This article will tell the stories of 10 Gator players that never panned out to be major contributors but had major hype. The reasons for players underachieving range anywhere from transfers to injuries and sometimes dismissal from the team. I’ve tried to pick 10 players that were highly recruited and came to Florida with the potential to become an immediate impact. Some of the players names will be hard to recognize if you aren’t a die-hard Gator fan because they were with the program for such a small amount of time. I will not be listing Cam Newton because we all know he would have been a great Gator player and chronicling his achievements is a redundant redundancy. Let’s reminisce on some ghosts of Florida Gators past…
Willie Green RB- Green came to the Gators a little before our 10 year cut off (1999) but remained on the roster until 2002 so I’ve included him on the list. Willie Green was a highly touted running back recruit out of Osceola High School in Kissimmee FL. Green was around before the “star rating” system became popular but he would have been a consensus five-star RB. He possessed good size at 5’10, 217lbs and was extremely powerful. Although Green had a power backs build, he carried his weight very well and was often able to pull away from secondary defenders. In his senior year at Osceola HS, Green ran for 2,364 yards and 34 TD’s making him Florida’s HS career leader in TD’s with 107. The 7,947 yards he accumulated in HS ranked him 2nd only to Emmitt Smith in Florida history and 11th nationally. In 1999 Green won the Mr. Football award for Florida and was ranked as the #3 RB in nation by National Bluechips All-America. When Green enrolled at Florida, he received a medical redshirt in his freshman year after blowing out both of his knees and needing reconstructive surgery. In his second year he received limited carries due to his continued recovery from his knee injures. In his final two seasons he continued to be limited and hindered by his knees and ultimately received only 33 carries for 134 yards and 3 TD’s in his Gator career.
Marcus Manson RB- At 5’11, 200lbs, Marcus Manson had the prototypical size that Florida was looking for in a RB. A consensus four star recruit, Manson was ranked as the #11 RB recruit (Rivals) in the nation and the #4 player in Alabama. Manson had great moves and was extremely quick when he found the running lane. He was shifty in the open field and ran very similar to former Gator RB Ciatric Fason. Clocking a 4.4 in the 40, Manson had the speed to run by defenders and the moves to break some ankles. Marcus had extraordinary athleticism as seen in his track and field career. He was a star on his HS track team running the 55, 100, 200, and 4×100 meter dashes. He also starred at the triple jump and the long jump. In his first season with the Gators (2004) he was a member of the scout team and saw no game action. His next two years included a decent number of carries but he never solidified the starting role. He played mostly on special teams and often times returned kick-offs. In 2007 Marcus was moved to DB temporarily and saw limited action before being moved back to RB. Soon after that season, Manson transferred to Valdosta State in order to gain more playing time at RB. It always looked like Manson was going to lock down the starting RB spot for the Gators because he performed well and averaged good yards when he received carries. Unfortunately, he never panned out and decided to continue his career elsewhere.
Gary Brown DT- Ranked as the #2 defensive tackle in the nation by both ESPN and Scout, Gary Brown was a mountain of a man. At 6’4, 280lbs, Brown had the strength to compete for a starting position right away at Florida. He had surprising quickness for man of his size and racked up 26 sacks and 114 tackles as a junior in HS! Over the last two years of his HS career, brown tallied 40 sacks as a DT!! He was a consensus five-star recruit and was considered the jewel of the 2009 Gator recruiting class along with perennial underachiever Andre Debose. In Brown’s first season, the coaching staff was disappointed to find a very poor work ethic and a constantly out of shape athlete. During a party in Gainesville in 2010, Brown slapped a few women and injured another student in a broken glass incident of some kind. He was ultimately arrested on Battery charges and promptly kicked off the team. Imagine a team with a DT corp of Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, and a hard working Gary Brown!
Torrey Davis DT- A consensus five-star recruit, Davis was rated as the best player in the state of Florida and between #3 and #9 best player in the country. At 6’4, 290, Davis was an absolute beast. He played almost immediately after arriving in Gainesville and made one of the biggest plays in the 2008 National Championship game when he stuffed the Oklahoma RB at the 1 yard line on 4th down. Davis was as good of a prospect as any DT the Gators have ever recruited and I fully believe that he would have become as productive and dominating as players like Sharrif Floyd, Ray McDonald, and Gerrard Warren. In high school, Davis was absolutely overpowering for the offensive lineman. In his senior year he recorded 72 tackles and 16 sacks and was chosen as a U.S Army All-American. He chose Florida over FSU, Miami, Georgia, USC, and Alabama. Davis was known for his very quick first step and his massive strength. In HS, Davis qualified for the state track and field championship in shot put and discus. After just one semi-productive season, Davis transferred to Jacksonville State after he ran into some legal troubles and encountered “personal problems” off the field.
Marcus Thomas DT- I’m seeing a bit of a trend with these defensive tackles. Marcus Thomas may be the most productive player on this list but, he still left the team prematurely and provided a substantially low amount of star power compared to what Gator Nation had expected. Marcus was a highly recruited DT out of Jacksonville FL. He came to UF amongst high expectations in 2003, ranking as the 6th best DT in the nation and the 11th best overall player in Florida. In 2003, Thomas earned limited playing time and tallied 47 tackles and 1.5 sacks. In 2004, Thomas built upon his promising first season by earning a starting role and contributing 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His numbers were decent but not the type of domination that Gator Nation had expected. In his junior year (2005), Thomas just about reached the “domination” level by racking up 45 tackles, 4 sacks, and a blocked kick. The fan base was buzzing about Thomas by seasons end and I remember talking to many of my fellow students about Marcus being the “key” to the defense in 2006. Sure enough, the beginning of the 2006 season was a beastly performance by Thomas. He was constantly in the backfield harassing the opposing QB and stuffing every RB who tried to run up the gut. Unfortunately, the domination ended rather abruptly after Thomas was suspended for failing a routine drug test. After his suspension, Thomas was reinstated but played only a few more snaps before he was dismissed permanently for skipping a drug counseling session and breaking curfew to attend Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando. The only reason I have included Thomas on this list is because he was the most disruptive player on the 2006 defense (a defense that won the National Championship). The fact that the Gators still won the National Championship in his absence showed how well the previous coaching staffs had recruited. The day after Thomas was kicked off the team, the campus was in a bit of a panic because it was well-known that Marcus was a player we couldn’t afford to lose. I’m glad we were wrong but, imagine how much more powerful that D line would have been if Marcus was involved all season. I have a feeling that Thomas would have gone down as one of the best, if not the best DT to ever play at Florida.
Taurean Charles LB- Taurean Charles came to Florida in the 2002 recruiting class as a slightly undersized DE (6’1, 234lbs). He was quickly moved into the LB position by the Gators coaching staff and began to show his amazing talents in practice. Charles fluctuated between four and five stars as a recruit, depending on the analyst. He was known as a relentless pass rusher and often dominated the games at Miami Northwestern. The Northwestern team that he played for in HS was so good that ESPN put out a documentary called “Year Of The Bull” that documents the team’s success and spotlights Taurean Charles quite a bit. He led the state of Florida in sacks in his senior year with 31 and was ranked anywhere from the #15 player in the nation to the top #50. In his first season at Florida (2002) Charles was red-shirted and played mostly on the scout team although, he earned scout team player of the week multiple times. After a year in the Gators workout program, Charles became an intimidating looking LB and was ready to make his mark in the 2003 season. Before the 2003 season, Charles encounter his first of many off-field problems and was suspended for the first game. The rest of the season was very mediocre for Charles. He played as the second string middle linebacker and saw action in 11 games. In the summer between the 2003 and the 2004 seasons, Taurean got into trouble with the law again after he was involved in a massive fight at a frat house on campus. There was rumors of him throwing a keg at another student and fighting with multiple other fraternity members. Charles was eventually kicked off of the team and transferred to Bethune Cookman where he became a stud LB for the Wildcats.
Dee Finley S/LB- Rated as the #1 safety prospect and the #10 player in the nation in the 2008 class, Dee Finley was a huge “get” for the Gators. Urban Meyer and staff pulled Finley out of Alabama and kept him away from the Tide. Unfortunately, Finley was not ready academically for UF and was forced to attend a year of prep school before enrolling for the 2009 season. When he finally arrived on campus, Finley made an immediate impact in preseason practice. His athleticism was as good as advertised and he pressed the current safeties and the LB’s for playing time. Finley gained a good amount of weight in the Gator workout program and was ultimately moved to LB from his original safety position. Although Finley received limited playing time at LB, he received substantial reps on special teams and recorded numerous tackles on kick-off coverage. It looked like Finley was on his way to earning more playing time on the defense when he was sidelined with a broken collarbone. After the injury, Dee Finley seemed to fall off the radar all together. He was arrested soon after and charged with driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest without violence. With his lack of playing time and recent brushes with the law, Finley decided to transfer to North Alabama. If Finley could have developed a better work ethic and acted more maturely overall, he could have been a major contributor for the Gators.
Jerimy Finch S/LB- Finch was rated as the #1 safety prospect in the nation in 2007. Hailing from Indiana, Jerimy Finch led his high school team (Warren Central) to 4 consecutive 5A state titles. No other school in Indiana had ever accomplished this feat. Finch averaged around 100 tackles per season in high-school and he totally dominated the state championship game in his junior year with 11 tackles, a 42 yard interception return for a TD, and a 55 yard punt return for a TD. Depending on the recruiting source, Finch fluctuated between four and five stars and turned in some very impressive stats (6’2, 200, 4.6). A 4.6/40 is a very impressive time for an athlete that will be playing LB at the college level. Finch was also a potentially dangerous LB because he had the instincts and the ball skills of a safety. He proved his potential early in the 2007 season by making a number of tackles on special teams and earning snaps at LB on defense. In the Tennessee game Finch recorded three solo tackles and interception before he broke his leg returning the pick. Finch had some serious potential and talent. There’s no doubt he would have been an excellent player on the Gators LB corp. Instead, after rehabbing from the injury, Finch decided to move closer to home and transferred to University of Indiana. He remained with the Hoosiers for one season before he left that program as well.
Avery Atkins DB- Atkins was a highly sought after recruit during the 2005 recruiting season. He signed with the Gators out of Daytona Beach Mainland HS and became an immediate contributor to the Florida secondary. Atkins had decent size for a corner at 5’11, 189lbs and possessed outstanding speed. He played DB and RB in high-school. As a true freshman at UF, Atkins started in three games and recorded one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and numerous tackles. Atkins had a pension for breaking up passes and was the definition of a blossoming “shut down corner”. His ball skills were outstanding and his speed allowed him to stay with everyone he covered. He was one of the first players to contribute right away (as a true freshman) during the Urban Meyer era. After Avery Atkins showed that talented freshman could earn starting roles on Meyer’s team, Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins followed in his footsteps. Atkins story took a dark turn after the 2005 season when he was arrested multiple times on drug charges and once for aggravated battery. After the three arrests Atkins moved home to Daytona Beach to get his life in order. Unfortunately, Soon after the move, Atkins was found dead at his home while inside of his car. The autopsy determined that Atkins had died of MDMA intoxication (ecstasy) and carbon monoxide poisoning. His story is a tragic one made only worse by the potentially bright future that he held in football.
Gerald Christian TE- A consensus four star prospect, Christian was rated as the #2 TE recruit in the 2010 class. Christian was an all-star athlete that played both sides of the ball in high-school (TE and LB). He recorded 170 tackles over his junior and senior season and 367 receiving yards with 3 TD’s as a senior. His physique was off the charts (6’3, 245) and reminded me of Florida basketball center Patrick Young (not as tall of course). He had no body fat and looked like he was chiseled from stone. To top it off, Christian had great speed and even better hands. Christian gained immediate playing time after arriving on campus and saw action in the first game of the 2010 Gator season. He ended up playing in all 13 games and even graded out a “champion” during one week of the season. He was tough to bring down with the ball in his hands and was big enough to shield the defender from the ball using his large frame. After the 2010 season, Christian decided to transfer from Florida citing more playing time as the impetus for the move. I also believe that the recruitment of outstanding TE prospect AC Leonard may have had a hand in the decision to leave. The competition would have been fierce for the starting TE position and I really wish the Gator Nation could have experienced a team with two amazingly talented TE’s.
Although these loses seemed devastating at the time, the Gators have dealt with the adversity very well. Last season proves that the new recruits could more than fill the holes left by the recent transfers. This years recruiting class is shaping up to be just as lethal. Go Gators!