Five stars in the making
Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.
The players who would go on to be stars for the Florida Gators during the 2012 season were pretty much overlooked on all the preseason All-SEC teams, including the one voted on by the media at SEC Media Days last July.
On that media team, there were no UF position players on the first team. It was pretty much the same on all the other preseason all-league teams.
But by the end of the season, Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam, Jordan Reed, Mike Gillislee and Jon Bostic were showing up somewhere on all the All-SEC teams.
This pretty much happens every season, players flying under the radar in the preseason and then zooming to the forefront during the season. New stars emerge at Florida.
So, who will those players be this season?
Here are five potential emerging stars for the Gators in 2013:
1. Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end/linebacker — Despite playing with what he calls some “baby fat” as a true freshman, Fowler showed everyone why he was a five-star prospect coming out of high school a year ago. In a conference where it's hard to play, much less make plays, on the defensive line as a true freshman, Fowler did both in 2012. Coach Will Muschamp has talked several times about Fowler's natural ability and his drive to succeed, and how he's been putting in the work since he arrived on campus last summer. Fowler recently said he's much stronger than he was last season and that he's quicker now that he's shed his baby fat. He said he's changed his body type in the weight room and is now much stronger in his upper body. He seems primed for a major breakout season in 2013.
2. Matt Jones, tailback — As a true freshman, Jones started showing flashes in the second half of last season. He bolted through the FSU defense (one of the best in the nation) for two highlight-moment touchdown runs in the second half of UF's victory in Tallahassee, and he hasn't slowed down since. He scored a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, then followed it up with an excellent spring that distanced himself from the other tailbacks in what was expected to be a tight race for the starting role. At 230 pounds, he's a bigger and faster version of Mike Gillislee, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Jones is a downhill runner who seems a perfect fit for what the Gators want to accomplish in their ground game. With his speed, cutting ability and power, he not only can grind out yards between the tackles, he's also home-run threat.
3. Quinton Dunbar, wide receiver — Florida's passing game is expected to be much more productive in 2013, and this is the wide receiver who could benefit the most. He really started coming on in the second half of the season in 2012 and continued his upward move with a strong spring. He's got good speed and hands and appears to finally feel comfortable in the offense. The coaches were expecting/hoping for Dunbar's emergence to happen two years ago. It's taken some time, but he appears on the verge now.
4. Antonio Morrison, linebacker — After doing some of the things he did as a true freshman last season — including knocking FSU quarterback EJ Manuel out of the game for a series with a thunderous (and clean) hit — this hard-hitting and instinctive middle linebacker appears to have a limitless ceiling. He takes over for Jon Bostic as the starter at middle linebacker this season, although it's possible Morrison could miss the first game or two after his recent arrest for misdemeanor battery. If he stays healthy and gets his legal issues resolved before the start of the season, this player with a passion for the game has a chance to evolve into one of the SEC's elite defensive players this fall.
5. D.J. Humphries, offensive tackle — Despite being considerably undersized in terms of weight, this five-star prospect from North Carolina saw significant playing time at left tackle and in UF's jumbo package last season. He will continue to gain weight and strength, and as he does, he figures to grow into a top-flight left tackle. The coaches and some of the other offensive linemen have said Humphries is agile and athletic, and that he has great natural technique for playing the position. With a year of experience, and with the added weight and strength, Humphries has a chance to start emerging as a potential elite offensive lineman in the SEC in 2013.
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