Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Wide receiver is a position of honor and respect at Florida thanks to the legacy of so many skilled, dedicated and talented players over the past 60 years.
BY BUDDY MARTIN
Throwing and catching the ball is an art form, and not just for baseball. We here in Florida don’t shovel snow or resort to brute force to propel our football teams. We’d rather throw it to one of the ballet dancers in the sunshine and watch him twist and shout.
Since the 1960s, college football in this state has often traveled by air successfully. First at Florida State under Coach Bill Peterson. Then at Florida and Miami. Gator fans have Ray Graves and Steve Spurrier to thank for rescuing them from the deadly dull dungeon of Bob Woodruff’s smashmouth, Tennessee football.
I was around when Woodruff’s give-it-up offense frequently punted on third down and once even ran out the clock against Rice to preserve a tie! So when it finally came to pass, so to speak, as Gator football updated its offense from the stone age, indelible new images of those receivers running free were created that still dance in our minds.
Who could forget Charles Casey’s precise patterns and soft hands hauling in the gentle tosses of Steve Spurrier? … Richard Trapp tripping the Fred Astaire light fantastic through Georgia defenders like he was running routes-on-air around cones? … Carlos Alvarez splitting double coverage, stretching full out and then fingernail-catching a John Reaves bomb?... Chris Doering’s “got a touchdown!” from Danny Wuerffel – and then he got 29 more in setting career SEC and school records with 31… Ike Hilliard, one of the terrific “triplets” along with Reidel Anthony and Quezzie Green, stopping on a dime and making a million-dollar catch-and-touchdown run in a national championship game win over FSU… So many of them.
Percy Harvin, Wes Chandler, Travis McGriff, Jabar Gaffney, Jack Jackson, both Willie Jacksons, Chris Collinsworth, Riley Cooper, David Nelson, Louis Murphy, Taylor Jacobs, Ricky Nattiel, both of the Caldwells, etc. And I’ll stop there, knowing there were many others memorable ones I am bound to leave out.
The point is made. Wide receiver is a position of honor and respect at Florida thanks to the legacy of so many skilled, dedicated and talented players over the past 60 years. Somewhere around 17 players called “wide receiver, end or flanker” were named to one All-American team or another, not including tight ends.
After quarterbacks, wide receiver ranks as my second favorite position because of their dogged individualism, high-spirited nature and raw courage to go over the middle and get blown up while hanging on to a ball in mid-air. They are usually fast, crafty and smart. Often, those characteristics are also reflected in their personal lives.
The other day I researched the list of every Gator who caught a pass in the post-war era and I counted 411 since the 1950s. Actually it was a mixture of backs and tight ends and a few quarterbacks thrown in. Much to my surprise I had seen almost every one of them play.
Among them was Alvarez, who remarkably still owns the school record for receiving yards, without having been eligible a freshman. After becoming a consensus All-American on the 1969 SuperSophs, he suffered a serious knee injury. Aside from that, Carlos was deprived of the opportunity to ring up big numbers by a conservative Doug Dickey offense. But there was a lot more to Carlos Alvarez and his story. And he certainly deserves to be considered for the coveted Ring of Honor.
First, though, we need to pay respects to the family of Reche Caldwell, who in shocking news was fatally struck down at his home over the weekend by an assassin’s bullets in what still appears to be an unsolved crime in Tampa. He was a popular Gator player who ranked 8th in career catches and 12th all-time in receiving yards, a No. 2 draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2002 who also led the New England Patriots in receiving in 2006.
“Reche was a wonderful person and one of the best players to ever play at Florida,” said the HBC. “Gosh, so many good ones! I’d put him in the top 10 or 15 of those great ones. He and Jabar Gaffney and Taylor Jacobs between 2000 and 2001 statistically were right there with Ike and Quezzie and Reidel. He was a good guy and absolutely had no issues at Florida that I know of.”
Spurrier lamented the problems Caldwell ran into after Florida and his post-football life, saying, “We try to prepare them for life after football – and sometimes we don’t do a very good job.”
On the flip side, there are others who went the extra mile during their time at Florida and after they graduated. Such was the case of Alvarez.
Hard as it may be to fathom, Gator football had no black players until 1970. During Carlos’s time at UF, the team became integrated and two young black men, Willie Jackson of Sarasota and Leonard George of Tampa, showed up in 1970 without a lot of fanfare or any friends. It was Carlos, also a minority, who stepped in to befriend and shepherd them.
Alvarez shared this personal story on Facebook:
“My sophomore year at Florida was the last all-white Gator football team. Leonard George and Willie Jackson, the first African-Americans to be recruited at Florida a year after I was recruited, were freshman and freshman were not allowed to play in the varsity team back then.
“To show you what incredible injustice that African-Americans have had to face over and over again, let the following personal experience kick in. Carlos Alvarez, a non-US citizen at the time was playing for the Gators and getting all the benefits of that role, while African-Americans were at the same time dying in Vietnam and could not play for the Gators. The Civil War had been over for over a century and the bathrooms in Ocala still had white/colored signs.
“I learned a lot from Willie and Leonard and anyone that thinks their time at Florida was easy should go talk to them or read the history of that era. They are heroes in my book, always will be, and a statute of them should be outside of Florida Field.”
Once again this year, wide receivers are surfacing as key contributors in Gator football off and on the field, thanks to Dan Mullen’s offensive acumen and the extraordinary teaching at the position by Billy Gonzalez – easily one of the most underrated assistant coaches in CFB.
Last year alone, Gonzalez’ “wide receiver room” contributed mightily to leadership. Seniors Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain and Van Jefferson were so unselfish they were literally almost interchangeable and they even cheered for each other. The footprints of their legacy will be seen and felt by returnees Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland, newcomers and others.
There also appears to be a wealth of talent in the red-shirt freshman class like Dionte Marks, Trent Whittemore and Ja’Markis Weston.
Mullen is blessed with the best receiving TE in the conference, Kyle Pitts, and a pair of quarterbacks who can distribute like point guards in Kyle Trask and Emory Jones.
Which is to say once again the forward pass is alive and well and will be critical to the success of Gator football. We are not likely going back to the Woodruff offense or Woody Hayes’ genre of “three yards and a cloud of dust.”
Former Texas Coach Darrell Royal once espoused the creed that when you pass the football “Only three things can happen – and two of them are bad.” He was partially right, except I would amend that to “… and the other one of them is GREAT!”
Long live the pass and catch.