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4. FLORIDA
Jeff Pearlman
August 25, 1997
As Elijah Williams, schoolboy All-America, walked through the halls of Milton (Fla.) High five years ago, choices, choices, choices swirled through his head. North Carolina or Florida? Tar Heel or Gator? Tobacco or oranges?
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August 25, 1997

4. Florida

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Returning Leaders

Passing

Doug Johnson Soph.

12 comp., 27 att., 171 yds., 2 TDs

Rushing

Fred Taylor Sr.

629 yds., 5 TDs

Receiving

Jacquez Green Jr.

33 catches, 626 yds., 9 TDs

Tackles

LB Johnny Rutledge Jr.

108

Sacks

DE Tim Beauchamp Jr.

7

Interceptions

CB Fred Weary Sr.

5

As Elijah Williams, schoolboy All-America, walked through the halls of Milton (Fla.) High five years ago, choices, choices, choices swirled through his head. North Carolina or Florida? Tar Heel or Gator? Tobacco or oranges?

"I finally decided Florida had two things I wanted," says Williams. "First, Errict Rhett was graduating, so I had a chance of coming in at running back right away and playing. And second, no one wore number 25. It was mine."

Funny how things change. Though Williams, now a senior, has been the Gators' top rusher for two seasons (671 yards last year), he is moving to left cornerback, where, in the pass-happy, let's-give-Florida-a-taste-of-its-own-medicine SEC, everyone could have his number. "I'm gonna be target number 1—no doubt," says Williams, who was a part-time defensive back in high school. "But it's a challenge I like. It's just another way to compete."

With safety Lawrence Wright and cornerback Anthone Lott lost to graduation, the 5'10", 182-pound Williams has become more essential to the defending national champions' defense than to their offense, which is well-stocked with talented runners. "Our job is to get the best players on the field," says coach Steve Spurrier.

Though the Gators lost Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel to graduation, they have Doug Johnson, already established as a championship-caliber clipboard holder, ready to take over at quarterback. Johnson has the arm—he was a second-round pick of baseball's expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays last year as a third baseman—and should thrive under Spurrier's quarterback-friendly system. That is, unless no one knows how to catch.

Florida's top two receivers last season, All-Americas Reidel Anthony and Ike Hilliard, are gone, having opted for NFL riches. The Gators will turn to Jacquez Green (33 catches, 626 yards in '96), a bona fide deep threat who, for the first time, will have to carry a heavy load. Spurrier is also looking for contributions from at least two of the team's five freshman receivers.

Unlike its receiving corps, Florida's backfield is experienced—and deep enough not to miss Williams. It includes tailbacks Fred Taylor (629 yards, five touchdowns last fall) and Eugene McCaslin (290 yards, four touchdowns), as well as versatile fullback Terry Jackson (388 yards, eight touchdowns). A promising omen, if you believe in such things (which Spurrier does), is the presence of freshman fullback Rod Frazier, the kid brother of a former option-running, number 15-wearing, two-time-national-championship-winning Nebraska Cornhusker named Tommy.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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