Last season was extremely tough for senior receiver / returner Andre Debose. He was finally set to have a big year as a guy the staff and quarterbacks could rely on when he tore his ACL in fall camp and missed the entire year. Debose, who owns the Florida record for most kickoff returns for a touchdown is also tied for the SEC record in that category. On Saturday he dazzled with his ability to return the ball racking up 97 punt return yards including a highlight reel return that had the crowd amazed.
Late in the third quarter, Debose fielded a punt on the right sideline. He danced there before cutting almost all the way to the left sideline where he met up with some rather large defenders. Cutting back again and spinning, Debose left two defenders face down in the dirt as they had no chance of corralling him. He worked his way down field and back to the right sideline before diving around the five yard line and just short of the end zone.
The play was good enough for the number four spot on ESPN’s Sports Center ‘Plays of the Day’ and it got the crowd rocking yet again on a fun day.
“It felt like an eternity,” Debose said of all the twists and turns in the 55 yard return. “I made a guy move, the return was set to the right and I totally went to the left. It was just me trying to make a play. I don’t get too many opportunities, so I try to make the best of it.”
Debose has been a beast as a kick returner in his time at Florida. He’s returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his time. He has returned punts, but that hasn’t been as frequent, he says assistant coach Travaris Robinson coaches the return men and he makes them go through heavy turbulence just to field the ball in practice.
“T-Rob makes it so hard in practice (to field punts),” Debose said. “He puts us in situations to make us strain to catch punts. Practice is so much harder than the games. The games are easy… for real.”
Debose almost got untracked on offense as well. Used as a reserve at receiver for now, he came close to catching a couple of deep passes on Saturday. He believes the offense will be potent this year and is working to be more involved in it.
“This offense is looking amazing,” he said. “The sky is the limit. You guys just be ready for the season, because it will be something special and I am just excited to be a part of the team.
“I am definitely trying to get involved in the offense as much as I can,” he said. “It is nothing I am pressing about because the coaches are in complete control and they know what is best for the team. I am just going to go out and do the best I can.
He was the target a couple of times on deep balls from quarterback Jeff Driskel, but the two were just off including one shot in the end zone where Debose laid himself out only to slide face first into the hedges of the south end zone. That part wasn’t so much fun as he took a couple of seconds to get untangled from the shrubbery.
“I had a deep ball and saw the ball in the air,” he said with a smile as he relived it in his mind. “I was locked in on the ball and had no clue where the (end line) was. I have to knock some rust off for my awareness to kick in. I had no idea that bush was coming up that fast. Then when I hit the bush I got stuck, that is what took me a long time. I got stuck on my arm a couple of times.”
Debose is just glad to be out and playing again. Another year away from football was painful and he is just glad to be helping this Gator team.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Last year at this time I thought I wasn’t going to play football anymore. Just being out there and running around and competing. I have to give all my thanks to God. Without him, none of this is possible.
And his parents have also been there with him every step of the way. Mom and dad have talked him through the tough times.
“My parents have been with me since day one,” Debose said. “They never left my side. The day I injured myself, my dad called me and gave me some reassuring words. His main thing is telling me to continue to move forward. I did that and I am here now.”
And he couldn’t wait to talk to them about the big day back.
“I talked to my mom real quick and told her I had to talk to the media,” he said. “I think (my dad) won’t say much he will probably just grab me and give me and a big hug and huge kiss.”
And a lot of Gator fans might want to do that too.