GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Senior receiver Andre Debose appeared intent on making his final season with the Gators his best one.
According to UF coaches and teammates, Debose had an excellent summer of training and was ready to make a difference in the passing game. One unfortunate step Tuesday night at practice spoiled the plan as Debose suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss the season.
“I know that Andre is disappointed,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday. “He had been doing very well in camp and we were more than pleased with his effort and attitude. Andre was hurt in a non-contact situation. He just planted his foot and there was a tear.
“He will have surgery after the swelling goes down. It is unfortunate and you feel bad anytime that someone is injured, and the coaching staff and our team will be very supportive in assisting Andre during his recovery.”
A fifth-year senior, this is Debose’s second season-ending injury of his college career. As a freshman in 2009, Debose missed the season due to a knee biceps femoris graft related to a track injury in high school.
Debose has appeared in 31 games and made eight starts the past three years. He has 29 career receptions for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He has excelled mostly on special teams, averaging 27.4 yards per return on 58 career kickoff returns.
Debose’s last kickoff return was a 100-yard touchdown against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, which was his fourth career kickoff return for a score to tie three others -- Tennessee’s Willie Gault, Arkansas’s Felix Jones and Georgia’s Brandon Boykin -- for the most in Southeastern Conference history.
“It’s kind of surreal that this is my senior year,’’ Debose said last week at media day. “I’m so ready for it. I’ve had some ups and downs. I’ve proved myself on special teams and I’m trying to get on this offense.”
As the veteran receiver on the roster, Debose was competing for a starting position opposite Quinton Dunbar. Since he has already redshirted, Debose could request a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA once he recovers and if he decides to continue his college career next season.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel spoke highly of Debose’s improvement at media day.
“I think his attitude’s really changed,’’ Driskel said. “He’s having a better outlook on everything. He realizes this is his last chance.”
In Driskel’s first year as Florida’s starting quarterback a year ago, Debose was rarely a factor in the passing game, catching only three passes for 15 yards.
With Debose no longer available, the competition at receiver opens up even more among a group that includes five true freshmen: Demarcus Robinson, Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood, Marqui Hawkins and Chris Thompson. Veterans Trey Burton and Solomon Patton are in the mix as are sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raph Andrades.
Second-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease, the third offensive coordinator Debose played under, had hoped Debose’s numbers could improve significantly in 2013.
However, following the bad news Wednesday afternoon, Pease must find production from a relatively young and inexperienced group.
But, Pease said, a group that has caught the coaching staff’s attention early in camp.
“The freshmen are very talented kids,” Pease said. “Now the knowledge of just learning their plays consistently and understanding what all the calls are is where the mistakes come from. But as far as running and catching and their abilities, they are a very, very talented group.”
Debose arrived at UF as one of the country’s top recruits after leading Sanford (Fla.) Seminole High to a state championship his senior season. He caught the 40-yard game-winning touchdown from teammate Aravious “Ray-Ray” Armstrong in a win over Miami Northwestern.
Debose committed to the Gators in January 2009 on ESPN during the Under Armour All-Star Game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Sanford Seminole teammates Dyron Dye and Armstrong made their commitments the same night, pledging to Miami in front of a large contingent from the trio’s hometown.
More than four years later, Armstrong is a rookie defensive back with the Rams while Dye, whom has had an up-and-down career like Debose, is out after an Achilles tendon surgery.
“That seems like yesterday,’’ Debose said last week. “Every time I go back home I get reminded of that in someway. I still get the chills thinking about it.”