Anyway, the list got me thinking, "Who were the best players to wear each number at the University of Florida?" So I decided to write a series of articles, starting with this one on that very topic. As you will see, some numbers were easy choices ("7", "11", "22" and "88") while others were extremely competitive and are bound to inspire debate. Still other numbers failed to generate any star players and it was hard to justify any of them.
Some current players are part of the debate for their number, and in fact may warrant that title after the upcoming season. However, only two current Gators are the best to wear their number at Florida. Think about whom that might be. Hmmmmm….
Before we start, remember many early Gators didn't wear numbers. And others wore multiple numbers. For purposes of this list, I tried to go with the number a player wore for most of his career, UNLESS that player changed numbers prior to his senior season. Also, I couldn't find any Gator football player who wore "0" so we'll have 99 guys instead of 100.
Finally, the source for the numbers is the 2004 Florida Football media guide.
With that, here are the greatest Gators to wear the Numbers 1-thru-9.
#1 KEIWAN RATLIFF: This Ohio native sat out a year before coming to Florida and was an immediate hit. He set the school record with nine interceptions in 2003, returning two of them for touchdowns. He was also a terrific punt returner and saw double duty as a receiver. Honorable mention for Tony George, Jack Jackson, Wayne Fields and Berj Yepremian.
#2 ADRIAN WHITE: This fearsome defensive back from Orange Park was a key part of the best secondary ever at UF in the early eighties. He also clinched the '84 SEC Title with a late interception at Kentucky. Honorable mention for Will White, Shea Showers and Alan Williams.
#3 LITO SHEPPARD: My vote for the best corner in UF history, Sheppard was sensational as a punt returner as well. He had six interceptions in 2000 and opponents avoided him in '01. He was a first-round pick and ranks with the better corners in the NFL. Honorable mention for Larry Kennedy, Travis McGriff and Brian Clark.
#4 CIATRICK FASON: First of all, C-4 is a great nickname. Secondly, his 2004 season (1,267 rush yards, 266 rec. yards, 12 TD) is one of the best ever for a running back at UF. Easily the closest call thus far. Honorable mention for Lawrence Wright, Marquand Manuel and Alvin Parrish.
#5 EARNEST GRAHAM: Two years before Fason's super season, it was Graham who had a breakout campaign. After three years hanging out in the 600-yard club, Graham ran for over a thousand yards and ten touchdowns in 2002. That made him the fifth Gator to reach the 3,000 yard mark. Honorable mention for Jacquez Green and Willie McClendon.
#6 TAYLOR JACOBS: Many thought this Tallahassee product was sort of an afterthought recruit. Not the case at all. Jacobs had a 1,000 yard season in 2002, putting him into UF's 2,000 yard career club. The man who signed him, Steve Spurrier then drafted him in the second round. Honorable mention for Judd Davis and Jimmy Spencer
#7 DANNY WUERFFEL: If he is the greatest #7 in college football history, winning this UF poll should be easy… and it was. 10,875 passing yards, 114 touchdowns, a part of four SEC Titles, a national title and the Heisman for good measure. Honorable mention for Lorenzo Hampton and John Reaves.
#8 REX GROSSMAN: As great as Wuerffel's career was, Rex Grossman's 2001 season may be the best in UF history --- 3,896 yards, 65.6 per cent completions, 34 touchdowns. Rex amassed 9,164 yards without the benefit of a senior season. Honorable mention for Chad Jackson, Ricky Easmon and Don Gaffney.
#9 SHANE MATTHEWS: The run of quarterbacks continues with the soft spoken man from Pascagoula. Matthews' "aw shucks" personality belied the competitor that he was. He re-wrote the UF record book before Wuerffel re-re-wrote it. He showed his toughness in absorbing a beating while leading an undermanned Florida team to nine wins in 1992. Honorable mention for Anthone Lott, Gus Scott and Ray McDonald.
As you can see, kickers are good candidates for honorable mention, but lost many close calls in this series. Next up, numbers 10-19.
Feedback always welcome: Vettel@gatorcountry.com