Citing ‘unfinished business,’ Florida Gators offensive stars announce they will return

By Adam Silverstein
January 5, 2019
Citing ‘unfinished business,’ Florida Gators offensive stars announce they will return

Image Credit: @GatorsFB/Twitter

There are a handful of Florida Gators giving up their remaining eligibility and declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft this offseason, but six players who saw extensive action this season announced over the last few days that they will be staying put.

Three offensive standouts, including the team’s leading pass catcher and ball carrier, will be back. Wide receivers junior Tyrie Cleveland and redshirt junior Van Jefferson, along with junior running back La’Mical Perine, cited “unfinished business” as part of their mission.

“My goal since I was a little kid was to one day make it to the NFL. After looking at the pros and cons, I decided to come back for my senior year,” Cleveland wrote. “I will use this year to mature and better myself as a person and player. I will also use this year to work on getting my degree, which is very important to me. Personally, I still want to accomplish goals I set for myself and for the team.

“This was a tough decision, but I feel like this is the best decision for me and my family. I trust God and the plans he has for me. I will commit myself fully to my teammates and coaches and be a leader for this 2019 team. To Gator Nation, we have unfinished business.”

Cleveland has not been the breakout receiver Florida expected since joining the program, totaling just 54 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns over three seasons. His first two years were marred with inconsistent quarterback play and offensive playcalling, so perhaps a second year in head coach Dan Mullen‘s system will give him the breakout campaign he deserves.

Jefferson and Perine made their announcements on Saturday after standout seasons with the Gators.

“After making the best decision in choosing to become a part of Gator Nation, I instantly felt at home. I felt like it was where I was supposed to be,” explained Jefferson. “… Coach, you told me that you wanted to get Gators football back to where it was or where it needs to be. You expressed many times the desire to restore the Gator standard, the culture, and I’m so thankful to have been a part of the process thus far.

“Knowing this, I’ve decided to continue the process of restoring the Gator standard alongside my brothers for another year. This will allow me to earn my degree, hone my skills, and become a better player and better man. … Gators, let’s get it! Chomp Chomp.”

Jefferson was a standout this season, hauling in 35 receptions for 503 yards and six touchdowns. He had touchdowns in two of his final three games and four receptions in six contests to lead Florida in receiving. Similarly, the team’s leading running back will return as well.

“It’s been an amazing three years and last week’s win in the Peach Bowl was just the start of things to come for this program. It’s amazing how things have come full circle,” he wrote. “Being that the first offer I received was from Coach Mullen, he has believed in me since early in my recruiting process back in high school. I ultimately chose Florida because of the opportunity to earn my degree from a top 10 institution and play for championships. With Coach Mullen, we are now in a position to play for championships at UF.

“Despite all the success we had this past season, I think we all know that we have some unfinished business. With that said, I’ll be returning for my senior season for one last ride with my brothers and this coaching staff. Let’s get to work!”

Perine carried the ball 134 times this season for 826 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 13 receptions for 170 yards and another score. He averaged 2.1 more yards per rush and 5.0 more yards per reception than a year ago and may now step into a clear No. 1 role in the offensive backfield with redshirt junior Jordan Scarlett declaring for the draft.

Cleveland, Jefferson and Perine returning gives Mullen a trio of veteran talents at key offensive playmaking groups, an important development as he looks to continue improving Florida’s offense in Year 2. It also means the Gators’ leading receiver and rusher are back for another run.

A pair of defensive linemen — junior Jabari Zuniga and graduate transfer Adam Shuler — also announced Saturday that they will return for additional seasons, as did junior linebacker David Reese.

Zuniga: “As much success as we had on the field, I had just as much off of it. With that, I’m excited to return this fall to finish my degree and play for a national championship. The sky is the limit for this program, and I’m excited to be part of it for one last ride.”

Shuler: “My best decision in life so far was choosing to transfer to The University of Florida. … It has been a great hard fought season to bring our Gator standard back along with getting the program back to a championship level of competition. … I look forward to improving upon my athletic abilities this coming season and continuing to return and raise the Gator standard in the SWAMP!!”

Reese: “It was always a dream of mine to play for the Florida Gators, compete for national championships, then go on to play in the league. … This past year has sparked the dream that has always lived in me. With that being said, I cannot bring myself to leave what is happening at the University of Florida. … I feel like it is in my best interests to return for one last ride. We are just getting started, and I have unfinished business.”


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