Breakout players from 2012

Breakout players from 2012

No one expected an 11-1 regular season in Gainesville. The Gators opened the season ranked No. 23 in the polls without an identity on offense. The defense was set with experienced players coming back, but there weren't All-Americans or household names covering the roster. That changed as the season continued to progress and the Gators had multiple players go through breakout years.

Punter Kyle Christy: The punter position looked shaky coming into 2012. Christy didn't win the job as a freshman until the second half of the year and split time with senior walk on David Lerner. Christy punted 30 times as a freshman and averaged 40.9 yards. His sophomore stats are staggering. He finished sixth in the country with an average of 46.1 yards and 25 of his 62 punts being 50+ yards. He also dropped 26 inside the 20-yard line with just six touchbacks.

The strong season came from a mechanical adjustment. Christy didn't punt much as a freshman because the coaches didn't trust his operational time from the moment he caught the football to when he kicked it. He worked hard in the offseason with special teams coach D.J. Durkin to fix it, and he earned a spot as a Ray Guy finalist because of it.

Safety Josh Evans: The measurables were always there for Evans. During his final season in Gainesville, he turned them size and speed into a strong season instead of just showing potential. He was fifth on the team with 51 tackles in 13 games last season. Through 12 games this year, Evans leads the Gators with 79 tackles.

He has also been trusted as a one-high safety in pass coverage, allowing the Gators to play Matt Elam in the box as an extra linebacker. He had two interceptions and three pass breakups compared to one interception and one pass breakup as a junior. His entire ability improved from his junior to senior season and helped the Florida defense become more versatile.

Running back Mike Gillislee: There weren't many people outside of Gainesville and the Florida fan base that knew what Gillislee could do. Even those impressed with his late-game running in recent years couldn't have expected what Gillislee did during his senior campaign. He became the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004 when Ciatrick Fason did it, and Gillislee goes into the Sugar Bowl with 1,104 yards.

It's hard not to think about what could've been. While Gillislee was busy icing games with his running when Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were resting on the bench, the Gators wasted a possible redshirt, including just 31 carries during his freshman year in 2009. His breakout campaign put the senior in a situation where he should get a chance in the National Football League.

Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy: Word of Purifoy's emergence started during bowl practice of 2011 when he was starting to emerge as a freshman. He earned a start in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State as Roberson was out with a neck injury. He carried that momentum into the spring and played a massive role for Florida in 2012. He made an impact on defense and special teams throughout the year and even created an offensive role for himself in the second half of the season.

Purifoy always found a way to be around the football. He forced three fumbles, which his teammate call his specialty, while no other Florida player forced more than one. Purifoy also blocked two kicks and broke up five passes. He could be on this list again in 2013. Purifoy's offensive role continued to grow as the season went on, even catching passes out of the backfield and touching the ball on reverses against Florida State.

Cornerback Jaylen Watkins: Watkins went from a liability during the beginning of his sophomore season to a trusted member of the Florida secondary in 2012. His sophomore season included him and Cody Riggs splitting time across from Marcus Roberson, who started as a freshman. Watkins made one tackle for a loss and broke up five passes in 2011. His junior season included one tackle for a loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

His 6-0, 187-pound frame gives him the length to use his hands against opposing receivers and deflect passes. Watkins started to show progress at the end of his sophomore season, but he put together a strong junior year that earned him consistent playing time this season.

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