Debose ready for senior season after string of injuries
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 8:49 p.m.
You can hear it in his voice.
The unbridled enthusiasm. The joy of recovery. The optimism that comes with one last shot.
One more chance to show what he can be. One more opportunity to hear the crowd and show what he can do.
“I can't wait to run through The Swamp again,” Andre Debose said.
He's not supposed to be here. That was never the plan. But plans are rarely grounded in reality. Life happens. A football career is filled with potholes. Sometimes you step in them.
For Debose, his career at Florida started with the declaration by then-coach Urban Meyer that UF had found the “next Percy Harvin.” It was a heavy burden to place on a freshman, and Debose never felt comfortable in Harvin's skin.
There may never be another Harvin at Florida, or anywhere else for that matter.
Still, he had a plan.
“My plan coming out of high school,” he said, “was to be out of there in three years.”
The first pothole was an old track injury that flared up and required surgery before he ever played a down. His freshman season was spent recovering. Over the next three years, he became one of the most dangerous return men in the game, running back four kickoffs for touchdowns.
Still, Florida expected more from Debose. He caught only 29 passes in those three years and rarely started. It was going to be his year in 2013.
But in August, he suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact drill. It was the end of his senior season and a portent of things to come for the Gators last year.
“I was competing at a high level,” he said. “I was doing everything the coaches were asking me to do. I was buying into the program all the way.
“It was a freak accident. I knew right away something bad had happened. There is no doubt in your mind when that happens that you've done something very wrong.”
The injury was devastating for Debose. His parents came from Sanford to be with him during the surgery. His dad, Morrell, stayed two weeks.
“It was very hard,” said Morrell, a deputy sheriff in Seminole County. “It was his senior year and he was expecting big things to happen. It was a difficult time for him.
“I just encouraged him, letting him know there were going to be better days.”
The physical part of the injury was bad enough. The mental part was excruciating.
“I went through a little slump,” Debose said. “It was pretty tough. It was definitely hard to deal with. And it was very hard to watch last season and know you can't do anything to help. Just sit back and watch. It was a shock.”
Join the club. Nobody saw 4-8 coming like a sledgehammer to the stomach. Debose's injury was the start of a string of bad luck for Will Muschamp's third team. By the time the Gators started losing games on a weekly basis, the injury to Debose had almost been forgotten.
There were too many to keep track of. But the loss of the deep threat and game-changer on kickoffs couldn't be underestimated.
As Florida prepares for spring practice next month with the goal of getting back to where it belongs, Debose is on track to be the player he knows he can be.
“I'm running pretty fast,” he said. “I'm still working on cuts. I'll take part in some drills, not everything. No contact.”
He is something of an X-factor for the 2014 season. If Florida can get the Andre Debose the coaches expected in 2013, it would add a major weapon to an offense that was punchless a year ago.
Debose had to appeal for a sixth year of eligibility and it was granted because he missed two full seasons with injuries. He will graduate in the spring.
His classmates from the 2009 recruiting class are elsewhere. Some are in the NFL. Some went to other schools. Some were at the NFL Combine this week.
Debose is working on a new plan.
“I feel like I'm a good football player,” he said. “It was hard to deal with the emotions I had to deal with. But I'm moving forward. I'm more focused. My Dad told me, 'Don't dwell on the past.'”
The past isn't what he expected. But the future — and Florida's new offense — has him ready to go.
“The spread is definitely a plus,” he said. “I'm looking forward to it. I came to Florida to play in the spread.”
Of course, so much has changed since he committed to play in Meyer's spread offense. This wasn't the plan. But as a wise man once said, isn't life what happens when you're busy making other plans?
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.