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Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is where he wants to be: on the football field

GAINESVILLE — Jeff Demps sat among his teammates Friday afternoon during Florida's annual media day and carefully surveyed the situation.

To his left was teammate and fellow running back Chris Rainey. On his right, all-purpose player Trey Burton and tight end Jordan Reed. As Demps watched, spoke and listened to his teammates, it slowly occurred to him that he had made the right decision.

"It feels good just to be around my teammates and just to be in this football atmosphere," Demps said. "I feel better than ever, and I'm ready to kick off the season."

Since January, Demps has spent the majority of his time competing with the Florida and U.S. national men's track teams. The 2010 NCAA outdoor 100-meter champion, Demps didn't even get a chance to defend his title after failing to make the finals of the 2011 NCAA championships. It began to stir doubt about his role as a dual-sport athlete.

"I thought about just focusing on track," Demps said. "Maybe if I was just to focus on track, I would be able to run faster times if I lost some weight. I felt like I could run faster if maybe I just gave track a full year, lost a little weight. I definitely gave (quitting football) some thought.

"But when I got back in the football atmosphere and talking it over with my parents and coaches — both sides, track and football — and praying about it, I came out with the decision that I wanted to play."

Demps, a 5-foot-7, 188-pound senior, admits the foot injury frustrated him and factored into his confusion. He sprained his foot in the Sept. 18 game at Tennessee and said he wasn't completely healed until his first track meet in February.

"It was really mentally tough for me," he said. "I wanted to go, and I felt like I could go, but I couldn't do it physically. It was real frustrating for me."

In his final season, Demps' new attitude includes a new number. He's no longer No. 2, but No. 28.

"I just wanted a running back's number," he said.

Last season, Demps and Rainey were projected to be a 1-2 tandem at running back. But Demps' injury and Rainey's legal trouble derailed that plan.

It was Rainey who helped Demps make his decision.

"I had a long talk with him and I was like, 'Man, it's your choice but I can't do this by myself,' " said Rainey, a redshirt senior. "It's two different ways he could go, but I couldn't do anything when it's his choice. But it's easier if there are two running backs instead of one."

Now both healthy and given one last opportunity, each is hoping to capitalize like never before on their potential. The two have combined for 3,504 rushing yards, and Demps has rushed for 1,901 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Many believe if Demps and Rainey had stayed on the field all season in 2010, UF might have been much better than 8-5.

Rainey doesn't disagree.

"You are probably right about that," he said. "But we're going to have to see that on the field."

Antonya English can be reached at English@sptimes.com.

Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is where he wants to be: on the football field

08/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 5, 2011 10:07pm]
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