The "Underrated" Gators

With a title like that you may ask how can the Gators be underrated? Well, when the season starts Florida will likely be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. This may be the most prohibitive favorite to win it all in recent memory. Well, we aren't talking about the team as a whole, but among the players there are a group that do not get their due when it comes to public accolades.

This isn't about the guys that are the stars of the team. Tim Tebow will likely finish as the greatest Gator ever. I may not be able to personally praise Tebow enough for his accomplishments, but he gets enough praise and is the most recognizable college sports figure in the world.

This also isn't about the guys that get a lot of praise even though they don't play much. Will Hill comes to mind as the guy that everyone including myself says has to get on the field.

This is all about the guys that have already made impacts at Florida and for the most part are not praised enough in my opinion. It may be due to their position (see offensive linemen) or it may be due to them being shorter, slower, or just not a prototype of their position. For whatever reason, these guys are somewhat overlooked as we press forward to a season where the Gators look to repeat as national champions.

My list will progress to the player that I believe gets the least amount of press and accolades for his contributions but my list will start at center and with Maurkice Pouncey. Now the twins, Mike and Maurkice, get a lot of publicity but really not for their playing ability. Maurkice had an outstanding year snapping the ball to Tim Tebow. A bad snap was never an issue throughout the season except on very rare occasions. Not only that, but it was his first year at the position and he was able to adjust quickly to learning the snap and getting on his blocks.

My next under appreciated player wasn't needed much, but he was dependable if anything. Place kicker Jonathan Phillips was 12-of-13 on field goals last season and 78-of-79 on extra points. Although the missed extra point was the difference in the loss to Ole Miss, it was clearly blocked from an unblocked player. Phillips hit big field goals against Miami to put the Gators in a comfortable lead so they could continue to try what they wanted on offense. He also was big in the BCS title game and in the SEC title game providing the points to keep the respective opponents more than one score away.

The coaching staff lauds him plenty, but linebacker Ryan Stamper is a guy that is able to do it all when called upon. Stamper came to Florida after committing to Auburn as a recruit. His value lies in his ability to play all three linebacker positions and at a very high level. He even played all three positions in one game last season. Stamper played in 12 games as a junior and finished second among linebackers in tackles.

Another offensive lineman makes the list now and it isn't unusual for offensive linemen not to gain a great deal of notoriety. Carl Johnson came to UF with five-stars next to his name in recruiting circles. After his first two years on campus, many were ready to call Johnson a bust. However, when Johnson was healthy in 2008 he was probably the best lineman on the field. He, like a few others in his troop is able to play a few different positions on the line and was asked to do so last season. When Johnson was healthy, he was inserted into the starting lineup at left guard and never looked back.

Senior receiver David Nelson is another one that doesn't get enough press. Nelson was huge catching the clinching touchdown in the BCS title game and just for being called upon in that spot certainly showed what the coaching staff thought about him as a player. He finished tops on the team with 19 yards per catch and third on the team with five touchdown receptions. What some may not realize is that Nelson fits into the mold of some of the others on this list. He can actually fill in at any receiver position on the field and did so last season.

One guy that never gets any publicity is defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh. Marsh finished third on the team in sacks (3.0) and fourth in tackles for loss (5.5) while starting all 14 games as a sophomore in 2008. He wasn't flashy but very dependable and earned his stripes. Marsh was also a transplant from another position as he came to Florida as a defensive end so it is very likely his maturity into the position will mean a very fast rise in output.

My number one current Gator player that doesn't receiver enough respect for his play on the field is safety Ahmad Black. If Black was three inches taller and a smidgen faster, even if he did nothing different on the field, he would be an All-American. In 2008 Black was first on the team in interceptions with seven and fourth on the team in tackles with 59.

Black's seven interceptions were tied for tops in the country along with two of them returned for touchdowns. His seven interceptions is tops among all safeties since and including the 2000 season.

The Gators are primed to finish off their best four year run in school history. They are a team full of all-star players and not all of them can be All-Americans. However, the list above is a group that is usually under appreciated and four of them will only be juniors in 2009.


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