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FLORIDA'S RUNNING GAME BECOMES A GROUP EFFORT

Demps, Rainey and Moody seek to match the numbers of departed star Percy Harvin.

Florida running backs coach Kenny Carter is fairly certain it isn't realistic to expect a weekly repeat of the production he got from the trio of Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody in Saturday's season opener.

He is sure, however, he has seen solid proof that the running game is going to be just fine. And as evidenced against Charleston Southern, success won't come with just one player.

"We have several talented players who are going to have an opportunity to help this team in many ways," Carter said. "Our whole mind-set is competitive excellence and that when you get an opportunity to make a play, you make a play.

"You don't know how many carries you are going to get. You go in, and you do your thing. That's what they do with each other. They know that, 'Hey, if I get three carries, then I get three carries. If I get five, I get five. If I get one, I get one. It's what you do with it.'"

Demps, Rainey and Moody are out to prove the Gators can have a strong running game with more than just one dominant rusher.

And without Percy Harvin.

"When Percy left, we knew we had some big shoes to fill, so that made us want to step up a lot," Demps said. "We know we lost a great weapon."

Top-ranked Florida had five players with 40 or more rushing yards Saturday against the I-AA opponent, and five had runs of 23 yards or longer. The 369 yards were the most in a season opener in school history.

Demps, Moody and Rainey had a combined 15 carries for 89, 86 and 76 yards, respectively.

"We have three tailbacks that are almost equal," coach Urban Meyer said. "All of them are going to get an opportunity."

Each brings something different to the table. Rainey, a redshirt sophomore out of Lakeland, has speed and the ability to make people miss. And he spent the offseason mastering the playbook.

"He has really stepped up," Carter said. "He wants to be a good player. And he knows that his window of opportunity of excuses is closed. So it's either put up or shut up."

Moody, a redshirt junior, is the strong, physical runner who arrived with great fanfare,sat out 2007 as a transfer from Southern Cal but struggled with injuries since, including this preseason. But last week, he showed a glimpse of the player many expected.

"It felt good to be healthy and be out there for the first game," Moody said. "What I love about this is there's no envy among the running backs. We are pushing each other. We've learned how to be a cheerleader if we need to be sometimes."

"I was excited for him," Carter said. "He did a good job in pass protection. He did a good job running the ball. He had one run that was one of the best runs I've ever seen. We actually counted the number of people he broke a tackle of, and it was eight of them."

Demps, a sophomore, is the sprinter working to perfect his game, including changing directions mid run and catching passes.

"Last year at this time, I was kind of confused," he said. "All this stuff was coming at me so fast. But this year, it's kind of settled down. I'm used to the plays. I had a whole year of experience. I can kind of settle down and relax and just go out and have fun."

The balanced production by the trio, in reality, shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Florida was No. 10 nationally and led the SEC in rushing last season at 231.1 yards per game. And although often overshadowed by Harvin, Demps, Rainey and Moody combined for 220 carries and 1,674 yards. This year, they are hoping for something more. Like maybe 3,000 yards.

As in 1,000 each.

"We always have a little thing in our unit, and I think our goal is to get three 1,000-yard rushers," Demps said. "But if we don't ... I'm pretty sure no one will be disappointed. We'll just go out and work harder next season."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389. Check out her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.

Percy Harvin

660: 2008 rushing yards

644: 2008 receiving yards

Chris Rainey

652: 2008 rushing yards

37: 2008 receiving yards

Jeff Demps

605: 2008 rushing yards

141: 2008 receiving yards

Emmanuel Moody

417: 2008 rushing yards

0: 2008 receiving yards

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