UF’s young DBs exude quiet confidence

Florida defensive back Marco Wilson (3) makes a play during practice. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

In the defensive meeting room under the stadium, where a few scooters are parked to avoid parking tickets and workouts are scribbled on a whiteboard, Florida’s two young cornerbacks talk in hushed tones of quiet confidence.

It’s part weariness from the latest summer workout and part personality. They are still getting to know this process of talking to the media after being censored like all freshman were last year.

And they went through a baptism they never expected last season, a 4-7 debacle that saw the coaches who recruited them sent packing and ridicule piled upon a once-proud program.

It scarred them, mentally and physically, a lost season for two guys trying not to get lost as true freshman.

Marco Wilson, a legacy with star power written all over him.

CJ Henderson, pushed into a position he had never played before.

“I didn’t know how to handle that last year,” said Wilson, the younger brother of former Gator star Quincy Wilson. “That was bad, but it was good to see when things are going bad, people are still watching and you have to continue to play.

“It has me motivated this year because it was disrespectful. That’s not what Florida is.”

What Florida is now is something completely different. New attitude, new coaches, new optimism.

Same young cornerbacks.

The two rising sophomores have a season full of experience at a different level. As a result, they are expected to be one of the strengths of a defense that slipped just a bit in 2017.

That quiet confidence is a product of a season on the brink.

“The first time playing corner, it was an adjustment,” said Henderson, who played running back throughout high school. “I really tried to learn off experience because every corner is different. In high school, you just play off athleticism. Here, it’s technique and I’m still working on it.”

Henderson put up the flashiest numbers in 2017 even though he started only five games of the 11 Florida played. He had four interceptions, returning two of them for scores in consecutive games (Michigan and Tennessee), the first true freshman to do that.

And yet, he feels like last year was a big learning curve and we haven’t seen anything.

“I need continued consistency,” he said. “I need to get my hands on more balls. I have to understand offenses better.”

One would think that as he gets more comfortable with a position that is no longer brand new but still has some shine on it, that he will only get better. And last year, he was second-team All-SEC.

Now you can take that honor for what it’s worth. So often, voters just look at the leaders in interceptions to fill out their ballots and Henderson qualified in that regard. Seriously, if you were such a lockdown corner that no quarterback even looked your way, you’d have no shot at being all-conference. But that’s a rant for another day.

Without studying tape, do any of us really know if Henderson played better than Wilson? Or vice-versa? Wilson led the Florida team with 10 pass break-ups and started all 11 games. But he had zero picks.

“You can be a lockdown corner, but if you don’t get interceptions people don’t know what you’re doing,” Wilson said. “I’m really excited to go after my goal list.”

You can guess what one of the things is that is on that list.

Surpass Henderson in the video game “Fortnite?”

Yeah, probably. The two roommates share a love for the game and a bond built from being thrown into the fire at a place that considers itself the real “DBU.” Arguments can be made for several, but think about this — Florida has sent seven defensive backs into the NFL in the last three years despite being on its fifth DB coach in five years.

“We’re going to keep putting guys out there,” Wilson said.

The latest of these coaches to work with talented defensive backs is Charlton Warren, who brings discipline to a position that feeds off structure.

This is what Warren said this spring: “When you have discipline and accountability, you don’t blow coverages. When you have discipline and accountability, you communicate effectively with your teammate, your squadmate, your brother next to you. You make sure everybody is on the same page.”

OK, so two guys who have developed a rich bond forged by the fires of desperation now have a guy who will be holding them accountable.

What’s not to like?

“We’re on the same path,” Wilson said, “trying to get to the same place.”

Let me guess. Does it have three initials?

“I’m ready to see what the future holds,” Henderson said. “We have a great future.”

Especially with the short past that forged them now in the rear-view.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.


  1. Let’s hope Marco is better than his brother to earn the title of a legacy CB. Henderson was an unknown last year. I think opposing offenses are going to try him this year. Looks like both are going to be contributors. They sound hungry. I like hungry.

    • Gator65. Henderson was a highly-ranked DB recruit and was considered one of the best DB prospects in the country when he signed with Florida. Almost every major program in the country wanted him. He was hardly an unknown. He was a little raw since he played a lot of offense in high school because of need. He is just extremely gifted. But one issue last year was his motor, which seemed to shut off at times. He will not be able to do that and stay on the field with this coaching staff. And I expect his motor will run more often and become one of the best CBs in the SEC this season, along with Wilson. I also expect Stewart to take a major step forward at safety this year. And if Burney learns the defense and can play the safety opposite Stewart, the combination of Wilson, Henderson, Chauncey-Gardner, Stewart, Burney, Taylor, and Davis could become the best secondary in the SEC this year.

      • Tampa, thanks. I should have said unknown because of his play on the other side of the ball. I remember reading he was highly sought and that most wanted him on defense. Just unknown because he didn’t have the time the others had. I agree with you he seemed to lose steam at times. Maybe the conditioning will fix that or if it was drive the coaches will have to find out if he has it in his heart. I wasn’t clear on how I worded the post.

        • He wasn’t the only one to lose steam last year, ’65. Most of the time, I remember distinctly, I was weaving tapestries of profanity during games about sense of urgency….that’s what it struck me as at the time. Or as you said, “mailing it in”, truly. In retrospect, with the advent of Savage, I can see now that it was clearly poor conditioning for the most part, with the remainder of the variance accounted for by Mac and Nuss in combo–I mean, if those two guys didn’t know what the hell they were doing, how could you expect the players to give a damn (much less have a sense of urgency)?

          But the culprit vis-a-vis conditioning should be fixed, and fixed good by September.

      • TebowCurse I think the all time score is 34-26 with some ties FLORIDA. I appreciate your passion for some team other than Florida but until the balance is tipped in your favor FSU is still the loser. FSU is on it longest streak. It still doesn’t beat 9 in a row or two times 6 in a row. I think there is fear in you man. The fear the OC that was undefeated against FSU. Fear that as a coach the current game streak is going to become nothing but a memory.

      • Mikey. Here are just a few over the over 30 top programs that did want Henderson and made him offers:
        Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, Tennessee, and Southern Cal. It came down to either Alabama or Florida in the end. He picked Florida. Seems to me more like Henderson wanted nothing to do with FSU, not the other way around.

      • You are very dumb and can’t count. Florida has owned your chick school and benefited to be on the same plane ONLY because of the Probation in which didn’t help us on the field. Get us while you can. Even in your recent streak you still have 9 to go to get to us. Speaking of cheating…hahahaha…FSU…hahahaha.

        Go to bed little boy…

  2. I think I’ve finally figured it out: the reason what’s his name is such a good baseball coach is he wears a baseball uniform during games. That’s it, I’m sure. The players identify with him and vice versa, and they know he’s covering their back, sides and front. All the time. Now, my suggestion is this–get all the football coaches to wear game uniforms with full padding during games this coming season, including helmets with face guards. All of them. If that works, we’ll try basketball next

  3. Arnold: I think TebowCurse had another ridiculous comment in here someplace yesterday, but I don’t see it this morning. Since I’ve got a memory about as long as my ____, I’m not sure; but in case he did, let me second TampaGator in being appreciative of you guys taking active steps to clean this site up.

      • Don’t know, Arnold, but he popped up again this morning. Maybe he’s gone by now again, I just got back from an appointment (amazing how addictive this site is). Anyway, I appreciate any thing you’re doing, bud.

        I’m normally against censorship of any variety, but to tell you the truth, this TebowCurse thing was getting downright ridiculous. Brings out the worst in all of us, although at my age I’m always one synapse away from firing for effect when somebody interferes with my pleasure zone. Well, maybe two or three, but I’m trying to be better anyway. Just hope Tim and GatorG are not caught up in the sweeps–they have been accused left and right, but in reality are both good guys and loyal Gators. Meanwhile, keep up the good work!

  4. If I had a nickel for every article about confidence, swagger, positive vibe, and the like, well id have a lot of nickels. My vote is for these kids to know how to handle struggles. some days its just something little, but you have to not let it unravel things, not double down and gamble to make it worse, just focus on not making the fatal mistake and let the positive take care of itself. we have the talent to approach the game in that manner and be successful imo, and that approach will get us a better record. After we have a better record we can talk about how confident we were, but things go wrong for every one, we all must cope and avoid disaster first, then success later. we are just now cleaning up a mess, no time to talk big.

  5. Gator DB and Safety prospects ‘appear’ to have the right pedigree. Chauncey Phillips should make SEC wide receivers think twice about going against him in press coverage. /That said, everybody else looks good—on paper. Unfortunately, the games aren;’t played on paper.

    • Yeah, that’s certainly true, Cattrick, and in our excitement we best not forget that too. What we’ve got here is “promise”; of course, we’ve had that before over that last woeful 7 years. Every year I’d keep saying to myself, “OK, looks good now, got that behind us, maybe this will really be the year…..”. But deep down inside my gut was telling me something was still wrong even tho the talent was mostly there.

      Again, the talent is mostly there, however, my gut is telling me something different now. I hope it’s not gas, despite my world class predilection for the same, unless of course gas is spelled M-U-L-L-E-N.

      Thanks for the post—Go Gators!