Who will be the next Florida player to wear No. 1? Here are three candidates

Zach Abolverdi
The Gainesville Sun
Former Gators C.J. Henderson (left) and Kadarius Toney were both awarded the No. 1 jersey prior to the 2019 season.

Dan Mullen knows how to pick ’em.

When he was hired as Florida’s head football coach, No. 1 hadn’t been worn by a Gator the past two years. 

Mullen kept it that way in 2018, giving his criteria for the coveted number during his first spring speaking tour.

"You’ve got to be a baller to be No. 1,” Mullen said at the time. “I don’t know if I have anybody at No. 1 just yet. I don’t know if anybody’s done enough.”

Following his inaugural season at UF, Mullen assigned No. 1 to cornerback C.J. Henderson and receiver Kadarius Toney in 2019. Both players were, indeed, ballers. 

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Henderson and Toney became the latest Gators with that number to get drafted in the first round, joining Vernon Hargreaves III (2016), Percy Harvin (2009) and Reggie Nelson (2007). 

Recent UF players who wore No. 1 also include second-round picks Jon Bostic (2013), Janoris Jenkins (2012) and Keiwan Ratliff (2004), 1994 SEC Player of the Year Jack Jackson and first-team All-SEC selections Tony George and Chris Rainey.

Even former receiver Quinton Dunbar, who went undrafted in 2015, is entering his seventh season in the NFL as a cornerback. Baller!

No. 1 at Florida isn’t just the top player(s) on the roster, but has the potential for SEC POY, first-team All-American and first-round status. The number currently belongs to Gators defensive end Brenton Cox Jr., a Round 1 projection in four early mock drafts.

Here are three offensive UF players who could be worthy of the jersey: 

Jacob Copeland, wide receiver, redshirt junior

Florida Gators receiver Jacob Copeland (15) flips the ball to a referee after catching a touchdown pass during a game against the LSU Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Dec. 12, 2020.

If someone else is going to get No. 1 this season in addition to Cox, Copeland is the most likely candidate. He’s the only returning starter in Florida’s receiving corps and led the Gators last year in yards per catch (18.9). Copeland is not only expected to be the go-to target for new starting quarterback Emory Jones, but the replacement for Toney in the slot. He worked at that position this past spring and received a handful of carries the last couple years. His touches and production will increase this fall after making 23 receptions for 435 yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

Xzavier Henderson, wide receiver, sophomore

Xzavier Henderson pulls in a pass form Kyle Trask during the Gators' game against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, November 14, 2020 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. / UAA Communications photo by Courtney Culbreath

Henderson is one of the highest-rated signees under Mullen and a rising star in his offense. He has elite speed like older brother C.J., posting the nation’s fastest 400m dash mark (47.17) and third-best 200m time (21.09) as a high school senior. Henderson turned down Alabama and Clemson to come to Florida, where he played in 11 games last season. He ranked second behind Copeland in yards per catch (16.4) among receivers, cracking UF’s rotation as a true freshman with his deep-threat ability. Henderson hauled in nine receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown, a 43-yard bomb off a flea-flicker. 

Demarkcus Bowman, running back, redshirt freshman

Florida running back Demarkcus Bowman (middle) catches a swing pass during spring practice.

Bowman, a former five-star recruit, wore No. 1 at Lakeland and Clemson. He’ll have to earn the jersey at Florida like Cox, Henderson and Toney, but Bowman is up to the task. He was a home-run threat in high school, rushing for 5,081 yards (11.4 per carry) and 71 touchdowns in three seasons. As a freshman with the Tigers, Bowman rushed nine times for 32 yards before transferring to UF. He has immediate eligibility, but is behind four backs on the depth chart. Nonetheless, Bowman boasts the skill set to make an early impact and eventually switch from No. 23 to 1.