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Former Zephyrhills star in center of Urban Meyer, Florida Gators drama

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Tue. April 10, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

A Sporting News investigation has sparked some controversy about Urban Meyer’s tenure at UF, and a former Zephyrhills football star is in the middle of it.

Bryan Thomas was a four-star safety who took the Bulldogs to the playoffs and was an a first-team all-Suncoast pick in 2005. But he battled injuries in Gainesville. Here’s what the Sporting News' Matt Hayes wrote about what happened next:

After the 2008 season, Thomas says he was told he had to “move on” because he wasn’t in the team’s plans for 2009.

“I told (Meyer) I was on track to graduate, I wasn’t a problem and I did everything I was supposed to do—I just had a knee injury,” Thomas said. “I told them I wasn’t leaving, and if they tried to force me to leave, I was going to tell everyone everything."

The next day, Thomas says he was given a medical hardship letter by position coach Chuck Heater stating Thomas had an injury that would prohibit him from playing football. The medical hardship scholarship doesn’t count against the NCAA limit of 85, and allows the affected player to stay on academic scholarship.

It also made room for another recruit. Meyer denied this tactic of roster management.

It's worth noting that, if Thomas' allegation is true, Meyer wouldn't be the first coach to use that tactic, and he won't be the last.

Thomas left UF and went to North Alabama, where he had four interceptions and 87 tackles in two seasons. He was the only former Gator who allowed Hayes to quote him by name in the story, and he said some harsh things. He told the magazine that Meyer “lost the team’s respect” and that UF was “out of control.”

Hayes’ story details allegations of drug use, player favoritism and fights and is worth a read here.

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