Track & Field Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida two-sport standout Jeff Demps is putting away any NFL aspirations to focus on his track career and a potential spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Demps has decided to run for the Gators this spring and then will seek a professional track career rather than one in football. Demps informed Gators head coach Mike Holloway of his plan in recent days after making a final decision after the football season ended.
“Once I got done with the Gator Bowl, I kind of already had my mind made up, it was just when was I going to tell everyone,’’ Demps said Thursday morning. “I enjoy track and it’s something I love to do. When I’m out here, I’m enjoying myself and having fun with the guys. I wanted to come back and run. It’s somewhat of an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. You win championships as a team.”
Demps ended his Florida football career on Jan. 2 in Florida’s 24-17 win over Ohio State. He began training with the UF track team this week and is shooting for a return to competition possibly as early as Feb. 3-4 at the Virginia Tech Elite Meet. The Gators open the indoor season on Saturday at the Alabama Invite in Birmingham.
Regardless of when Demps makes his debut, Holloway is glad to have the four-time national champion sprinter back with the program. Demps is the two-time defending NCAA Indoor 60-meter champion and flashed his Olympic potential when he set a 100-meter junior world record with a time of 10.01 seconds at the 2008 Olympic Trials, challenging Olympian Tyson Gay stride for stride in the heat.
The Gators open the season ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Poll released earlier this week.
“The biggest thing for me – and Jeff and I have talked about this a lot since last summer – I just wanted Jeff to be happy,’’ Holloway said. “Jeff has never really been a full-time track guy. He has always been a guy that played football and ran track. For him to have accomplished the things he has accomplished is phenomenal.
“I’m ecstatic. Obviously it’s big for our program. Jeff brings a different kind of energy to the track. When the other guys see him out there working as hard as he does, it gets them to step their game up a bit. We are a big family out here and he’s a member of the family.’’
Demps said he spoke recently with his parents and guardian about his desire to continue his track career. While some saw his decision to return for his senior season in football as a sign he was giving up track, Demps said that was never the case.
Instead, it was important to him to be a part of the team and he said he felt an obligation to the program since he came to Florida more for his football talents than as a track-and-field athlete.
“I didn’t throw track out,’’ Demps said. “It was always something in the back of my mind. I just wanted to go and focus on football and after the season make a decision.”
To begin preparing for his return to track, Demps has started his annual makeover from running back to sprinter. The first task is to drop about 15 pounds from his football weight of 190 pounds.
Unlike a year ago when he began training for track still nursing a serious ankle injury and other assorted ailments from football, Demps is healthy and ready to open the next chapter in his athletic career.
Demps finished his football career as the eighth-leading rusher in school history, finishing with 2,470 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was a member of the 2008 national championship team and finished his senior season with 569 yards and six touchdowns. Demps also was a dangerous kickoff returner, averaging 28.8 yards per return during his career, including a 99-yard touchdown return in October against Georgia.
Despite his accomplishments on the football field, the Olympics and a professional track career loomed larger in Demps’ mind.
“One of his goals is to be an Olympian and to be a professional track-and-field athlete,’’ Holloway said. “My job is to now help him get ready for that. We are going to do like we always do. We’re going to take care of the indoor season. We want to do this right. The other thing is that it’s going to be a long summer. We want to be positive about this and we plan on being in London. We’ve got to be patient and take things step by step.”
The prospects certainly excite Holloway. He is intrigued to see what Demps can do focused entirely on track. Holloway is an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Team whose primary responsibility is working with sprinters and hurdlers. The fact he is also Demps’ college coach is an added bonus for the duo.
“I see it as a blessing,’’ Demps said. “This year I can be patient and we can work on more stuff just trying to perfect technique.”
Holloway sees Demps as a sprinter just scratching the surface. Unlike former Florida sprinter John Capel – he also played football and made the U.S. Olympic Team – Demps has constantly juggled the two sports during his career.
“When [Capel] did that, he wasn’t lifting the way Jeff lifts,’’ Holloway said. “Jeff was never really separate from the football team. John would leave football in December. The year John made the Olympic team he didn’t do anything with football after November.
“What has made Jeff unique is that Jeff has always done very, very good things in track and field while doing lifting and other things that football players do. What that tells me is that Jeff is a very special guy. If you can run 9.9 [100 meters] and run 6.5 [60 meters] and do the things he has done, training as a football-slash-track guy, what happens when he is just a track guy?”
That is what Demps wants to find out as well.
“I can have the mindset of a full-time track guy now,’’ Demps said.