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Florida’s John Huggins dismissed from team

The Gators’ thin secondary gets even thinner.

NCAA Football: Florida Spring Game Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators have dismissed sophomore defensive back John Huggins from the program, the program confirmed to multiple outlets Saturday.

The Gators confirmed the dismissal after it was first reported by Edgar Thompson and Iliana Limon Romero of the Orlando Sentinel.

Huggins remains listed on Florida’s roster online as of Sunday morning.

There are no reported details about what triggered this dismissal in reports on it by the Sentinel, 247Sports, Gator Country, or The Gainesville Sun. But Huggins had been absent for much of Florida’s fall practice period, with a Florida spokesman saying Huggins was dealing with a “family issue” — and probes into his status and history turned up a police report from October 1, 2018 that detailed incidents in which Huggins allegedly touched a tutor’s hair without permission and then allegedly choked that tutor for withholding his phone as a means of coercing him to stay for an entire tutoring session.

These incidents, not reported or disclosed to media at the time, did not result in criminal charges against Huggins, but appear to have been the basis for at least a de facto five-game suspension for Huggins during the 2018 season. He played in eight of Florida’s 13 games, but did not play in a sequence of five games from an October 6 win over LSU to a November 3 loss to Missouri. Florida coach Dan Mullen said earlier this week that Huggins’s punishment for those incidents had “been handled” at the time, though, and that his current absence was unrelated to them.

But while Mullen also said he personally had “great clarity” on Huggins’s status at the moment in the same press conference, he had not expounded beyond that or Florida’s “family issue” explanation this fall. And there are, as Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times wrote earlier this week, “no public records from the Gainesville Police Department, University of Florida Police Department or the state attorney’s office about other serious crimes involving Huggins.”

Huggins was poised to play a significant role in the Gators’ secondary this fall, likely serving as the first reserve off the bench behind a quintet — outside corners CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson, nickel corner Trey Dean, and safeties Brad Stewart and Jeawon Taylor — that appears to be set to start. Huggins most naturally would have fit at safety or nickel corner, and showed his talent as a ballhawk in Florida’s 2019 spring game by returning an interception for a touchdown.

But now Huggins is the second Gator to score a touchdown in that spring game and part ways with the program before the first game of the 2019 season, following in the stead of since-transferred quarterback Jalon Jones, who played in the game despite multiple allegations of sexual battery against him being made earlier that week.

Huggins is also the fourth Florida player and fifth member of the Florida program to part ways with the program after at least one allegation of violence (or a threat thereof) against a woman in Mullen’s short tenure leading it. 2018 signee Justin Watkins was suspended and then dismissed last July after being arrested (for the second time in 10 weeks) on felony charges related to the alleged strangulation of a woman. 2019 has brought the transfer of Jones; a cyberstalking arrest and the subsequent departure of recruiting staffer Otis Yelverton; an arrest (leading to a dropped charge) prior to the transfer of defensive back Brian Edwards; and now the mysterious dismissal of Huggins.

Five such depatures would raise eyebrows if each allegation had been swiftly met with a showing of the door. But in each of those five departures, the parting of ways lagged behind the first allegation of violence against a woman by at least weeks — and in all of the cases but Jones’s, that departure happened months after the initial allegation.

That pattern of delayed action does, though, track with the reasoning Mullen gave for his stances against violence against women and for due process in the same press conference earlier this week.

“Obviously, I’m a big anti-violence against women person,” Mullen said Tuesday. “I’m also a person that I really want to have all of the information as I make decisions and what happens in different situations and that’s one of the toughest deals.”

“My job as a head coach is not to go in and investigate all that. I have to manage the situation, manage my players on those types of things and let the university process play or the legal process play its course.”

But if Mullen declines to elaborate on the status of his players, he leaves the door open for reporters to dredge up unflattering details that went without being divulged by Florida, as happened this week with the 2018 police report regarding Edwards, or for fans to speculate about a player’s status during whatever duration of legal or other trouble he faces.

Apparently, that legal or other process has now played out to enough of a degree when it comes to Huggins to permit his dismissal — and it leaves Florida’s roster dreadfully short on healthy defensive backs. The Gators, after this week’s season-ending injury for C.J. McWilliams and Huggins’s dismissal, now have just 11 healthy players listed as DBs on their online roster — and three of those players, junior Wilson and true freshmen Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill, are recovering from torn ACLs suffered within the last year.

Those freshmen and classmate Kaiir Elam will now be depended on more than ever to contribute on the field for Florida this fall. And the Gators are precariously close to having disastrously little depth when it comes to the position group.