Florida Gator defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy is a budding Superstar Gator. Wearing Tim Tebow’s old number 15, the sophomore from Pensacola, Florida has been making a name for himself as a special teams monster since the start of last season. This season he is also a standout corner for the Gators.
As a true freshman, he played almost exclusively on special teams as a gunner on the kickoff and punt teams. It was obvious this guy was special. There are not many freshman who only play special teams that can become a standout or a fan favorite. Loucheiz is no average ball player.
He’s a raw football player who has speed to burn. Many times on punts he beats the ball to the spot. Yesterday against Missouri he actually caught the punt and downed it inside the ten yard line.
He was a multi-sport athlete at Pine Forest high school where he was a state rated track star and a standout on his basketball team as well. He was a somewhat under the radar recruit that Nick Saban REALLY wanted. At Pine Forest Loucheiz played many positions including quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and corner back. No matter where they put him he excelled and made big plays. He once blocked a punt tipping it in the air, and caught it in full stride about 12 yards down the field and scored with no one within 30 yards of him.
All he’s done since he arrived in Gainesville is continue to make plays. His biggest asset is not his speed but his aggression. He’s gained fan popularity by making big hits on punt and kickoffs. Against LSU he put a lick on the returner Odell Beckham, Jr that is still reverberating.
Fans and media alike have taken to his play on special teams and his loose celebratory style. So have teammates. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn said of him,
“He brings an energy to the team, to the defense and to the special teams in terms of the way he covers. He’s physical”
His teammates love the energy he brings but not all of them. He is a terror to the running backs and receivers in practice as he’s ALWAYS trying to strip the ball from them. He can frustrate even the best ball handler with his constant reaching in, a skill he learned as a standout basketball player.
Fans love him now but It wasn’t always this way. Early in the season he was criticized relentlessly on sports message boards as a poor tackler and a weak link in an otherwise great defensive backfield. Fans groused because he missed a few tackles against Texas A&M and Tennessee by taking a poor tackling angle or stance. Some called for him to be benched, some called for him to be switched to receiver where the Gators could use his speed and playmaking ability and where he wouldn’t be a liability to the defense.
Muschamp, however, was not one of them. During a media session in spring practice a reporter asked Will what he regretted about his first season in Gainesville, the worst for the Gators since 1989. Muschamp responded the only thing he regretted was not playing Loucheiz Purifoy more. High praise for an unproven freshman who had played primarily on special teams until he was forced into action in the bowl game against Ohio State due to Marcus Roberson’s injury.
This is what Muschamp had to say about Loucheiz earlier in the season,
“A guy that’s covering as well as I’ve been around. Here’s a guy that plays corner, starts at corner, plays in upwards of 50-60 snaps in a game. The way Kyle (Christy) is playing right now, he’s covering punts for about 50 (yards). (Purifoy) just does a great job of getting down the field and disrupting returns. He’s on our kickoff coverage team. The importance of special teams, here’s a guy that understands it and gets it.”
And obviously Muschamp gets Loucheiz.
At 6’1″ and 190 lbs and running a 4.38 forty yard dash, Purifoy has the ideal size and speed that Muschamp covets at the corner position. He can cover the taller receivers with his length, has the speed to play man coverage, the hips to matchup with the athletic receivers, and is a hard hitter in run support.
As a corner, Loucheiz is still raw and learning. He played mostly offense in high school and the leap from high school to the SEC at that position is huge. The learning curve is high especially for someone who didn’t get to focus on that position until he got to Gainesville. He mostly relied on athletic ability in high school.
He is, however, a natural. He was a great basketball player and that translates to the corner position in reaction speed. A great corner has to be able to change directions almost instantaneously, leap quickly, and move laterally as well as in a backpedal. Loucheiz has all the tools necessary to be a great one for Florida if he continues to hone his technique under Muschamp’s tutelage.
He’s also a ball hawk. Against South Carolina he stripped the ball from Conner Shaw on the first play from scrimmage on a corner blitz setting the Gators up for a quick score and setting the tone for the game. He also forced another fumble on a kickoff in that game as well. In the first start of his career against Ohio State last season he also had a forced fumble and brought a new level of energy and excitement to a young secondary that had lost some edge at the end of last season.
We’ve seen him on special teams and we’ve seen him on defense but will we see his speed on offense? We actually have already. He barely missed catching a long td pass earlier in the season on a deep sideline throw where many felt he was interfered with by the defender but it was not called. Muschamp talked earlier in the season about using Purifoy’s skill set on the offensive side of the ball,
“Loucheiz is a guy that’s got good vertical skills and he’s got good ball skills,” Muschamp said adding, “We’re trying to get more explosive at the position and he’s certainly a guy that can do some things for us and that role will continue to grow as we move forward.”
To date they’ve only used him sparingly but why they don’t utilize him more often on offense is a mystery to me. His size and speed create a vertical threat that the Gators do not currently possess. It may help keep teams from loading the box on the running game, and help spring some underneath crossing routes to Quinton Dunbar or Andre Debose.
Regardless of where they play him, Loucheiz Purifoy is a hard-working grinder who wants to get better. He excels because he is a competitive and is driven to be a play maker and a difference maker. My favorite Purifoy quote is this one:
“They asked me to go force fair catches and make plays, so I tried to take it like it was one snap of defense. If the returner so happens not to call a fair catch, he just gets blew up.”