Seniors' families reflect on careers

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published November 25, 2007

GAINESVILLE - Deborah Caldwell stood near the 50-yard line 25 minutes before kickoff Saturday evening and tried not to cry.

Kathy and Joe Ijjas stood a short distance away trying to soak in the moment.

For the Caldwell and the Ijjas families, it was an emotional afternoon as senior receiver Andre Caldwell of Tampa and senior kicker Joey Ijjas of Clearwater played their final games at Florida Field.

"I can't keep still," Deborah Caldwell said. "I'm just so proud and happy, just standing up thanking the Master for putting Andre in this situation after what he has gone through."

Caldwell had to battle back from a broken leg suffered on a kickoff return in 2005.

Ijjas is a former walk-on who transferred from East Carolina. One day, he walked into the coaches offices, informed them he was a kicker and left. They later called, and at the beginning of this season, he was awarded a scholarship. Ijjas finished the game with six point-afters, giving him 67 on the season - second most in school history. He needs five more to break Bart Edmiston's record set in 1995.

"It's a total tribute to the work, the effort, the training, the practice and the opportunity that the coaching staff here has given him," Joe Ijjas said. "They have been totally supportive of all his efforts, and it's really through the coaching staff and his hard work that he's gotten to where he is. I hope that somewhere along the line, some athlete, boy or girl, sees his story and says 'I can do this, too,' whatever their sport."

Added his mom: "It's a parent's dream."

UF players dedicated the 45-12 win over FSU to the seniors.

"To think those cats won 31 games," coach Urban Meyer said. "It was a great locker room experience for a group of seniors who played their hearts out. And every underclassman who stood up said this win was about those seniors."

JOINER REGAINS STATUS: Senior safety Tony Joiner regained his captain's status for the final home game of his career. Joiner made the request earlier in the week, and Meyer indicated he would consider it. Joiner lost his captain's status after he was arrested the week of the LSU game for removing his girlfriend's car from a towing company lot without paying the bill. The owner later said it was a misunderstanding and he didn't want to press charges.

"He deserved it," co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said of the returned captaincy.

HADEN OUT: He tried all week to get healthy enough to play, but in the end freshman cornerback Joe Haden missed the game with a sprained right ankle. Offensive lineman Jim Tartt sprained his ankle, but Meyer said he should be ready in time for the bowl game.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.