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Monday September 16, 2013 Former Gators, NFL star Rick Casares passes away at 82

Updated: 1:28pm, September 16

Rick Casares

Former Gators star Rick Casares and UF coach Bob Woodruff in 1950s (Tampa Bay History Center).

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rick Casares arrived at UF around the same time as Norm Carlson in the early 1950s.

Carlson had never seen an athlete quite like the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Casares, huge by the standards of that era.

"No other like him,'' Carlson said. "He was a man among men."

Sixty years after his final season at UF, Casares passed away over the weekend at home in Tampa. He was 82.

As Carlson sat in the office he maintains at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as UF's historian on Monday morning, he was flooded by memories of Casares, who starred for the Gators from 1951-53.

"He was the best to ever play here in my opinion,'' Carlson said. "He was an incredible athlete. If they needed him to play quarterback, he would play quarterback. If they asked him to play linebacker, he would do that and knock somebody's head off. He was a great fullback. He could do anything on the football field and look so good doing it."

There were times when former Florida track coach Percy Beard might need some extra points in a big meet. He would ask Casares, who also played basketball and track at Jefferson High in Tampa, to come out and compete in the shot put.

"He would go over there and win the shot put against guys who were trained to do it,'' Carlson said. "He was just a phenomenal athlete."

Casares was an All-Southeastern Conference player in football and basketball at Florida, and in the Gators' inaugural bowl game -- a 14-13 win over Tulsa in the 1953 Gator Bowl -- Casares scored the first touchdown and then kicked the extra point.

He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and led the team in rushing for six consecutive seasons. He spent 10 seasons with Chicago (1955-64) and when he retired Casares was the franchise's all-time leading rusher (5,675 yards). Cesares remains third on the Bears' career rushing list behind Walter Payton and another former Gator, Neal Anderson.

His wife, Polly, whom Casares met while at UF, told The Tampa Tribune that he received autograph requests in the mail regularly from fans who remembered him bruising over tacklers as one of the best fullbacks to play the game.

"Our mailbox was full every day,'' she said. "He sent every one back. He was so flattered to be remembered."

Former Bears teammate and Chicago head coach Mike Ditka had this to say about Casares:

"He was the toughest guy I ever played with,'' Ditka told The Tribune.

 A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday morning at 11 at Gonzalez Funeral Home, 7209 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The burial is private.

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