Andre Debose is a record holder at Florida. Five combined kick and punt returns for touchdowns, Debose was always a threat on special teams and the record stands as a school and SEC best. He also had his moments as a receiver. In 2011, he was a long ball threat and scored four touchdowns, all over 65 yards in length. In the open field he can be a difference maker.
That’s one reason he will get a good long look by the NFL. The other reason… he’s fast.
“I felt like I did pretty good, man.” Debose said after reportedly running 4.35 seconds in the 40 yard dash. “You know, it was what I expected. I tried to run a little faster than I did but that’s pretty good.”
“During my workouts I’ve been 4.3, 4.35. My second run I had to switch up my stance a little bit and I feel like it made me run a little faster but not too much.”
"This was a great day, man,” he said. “I showed I can run, and showed I can catch the ball a little bit. I felt good running around, other than tweaking my hamstring a little bit. Other than that, it was a great day."
He did cut his workout short a little because of a slightly pulled hamstring. He didn’t want to perform when he wasn’t completely ready to do so.
The Gators had nine players invited to the NFL combine but Debose wasn’t one of them. He stayed away from most of it except where his teammates were involved.
“I watched the top times,” he said. “I didn’t sit and watch the whole combine because I wasn’t a part of it. I had to watch my teammates for sure but other than that I didn’t pay any attention to it.”
Despite being left out of the combine, Debose is being courted by teams that want to take a closer look at him. Next week is a big week for him.
“Right now I have Chicago on April 13th, he said. “I go in to Cincinnati on the 16th and I believe the Patriots are going to set something up here soon to get me up in New England. That’s it so far.”
The shtick on Debose is that he is a “return” guy. That is a misnomer that he plans on dispelling. He believes he did a little bit of that on Tuesday and has long term plans of showing everyone he can be a big time player on the offensive side of the ball.
“What I bring to a team is a great wide receiver,” he said. “I can’t wait until I get into somebody’s camp and actually show them what I can do at the receiver spot and show them that I can be productive on the offensive side. Plus the special teams, I want the special teams to be my secondary thing. I want to be a primary receiver, a top-notch receiver in the NFL. That’s my dream. That’s my goal.”
But, he knows that teams will be really eyeballing his ability to turn any kick into six points.
"Special teams are definitely my way of getting my foot in the door,” Debose said. “That’s what I’m going to get thrown into when I get into the league. I’m perfectly fine with that, but like I said, I want to get into a camp and show whatever team I’m with that I could be a premier receiver as well."
He’s working on the little things now so that when he performs for teams he will be ready.
“Working out every day, just making sure I run routes, prepare like I will be a starter for some team and making sure that I’m in tip top shape,” he said. “Taking each day at a time, making sure my hands are up to par, make sure I don’t have any dropped balls and making sure I’m prepared.”
Debose says his agent is Nathan Olken and that he has been mainly training in South Florida.
"I was working out at North Miami at Pete Bommarito’s and I was there for about two months. I came back to Gainesville because I had a couple visits with teams. Houston came down. Oakland came down. The Raiders came down and worked me out. That’s pretty much it."
Debose has heard he will be a late round pick. If he does get drafted… great. If he doesn’t, he just wants the opportunity to prove himself.
“Yeah, I would love to go get drafted, have my name called and everything,” he said. “But, I just want to get into a team, man. Making it to the NFL is a goal whether it’s free agency, it’s something to be proud of whether it is free agent or not. So, I mean, if I make it or when I get my opportunity I’m just going to be thankful for wherever I am and just happy that I finally got an opportunity.”
He also knows that the free agent route has its advantages. A few teammates in the last couple of years have stuck on NFL teams that were good fits for them coming out and in free agency.
“I mean it’s very possible,” he said. “A lot of the guys that I’ve been talking to they’ve been telling me the free agent way is kind of the best way to go rather than going in seventh, sixth round because with free agency you can actually pick a team that fits you rather than a team picking you and you have to pick their scheme, they’re invested in you. Being a free agent is not bad at all.”
There are some questions that teams are going to have with Debose. A suspension or two have come along the way in his six year career. Then there was the matter of skipping out on the bowl game in January, leaving his teammates without a threat in the return game that could have helped them. Debose says the decision to walk away was all about getting himself ready for the next step in his life. Something he discussed with interim head coach D.J. Durkin.
"You know, me and Coach Durkin came to a mutual agreement for me not to play in the game,” he said. “It wasn’t for any consequences or anything like that. It was just merely me deciding not to play and getting my mind right for my future.”
The other issues teams are going to have to get over are the injuries. As a true freshman he came to Florida as the “next Percy Harvin”. His exploits in high school showed early on the things he was capable of doing. But, in that first year he suffered an awkward and infrequent injury to his hamstring and underwent surgery that was successful, but stressful in that it was such a strange injury to deal with.
A couple of years later, he was preparing for his senior season and suffered a season ending ACL injury. That last one was a tough one to swallow after working himself back into a lot of expected playing time.
"After I tore my ACL, I asked my athletic trainer like can I go throughout life without having this surgery?” he said. “In my head, I was done. I didn’t want to go through the whole rehab. I was done with football, man, but my parents stayed in my ear. My trainers stayed in my ear and just kept positive energy around me. I came out and I’m here. I’m just blessed, man. Thanking God every day for putting me in this situation. I’m just thankful."
And so here we are. Nothing is given, but an opportunity certainly seems there and something he plans on taking full advantage of. He can envision nothing but ceasing that opportunity. And he will be right back with his parents celebrating with the ones that have pushed them through all the adversity and the successes.
“Even thinking about it right now thinking about it is giving me chills,” he said of making it into the NFL. “Knowing my family pushed me to make sure I stayed with it and didn’t give up on my dream. I’ll give them both a big hug and a big kiss, man, and just thinking about it has got me kind of cringing right now. It’s going to be a great day.”
“It’s the best way I can thank them. I’m going to do something really, really nice for them when I can do for myself. I got to do something for my parents. They’ve been with me since Day 1, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”