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Season of redemption

Jabar Gaffney knew he had a tough job regaining Steve Spurrier's trust. Mission accomplished.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001

NEW ORLEANS -- Florida wide receiver Jabar Gaffney racked up catches, yards and touchdowns this season at an astounding pace. Every game, he felled another record. Every week, another honor befell him.

By season's end, he had reached his goal.

Gaffney earned his scholarship back.

"That's all I wanted," he said.

Kicked off the team last year for stealing from the Florida locker room, Gaffney dedicated himself to a season of recompense, determined to prove himself worthy of a second chance.

Becoming the most prolific freshman receiver in the history of the Southeastern Conference and being named Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News were merely by-products, not so much payoffs as part of his payment.

Gaffney set an SEC freshman record with 71 catches and NCAA freshman records with 1,184 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is the first Gators freshman receiver to be named first-team All-SEC or an All-American.

"It's breathtaking," said Gaffney, the son of former UF and New York Jets receiver Derrick Gaffney. "With all the great receivers on this team, for me to be the one who put up those kinds of numbers is a great feeling and accomplishment. But it seems real. I've been working hard. I knew things would happen if I kept working."

Gaffney was dismissed after his redshirt season for stealing cash and jewelry from the UF locker room while it was being used for the 1999 high school state championships. Charged with grand theft, he signed an agreement in April against charges of petty theft and pleaded with coach Steve Spurrier to reinstate him.

After consulting with players, Spurrier agreed, on one condition. Gaffney could come back as a walk-on.

"The guy would not stop, wouldn't quit, wouldn't give up," receivers coach Dwayne Dixon said. "He could have run away and gone to another school for a fresh start, but he wanted to go through the adversity here and show everyone he was a changed person."

His scholarship became his obsession.

While talk of broken records and accolades swirled around him, Gaffney refused to reflect on his success during the season because he had not attained his only goal. Two scholarships become available next semester; one will be awarded to Gaffney.

"Jabar has done everything first class," Spurrier said. "He has been the model student-athlete since he returned to the team. Obviously, I didn't realize he would develop into the tremendous player that he is.

"Some people said that maybe the problem he had spurred him on to be the best he could be. He worked hard as a walk-on. He's a good player, a good guy to have around."

At 6 feet 1, 191 pounds, Gaffney combines size, speed and toughness. He has very good body control, which allows him to make quick adjustments and acrobatic catches.

But he still is not ready to reflect. He is concentrating on No. 7 Florida's final game against No. 2 Miami on Tuesday. "I was going to (reflect), but hearing all that stuff Miami is saying, I have to stay focused for this one, too," he said. "I can't let off because they're trying to embarrass us, saying we're not going to be able to throw on them and that they have the best receivers. We just have a lot to prove."

With Gaffney, proving himself is a theme. For his future, it also will be key. When he takes the time to let his remarkable season sink in, how will he stay hungry in 2001?

"We're trying to get him in that Jerry Rice mentality where he'll still be that same guy walking on, trying to earn his way back," Dixon said. "If you keep those little fears in the back of your mind, that will keep you working."

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