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Gators' Malone rebuilds his good name

The day he heard his name on television, Kedra Malone wanted to scream. The University of Florida tailback knew he had been away from the football field for a long time, but he didn't realize it was that long.

The announcer couldn't even pronounce his first name correctly.

"I thought, "Oh, no, nobody remembers me. They don't know what I can do. They've forgotten me,'

" Malone said. "After my first year here, I was looking forward to making myself a household name."

Somewhere between becoming a household name and a mispronounced name, Malone got hurt. And then got hurt again. A bum knee followed a bum shoulder, and it all meant nearly two years of inactivity for Kedra _ pronounced KEY-dra, by the way.

A two-time All-State running back at Niceville High in the Panhandle, Malone had been an impressive find during Steve Spurrier's first days at Florida. One of only two players _ Harrison Houston was the other _ to play as a true freshman in 1990, Malone averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and was the team's third-leading rusher.

Then came a separated shoulder that led to a redshirt season in 1991 and a torn knee ligament that kept him out of Florida's first three games of 1992.

By the time Malone reappeared in UF's 28-21 win against Louisiana State on Saturday, it had been exactly 23 months since he had been in a game.

It didn't take long for him to renew old memories.

"We need to let Kedra run the ball more, and we'll see how that goes," Spurrier said the next day. "Errict (Rhett) is more of a power runner, and Kedra is the type who hits holes. He definitely needs some playing time."

Malone's performance was hardly astounding _ he gained 30 yards on seven carries _ but it came at a crucial time for the Gators. Ever since Rhett injured his ankle against Tennessee three weeks earlier, Florida's running game had all but ceased.

The Gators had no experienced backups, and Rhett was running tentatively.

When Malone came out of the huddle for the first time against LSU, the Gators trailed 10-7 and Rhett had rushed eight times for 24 yards. On his first play, Malone gained 13. The drive ended in a UF touchdown, and the Gators led the rest of the way.

"It had been so long since I had played, my heart started pounding when coach told me to get ready," Malone said. "I started thinking about all of my assignments for our formations and what I should do if they blitzed it was all running through my head, and I could hardly think for a minute."

The 179-pound Malone provides a nice contrast to the punishing running style of Rhett. Malone is more elusive and quicker to the hole, whereas Rhett will bulldoze through a defense.

"With hard runners, you have to put the hole where it's supposed to be," said UF tackle David Swain. "Kedra's easier to block for. He'll find the hole wherever it is."