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Wednesday July 10, 2013 No. 15 has fit Gators junior Loucheiz Purifoy well

Updated: 2:17pm, July 10

Loucheiz Purifoy

Florida junior defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy wears an iconic jersey for the Gators.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For 30 years the most famous jersey number in Gators football history was No. 11, quarterback Steve Spurrier’s number when he won the Heisman Trophy is 1966.

Two years after Spurrier returned to UF in 1990 as head coach, No. 11 returned to Florida Field draped over the shoulder pads of linebacker Ben Hanks.

Spurrier never liked the idea of retiring numbers and met with school officials to change the policy.

“There have been so many great players here that it’s not fair to pick one over the other,’’ Spurrier said then.

He also called former Gators linebacker Scot Brantley, the only other player at the time to have his jersey retired, to see if Brantley would mind if Spurrier unretired it.

Brantley said no problem, and Spurrier issued Brantley’s No. 55 to linebacker Jerome Evans.

Danny Wuerffel’s No. 7 jersey replaced No. 11 as Florida’s most iconic jersey in the eyes of many when Wuerffel won the Heisman and led the Gators to their first national championship in 1996.

And then came along Tim Tebow a decade later as No. 15.

Tebow helped the Gators win a national title in 2006, became the first player to win the Heisman as a sophomore in 2007, led Florida to another national title in 2008, and before leaving Gainesville, Tebow guided the Gators to a perfect regular season (second in school history) and 13-1 record as a senior in 2009.

In 2010, the first season of the post-Tebow era, no UF player wore No. 15.

However, when defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy showed up in 2011 as a true freshman from Pine Forest High in Pensacola, No. 15 was back in play.

“I actually walked in, looked at my locker, and saw No. 15 and I was like, ‘Oh, I know I’m going to hear it,’ ’’ Purifoy said.

Purifoy wore No. 5 in high school and is still not sure why he was issued No. 15. Still, he is reminded often of its meaning to Florida fans.

“How did you get that number?” they ask.

“When Fan Day rolls around, I get that a lot,’’ he said. “People say, ‘You’ve got some big shoes to fill.’ I have a response like, ‘we play two different positions or that was his era,’ something like that.”

Purifoy has been one of Gators coach Will Muschamp’s favorites since the junior defensive back stepped on campus.

Purifoy plays with a toughness and energy that prompted Muschamp to make Purifoy a two-way player in the spring, adding receiver to Purifoy’s duties at cornerback and as the team’s gunner on special teams.

Muschamp occasionally tosses praise Purifoy’s way when he sees fans in No. 15 Gators jerseys.

“You guys are sporting Loucheiz Purifoy jerseys out here,’’ he said at a recent charity golf tournament.

No other player on the roster has received as much offseason publicity as Purifoy, who is on the Bednarik Award watch list and is being talked about as a potential NFL first-rounder if he has a strong junior season.

Based on No. 15’s recent history, the jersey seems to fit.

“I took responsibility for it,’’ Purifoy said. “I’m not going to change it.”

Editor’s note: For a more in-depth story on Purifoy, check out later this week.

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