GAINESVILLE — The good news for Florida coach Urban Meyer is that when the 2009 season begins, he'll return every starter on defense from his national championship team, including linebacker Brandon Spikes. The bad news is that all-purpose wide receiver/running back Percy Harvin will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
"I will have a lot of great memories from my time at Florida, but the championships we won in 2006 and 2008 will be at the top of my list," the oft-injured Harvin said in a statement Thursday. ''When it is all said and done, I wanted to win. I wanted to be a part of championship teams. We did that at Florida and I had a great group of coaches, teammates and medical and strength staff that helped make that happen. I will always be a Gator and look forward to watching them play next year on Saturdays."
Spikes, who spent the past week torn between whether to return for his senior season or enter April's draft, joins quarterback Tim Tebow, who said Sunday that he is staying.
"It was a tough decision for me and my family," Spikes said in a statement. "I just felt like it was the right choice to come back."
Spikes led the team with 93 tackles, four interceptions and eight tackles for loss.
"We need Brandon Spikes back on our defense; he's that important to us," defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "Not just because he's a great player, but because he's our leader, the players respond to him, they follow him. As Brandon goes, so goes our defense. And you saw how our defense went this year."
Harvin, a projected first-round pick, finishes his career with 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing the ball 194 times for 1,852 yards with 19 touchdowns. His 32 career touchdowns are the most by a UF wide receiver. But the Gators have shown they can win without him. They defeated Alabama in the SEC Championship Game with Harvin sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
Running back Jeff Demps likely will step into the versatile role Harvin thrived in — a running threat with the ability to catch who possesses phenomenal speed. Running back Chris Rainey will also play bigger role, and five-star receiver Andre Debose may also help fill Harvin's void.
"You can never replace a player like Percy Harvin, but as you can see, we have a lot of players who step up," Tebow said.
"We are going to have guys like David Nelson, Riley Cooper, Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey. All those guys are going to step up with more experience, another year under their belts, and be that much better. So I feel we have a strong chance of being a very strong offense."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.