Skyler Thornton Transfers Out Of Florida

Junior tailback Skyler Thornton has elected to transfer to another school according to Coach Urban Meyer. Meyer told the media after Monday afternoon's practice that Thornton, who is from LaGrange, Georgia, has already left the team and will not dress with the Gators for the January 2 Outback Bowl.

There has been speculation that Skyler Thornton would be leaving the team ever since the middle of the year when his playing time, even on special teams, diminished completely. Because he is a junior, he has only one year of eligibility to play remaining so it's likely that he will transfer to a Division I-AA school such as Georgia Southern although Meyer doesn't know where Thornton is leaning.

"I'm not quite sure where he's going to go," said Meyer, who added that "it was two days ago when he made that decision."

Meyer said that the decision to transfer was "kind of a mutual agreement" and it centered more around playing time than anything else.

Thornton's departure leaves the Gators with three tailbacks for the Outback Bowl. Junior DeShawn Wynn has stated that he might opt for the National Football League Draft rather than play his senior year so that puts a premium on recruiting tailbacks for Meyer, who said the Gators will probably sign a minimum of two for the class of 2006.

The lack of depth at the tailback position is indicative of some depth issues that Meyer inherited when he took over the Florida program a year ago. The Gators had some marquee names at a number of key positions but there were some serious holes in the depth charts.

"I think we had some very good players but there were a couple of positions that we were very thin at depth," he said.

One of the most critical positions was linebacker where Channing Crowder left early for the NFL and Taurean Charles was dismissed from the team. He mentioned that defensive back and offensive line were two other positions that had a lack of able bodies ready to step in and play.

"That's why [Florida is recruiting] so many numbers this year because you gotta build this up," said Meyer. "You gotta keep them, make sure they make it into school and obviously you have to deal with who's going to leave early for the NFL."

Underclassmen Dee Webb, Chad Jackson, Marcus Thomas and Wynn have applied to the NFL to check their potential draft status. Meyer says that any player who is a first rounder, he will advise to take the money and run with his blessings.

"If it [NFL evaluation] comes back as a first rounder and if they ask my opinion --- and a couple of them have --- well, it's not a secret. If you're a first rounder it's hard to look a guy in the eye and say come on back. If you're not a first rounder I think you definitely have to evaluate because you're treated a little different."

Meyer has had players who didn't listen to his advice and they have paid the price.

"The .perfect example, a guy at Utah that came out," he said. "Someone said he's going to be a third rounder. Nonsense, I knew that. Everybody in the world knew that. He's out of football right now and doesn't have a degree. He could have played football another year and kept getting better and better."

The emphasis with Meyer is the college degree. He wants to ensure that any player considering leaving for the NFL or transferring to another school is in good enough academic standing that he can continue the quest for a college diploma.

"The biggest thing you want to make sure they're going to graduate," he said, "and if they're transferring, you want to make sure they're in good academic standing when they leave. We do everything we can to make sure that happens because ultimately everybody comes to Florida with visions of first rounder.

"Well, I've got news … how many have we had in the last several years? It's been awhile, so getting a degree is number one. That's all I talk about with them. If you want to leave make sure you keep going to school. When they're family calls [I tell them] make sure you keep going to school. There's a lot of perception how many stars you have after your name coming out of high school. That's what we deal with every year."

EVALUATING TALENT: Meyer said that when he was an assistant coach, the number 67 percent was critical. It was drilled into him that two of every three players recruited need to perform during their time on campus to build a successful program.

"As an assistant coach your goal was always two out of three are good players who play for your school," he said. "Sixty-seven percent and you're right on it. I remember being told that as an assistant coach, as a recruiter that two out of three better perform. That's probably a good number. You would like it even greater at a place like this."

Meyer said the key element in finding two of three who will perform is evaluation of the way players perform on the field in games.

"Evaluation is a critical part of the whole deal," said Meyer. "It's not just vertical jump and how fast they are but evaluation of how they play, especially how they play their senior year."

He added that so many players who are high on recruiting lists at the start of their senior year end up falling short of expectations.

"A lot of those lists come out after they catch a few touchdown passes as a junior," he said. "The evaluation game is the key after their senior year. I don't know how they do that but they've already got sophomores and juniors listed. I just don't know how they do that. "

PRACTICE: The Gators went to work in full pads for a full contact practice Monday afternoon. They will be in shorts and shoulder pads Tuesday and Wednesday before they break for Christmas. The Gators will re-assemble next Monday in Tampa to begin their final week of preparation for the bowl game.

The Gators will play the bowl game with a nearly full contingent of healthy players on offense for the first time in quite some time. Meyer said that good health means more available offensive options, particularly at wide receiver where Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Chad Jackson are all completely healthy for the first time in more than a month.

"Florida State was the first time we had healthy people, but we went through a string of games there in the middle when we were down to two wide receivers," he said. "So that just gives you more options so you might see a few more four receiver sets than you have in the past."

VERNELL BROWN UPDATE: Meyer said that it's about 80 percent certain that cornerback Vernell Brown will be able to play in the Outback Bowl. Brown broke a bone in his leg at the Vanderbilt game. Meyer said he "desperately" hopes that Brown will be able to play because "he deserves to and he wants to play."

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