But this series of articles has been about appreciating those guys who didn’t get the recognition they deserved; players who for one reason or another were not acknowledged with the first team All-SEC honors (or better) that they were entitled to.
Today we reach the guy I consider to be the most overlooked, under appreciated Gator great of the past thirty years. But first, let’s remember the first nine guys we mentioned:
#10 ----- Tony Rowell
#9 ----- Chris Leak
#8 ----- Harrison Houston
#7 ----- Ray Criswell
#6 ----- Doug Johnson
#5 ----- Elijah Williams
#4 ----- Ed Robinson
#3 ----- Steve Rissler
#2 ----- John L Williams
# 1 ----- Mike Peterson ----- In 1998 the Florida Gators’ entire linebacking corps was on the watch list for the Butkus Award. Two of the three were semi-finalists, marking them as being among the top ten linebackers in the country. Jevon Kearse and Johnny Rutledge made that cut, but their teammate Mike Peterson did not. I remember then Gator Defensive Coordinator Bobby Stoops coming up to me the day the semi-finalists were announced. Stoops said to me words to the effect of, “you’re one of the voters for the Butkus Award aren’t you?
When I responded affirmatively, Stoops responded, “How the (heck) can you guys not have Mike Pete as a semi-finalist? He’s the best one out there!”
I told Bobby I agreed with him and had Peterson on my ballot, but I’m just one guy. I thought Peterson was the best linebacker in the entire SEC back then, and I still do to this very day. Kearse, aka: “The Freak” was the sexy one to vote for. Kearse made spectacular plays and was an intimidating presence. Rutledge was a rangy middle linebacker who really looked the part. As for Peterson, well he was just the guy who made the right play every time. Peterson led the Gators with 127 tackles which is an amazing total considering the abilities of the guys he played alongside.
Mike Peterson was a safety and quarterback at Santa Fe High School just a dozen miles up U.S. 441 from the UF campus. I saw him play three times his senior year and while his offensive skills were substantial I thought he would be a great safety. Instead his career more closely followed that of another great high school safety, Derrick Brooks who grew into a superlative collegiate linebacker. He was a great player and a great student-athlete at UF and is to me the best player at UF to never make first team All-SEC.
Peterson was chosen in the second round of the NFL draft, 36th overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Kearse was chosen 20 places higher; Rutledge was tabbed 15 slots later.
So those are my choices for the top players at UF to be left off the first team All-SEC lists. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but your feedback is important to me. If you have a guy who you think I mistakenly left off the list, let’s here about it!