At number five I am going to go with freshman defensive end CeCe Jefferson. Jefferson showed up as an all-star caliber talent at Florida but also missed a lot of his senior season at Baker County with a shoulder injury. A 5-star prospect on Scout, he still had a lot to prove and some talent to compete against along the defensive line.
Jefferson actually started in both of the first two SEC contests of the season, wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and he is fourth among Gator defensive linemen in number of tackles this season with 16. He also had two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries, a pass break up, and a fumble recovery and return for 11 yards.
Jefferson plays with both power and quickness on the edge and he seems to have quite a repertoire of moves for a freshman. His future is very bright.
As my fourth biggest surprise on this Gator squad, I’ll go with sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby. Another highly recruited star, this time all the way from Kansas, Goolsby didn’t have a single catch a year ago, while playing and missing out on a redshirt.
Right now he is fifth on the team in receptions with 13 for 214 yards and a touchdown. But it isn’t just catching the ball that stands out with Goolsby, it’s what he does with the ball afterward. He has the ability to catch and turn immediately with a defender on him, shake the defender and keep going. He also has the ability in the open field to make someone miss or use his strength to power through for a few extra yards.
He’s a solid in-line blocker, but that part of his game needs to improve, yet he’s always hustling to try and help his teammates advance the football when he doesn’t have it.
Coming in at number three, I have Jonathan Bullard. Yes, we expected pretty big things from Bullard in his senior season, but he has had a dominant seven first games of the year. The dual threat defensive lineman from Shelby, North Carolina could start at defensive tackle or strong side end in any game this year and he’s been productive at both.
He’s currently fifth on the team in tackles with 34 (nearly 5 per game) and leads the team in tackles for loss with 10, sacks with 4.5, and also has a pass break up. He’s slightly ahead of the numbers that Dante Fowler had a year ago before being drafter number three overall by the NFL’s Jacksonville jaguars. Making these numbers more impressive is that he is doing it from mostly playing inside at defensive tackle.
We have seen these flashes from the former 5-star prospect, but his consistent play this year is something that we hadn’t seen.
Bullard is blessed with the ability to bulldoze the guy in front of him and the quickness and technique to make the guy trying to block him miss completely. He’s a huge part of the success of the Gators on defense and especially up front.
My number two biggest surprise for this Gator team is senior linebacker Antonio Morrison. Count me as one that thought after missing almost all of contact drills all the way through fall practice, he wasn’t going to see the field until late in the season at best. All the middle linebacker from Illinois has done so far is lead the team in tackles with 54, have seven tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks on the year. He flies around, maybe not quite as fast as a year ago, but he brings it.
There’s no doubting the mental strength of Morrison who had what many thought was a career ending injury in the bowl win over East Carolina last year. He fought through adversity with the Tennessee game when he missed a few significant tackles that almost led to a loss and now seems on a mission every game to not have that happen again.
He’s a huge team leader and just the fact he is playing itself makes him a surprise, at such a high level, makes it more of a surprise.
With these four having terrific seasons and surpassing what was thought of them in the preseason, there is no doubt who the number one surprise player is in my book. Freshman receiver Antonio Callaway has been superb for Florida as both a receiver and as a punt returner.
The Miami Booker T Washington receiver was highly recruited out of the big time program, but he wasn’t the ‘can’t miss’ prospect that some others are labeled coming out. Blessed with tremendous quickness, speed, toughness, and strength, Callaway was only supposed to be the backup to sophomore Brandon Powell at the slot position. He’s the only true freshman on the team who started the East Carolina game and every game since.
He’s shown dramatic flair with electrifying catches and big plays. No play was bigger this season than the last minute 63-yard touchdown catch and run to beat Tennessee at home last month. He’s fourth on the team with 16 catches, but second with 308 receiving yards and leads the team with an eye popping 19.2 yards per catch on the season.
And he does it in the punt return game as well. He’s currently ranked 12th in the country with a 14.8 punt return average. His 72-yard punt return for a touchdown against LSU tied the game up with the Tigers in the 4th quarter, again showing the flair for the dramatic.
He’s already out-performed any annual expectations, but the future is extremely bright for this true freshman.