He was and always will be "The Cuban Comet," the blazing fast wide receiver whose name was etched permanently into Gator lore on the third play from scrimmage in his first varsity game of 1969 (freshmen weren't eligible in those days). The Gators were playing the third-ranked Houston Cougars that September afternoon and Houston was a team that many experts thought would win the national championship. Florida was a team depending on unproven sophomore quarterback John Reaves so the Cougars were heavy favorites.
The Gators downed the opening kickoff in the end zone and ran two plays into the middle of the line, moving the ball to the 22. What happened next is legend.
Reaves took a seven step drop on third down. Alvarez made three or four quick steps off the snap and then accelerated. Within two strides he was at full speed. Houston's All-American corner, Tom Peacock, was caught flatfooted and unprepared for the sudden burst. By the time he recovered, Alvarez was already at the 35 and streaking down the east sideline toward the north end zone. Reaves lofted the perfect pass that hit Alvarez in full stride close to the Houston 40. Carlos Alvarez was a blur as he sprinted to the end zone, setting the stage for "The Super Sophs" to set the college football world on its ear with a 59-38 win.
That 1969 season was the best in Florida history to that point. Led by sophomores Reaves, Alvarez, "Touchdown" Tommy Durrance and Andy Cheney, the Gators went 9-1-1 and broke just about every offensive record in the books.
But the promise of 1969 faded with a changing of the guard. Florida president Dr. Stephen C. O'Connell forced Graves out as head coach and replaced him with Tennessee coach Doug Dickey, a former Florida quarterback from the Bob Woodruff era. It was a highly controversial and tremendously unpopular move, one that still grates on the nerves of Gator fans from that era. Everything changed with Dickey, particularly the offensive philosophy --- the Gators went from a wide open pro-style game to the veer option.
The offensive changes, Andy Cheney's slow recovery from a knee injury suffered in the Miami game in 1969, and a knee injury to Alvarez not only slowed down the Florida offense but it halved Alvarez's numbers. He went from 88 catches for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore, to 44 catches for 717 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, the knees were just about shot but he played through the pain and led the team with 40 catches for 517 yards and two touchdowns.
The knees wrecked a pro football career but for Alvarez, the son of Cuban refugees who fled the Castro regime, football gave way to law school. He was smart (three-time Academic All-American who is a member of the Academic All-America Hall of Fame), good looking and articulate. He parlayed his law degree at Florida into a career as an environmental advocate in Tallahassee. He's semi-retired now, enjoying life and enjoying the unfolding future of the Florida football team under Meyer.
"It's been a great life," he said. "It IS a great life. It's a great life being a Gator and a great life being here in Tallahassee. Being a Gator has opened up so many doors for me over the years and I'm extremely grateful, not only for me but for my two brothers who also graduated from the University of Florida and my son who graduated three years ago and is now a second year student at Yale Law School. So, I owe the University of Florida a lot."
Like hundreds of thousands of Cubans who came to Miami in the 1960s to get away from the communist regime, the Alvarez family left everything behind and started again. For Carlos that meant learning a new language and assimilating into a population with different customs and some very strange sports. He applied himself in the classroom to become the best student possible and he discovered football. He had speed, he was elusive and he could catch just about anything.
"The speed was something that didn't just come naturally for me," he said. "That's something I had to work hard to develop. I had to learn how to run fast. Catching the ball was something I was just always able to do and I still can. Even now something will fall off a table and I'll instinctively catch it or someone will throw something at me and I can still catch it. Catching was easy."
That natural ability to catch the ball led him to the University of Florida. He was a running back at North Miami but when Florida assistant Lindy Infante came to recruit him as a wide receiver, Alvarez knew this was the place to be.
"I wanted to be a wide receiver from the get-go and that's what I worked on," he said.
And work he did. He saw the example of his parents who worked hard to build a new life in the United States and he applied the work ethic learned from them to his football career. In Gainesville, his training regimen became legendary.
"I was one of the first at Florida to believe you had to work year-round if you wanted to be good," he said. "I felt if you want to present the best product you couldn't stop working at it. That's one of the things that really helped me at Florida."
The sophomore year in Gainesville was his best and he gives credit for much of his success to Reaves and Cheney.
"John was such a great passer and Andy Cheney was an incredibly gifted receiver until he hurt his knee," said Alvarez. "His greatness was truly cut short by that knee injury. "The Florida record for single game receptions is 15 and I have that against Miami in the Orange Bowl," said Alvarez. "I remind people all the time that in the third quarter before he hurt his knee, Andy Cheney had more catches than I had. He would be holding that record for sure if he hadn't hurt his knee. With John throwing the ball and with Andy as a threat on the other side, my job was so much easier. They deserve a lot of credit for the records I hold."
Alvarez and Wes Chandler (1974-77) are still considered the two greatest receivers in Florida history by most long-time observers. Alvarez was always a great fan of Chandler.
"I've always thought Wes was the best receiver ever at Florida," said Alvarez. "He had the tremendous speed, the great hands and the power to break tackles. It's unfortunate for him that he played in a system that didn't get him the ball. He never had the advantage of a passer like John Reaves to throw him the ball or a system that took full advantage of his skills."
It was at The Swamp last November, right after the Gators blew the doors off FSU, that Alvarez was first introduced to Urban Meyer. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley brought Alvarez into the locker room where he heard Meyer speak to his team after the win.
"I was just blown away," he said. "I've never heard another head coach talk so articulately at a time when he had a lot of emotion and passion. I love the way he relates to the players. I love the passion he has for the players and for the University of Florida.
"I think he did an incredible job in that first year. The Gator Nation needs to give him the time he needs. We need to be patient and let him get his system in place and get the players in to run it. It's going to be incredible once that happens. We need to be patient. He's the right coach for Florida."
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Meyer said the West Virginia coaching staff was in Gainesville the past few days to discuss offensive philosophies. Recently the defensive staffs from Ohio State, Maryland and Utah along with a defensive assistant from the Denver Broncos were in Gainesville to share ideas and pick brains. Bill Bellichek of the New England Patriots will be in Gainesville Tuesday.
"I like to visit with the best and pick their brains," said Meyer.
Meyer said a great program is a program that can reload, that when a player gets injured the player that replaces him is as good or better. Other attributes of a great program: "They graduate their players, the kids stay out of trouble and the kids are first class on and off the field."
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"I didn't like this team for awhile and that's a horrible thing to say but I'm being honest … I didn't like them at all," he said.
Following the loss to South Carolina, Meyer and staff made the practice sessions a true gut-check for the entire team.
"We had two weeks of cleansing sessions and two weeks of practice to find out who's in and who's out," he said. "I'm proud to say that the two weeks of preparations and especially those last four days getting ready to play our rivals at home on that beautiful November evening in The Swamp … that team took a big step. That team became a team. Before that it was nonsense."
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"As long as I'm associated with Florida football, those guys have carte blanche," he said. "They are the real deal."
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Meyer gave a run-down of the team just before spring. He said that because there are only two quarterbacks for the spring, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow will be wearing no-contact jerseys. Meyer said that Leak has had a shoulder problem that will be okay by spring. He said that Tebow wants to lift weights with Marcus Thomas and that the coaching staff is trying to make sure he doesn't bulk up too much beyond 230 pounds.
He praised Bubba Caldwell for working hard to come back from the broken leg and said that Dallas Baker has "become a great, great player." He praised Jemalle Cornelius for his leadership and said that David Nelson is coming on strong in pre-spring drills.
On the defensive line, he praised Jarvis Moss, who has continued to gain weight and strength. He said that Marcus Thomas has become a phenomenal leader, whose attitude and grades have spiked upward.
He called linebacker Brandon Siler the leader of the team. He said the three freshmen linebackers will be counted on to play.
"We're a team with a bunch of good players trying to become a great team," said Meyer. "We have a long way to go but this is as highly anticipated spring as there is."