Demps went from FSU fan to Florida Gators standout

GAINESVILLE — It's hard to tell now, but there was a time not long ago when Florida RB Jeff Demps was a die-hard Florida State fan. He watched FSU games, had his favorite Seminole players and even had some FSU gear in his closet.

"Yeah, I had some, back in the day," Demps said. "Back in the day, I would have gone there."

Considering he's just 18 years old, Demps reluctantly admitted that back in the day was as recent as two years ago. Actually, he was seen wearing an FSU shirt during his senior season at South Lake High — before he committed to the Gators.

So what happened with that love affair?

The Seminoles didn't recruit Demps, the speedy back who has become a dynamic weapon in Florida's rotation. The 5-foot-8, 176-pound freshman, who just missed qualifying for the Olympic finals in June, said FSU told him he was more likely a track star than a football player.

Funny thing: At one time, UF coach Urban Meyer thought the same thing.

"I had the same concerns," Meyer said. "Seeing him on film, I wasn't completely convinced either until I met him. … A lot of schools passed on him and made a decision not to recruit him."

But UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who was Demps' primary recruiter, saw something different in him.

"I knew he was a football player who could be a track star, not a track star who was trying to be a football player," Mullen said.

Demps has played in all 11 games with three starts. He has 46 carries for 440 yards — and a nation-best 9.5 yards per carry. His five touchdown runs have been 35 yards or more. So when the Gators play at Florida State on Saturday, Demps will be eager to show one thing: He's a real football player.

"It means a lot to me," Demps said. "But I'm going to treat it like every other game and just go out and play hard. It's just another game for us. That's the way we have to look at it."

New quarterbacks: With sophomore backup QB Cameron Newton in legal troubles, Florida is preparing to move forward without him this week — and perhaps beyond. Sophomore P Chas Henry will move to quarterback, and Percy Harvin will be the de facto fourth string quarterback, if necessary.

"We started that already," Meyer said. "Chas is meeting with the quarterbacks full time now, and Percy, (Sunday) at practice we took some direct snaps with him. Obviously we would have a limited throwing game with Percy at quarterback."

Meyer has much more confidence in Henry, who is the No. 4 punter in the SEC and a was a high school quarterback. "He's a very functional player, very competitive player, very smart player," Meyer said. "We're halfway excited about getting him in. I love him."

Rivalry week: The Florida-Florida State rivalry week kicked off Sunday, with the women's basketball teams squaring off in Tallahassee.

And who said there would be no upsets this week?

The unranked Gators came away with a 72-57 victory over the then-No. 22 Seminoles.

"With the level that Florida State is playing right now, to be able to go and win that game in Tallahassee was very significant," UF coach Amanda Butler said. "For our seniors to be able to win in Tallahassee, that's significant for any Gator, but definitely our senior class, which has struggled with Florida State throughout their career. The confidence we should draw from being able to beat a team that is that good, because they are definitely a postseason team, hopefully that is going to help us continue to grow in the right direction."

Rivalry week continues today when the No. 5 UF women's swimming team travels to Tallahassee to take on the FSU women and the No. 6 men's team will swim against the No. 20 men, beginning at 5 p.m.

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

Demps went from FSU fan to Florida Gators standout 11/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 10:44pm]

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