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The receiver who spent the season in Jabar Gaffney's shadow shows why preseason expectations for him were big.
By DEBI JONES
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001
NEW ORLEANS -- He is not an All-American, and he doesn't own any of Florida's receiving records. Reche Caldwell is not even the Gators' top receiver.
But awards and records didn't mean anything Tuesday night in Florida's 37-20 loss to Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Caldwell led the Gators with 110 receiving yards on six receptions.
A mention of Florida receivers usually means a mention of Jabar Gaffney, the Gators' leading receiver with 1,184 yards in 71 catches during the regular season.
Gaffney caught seven passes for 75 yards Tuesday.
"The receivers just weren't as good tonight," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "Reche caught a lot of good balls. Uncharacteristically, Jabar dropped a few."
After two dropped balls by Gaffney, the national freshman of the year, Caldwell became quarterback Rex Grossman's go-to receiver. He drew a crucial interference penalty early in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown.
"Reche really stepped up today," Grossman said. "I don't try to look for anybody in particular, but he happened to be the guy tonight. He really stepped up when we needed him to. A few different plays and the game could have been a lot closer."
Not all of Caldwell's night was good. In the first quarter he was penalized for his exuberance after a 47-yard catch from Grossman. The call cost the Gators 15 yards and possibly a field goal; Jeff Chandler's 50-yard attempt was no good.
Caldwell, a Jefferson High graduate, started in 11 of 12 games for the Gators and had 76 receptions for 1,029 yards.
As a redshirt freshman, Caldwell played behind now-NFL players Travis Taylor and Darrell Jackson and caught 27 passes for 269 yards. He came into the this season expected to be on of Florida's top two receivers, with Alex Willis.
Caldwell, however, started slowly. He said he was dropping a lot of balls and lacked focus, but extra practice time helped him turn his season around.
Caldwell's best game came at Vanderbilt. He had five receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown.
Caldwell said Gaffney's success may have had helped him perform better.
"A lot of teams double-teamed Jabar. Some teams tripled-teamed Jabar," Caldwell said. "That just gave me a chance to get open."
During the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Caldwell scored the Gators' first two touchdowns and had three receptions for 91 yards.
Caldwell will enter next season expected to become one of the Gators' leading receivers.
Florida also will return Gaffney and sophomore Taylor Jacobs. Caldwell said the group of receivers, along with confidence gained from his performance in the Sugar Bowl, will carry the Gators into next season.
"We have the same goals for next season," Caldwell said. "We are trying to win the (Southeastern Conference) and win the national championship, just like this season."