The University of Florida will be two players short when it opens its season Sept. 3 against UMass.
On Wednesday, coach Jim McElwain announced starting cornerback Jalen Tabor and tight end C’yontai Lewis were suspended from practice and team activities and would miss the season opener against the Minutemen.
“By no means are these bad guys, and yet consequences have been handed down,” McElwain said in a statement. “We will not look the other way when it comes to breaking of team policies.”
According to multiple media outlets, Tabor and Lewis are being punished for a fight that occurred in practice.
Tabor, a junior from Washington, is Florida’s most outspoken player and is considered by some to be the face of the team.
In July, the UF media staff set it up for Tabor to have a media day in New York City, and he appeared on the “Paul Finebaum Show” on the SEC Network last week.
Tabor finished last season with a team-high 18 defended passes (four interceptions, 14 pass breakups) and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. He was the only Florida player selected to the media’s preseason All-SEC first team.
McElwain praised Tabor’s work ethic and embraced the junior’s commitment to the team and himself.
“I love the guy,” McElwain told reporters in Gainesville last week. “He’s a guy who cares. He’s a guy who has really invested in himself. I think he’s grown up immensely as far as how he’s going about his business.”
But a second suspension and third off-the-field incident is not something a potential top-10 pick in the NFL Draft can afford.
Tabor was also suspended for the Tennessee game last season for a violation of team rules and was cited during his freshman year for marijuana possession.
“There are life lessons in everything we do,” McElwain said. “We will be better because of it, and no one person is bigger than the Florida Gators.”
Lewis, a redshirt sophomore, is in the midst of a position battle with DeAndre Goolsby for the starting tight end spot.
Lewis showed promise early in 2015, grabbing two touchdown passes in the season opener against New Mexico State before dealing with a hand injury that limited him for the rest of the year. He finished the season with four catches for 75 yards in nine games.
“I want to echo what I said earlier, these are both fine young men who will learn and be stronger from their actions,” McElwain said.