The hits. The fans. The sweet, sweet sound of voices rising as one to cheer him. Florida running back Jordan Scarlett had almost forgotten what it was like.
He, along with eight other players, spent last season suspended for accusations of credit card fraud. For Scarlett and the other suspended players who stuck around, Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut was their return to football’s main stage.
And Scarlett, a St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus, didn’t waste the opportunity.
He led all running backs in yards (57) and touchdowns (two). He showed that despite the time off, he’s ready to resume what was once a promising career. And while he’ll almost certainly be Florida’s starter, he’s only the leader of what could turn out to be UF’s strongest backfield in a decade.
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“I think we have a lot of great running backs,” Scarlett said. “All of us have a different style of running styles. I feel like those coaches do a really good job of figuring out who can do what.”
So who makes up this stable of backs, and what can they do? It starts with Scarlett.
He’s a redshirt junior, which makes him the oldest, and he was a four-star recruit rated as the nation’s 12th-best running back coming out of high school.
His biggest strength is balance — he has some burst, some power and some shiftiness. He should be in line for a career season if UF’s offensive line is decent, and even if it isn’t, he showed what he can do with mediocre blockers as a sophomore.
He finished the season with 889 yards and six rushing touchdowns, which were both team highs.
“Scarlett is gonna hit the hole hard,” guard Tyler Jordan said.
Junior Lamical Perine is likely to be next in line, although his spot is less entrenched. He’s the biggest of Florida’s backs at 5-foot-11, 218 pounds, and he was its most productive a season ago when he rushed for a team-best 562 yards and eight touchdowns.
His biggest strength is power and the ability to get to the second level.
“Perine's gonna shake you a little bit then stretch the vertical,” Jordan added.
But he has competition for that second spot in the rotation.
Sophomore Malik Davis could be his main opposition if he comes back from an undisclosed season-ending knee injury sustained against Georgia. He was very limited in spring and his return timeline isn’t clear, but he was wildly productive as a freshman before the injury struck.
He rushed for 526 yards in seven games with an average of 6.6 yards per carry.
Fellow sophomore Adarius Lemons could also compete for some carries if he manages to get better at the unnoticed stuff, coach Dan Mullen said, like pass blocking and routes.
And then there are true freshmen Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.
Pierce was the higher-rated recruit at No. 201 overall while Clement checked in at No. 329, and Pierce looked to be ahead in Spring practice. Neither one really separated himself in the Spring game, with Clement managing 14 yards on five carries and Pierce with 18 yards on five carries.
With Davis’ injury and Lemons’ struggles with the non-running part of the game, though, at least one of them should be in line for playing time in 2018. That bodes well for Florida, which arguably hasn’t had a capable four-man stable since Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee and Trey Burton prowled the turf.
“There is a lot of competition in that backfield,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys back there. It is a loaded backfield.”