Gator bond one reason Jefferson returned for senior season, he says

Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) celebrates his second quarter touchdown with tight end Kyle Pitts (84) and quarterback Kyle Trask (11) in the game vs. FSU last November at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

 In making his decision to return for his senior season a year ago, one of Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson’s deciding factors was he wanted to improve on his already precise route-running ability.

 But that wasn’t THE factor.

 What was is he simply wasn’t ready for his overall Gator experience to come to an end.

 “I wanted to come back with some of my teammates,” he said. “And I came in with Coach (Dan)  Mullen. I didn’t want to leave after just one year. I wanted to stick it out with those guys and that coaching staff. We did pretty good, so I’m glad I stayed.

 “It’s all about the bond we have. I just didn’t want to leave those guys like that.”

 Those guys are his coaches and teammates in general, and his fellow wide receivers in particular, especially the three other seniors — Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond.

 “I had a great time (at Florida),” Jefferson said. “I love the guys on my team. I got close with those guys. We all loved being around each other and we loved playing ball.

 “If you have a team that loves getting better and loves seeing other players excel, that team is going to go far. I had a great time. I made some great relationships — me, Freddie, Tyrie, Josh, Tre (Trevon Grimes), Cope (Jacob Copeland), Kyle (Trask). We all still talk to this day.

 “I don’t think that bond will ever go away. I’d happily do it all over again. I’d pick Florida again.”

 Jefferson and the other three senior wideouts are gone — and 139 receptions for 1,871 yards and 16 touchdowns they combined to make last season have left with them.

 It’s a whole lot of production that needs to be replaced.

 But Jefferson said Gator receivers won’t miss a beat in 2020. 

 “They’ll  be fine,” he said. “They’ve got some great playmakers that are going to come through and make plays. They’re in good hands with Tre and Cope and Kyle. Rick Wells.

 “Some freshmen are going to have to step up. Xzavier Henderson, he can come in and make some plays. (Redshirt freshmen) Dionte Marks, Ja’Markis Weston and Trent Whittemore, they’re in good hands. Coach G (Billy Gonzales) is going to do a great job coaching them up and getting them ready to play.”

 Jefferson has his prediction for who will have a surprise breakout year in 2020.

 “I think it’s going to be (redshirt senior) Rick Wells,” he said. “He will make a huge impact and people won’t be expecting it. I can’t wait to see him go out there and prove people wrong.

 “He’s been working so hard these past couple of years. All that hard work he’s been putting in is going to pay off.”