<
>

Catch him if you can: Demps revs up Gators

10/30/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Even his own teammates kidded him about being a track guy playing football when he first arrived on campus.

Funny how those jokes have dissipated now.

Florida coach Urban Meyer might be laughing, but he's laughing with glee every time he sees Jeff Demps touch the football.

If there's a faster player in college football, I want to see him. If there's a more electrifying player in college football when he sees daylight, I want to see him.

Demps isn't ready to brand himself as the fastest man in college football. He's a bit more diplomatic.

"There's a lot of fast people out there. I'd say I'm one of the fastest," Demps said.

Then again, how many people out there can run a 10.01 in the 100 meters, which is the time Demps turned in at the U.S. Olympic Trials back in June? He just missed making the Olympic track team, but set a national high school record in the 100 meters.

He's now setting the pace for the Gators' offense, which went to a whole different level once Demps and fellow speedster Chris Rainey were fully incorporated into the rotation three games ago against Arkansas.

Demps, a true freshman from Okahumpka, Fla., already has five scoring plays of 36 yards or longer this season, and four of those have come in the last three games.

His speed is such that the simplest of plays can turn into touchdowns.

Against Kentucky last week, he took a 5-yard dump pass from Tim Tebow over the middle, turned the corner and scorched the left sideline for a 61-yard touchdown.

"This is the first time I can remember, other than when we've put Percy back there, that we've designed pass plays for the tailback back there," Meyer said. "We've never done that, and now we're getting 18- and 19-yard gains when you just flip it back there. That's never been a part of our offense before and now it's a big part of it."

Demps' efficiency has been remarkable. He leads the team in rushing (359 yards) despite being fourth on the team in carries. He's averaging 11.9 yards per carry and 11.4 yards on his nine pass receptions.

So every time he touches the ball, he's averaging 11.8 yards, and he also blocked a punt last week against the Wildcats.

"It seems like everything took off for me in that Arkansas game," said Demps, who carried the ball just once in the previous two games against Ole Miss and Tennessee. "I got a couple of carries and had some big runs. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I think it gave them a lot of confidence in me."

There was still the matter of proving to everybody that he was a football player who also happened to run track and not the other way around.

Demps said he's bulked up to 183 pounds after reporting around 173. He's also shown that he can take a hit and has only lost 2 yards all season.

Against LSU, allegedly the best defense the Gators have faced this season, Demps rushed for 129 yards on 10 carries and had a 42-yard touchdown run.

"He doesn't need much room, and that just makes our job easier," Florida offensive tackle Jason Watkins said. "He's a lot stronger than you think, too. He's got to make those guys on defense nervous, because they know if they miss just one tackle on him ... there's a good chance they just cost their team a touchdown."

On Saturday, Demps gets his first taste of the Florida-Georgia rivalry. And while he may be the Gators' hottest player right now on offense, he suggested that the Bulldogs' defense would be wise not to target just him.

"It's been fun to have a couple of breakout plays, but we have so many guys capable of doing that on our team," Demps said. "If you concentrate on just one of us, the other ones are going to get you."