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Florida Football

Notebook: Perine and Townsend ready for their Swamp farewell

November 20, 2019
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Lamical Perine’s journey to UF is well-chronicled. A lightly recruited running back from Mobile, Alabama, he held just one Power Five scholarship offer as he neared the end of his junior year of high school. Ironically, that offer was from Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

The instate Auburn Tigers thought he was too slow and never offered. So, he bought a Greyhound bus ticket and traveled to Gainesville to participate in a Gators summer camp and hopefully earn an offer. He got his offer and committed shortly thereafter. He spurned a last-ditch effort by Nick Saban and Alabama and became a Gator.

His underdog story only intensified when he found himself third or fourth on the depth chart as a freshman. He led the team in rushing as a sophomore with 562 yards and eight touchdowns. Still, the Gators went just 4-7 and the entire staff that took a chance on him was gone. He’s admitted to entertaining the possibility of transferring. Instead, he chose to stick it out, and his loyalty was rewarded. He rushed for 826 yards and seven scores while splitting carries in 2018.

On Nov. 30, his Gator journey comes to an end when the No. 11 Gators (9-2, 6-2 SEC) host Florida State (6-5, 4-4 ACC) on Senior Night. He’ll certainly receive a large ovation as one of the most beloved Gators in recent memory.

“Very emotional, teary-eyed,” Perine said. “Just knowing it’s going to be my last time running out there, man, just going to be crazy. Something to think about. I’ve had a long four years, and it’s been good times, bad times, but ain’t nothing like running out there your last time. That’s the best feeling right there.”

Rather than declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season, he chose to come back to improve his receiving and blocking skills and showcase them to scouts. Thanks to a struggling offensive line, Perine’s been a non-factor as a runner most of this season, as he’s contributed just 520 yards and four touchdowns. But, he’s been sound in pass-protection and is third on the team with 32 receptions.

"Just showing my game, just not being a basic running back that can just run the ball and pound people,” he said. “Being a guy who can protect your quarterback, being able to receive out of the backfield, things like that. They put me out wide, put me in the slot, just makes me a versatile player overall."

Meanwhile, redshirt senior punter Tommy Townsend has been a fan favorite since the day he stepped on campus in 2016 as a transfer from Tennessee. His older brother, Johnny, is UF’s all-time leading punter, and his 46.2 career average is tops in SEC history.

Tommy’s been one of the best punters in the conference since assuming the starting role in 2018, although he hasn’t quite lived up to his brother’s lofty standards. He’s averaging 44.8 yards-per-punt this season, which earned him a spot on the Ray Guy Award semifinalist list.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some tears,” Townsend said. “Like I said, my parents are pretty sentimental people, and I’m the last one coming through Florida. It’s going to be tough on them.”

The entire ceremony might be tough for all of Gator Nation.

Streak-Busting

Despite the Gators’ 41-14 thrashing of Florida State in Tallahassee, they’ll have a chance at accomplishing some significant milestones on Nov. 30. UF hasn’t defeated FSU in the Swamp since Tim Tebow’s Senior Day in 2009. As a matter of fact, they haven’t even come close, as they’ve lost 21-7, 37-7, 27-2 and 38-22 since then.

A win would also represent UF’s first back-to-back wins over the Seminoles since winning six straight from 2004-09. Florida would record its first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 2008-09.

“That would be incredible,” Townsend said. “That’s two things you can’t really beat, going out on a win in the Swamp and going out on a win against FSU in the Swamp. So, those two things, they’d be amazing. These next two weeks we’re working hard to get out and go play well and finish on a good note.”

The seniors are determined to snap the streak, even their career record against FSU and ride off into the Gainesville moonlight.

"It's going to mean everything,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Nick Buchanan said. “[Perine] and the rest of the seniors, we've got to go out there and give it our all for them boys. Send them out on top. Like we said, we haven't beat FSU at home in a while, so it's time for us to show up."

Added receiver Van Jefferson: “It’s just been great to be a part of Gator Nation since I’ve been here, so I’ve got one last time to play in the Swamp, so I’ll try to do it big.”

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

While the Gators are focused on finishing the season out strong, coach Dan Mullen said they’ve used the bye week to start discussing the NFL Draft with their draft-eligible underclassmen. They’re trying to get a jump start on the draft process by helping the players gather information and submit paperwork to the NFL so they can receive feedback on their draft stock.

While Mullen said he and his staff will meet with every player, he thinks there will be about eight players that will want more information and three or four players “could get serious about it.”

Mullen has thrown some subtle jabs at some of his juniors who declared early for the draft after last season over the past few months. Defensive end Jachai Polite slipped to the third round and is currently on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad, costing him a bunch of money. Linebacker Vosean Joseph didn’t get drafted until the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills.

“The big key to that to me is all we want is guys to make good decisions and have success with that,” Mullen said. “Guys that are going to get drafted in the first or second round, they know that, they feel good about it, ‘This is what you need to do to maintain that draft status, make sure you’re doing these things, get drafted and then that you’ve made a great decision to leave.’

“And educating guys that maybe should stay. ‘These are reasons you should stay. Here’s how it affects you. This is why you should do it. This is what we see happening in our future for you.’ Just that they and their families are very educated to make the best decisions for their futures.”

Offensive line coach John Hevesy said he discusses the financial ramifications of deciding to stay or go with his players. He pointed out that rookie contracts are for four years. Generally, only players who are drafted in the early rounds start as rookies. So, it’ll be hard for a lineman to earn a lucrative second contract with only a year or two of playing time if he’s drafted in the mid-to-late rounds. It’s important for his players to make themselves as ready to play as rookies as possible.

“You start looking at these rosters, and, hey, they have seven coming back; there’s one spot open,” he said. “They take you in the fourth round, you’re going to fight with three or four other people. God forbid they take one in the first round. Now you’re behind, and you’re looking at who they’re getting rid of. It’s always going to be competitive. If you have an opportunity to stay here and learn and get as much as you can, knowledge of football, fundamentally, technically and mentally, that’s all we can do is educate them.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he thinks the way the last draft unfolded for their juniors will give the coaches more credibility with the current crop of juniors.

“Obviously, there are a couple of guys that left last year that we felt like should stay and ended up being the correct thing to do,” he said. “So, I think it will help a little bit because guys see that. ‘Make sure I make the right decision.’ We will take each case-by-case and do what’s best for them.”

Sproles in Portal

Reports surfaced on Tuesday that redshirt junior walk-on quarterback Nick Sproles had entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. Mullen confirmed the reports on Wednesday and said Sproles will remain with the team for the remainder of the season. He will graduate in the spring and look to transfer somewhere where he can start for his final season of eligibility.

Sproles moved up to third on UF’s depth chart following Feleipe Franks’ season-ending ankle injury at Kentucky, and he also served as the scout team quarterback in practice. He’s attempted just one pass in his Gators’ career, an incompletion in the 2018 UF-FSU game.

Despite his lack of playing time, Mullen had high praise for Sproles.

“He’s what the transfer portal’s for,” he said. “Nick Sproles is a guy that’s been one of the most valuable guys on our team, not only the third-team quarterback; he’s also the scout-team quarterback. Extremely intelligent.”

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Notebook: Perine and Townsend ready for their Swamp farewell

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