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Safety Marcell Harris (26) announced Thursday that he'll head to the NFL after missing all of last season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

Prominent Gators safety chooses NFL while promising Gators safety dealt stunning news

Ryan Young

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Marcell Harris’ decision and Randy Russell’s bad break dotted a busy day of news for Florida football

Veteran safety Marcell Harris was coming off a career-best season and poised to become the face of Florida’s young defense when those plans were dashed in an instant last summer.

A torn right Achilles tendon before the start of preseason camp would wipe out Harris’ redshirt senior season, but fortunately he still gets a shot to pursue his ultimate goals as he announced Thursday he will declare for the NFL draft rather than pursue an extra year of eligibility.

It’s a significant loss for the Gators, but not a surprising one considering what Harris would have risked by returning and exposing himself to the potential for another major injury.

For incoming freshman safety Randy Russell, meanwhile, the totally unexpected news he and his family received Thursday was much heavier.

Russell, a very impressive and likable young player from Miami Gardens, Fla., was found to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. This was revealed during his physical at Florida, and it means the immediate end of his football career.

Russell was a highly intriguing 3-star prospect whose tenacity and approach to the game had convinced Florida’s coaching staff his modest size belied his upside, but the news here is more about the person than the player.

For Florida fans who won’t get the chance to see what he could have been on the field, read his poised and mature public response to the life-altering setback he was dealt and one will get a sense for Russell’s personal make-up.

From a football standpoint, Florida will regroup.

If he remains at safety, Chauncey Gardner Jr. will look to build on a strong finish to his up-and-down sophomore season. The Gators will also see what growth young safeties Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart and Donovan Stiner can show from their freshmen seasons, while Jeawon Taylor also gained experience as a sophomore, Quincy Lenton will try to put together his first healthy season in Gainesville and incoming freshmen defensive backs Amari Burney, Trey Dean and John Huggins will get their shot to compete for playing time as well.

Harris certainly would have provided a major boost to the unit, but the Gators’ 2016 leading tackler made what is probably the best decision for his future by leaving now for the NFL. (See his full comments on his decision here.)

As for Russell, he won’t get to realize that dream he’s been working toward and the disappointment will surely linger for quite some time, but the silver lining is the knowledge of his heart condition was detected early enough to protect his health for whatever new path he chooses to pursue.

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Thoughts on Florida’s finalized coaching staff

Florida coach Dan Mullen announced the hiring of former Eastern Michigan head coach and former Michigan and Louisville defensive coordinator Ron English on Thursday.

English will coach Florida’s safeties and rounds out the final hire on Mullen’s first Gators staff.

Florida also officially announced titles for all of its assistant coaches, revealing no surprises as lone holdover Ja’Juan Seider moves from running backs to tight ends while newcomer Greg Knox will serve as RBs coach and special teams coordinator, as he did for Mullen at Mississippi State.

Here’s how Mullen’s 10-man on-field coaching staff looks:

Offense

  • Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers
  • John Hevesy, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line
  • Brian Johnson, quarterbacks
  • Greg Knox, running backs/special teams coordinator
  • Ja’Juan Seider, tight ends

Defense

  • Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
  • Sal Sunseri, defensive line
  • Christian Robinson, linebackers
  • Charlton Warren, cornerbacks
  • Ron English, safeties

It’s clear two qualities Mullen prioritized in putting together his staff were his own familiarity with the coaches and prior SEC coaching experience.

Gonzales, Hevesy, Johnson, Knox, Grantham, Robinson and English (his safeties coach at Mississippi State last season) have prior experience coaching under Mullen, and every coach on the staff has experience coaching in the SEC.

In other Florida football news

  • Defensive lineman Jordan Smith, one of the nine players indefinitely suspended last August for involvement in credit card fraud, announced he is leaving Florida. This came a day after it was reported that offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, another of the suspended players, was also withdrawing from the university. Smith and Telfort were the only suspended players not to receive pretrial-intervention from the State Attorney’s Office because they faced too many recommended third-degree felony charges, so the news of their departures is not a surprise.
  • The Tampa Bay Times reports that former Florida defensive back Deiondre Porter sentenced to 10 years in prison after accepting plea deal on range of charges

Recruiting roundup

On the hardwood

  • The Florida men’s basketball team will look to remain unbeaten in the SEC and go for a seventh straight win overall when it visits Ole Miss on Saturday. The game tips off at 1 p.m. on CBS. The Gators (12-4, 4-0) are one of only two teams still unbeaten in the conference while Ole Miss comes into the game 9-7 overall and 2-2 in the SEC.
  • The Florida women’s basketball team lost 56-53 at home to Kentucky on Thursday. The Gators (8-9 overall) are 0-4 in the SEC, but they’ve lost each of their last two games by slim 3-point margins.

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What they’re saying on Twitter

The responses poured in Thursday for Randy Russell, after he explained why his Florida football career is over before it ever got a chance to begin. Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater was among those offering support:

James Robinson, a highly-touted WR in the Gators’ 2017 recruiting class, went through a similar ordeal and reached out to Russell as well:

New Florida director of recruiting operations Lee Begley shared a picture from the Gators’ team meeting Thursday:

The official Gators football account introduced new assistant coach Ron English:

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