Has Florida found its next Jeff Demps in RB Lavonte Valentine?
As Jim McElwain tries to rebuild Florida football into a championship program, one of his mottos is “recruit daily or die.” Join us here on SEC Country for a daily recap of the latest UF recruiting news, tales from the trail and perspective on what it all means for the Gators.
Valentine loves UF
This week Florida hosted a fast-rising recruit — emphasis on fast — in Lavonte Valentine.
He’s an unrated running back from Melbourne, Fla., but certainly has the attention Florida and several other schools. His trip Tuesday was his first visit as a collegiate recruit.
“It was pretty exciting,” Valentine said. “I had been to Florida before, but not like this. I got to talk the track coaches and the football coaches, so I was happy about that.”
Like Gators wide receiver target Anthony Schwartz, Valentine plans to play football and run track in college.
Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider is the primary recruiter for Valentine, who’s been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“Me and Coach Seider have been talking for a month now, so it was very nice to finally meet him,” Valentine said. “Coach Seider told me I can fit in their offense very well. He goes, ‘I just want to call your number for you to run the ball and when I look up it’s a touchdown.’ ”
Seider said just as much in his introductory press conference last month: “I’m a firm believer that I shouldn’t have to coach speed. … I want that guy who can get the ball and go 80 and make me look like a good coach.”
Valentine fits that bill. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound prospect rushed for 10 touchdowns and averaged 9.7 yards per carry as a junior. His longest run was 85 yards.
Valentine’s visit to Florida put the Gators atop his leaderboard, due in large part to his interactions with UF coach Jim McElwain.
“I met with him on my visit and he’s pretty funny,” Valentine said. “He was like, ‘I’m going to let you know go visit these other schools, but at the end of the day you’re going to be a Gator.’
“Coach Mac is actually what stood out about Florida. He’s very interested in me. I’ll talk to the running backs coach or the offensive coordinator from other schools, but never the head coach.”
Jeff Demps 2.0?
It’s been 10 years since the Gators landed running back Jeff Demps in the Class of 2008. He’s the only athlete in school history to win a national championship in two different sports.
Dating back to 1996, Demps has twice as many 60-plus yard runs (4) than any other player. He starred as a true freshman to help Florida football claim its third national title in 2008.
Demps won four national championships, five SEC championships and earned All-America honors five times as a sprinter for UF track and field. He also won a silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I’m very familiar with him,” Valentine said. “He did big things at Florida and that’s appealing to me. One of the track coaches (Adrain Mann) let me know about a bunch of track athletes that also played football, and every single one of them won a national title in track. He told me, ‘Remember that when you go visit other schools. ‘ ”
Valentine watched the track and field team practice Tuesday and met head coach Mike Holloway. Valentine recently ran the 100-meter dash in 10.44 seconds, a personal record.
“The track coaches told me I can get to 10.2,” Valentine said. “I run that 10.44 two weeks ago and I didn’t have anybody pushing me. When I have that, my time is going to go down. You won’t see a sprinter running as fast as me at 6-1, 190. I’m taller than most of them and I definitely weigh more.”
Lavonte Valentine has played football since the age of 4. He became a big-time recruit a few months ago, but not in the sport he expected.
On Dec. 30, Valentine set the national record for the fastest time in the 60-meter dash at 6.77 seconds. It was his first time ever running that race, and at the time he hadn’t trained in three weeks.
“That opened doors for me,” Valentine said. “I started getting recruiting for track and that really surprised me. I’ve only been doing track for a year.”
As his track career took off, Valentine still had no offers to play college football. However, that changed after his 100m race on Feb. 25.
“Kentucky gave me my first offer two days later,” Valetine said. “For a while I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’m a good football player.’ I knew it would happen eventually, but I thought it would be in the fall and not the beginning of track season.”
Valentine is now up to 10 offers, including Florida, LSU, Oregon, Southern Cal and Tennessee. He’s not considering any school that won’t let him be a two-sport athlete.
“Football and track can open doors for me,” Valentine said. “I have the opportunity be an Olympian and go to the NFL, so I definitely want to pursue both.”
Valentine added that he loves the two sports equally, but he’s not a track athlete who happens to play football.
“I’m definitely a football player that runs track,” Valentine said. “That what Coach Seider loves about me. He told me, ‘I knew you had size, but I didn’t know you’d be this big.’ I said, ‘Coach. I’m not like these other sprinters.’ ”
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