VETTEL: My new favorite ex-Gator

For more than 20 years I have enjoyed watching guys I knew during their time with the Florida Gators become NFL players and see their careers build form there. It started with Scott Brantley (my very first Gator player interview) and Cris Collinsworth and continued through more than a hundred guys. While I love the exploits of Emmitt Smith, my favorite Gators in the NFL were always the guys I knew best before they left:

James Jones, Neal Anderson, Ricky Nattiel, Trace Armstrong and David Williams were in the first wave. Shane Matthews, Chris Doering, Jason Odom and Mike Peterson were next, and most recently, Ian Scott, Todd Johnson, Keiwan Ratliff and Lito Sheppard.

But I now have a new favorite Gator in the NFL, and it's a guy who has already exceeded all of my expectations for his pro career. Darrell Jackson was the 80th player chosen in the 2000 NFL draft and may have been a first rounder had he stayed another year. We all thought he made a huge mistake when he turned pro early, but he has produced three thousand-yard seasons in his five NFL seasons.

That's now why he's my # 1 guy now, however. Darrell Jackson just had as impressive a week as you can imagine. A young man who just turned 26 spent last week with his dying father. As a man of 46 who still, thank the Lord, has his father, I can only imagine how painful the week was for him. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Darrell left his dad's bedside to return to the Seattle Seahawks for their crucial game with the Minnesota Vikings.

His dad died Sunday morning. Just hours later, Darrell caught ten passes for over a hundred yards and a touchdown, including the game-clinching catch in a 27-23 win which put Seattle back in first place in the NFC West. To perform like that in a must game under such extreme emotional stress is an incredible accomplishment and speaks volumes about his character.

This week, Darrell Jackson returns to Tampa to bury his father. But his dad will have a sky box seat for his son's next game. Seattle plays the Jets in New York in a game both teams will need for their playoff drive. As a lifelong Jets fan, I'll be rooting for my team. Despite that fact, I'll be rooting a lot harder for my new favorite Gator in the NFL.

Gator Youth Movement Coming

It seems inevitable the Gator basketball team will have a younger and younger look on the floor at this season progresses. The freshman quartet has already convinced me they will eventually out-perform this year's sophomore class. Green, Brewer, Noah and Horford are combining for 21 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, while the sophomore trio of Chris Richard Lee Humphrey, and Mohamed Abukar generates 14 points and 4.4 boards.

Brewer is already starting while Green has played the most minutes off the Florida bench and leads the team in assists. The next battle to watch will be incumbent center Adrian Moss trying to hold off Al Horford. Moss turns 23 years old today (Dec. 14) while Horford just turned 18 in June. But the big fella from Michigan is too good to ignore.

In 19 fewer minutes on the floor, Horford has outscored Moss by six, grabbed two more rebounds, blocked four more shots and committed nine fewer fouls. Those are not dramatic differences but they are significant, especially when you consider the age/experience gap and the obvious "ceiling" gap. Look for more and more of Big Al as the season moves along.

So Who Are You Working For Today?

Almost all of us have left one job for another and more often than not it entails "giving notice" and staying on at the old job for a couple of weeks. I don't know about the rest of you, but I found it almost impossible to focus on the task at hand while serving out my "notice" with the outgoing employer.

Thus I have no clue how the coaches at Florida, Utah, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame will succeed in going about their duties of preparing for a bowl game at the end of this month. For some, they are staying put, so it's no big deal, but others are moving on to new jobs with new recruiting responsibilities, new players and so forth. And for others still, there is no job solidified and they are going to need one very soon.

No situation is more goofed up than Florida's offensive staff which has two coaches moving to Illinois (Fedora, Wickline), one who is staying put (Locksley) and two who may be out of work (Zaunbrecher, Dixon). If those five guys can put aside all of the distractions they are coping with and generate a first-rate offensive performance against Miami, it will be the coaching accomplishment of the season. But I don't see how.

Notre Dame Takes A Big Chance

In hiring New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Charley Weis, the University of Notre Dame is taking a big chance with the future of a fading college football powerhouse. Weis has never been a head coach and the Notre Dame alum (but not former player) won't even report for work until late January at the earliest. The Irish have not won a bowl game in more than a decade and go into their bowl without a head coach.

Personally, I like the choice because it gives Notre Dame someone who knows the University and knows how to throw the ball. It seems like Joe Montana is the last ND quarterback who knew how to throw a forward pass. Hey, you know what? IT WAS! Notre Dame has a pretty good defense and a pretty young, unproductive offense. Charlie Weis could put the Irish in position to win eight games next year.

The change in South Bend has generated a national debate as to whether or not Notre Dame can ever again be among the nation's elite football teams. The answer is a resounding YES. Notre Dame has its own national TV and radio package, every road game is snapped up by some other TV contract. It has name recognition unlike any other school as well. But it lacks one thing it simply must have for the future… a conference affiliation.

With the major conferences ruling college football and league championship games becoming some of the biggest events of the season, Notre Dame can no longer expect greatness as an independent. Becoming the 12th team in the Big Ten (the 11-team conference which can not count) or the headline act in the Big East would give Notre Dame a conference title to aim for and a scheduling stability which would solve many of their problems. Either league would be nuts not to make whatever concessions are necessary on the football TV contract in order to bring in the Golden Domers.

Also, Notre Dame in a conference solves another impediment to a possible division one football playoff.

Keep those emails coming!

Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! My email address is: vettel@gatorcountry.com .

I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)

Have a great week.


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