Dean’s early experience proves critical vs. FSU

Florida freshman defensive back Trey Dean III returns an interception 44 yards Saturday against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

TALLAHASSEE — Without their top defensive back, and with an early 1-1 record, the Gators saw their hopes of making a run in 2018 slipping away.

Until freshman Trey Dean III stepped on the field, that is.

Dean replaced injured sophomore defensive back Marco Wilson in the team’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky earlier this season and never looked back, and Saturday revealed just how necessary Dean’s early experience was when it came to Florida’s success in Dan Mullen’s first season at the helm.

Dean had one of Florida’s two interceptions in the team’s 41-14 victory at Florida State, and his efforts in the secondary helped the Gators hold quarterback Deondre Francois to just 154 passing yards and a 48.3 percent completion percentage.

Considering the depleted depth at secondary this season, Dean’s early emergence was a sight for sore eyes — but it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“The progress for him has been outstanding. From the beginning, having to step in for Marco, and just having to go out there and step into a big role. Most freshmen don’t get that call,” junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “(But) at Florida, most freshmen get that call. Not just because of injuries, just because that provides experience.”

It was just a year ago that Wilson and fellow cornerback CJ Henderson were freshmen beyond their years at Florida — meaning the blueprint was fresh for Dean to follow.

But Saturday, Dean bore resemblance to Gardner-Johnson.

With the Gators clutching a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Francois looked deep to pass, but didn’t see the double coverage. Dean played the ball well in the air and hauled in his first interception before dashing 44 yards in the other direction.

It was the cherry on top of a standout season for Florida’s heavily involved freshman, and Gardner-Johnson couldn’t help but feel a little déjà vu.

“This game (as a freshman in 2016) was my first career pick. It’s just another step for him. He can’t dwell on it,” Gardner-Johnson said of Dean. “He played well. Young guy that’s going to be great in the future. Continue to look for his number.”

With Wilson and Henderson set to return next season for what could be a final ride for UF’s dynamic defensive back tandem, Dean’s emergence should spur the secondary for years to come. Although Dean was thrust into the metaphorical fire early, there was no expectation for the former four-star prospect to become the next Wilson or the next Henderson — he simply needed to be Trey Dean III.

“There’s a standard we have to live by, and you don’t have to be the best, but you have to do your best every day. And if you do that, then you’re going to have success,” Mullen said. “And I think as the year went on, our guys, they’re really buying in to that.”


  1. If Chauncey Gardner-Johnson comes back next year, we will have the best secondary in the country. Wilson, Henderson, Dean III are damn good and I really like Stewart at safety. Next year is looking good on both sides of the ball.

  2. This is exciting to see dean play well. Hopefully he learns even more things in the off-season and bowl time including leadership intangibles from Henderson and Wilson. I hope Chauncey comes back too as the NFL needs guys who can play against the spread and one more year here will pay off imo.

      • i know we had our own struggles against three good passers from georgia to south carolina, but how can lsu try to claim the dbu title after giving up 74 points and 6 passing tds against no interceptions against A&M? I know greedy williams thought he had one, but 7 times in overtime the tigers couldnt stop the pass. i know there was something in the air that night, but i dont think ole CJ and Dean would have let that happen on their watch, im just saying. Greedy williams is going to make an all america team they say, give me CJ’s gang instead.

  3. I remember the ESPN recruiting guys raving about Trey Dean at the Under Armour practices.

    Based upon Dan Mullen’s NFL-ready comment, it will be interesting to see how many of the juniors stay for their senior years. Polite’s probably a first rounder and goes. Zuniga and Wannie might make more money staying another year. Chauncey might leave because another year may not significantly improve his draft position.

    Scarlett is a different because he’s a running back, although he’s still low mileage because of the suspension. Suspect he leaves regardless of his evaluation.

  4. Look at how much of an improvement these players made this year with CDM at the helm. If these juniors don’t really need the money right now, then I would suggest that they come back for one more year if only to be better prepared to play with the big boys in the NFL. One more year in strength and conditioning with one more year of experience, these juniors could not only help to give us a shot at the National Championship, but would push their draft stock higher. Of course it is up to the situation for each individual, but we will have no choice but to back them all fully with their choices. All in all we know one thing for sure – these GATORS are being steered by the right Captain. GO GATORS!!!

    • g8rbyrd – CDM doesn’t have to lick his chops…he is going to have to make some tough decisions on who he won’t be able to take. With what he did in one year here, and with players that he didn’t recruit, he has made our GATORS great again. Any Highschool players wanting to play College ball should want to jump through hoops to play for CDM and his staff. They will be better prepared for a shot at the NFL too. GO GATORS!!!

  5. Yes, TD III is coming of age – has already developed quite a bit. Suggesting he continue in the footsteps of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and others who have made their mark by always being self-disciplined, striving to improve, and realizing that perfection is a goal to strive for but is never really achieved (we are all human and we all make mistakes). Great job in the FSU game – looking for much more to come from TD III!!!