FOOTBALL: Demps Knows UF Was The Right Choice

PENSACOLA --- Whenever Jon Demps is feeling like superman, like maybe he's invincible, he only has to think back to a game against Choctawhatchee for some much needed humility. It's bad enough to get hammered on the football field, but when three linemen get you on the same play you can call it "comeuppance."

Demps is a 6-4.5, 230-pound linebacking specimen, a one-man wrecking crew whom Urban Meyer calls "the jewel" of the 2005 Florida football recruiting class. As 305 tackles in his final two seasons testify, he's almost always the high energy guy delivering the pain, not the one on the receiving end.

"Not that many people really got me," Demps said Monday night at his home after he had returned that morning from Disney World where he had gone for his Senior "Grad Night" with his Washington High School classmates. "We were playing Choctaw, and two offensive linemen --- I guess they already knew I was blitzing. I don't know if their coach told them to do it, but the left tackle came from the left side and the right guard came to me. I was supposed to play the B-Gap. The tackle clocked me, then the guard clocked me, and then the center came. All three of them, 270 pounds-plus, picked me up dragged me back over the referee!"

Getting hit like that was bad, but the worst was yet to come.

At halftime, Demps recalls "My coach said, 'I never seen a linebacker in my whole coaching career that got run over by a referee.' I have never seen that Jon! Thank you for being the first person ever!' I went on and had 14 tackles in the game."

A couple of days later, he had to endure the film room. His coach had his finger on the rewind and you can only guess what kept showing up on the screen.

"The film room was brutal," he said. "They kept replaying it."

Most of the replays that have involved Jon Demps are the kind where he's like a runaway freight train, delivering the hits that keep on hurting. He was a one-man wrecking crew at Washington and that's the reason he became such a highly sought commodity for the top Division I football programs in the country. He became part of an intense recruiting battle between the Gators and Florida State, a battle that was won by Coach Urban Meyer only after Millicent and Willie Demps (Jon's parents) got involved.

"From the day before to signing day it was crazy because (FSU defensive coordinator) Coach (Mickey) Andrews would call then (Florida co-defensive coordinator) Coach (Charlie) Strong," Demps recalled. "Then I would get a call from Barry Wright or from someone else on the FSU team. Derrick Brooks (former FSU All-America, Tampa Bay Bucs All-Pro, FSU Board of Trustees) called me. He didn't recruit, but since he came from the same school (Washington), he was just telling me how his experience was. He said I had to choose my own destiny."

Late on signing day eve, it was reported that Demps was going to go to Florida State, but the Gators prevailed after long hours on the telephone that involved Meyer, Strong, Jon and his parents. The choice was made for Florida and Demps believes strongly in his heart that it was the right one.

"My parents always taught me to always look at your options and choose what is best for you," Jon said. "If you ever have to think about the decision, then maybe it is the wrong decision. That is what made it so easy for me on signing day, even though it was a long drag."

Though some from the School Out West claim Demps was manipulated by his parents, he has a far different opinion.

"My parents have prepared me the best," he said. "My mom is going to stick on you no matter what. It is strict love I guess. That is what I call it. No matter what, she is going to get the job done. It was really easy on me because I knew when the time comes that I would be able to make the right decision."

He signed the Florida scholarship papers and he's 100 percent committed to being a Gator.

"It feels great," he said. "There is a certain swagger now. Before, when I was thinking Florida State, It seemed like everywhere I looked there were Florida state fans. Now, all I see is Gator, Gator, Gator, Gator. I drove by the Gator club and everyone is driving Escalades and stuff and I was thinking I could get used to this. I didn't see anyone riding in any bad cars. I thought to myself if I get a degree from there, I will probably be doing pretty good. Now I see the Seminole cars and they kind of look like putt putt, kind of suspect.

"I saw a couple of Seminole players the other day and they were giving me the chop. I told them I would rather be a Gator than Gator bait!"

Demps feels real pride in being part of Coach Urban Meyer's first recruiting class. He's ready to help make Florida's three-year lull in win production a distant memory and he thinks the 2005 recruiting class will go down as one that's very special in the memory of Gator fans.

"Not everybody can say they can be a part of something great and we have a chance to be a part of (it)," he aid. "Our class --- this year's team --- three to fours from now, who knows how good we can be? We could go on a three-year run and win three national championships. That is how good our class is and how good this year's team is. It is perfect timing right now. There is not really one school that can say they are dominating. USC, they have done their thing, but they play a lot of Pac-10 teams, not the caliber of Florida or Miami."

The camaraderie of 2005 recruiting class is already beginning to show its face. Demps is related to Daytona Mainland's Avery Atkins (corner) and Brian Ellis (tight end) so they talk all the time. He networks with a few others.

"I call Daryl Gresham (linebacker) sometimes," he said. "I talked to Pig (Baker, linebacker) once. Louis (Murphy, wide receiver) called me while I was at Grad Night and he was supposed to be there, but I didn't see him. I have been talking to Avery (Atkins). He is doing well. I will probably room with Avery."

They say that birds of a feather stick together, so it's not surprising that he stays in touch with Gator linebackers Brandon Siler and Brian Crum. Siler is another of Demps' cousins.

Siler is a team leader for the Gators, a player that Meyer talks about at ever stop along the Gator Gathering tour. Meyer wants players who strive to be champions on and off the field, something that's been ingrained with Demps since he was a child by Millicent and Willie. Meyer's stress on championship attitudes had much to do with Demps choosing Florida on signing day.

"That was already instilled in me when I was a little kid," he said. "Some players die out and lose their passion for the game. With him (Meyer) he just makes me more electrified, he just gets me more hyped up. I am already hyped up as it is, that is the type of person I am. I am always ready to go, anytime. For somebody else to be like that, it just makes me more juiced about the whole situation. That is why I like him and why I signed with him."

Like the rest of the team, Demps will start his summer workouts with trainers on May 9th. He already received his workout books and is chomping at the bit to get ready. He just can't wait to get on the Florida campus to experience what he feels is an awesome situation for him.

"It is going to be kind of good," he said. "I think I am going to a better situation and a better environment. I have to be willing to sacrifice. I am expecting to go in there and compete, no matter what it is (I am competing for).

Typically, linebackers are known for their aggressive on the field mentality. Even when Demps wasn't linebacker size, he had a linebacker mentality. His early days on the field came without any fanfare or any preparation. Still, his teammates were about to get an eyeful of a football player when young Mr. Demps showed up at practice the first time at Washington High School. He expects it to be the same when he gets to hit for the first time in Gainesville.

"I am going to try and hurt someone," he aid. "The first impression is the best to make. When I first came out for varsity --- I was 6 feet and 185 pounds --- my first day in pads. I didn't even go to spring ball. Everyone else went out for spring and I just came out (for fall). We did the Oklahoma drill and the first hit I rocked the running back."

Demps loves his old school but is ready to move on. He leaves a legacy of greatness and expects great things out of his old teammates for next season. On other teams it might be the end of a great defense to lose a player of his ability, but Demps thinks great things are in store for Washington in 2005, particularly on defense.

"They are going to be awesome," he said. "They have nine starters coming back this year. Me and the strong safety are gone but the rest were juniors and they added two sophomores. They are going to be pretty good. Their JV and freshman team went undefeated and were pretty good."

In a few short weeks, Jon Demps will be graduating high school, then about a month later he will be coming to Gainesville for what he believes will be an eventful four years. He comes in with high expectations for both himself and the Gators. He's got a rock solid background and a fine family to offer support, and any time he starts feeling a bit too invincible, he's got that night in Choctawhatchee to remember. That always brings him down to earth.

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