Gardner Emerges as Key Piece to DBU’s Future

Outback Bowl MVP holds a souvenir from Monday’s win. (Photo: Tim Casey/UAA Communications) GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Cocoa High football coach John Wilkinson, who graduated from UF in 1992, was tuned into the Outback Bowl on Monday to see if the Gators could cap the season with a victory over Iowa.

Early in the fourth quarter Wilkinson’s phone rang. The call was from Delatron Johnson, mother of Gators freshman defensive back .

"I could hear the crowd,” Wilkinson said.

He could hear Johnson’s voice, too.

"Are you watching?" she yelled. "Heck yeah, I’m watching. It was awesome. We talked for a minute. All of a sudden you get a second one a little while later." No compatible source was found for this media.

Wilkinson has known Gardner and his family for several years, even before the Outback Bowl MVP joined Cocoa High’s team as a freshman and immediately started for the Tigers.

Gardner became the first player in school history to start every game from his freshman season to his senior season according to Wilkinson. It was a no-brainer.

"I just knew right way. The speed is what stuck out,” Wilkinson said. "We play a lot of good teams around the country and he didn’t bat an eye or wasn’t nervous or anything. He’s just got that ‘it’ factor."

Not much changed for Gardner in his first season at Florida. While the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Gardner didn’t start from day one with teammates such as , , , , and ahead of him on the depth chart, he played in every game.

And when Washington went down with an ankle injury late in the season, Gardner started the final three games and made his case as one of the best young players on the team. Gardner was at his best on Monday, picking off a pair of passes by Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard.

DBU: A look at other notable Florida defensive backs as true freshmen in recent years: PLAYER SEASON STATS Chauncey Gardner 2016 13 G, 3 GS, 32 tackles, 3 INT, 1 TD, 3 PBUs Teez Tabor 2014 12 G, 5 GS, 31 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 PBUs, 1 INT Quincy Wilson 2014 12 G, 2 GS, 22 tackles, 4 PBUs, 1 INT Vernon Hargreaves III 2013 12 G, 10 GS, 38 tackles, 11 PBUs, 3 INT Keanu Neal 2013 12 G, 0 GS, 5 tackles Loucheiz Purifoy 2011 13 G, 0 GS, 27 tackles, 1 forced fumble Marcus Roberson 2011 10 G, 10 GS, 22 tackles 1 INT, 2 PBUs Matt Elam 2010 13 G, 0 GS, 22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU Gardner returned the first one 58 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, prompting his mother to give his high school coach a ring.

"He did what he does,” Harris said. "That’s how you make plays."

Gardner had another interception minutes later and returned it 30 yards to Iowa’s 7. By that time, the Gators were close to celebrating a 30-3 victory over the Hawkeyes and Gardner had clinched the game’s MVP award.Gardner joined two-way […]