Demps has focus on future in pro football


Some critics have questioned his size, but Florida running back Jeff Demps' elite speed will have professional scouts taking a close look at him in next year's NFL draft. (Staff photo by Doug Finger/Photo illustration by Adam West)

Published: Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 10:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 10:18 p.m.

The running back wears orange and blue, but he grew up bleeding garnet and gold. Jeff Demps has a confession to make: Once upon a time he wanted to be a Seminole, not a Gator.

“I was always a Florida State fan growing up, I always wanted to go there,” said Demps, who will end his regular-season collegiate career Saturday night against FSU. “For me to finish out my college career against those guys definitely means a lot. Growing up and watching this game, I never thought I'd be playing in it. For me to come out with a victory against a childhood team that I loved would be pretty nice.”




Demps liked FSU, but the Seminoles apparently felt that the star sprinter wasn't fully committed to football.

“I think they said I was just a track guy playing football,” Demps said earlier this week.

Demps, for one, has always maintained that he's a football player first and foremost, and he reiterated that position when he revealed that he intends to pursue a pro football career after graduating from UF. Track, apparently, is on hold.

The plan is to “just finish out the season and see how that goes,” Demps said. “Hopefully, I'm drafted (pretty high).”

What about the 2012 Olympics? And the Olympic trials?

“I haven't planned on it,” Demps said. “All of my focus is on football.”

Demps won the 60-yard dash (6.57) at the 2010 NCAA Indoors and the 100 at the 2010 Outdoors (9.96), but the former South Lake High star may not give himself a chance to repeat that success. Running track this spring for UF may not be an option.

“Not sure,” Demps said. “Probably not.”

After this season's bowl game, Demps probably will begin preparation for the National Football League Draft. His lack of size (5-7, 191) may cause some NFL teams to pass on him, but others may crave his world-class speed.

“Anyone who runs that fast you can't ignore it,” UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. “You can't coach speed. When you can run that fast, it immediately puts you in the discussion in everyone's draft room. There isn't a draft room that he won't be discussed in. He'll probably get taken higher than his stats would (indicate) because of those physical attributes. There are teams where height, weight, speed comes into play. When you have that type of speed, that speed is rare.”

Demps' current focus is on FSU. No championships are at stake, but UF's collective passion has not waned.

“It's a big rivalry game,” Demps said. “We know them; they know us. Each and every year we try to come out and beat one another to have the bragging rights for that year.”

Florida, 6-5, has lost five of its last seven after a 4-0 start. Another win puts the Gators at 7-5. A loss to FSU drops them to 6-6, their first six-loss season since 1987.

“I wouldn't say we're down,” Demps said. “Things happen. We're not having the best season, but for us to come out with a win against Florida State, that'd be great.”

Demps, who missed the Auburn game because of an ankle injury, has rushed for 547 yards on 87 tries, but that productivity hasn't been enough to sustain a consistent offense. Florida, in fact, ranks eighth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (152.2 ypg) and sixth in scoring (27.3 ppg).

UF fans hoped for more productivity with the arrival of Weis and his pro-style attack, but those changes haven't yielded significant statistical improvement.

“We've got plays where we get the ball in different people's hands,” Demps said. “And they were able to make plays. Last year the ball wasn't in those guys' hands, so. … as far as which offense is better, I can't really say.”

One positive has been the play of quarterback John Brantley, who ranks fourth in the SEC in passing (200.9 ypg), up from eighth (158.5 ypg) last season. Had Brantley not sustained a severe ankle injury against Alabama, Demps believes the Gators' offense might have flourished.

“I think it would have been a different season,” Demps said. “As you can see, Brantley was coming around. He was real comfortable being in the pocket, being Brantley-like, the old John Brantley, like in high school.”

Demps and Brantley are among the nine scholarship seniors who will be honored during their last game in The Swamp. The others are defensive tackle Jaye Howard, cornerback Moses Jenkins, running back Chris Rainey, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and offensive lineman James Wilson. The others are defensive end William Green and offensive lineman Dan Wenger, a senior transfer from Notre Dame.

Demps and Green are from the 2008 recruiting class, a group that was hit hard by attrition. Eight left the program early.

“Me and a couple guys that came in with that '08 class we were talking about that,” Demps said. “We sit around and talk about it a lot of the time. Like I said, things happen. We're still in contact with those guys, even though they're not here.”

Demps, meanwhile, has persevered. Over the summer he considered giving up football to focus on track full time, but chose to return for his senior season. Speculation surged that he would choose track, but Demps stayed true to his word. Football is his priority.

“I wasn't lying about that,” Demps said. “I was always a football guy.”

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