The Florida Gators football team held their annual awards banquet yesterday where they reflected on an 11-1 season in which they came within a turnover or two of going undefeated, playing in the SEC Championship game, and having an opportunity to play for a BCS title. The players who were instrumental in helping the Gators turnaround the program from a 7-6 record last season, the Gators worst since 1989, were honored with awards which were voted on by players and the coaching staff.
The Ray Graves Award, named after the Gators legendary coach in the 1960′s who first put Gator football on the map and also served as athletic director for many years, was given to running back Mike Gillislee as this season’s team MVP. A 5-11 209 senior from Deland, Florida, Gillislee was given the award after a season where he carried the offense on his back literally and figuratively becoming the first Gator running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Head coach Will Muschamp had made it clear in the offseason that this team needed to get tougher and he needed the offense to become the downhill running team that he envisioned when he took over the program. He pointed out that little used Mike Gillislee would be the back to change the fortunes of the Gator offense and he did not disappoint.
Many fans might have questioned coming into the season if Gillislee, who had been prone to nagging injuries throughout this career, could be an every down back and be the guy that Muschamp needed to carry the ball between the tackles. Though it was obvious throughout his career that Gilly was a tough runner, very rarely arm-tackled and rarely taken down for a loss, the tendency to miss time due to injury was a big question mark. Gilly certainly passed the test this season as he played through injury to put up big games against two of the toughest rush defenses in the country in LSU, where he rushed 34 times for 146 yards and both of the Gators touchdowns, and FSU where he rushed 24 times for 140 yards and two td’s as well. For the season he had 235 carries for 1104 yards and 10 td’s along with 15 receptions for 146 yards and 1 td.
Gillislee was the focus of an offense that had little else to complement him. With a first time starting quarterback and a weak receiving corps, the Gators were one of the most conservative offensive teams in the nation, and, as such, Gillislee continually faced eight man fronts and game-plans designed to stop him. However, he never complained and never failed to give maximum effort even when offensive line injuries made the inside running tough and caused his stats to decline. When he wasn’t breaking tackles and moving piles, he was drawing defenses in allowing the Gators to get to the edge with Jeff Driskel or wideouts Solomon Patton, Andre Debose, and Omarius Hines.
Mike Gillislee was the consummate picture of a quiet leader and a true team player and, perhaps his best attribute this season, was serving as a teacher and a role model for back-ups Matt Jones and Mack Brown who will take over the load in Muschamp’s run-first offense next season.
The Gators annually give out two awards, one for offense and one for defense, named in honor of former Florida Gator football player Greg See. The awards are named the Greg See Tenacity Award Offense which went to Jon Halapio and Jonathan Harrison and the Greg See Tenacity Award Defense given to Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd. If you’ve never heard of Greg See, you can be forgiven. He was a scout team tight end from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania back in the mid 90′s who never got to play a down for the University of Florida. He was diagnosed with brain cancer and went through a long arduous battle which he ultimately lost in July of 2000. His story, though, touched the hearts of the Gator Nation and Gators everywhere rallied to his side with fundraisers and such ultimately endowing a scholarship at the university. His story is touching and you can read about it here.
Appropriately this award is given to players who have fought through adversity whether in their personal lives or in their playing career and overcome it with dedication and hard work. This year’s recipients endured a little of both.
The offensive recipients Jon Halapio and Jonathan Harrison were both members of that small 2009 recruiting class which came to UF thinking about championships and BCS bowls. What they found was a coach that was no longer committed to the program who left, came back, and then left again and a team that was divided between the old guard stars and the younger guys. Urban Meyer had fostered a caste system under his watch that had resulted in poor team chemistry by the time these two arrived on campus and it left them with little in the way of leadership to teach them their way. They endured a lot of turmoil and upheaval learning one offensive system, then having to learn another under Charlie Weiss, and then a third when Weiss bolted and Pease came in. Rather than championships and caviar dreams these guys played through a 15-11 record their first two years as starters. In spite of all the change and excessive criticism from a spoiled fan-base that often vented the majority of their frustration towards the offensive line, and these two players in particular, they endured, worked hard, and became the leaders of an offensive line that brought toughness back to the Gator program.
Defensive award winners Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd endured adversity of a much more personal level before they ever arrived on campus. Elam’s story is well documented with him losing two siblings to gun violence, his parent’s divorce when he was still a very young child, and then his father’s death. For many people so much tragedy in a young life might derail them from their goals, but for Matt it’s what has given him focus to become the player he is today. What that is is the top rated draft eligible safety, a potential early entrant to the NFL draft, and the only junior named captain at the awards banquet.
Sharrif Floyd had a very troubled childhood growing up in a poor section of Philadelphia. His father died when he was three and he bounced around living in extreme poverty. Rather than turning to gangs and violence that so many inner city children do he immersed himself in football and became the top rated defensive tackle in the nation as a high school senior. Of course, the adversity didn’t stop there. Before the start of the 2011 season it was reported the NCAA was investigating a former South Carolina booster who had befriended Floyd while in high school and eventually ruled that Floyd had received impermissible benefits, required him to pay the money back to a charity, and suspended him for the first two games of last season. In spite of everything, which included more bad publicity this season when a USA Today story was published about the guy involved in the benefits case legally adopting Floyd, he endured, worked hard, and became an All American this season. Floyd became the unquestioned leader of a defensive front that finished sixth in the nation against the run and fifth in the nation in total defense.
2012 Gator Team Award Winners
President’s Academic Award- Caleb Sturgis, Jeff Driskel, Michael McNeeley
Gene Ellenson Community Service Award- Jon Bostic, Jeremy Brown, Caleb Sturgis
Iron Gator Strength and Conditioning Award- Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio, Omarius Hines, Sam Robey, Lerentee McCray
Chris Patrick Courage Award- Dominique Easley, Chaz Green, Jon Halapio, Ronald Powell, James Wilson
Most Valuable Offensive Scout Team Award- Max Garcia, Mark Herndon
Most Valuable Defensive Scout Team Award- Alex McAlister, Jeremi Powell
Most Valuable Special Teams Scout Team Award- David Campbell, Rhaheim Ledbetter
Rex Farrior Most Team Spirited Offense- Xavier Nixon
Rex Farrior Most Team Spirited Defense- Matt Elam, Dominique Easley
Greg See Tenacity Award Offense- Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio
Greg See Tenacity Award Defense- Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd
Most Valuable Special Teams Player- Caleb Sturgis, Loucheiz Purifoy
Most Valuable Offensive Player- Mike Gillislee
Most Valuable Defensive Player- Matt Elam
James W. Kynes Award (Best Mental/Physical Toughness)- Matt Elam, Jon Bostic
Ray Graves Award (Team MVP)- Mike Gillislee
Fergie Ferguson Leadership Award- Sharrif Floyd, Jon Bostic, Frankie Hammond, Josh Evans
Team Captain- Jon Bostic, Mike Gillislee, Matt Elam, Jon Halapio, Omar Hunter