GAINESVILLE — Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy couldn't help but notice himself all over a few of the preseason college football magazines, yet he insists it's not as if he spent a lot of time searching for them.
But after a breakout season last year, Purifoy is a rising star. The news that the junior from Pensacola is positioned to become a three-way player — cornerback, receiver, special teams — just added to the hype.
But he wants Florida fans to know nothing has changed where he's concerned.
"I know a lot of people are talking about me, talking about me maybe playing both ways, but honestly I'm not even thinking about that," Purifoy said. "To me, it's really not that big of a deal. I did it in high school. I've done it since I started playing football. I know it's different when you do it in college, not too many guys do it. But I'm just taking it day by day. I'm still the same guy I've always been. I just want to be the best I can be for my team."
His best, according to coaches, is still yet to come. But what he has done so far has been quite impressive. Purifoy started 12 of 13 games at cornerback last season, played wide receiver in one game, and was a key member of the special teams unit with three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He finished with a career-high 51 tackles, fourth on the team.
"He's just a great player," redshirt junior cornerback Cody Riggs said. "It's no surprise he's playing all these positions and getting all this attention. He's good at them all."
Inexperience and lack of playmakers at wide receiver precipitated the experiment at that position in the spring. Purifoy didn't get as much time on offense in fall camp because coaches needed to see what some of the newcomers could do. But that doesn't mean opposing defenses don't need to prepare for the possibility of Purifoy.
"We think he still gives us a body that's an explosive threat," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "Any time you put the ball in his hands, he's got potential to do great things with it. He's a guy that will still figure into plans as we go along."
Purifoy, at 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, will follow in the Florida tradition of Lito Sheppard and Keiwan Ratliff — both All-SEC defensive backs who got limited time on offense. But if necessary, Florida's coaches won't hesitate to use Purifoy in the mold of former Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, who as a junior in 1998 had seven games — six consecutive — with 100 or more snaps. His season high was 111 against Auburn.
Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said he has no doubt Purifoy could match those numbers, or at least come close, but just how many snaps Purifoy will be involved in during a game remains to be seen.
"The guy's in good condition, he can run and go all day," Durkin said. "That's one of those things you have to manage and control throughout the game. It depends on the situation and what the environment is, how hot it is and all those things. His starting position, or where he starts out, his home base is on defense at corner. We do the snaps accordingly. The thing about Loucheiz is he's a guy that, obviously, everyone needs breaks every now and then to get your wind back, but he can run all day, and he's a great competitor. He's a hard guy to keep off the field, he wants to be out there. We just have to be smart about that, and we will."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]