knows how special this game is for Demps.

"Even after FSU didn't offer him, he still went up to some of their games last season, hoping the offer would come. But it didn't," Banks said. "It's going to be a real personal game for him. I think he's going to be excited. I don't know how he'll do, but he's happy to be facing Florida State."

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