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Gators' Debose back for one last season

8/14/2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Andre Debose took a look at the interview table that was set up with his name in front of an empty seat and leapt over it in one great bound.

For an audience of journalists gathered for media day, hours before the Gators opened preseason camp, there was no better way for the Florida wide receiver to show, not tell, everyone that he was completely healthy.

"I'm feeling great!" he said. "I'm feeling real good."

Almost one year ago to the day, Debose tore his ACL in one of Florida's first fall practices. He missed the entire season and was later granted a sixth year of eligibility.

Debose's injury was one of several that contributed to something of a doomed feeling heading into the 2013 season, according to players like running back Kelvin Taylor.

“Everybody kept falling, kept going down," Taylor said. "Just lots of frustration and we got some of our key players going down. When Debose went down it was like, 'Dang, man. One of our captains went down.'"

Always a tantalizing talent with a bright smile and personality, Debose has been an enigma throughout a career that started back in 2009 with Urban Meyer calling him "the next Percy Harvin."

Debose has rarely lived up to that sort of hype. He's seemingly had more injuries than big games, but did lead Florida in receiving yards in 2011 and owns the school record with four kickoff-return touchdowns (also tied for the SEC record).

"We missed his playmaking ability last year," coach Will Muschamp admitted.

This year, Debose's return is one of Muschamp's reasons for excitement in a pressure-packed, make-or-break season.

The coach has high hopes for Debose, whom he says is a better fit in Florida's reinvented offense. The Gators plan to use the 5-foot-11, 189-pound Debose out wide, in the slot and will even get the ball in his hands on speed sweeps.

Debose couldn't be happier. He's returning to the type of offense that once made him the No. 2 high school wide receiver prospect in the country.

"Great offense," he said. "I love the spread. This is what I was originally recruited for here at Florida.

"This is exactly what I did in high school."

Many of his high school peers have long since left college. Some of his fellow top prospects are playing in the NFL. Debose, though, is back with a second shot at a last impression.

Perspective has been easy to come by.

Time has matured Debose, once scorned by his coaches for questionable focus and work habits. His journey has transformed him from a puerile high school star to a 23-year-old man with one last kick at the can.

"I'm definitely not the same person I was five years ago when I was sitting in this same chair," he said. "I've had a lot of humbling experience with these injuries, so I've had a lot of time to sit back and just think and reflect on everything that's happened in my career."

With a clean slate, a new offense and a clean bill of health, Debose was clearly one of the Gators most excited to start a fresh season.

"Oh, I'm very optimistic," he said. "I haven't been this anxious to play in Lord knows how long."

There was one more thing that gave Debose a spring in his step on media day -- he was just a few days from graduating.

"It feels amazing," he said. "I started something and I finally finished it. ...

"I know that I've been through a lot, been through a lot of ups and downs, seen this team be successful and unsuccessful. It's definitely going to be a great experience just to walk off that stage and know that I'm done with the school part."

Next on Debose's college bucket list -- one last chance to pen the final chapter of his playing career.