Gator Gathering: Meyer Thanks Mrs. Demps

PENSACOLA --- Coach Urban Meyer has had easier times getting signatures on the dotted line than he had with Jon Demps back in February, but he says he learned a valuable lesson during those final hours when it hung in the balance whether Demps would be a Gator or fax in the papers from the School Out West.

"I could have saved the UAA a ton of money if I had only known who was the decision maker!" Meyer told a sold out Gator Gathering at New World Landing Monday night.

Demps was a late-hour switch from the Gators to Florida State the night before National Signing Day, but lengthy conversations with the Pensacola Washington linebacker made some headway in turning him back to the UF fold. Meyer and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong did their part as did Florida freshman linebacker Brandon Siler. In the end, however, it was Millicent Demps who let her son know that it was in his best interests to be a Gator.

"A big part of the reason that he's a Gator is because he's from a great family," said Meyer, who gave Mrs. Demps credit for getting Jon back in the Gator fold "for all the right reasons." Millicent and her husband Willie Demps are educators and they let Jon know that the first priority was education. It was their opinion that Jon's long term interests would be better served at the University of Florida.

"We can thank Millicent Demps that Jon Demps is a Gator," Meyer said.

"I believe in Coach Meyer," said Mrs. Demps after the Gator Gathering. "We believe in him. We believe he stands for all the right things that we want for our son. We're so happy that he's a Gator."

Meyer said that Demps is a quality player with a good family background and a good academic background. He said that this is the kind of player that Gator fans should expect to be brought into the football program. He told the record crowd of almost 600 (broke the old record of 400 from the 1996 national championship year) that the days when Florida takes chances on football players are over.

"Can you take the top one percent of one percent and still win?" he asked the crowd rhetorically. "You damn right you can."

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Throughout the spring, Meyer has said the tailback position is up for grabs among juniors Deshawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton and redshirt freshman Markus Manson. That changed Monday night.

Markus Manson gets the handoff from Gavin Dickey

Noting that Manson achieved a 4.0 in the classroom in the second semester, Meyer called the 204-pound tailback from Tuscaloosa, Alabama "my guy … he had a great spring game and now he's done a 4.0."

Manson called Meyer on his cell phone today to share the news about his academic achievement for the spring. Meyer said he could hear family and friends celebrating with Manson in the background.

"My guy (at tailback), as of tonight, is Markus Manson," said Meyer.

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Meyer said that there are still three weeks before the next Champions Club banquet. Whereas only 15 or 16 qualified for the first one, there are now over 50 qualified and he expects there will be more.

Once again Meyer stressed leadership, saying that leaders should set the standard and then demand the others on the team live up to the standards. He said that he is pleased with the progress that he's seen in both Chris Leak and Mike Degory as they have begun to assert themselves as team leaders.

Meyer said that Leak used to "watch film all the time and he didn't go out at night, which is great" but that wasn't being a leader. Now, the coach said, Leak is beginning to bring his wide receivers into the film studies and he's taking the initiative to show them what's right and what's wrong with their routes.

The coach also said that in the fall Gator fans should not be the least bit surprised to see Gavin Dickey and Leak on the field at the same time. He described Dickey as the number two quarterback and the number five receiver, noting that there would be packages especially designed to bring out the best in Dickey's talents.

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Gene Graves, David Mann, Larry Scott, Larry Morris and Jackie Simpson were among the ex-Gator players who were in attendance.

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It's been 51 years since Larry Scott captained the Gator football team. He's retired now, living in Pensacola, and still an avid Gator fan. He loves the way the Gators played in the 1990s under Steve Spurrier, but he thinks the best may be yet to come.

"I think it's wonderful to have Urban Meyer as our coach," he said. "He is going to do a wonderful job coaching the Gators. He's going to bring some discipline that everybody's been waiting for the past three years and I'm telling it to you straight. It's time to bring back discipline and I think he's the one to do it."

Scott was a high school quarterback who was a halfback under Coach Bob Woodruff, whose offenses were known for their fundamental simplicity.

"Coach Woodruff didn't run a flashy offense at all," said Scott. "He believed in field position, the kicking game and playing good defense."

What Woodruff believed was quite the contrast of the Steve Spurrier years which Scott says "were tremendous for exciting offense" and the Meyer offense, which he can't wait to see on the field.

"Everything I can tell is that he runs an exciting offense like Spurrier did and there are wonderful years ahead of us," said Scott. "You just wait till that first time he puts 60 points on the board. I think we'll all be thinking this is Spurrier reincarnated."

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Jackie Simpson is another former Gator who feels welcomed back into the family thanks to Meyer.

"For the first time I just received something in the mail about three weeks ago," said Simpson, a great defensive back in the mid-1950s who still holds the NCAA record for longest touchdown return of an interception (100 yards vs. Mississippi State, 1955). "They're offering the ex-Gator players tickets to four or five of the home games which they've never done before. We have to pay for them of course, but they've offered us tickets for the first time since I've been a Gator and I think it's because of Coach Meyer. What a wonderful gesture to make us feel like we're welcome back into the family."

Simpson went on to play four years of professional football before settling down in the Panhandle. He's remained an avid Gator supporter and he is still astounded at how Gator football has grown, recalling the crowds of 14,000 or so that watched Florida games back in the 1950s when the stadium held only 30,000.

"It's tremendous how it's grown," he said. "It's amazing how the team is supported these days. It makes me very proud to be a Gator."

He's tracked Meyer since he was announced as the Gator football coach and believes the new coach has Florida football on the right track.

"He's got a good system," said Simpson. "I think he's going to do well with it. It may take this year and maybe next year to get the system down but he'll get it done and we'll see some great things once he's got that accomplished."

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"As soon as I say something it will be on the internet thanks to our (Gator Country) guys over there," Meyer said with a laugh toward the end of the speech. "Yeah, I know they got a job to do."

Just to show the coach that we don't put every single word he says on the net, we're going to self-censor the last three minutes of his speech. We internet guys are in touch with our sensitive side and can take a hint .... sometimes. See you in Bonita Springs next Monday night and then in Tallahassee next Wednesday, Coach!

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