FOOTBALL: Clarke Says Broward Excited About Meyer

FORT LAUDERDALE --- Forty-two years ago in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Hagood Clarke sped down the sideline of Denny Stadium untouched as Bobby Lyle's towering kickoff settled into the arms of Alabama's All-America halfback Benny Nelson at the one yard line. Nelson made it two steps to the five-yard line before he had an out of body experience. Clarke, who left his feet about the eight, hit Nelson just under the chin, a decleater of a hit that would set the tone for this October afternoon.

Later in the game, Clarke, a senior defensive back, would intercept Joe Namath to preserve a tenuous four-point lead as the Gators went on to defeat second ranked Alabama, 10-6. At that particular point in Gator football history, it was the greatest win in school history. When the Gators returned home to Gainesville that Saturday night, the team plane had to circle the airport twice while police and sheriff deputies cleared the crowd of more than 12,000 off the runway.

Now an executive with UBS Financial Networks in Fort Lauderdale, Clarke is an avid Gator, excited that the University of Florida has hired Urban Meyer as the new football coach. Clarke was among several Gators introduced by Coach Meyer at the Broward County Gator Gathering Thursday, an event that drew nearly 1000 at War Memorial Auditorium, more than tripling last year's attendance of approximately 300 and one that exceeded the University of Miami's attendance at its spring game at nearby Lockhart Stadium.

"I think the turnout here shows you what the excitement level is down here in Broward County," Clarke said just prior to Meyer taking the podium to address the crowd.

Clarke played football for Coach Ray Graves, lettering for the Gators from 1961-63. He went on to play defensive back for the Buffalo Bills for five years before leaving professional football for the business world. He's a successful executive in Fort Lauderdale, still happily married with two children and five grandchildren.

He has followed the Gators closely throughout the years and he's served on the board of Gator Boosters. He's paid close attention to Meyer and he likes what he sees. He thinks the future is bright for Florida football.

"I think he's terrific," Clarke said of Meyer. "The system that he plays is one that I would love to be a part of. What an offense! The offense has four options on every snap. They're going to score a lot of points. I also think he's going to recruit very well. I think Gator fans are going to love the way he has our team playing football."

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Cameron Davis' initiation to The Swamp came on a Saturday afternoon in December of 1991. Davis was an All-America defensive end for a St. Thomas Aquinas team loaded with Division I prospects that figured to win the Florida 4A High School Championship over Fort Walton Beach.

The state championship never materialized for Davis and his Aquinas mates, however, because Fort Walton Beach had this quarterback named Wuerffel who led the Vikings and Coach Jimmy Ray Stephens to the state title.

"He really helped me make my decision when it came time to choose what college to go to," said Davis. "Danny Wuerffel was a great guy and a great football player. I feel very fortunate that I got to play four years with Danny and to be a part of that national championship team.

"It made losing that high school championship a lot more bearable because of that national championship and that's a tradeoff that I would make any day."

Being part of a national championship team almost didn't happen for Davis, however. At the time he was being recruited by the Gators, there was a young assistant coach from West Virginia who Davis says is "the best recruiter I've ever seen." The young coach was selling West Virginia hard and he came very close to luring Davis to Morgantown.

"You don't know how close Doc Holliday came to getting me to West Virginia," Davis recalls. "He was good. I mean he was really good. That's why I'm so happy now to see Doc's a Gator. He's the guy who can come down here to South Florida and get some of these guys who have been going to Miami to be Gators instead."

Though he's happy Holliday's now a Gator, he's happier still that he chose UF over West Virginia back in 1991.

"I look back on it now and wonder what was I thinking?" Davis said with a laugh. "I mean this is Florida … it's warm and beautiful … and West Virginia? I would have never thought about West Virginia except for Doc, though. Now, I'm really glad he's a Gator."

Davis is excited about Coach Urban Meyer, although he admits that it was painful for him when Coach Ron Zook was fired.

"I played for that guy (Zook, assistant coach at UF four of Davis' five years in Gainesville) so it was like losing a family member to see him go," he said. "I love Coach Zook and wish him well in Illinois. I'm sad it didn't work out for him the last three years, but we're all Gators here. We're strong and we have the ability to overcome even the bad situations.

"Right now we're rallying around our new guy, Coach Urban Meyer, and supporting the football program the way it should be supported. I think he's an excellent football coach and just the guy we need."

He has not had the chance to sit down with Coach Meyer although he's got an invitation to visit the head Gator in Gainesville. He talks regularly with former teammates who have had the chance to meet the new coach and he says all of them gush with excitement.

"I really haven't had an opportunity to sit down with him but just the things I've read about him on the internet and talking with ex-Gators who are up there in Gainesville, everybody's excited," he said. "I'm excited as well, really excited. I can't wait to get up there to Gainesville for that first game and I'm looking forward to spending some time with Coach Meyer. I think he's the real deal."

Davis is an insurance executive in Hollywood but he plans to pay some visits to his old high school campus in the near future.

"I gotta get over there and see George Smith at Aquinas to evaluate some of that talent and let those guys know that being a Gator is something special," he said. "I know Doc's going to be coming down, too. Maybe some of those great players at Aquinas will be Gators."

GATHERING NOTES: Meyer said that the offensive line has a chance to be great in 2005. "They've been a little bit average the past couple of years," he said. "I think they have a chance to be really good this fall." … Meyer said that the starting line of tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler, guards Tavares Washington and Jim Tartt and center Mike Degory is solid but that the second unit line is mostly freshmen and needs a lot of work. Meyer said that Degory has a chance to be the All-SEC center and a great player.

Among the former Gator players in attendance were Wylie Ritch (started at center in the national championship game against FSU in 1996 and the entire 1997 season) and Matt Morrall, who played for Coach Charley Pell. Morrall's dad, Earl, was a quarterback on the Miami Dolphins 17-0 team of 1972.

Holliday and Coach Steve Addazio accompanied Coach Meyer on this trip to south Florida. They will be staying down in Fort Lauderdale to attend a coaching clinic.

Answering questions from the audience, Meyer said that the offense is a running offense that becomes a spread, passing game when the defense puts an extra player in the box to stop the running game. Once the defense commits to stop the run with an extra player, the spread comes into effect with one-on-one matchups in the passing game that gives the offense a commanding advantage.

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