Wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose has been on campus so long that he’s caught passes (in practice at least) from Tim Tebow. Due to two redshirt seasons, Debose is entering his sixth year on campus. Since then, he’s been through seven quarterbacks (Tebow, John Brantley, Jordan Reed, Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg), six WR coaches (Billy Gonzales, Zach Azzanni, Aubrey Hill, Bush Hamdan, Joker Phillips, and now Chris Leak), four offensive coordinators (Steve Addazio, Charlie Weis, Brent Pease, and now Kurt Roper), and two head coaches (Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp). He’s moved from spread to pro-style, and now back to spread offensive philosophies. One thing has remained a constant for Debose: His dedication to Florida and the ability to take it to the house whenever he has the ball in his hands.
Coming from Seminole High School in Sanford, FL, Debose showed the skills to be a gamebreaker at the next level. He played nearly every offensive skill position (QB, RB, WR) and even returned punts and kicks for the Warhawks. Debose was also a state champion track star. During his senior season, Debose set four personal bests on the track: a 10.68 100m, 22.21 200m, 23’ 2.5” long jump, and 44’ 7.25” triple jump.
On the football field, Debose was nothing short of spectacular. During his junior season, he rushed for 712 yards and 11 touchdowns, passed for 204 yards and one more score, and added 270 receiving yards. Not a bad season for the do-it-all Debose. But his senior season was phenomenal. Debose accounted for nearly 2,500 total yards and 22 TDs while showing his electric athleticism and agility. He rushed for 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns, threw for 353 yards and four TDs, notched 664 receiving yards and six scores while also returning 10 punts for 236 yards and 14 kicks for 497 yards. He even caught the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the Class 6A State Championship against Miami Northwestern to give Seminole a state championship. Debose’s season landed him on the 2008 EA Sports All-American First Team, Orlando Sentinel‘s All-Southern Team, a spot at No. 6 of 120 top recruits by Mobile Press Register Super Southeast list, and an invite to the ESPN/Under Armour All-Star Game. He didn’t disappoint at the all-star game either. He caught a 90-yard touchdown pass to put Team Black on the board.
His versatility and agility led him to receive offers from some of the biggest college programs out there. He decided to go Florida over Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, and USC.
The Florida Gators and Urban Meyer were getting the playmaker they needed run their offense. Meyer even went as far as to anoint Debose “the next Percy Harvin“. With his size, skills, and adaptability, Harvin seemed to be a good comparison for Debose’s style. The Gators were getting a five-star prospect (like Harvin), who was ranked as the No. 2 WR, fourth Floridian, and 15th overall of the 2009 recruiting class, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Florida was also getting a player who was expected to fill some pretty big shoes.
Debose ended up redshirting his first year in Gainesville due to a lingering track injury. He underwent a knee biceps (part of the hamstring group) femoris graft to repair the old injury. Debose bounced back with a solid freshman in which he showed off his return skills. He returned 21 kicks for 587 yards, including a 88-yard touchdown against LSU and a 99-yard opening kickoff return against South Carolina. His season led to honors. Debose was named a Sporting News Freshman All-American, the SEC Coaches All-Freshman Team, Phil Steel’s All-SEC team, and the title of best return man by the College Football Performance Awards.
In his sophomore season, Debose showed he was more than just a return man. He led the Gators in receiving yards and touchdowns, as well as kick returns. He caught 16 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns, showing his gamebreaking potential with two TD catches of 65 yards and another of 80 yards. He also returned 19 kicks for 495 yards, including a 99-yard TD against Ohio State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl which set a UF-record for most career kickoff return TDs. Debose earned CFPA National Wide Receiver of the Week honors for his three catch, 151 yard and two TD performance against Furman and the Gator Bowl MVP for his 137 all-purpose yards and score.
Big things were expected out of Debose for his junior season, but his season came up short. He caught only three passes for 15 yards. His return game was once again back in full force, however. He returned 18 kicks for 510 yards, including an SEC-tying 100-yard kickoff return in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville. That 100-yarder was the longest in the history of the Sugar Bowl. Expectations were high once again for Debose to finally break out as an offensive weapon and not just as a special teams standout in 2013. But his plans got derailed when he tore his ACL in fall camp and had to sit out the season. Debose applied for a medical redshirt and gained a sixth year of eligibility.
It’s now or never for Debose. He’s got a chance to break the all-time SEC record for kickoff returns for touchdowns with his next score. He’s amassed 1,592 return yards and four TDs, along with a 27.4 average, but still has only managed 29 receptions for 543 yards and four scores as a WR. Not bad for a season, but for a player who was expected to come in and produce like Harvin, it’s a little below average. The real issue with Debose may be that our expectations have been too high and too much pressure has been put on him. Being compared to possibly the most talented Gator ever to put on the Orange and Blue isn’t fair to any body. Just let Andre Debose be Andre Debose. He’s got a chance this season to make a name for himself so future generations will compare current players to him.