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Florida Gators Countdown to Kickoff 2021: At No. 23, Demarkcus Bowman’s promise

Demarkcus Bowman is a household name for a certain type of fan. This fall, he could become one for many.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Auburn at Florida Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Florida Gators haven’t had a player like Demarkcus Bowman in a minute.

That’s not to say Florida hasn’t had good players, or good offensive players, or “weapons,” or home run hitters. Florida had Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes on the same team last fall. Toney generated four years of highlights; Pitts had about one and a half, but is also tabbed for an amazing NFL career. Before that, Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain and La’Mical Perine authored some awesome moments; hell, Feleipe Franks and Tyrie Cleveland hooked up to cook up a seminal moment.

And before them, there were Antonio Callaway and Demarcus Robinson, Jordan Reed and Omarius Hines. But, if I’m being honest, I think Bowman occupies a space in the collective consciousness of Gator Nation that we haven’t allocated for a player since Andre Debose.

Debose was forecast as the first second coming of Percy Harvin as a high schooler, remember, the kind of playmaker whose high school feats became legendary before he ever suited up in orange and blue because his reputation transcended the usual footprint of recruiting. His highlight reel remains the stuff of myth...

...and if you ask anyone who was paying enough attention at the time to hear about Debose’s travails at Seminole High, you’ll probably get some mention of what he did — specifically, the game-winning catch he made — in the 2008 6A Florida State Championship Game against a Miami Northwestern squad quarterbacked by Teddy Bridgewater.

Debose was supposed to be that dude at Florida, and while he wasn’t Percy 2.0, he did bring electricity to The Swamp on multiple occasions, his knack for out-of-nowhere strikes earning him a different sobriquet from yours truly. He, Callaway, and Toney are probably the three Gators from the last decade who ever approached the must-see status attained by Harvin and teammates from the Urban Meyer era — Brandon James as a return man, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey — whose every touch could be tremendous.

Harvin, Rainey, and Demps all came to Florida with that sort of hype. But this decade didn’t deliver a similar prospect. Callaway? He was a late-cycle coup, but few were absolutely sure he would be a game-breaker until he broke games. Toney? It was well understood that prying him from Alabama despite interest from Nick Saban was a feat for Florida, but there were questions about how he could or would be used. Pitts wasn’t Kyle Pitts as a high schooler; Robinson, Cleveland, and Jacob Copeland had buzz among recruitniks, certainly, but I don’t think any of them transcended.

The only Florida commit I’d absolutely put in that category, in fact, didn’t become a Florida signee — and while Dalvin Cook lived up to his hype, it sadly wasn’t as a Gator. (Ja’Marr Chase, meanwhile, didn’t turn into a monstrously great receiver until after arriving at LSU.)

Bowman was different.

Bowman was a player I could reference in December 2018 and expect readers to know about. Bowman was going to be the centerpiece of a class. Bowman committing to Clemson despite fondness for and ties to Florida was a great failing for Greg Knox. Bowman was the bellcow and the home run hitter and the next great Lakeland Dreadnaught-turned-Florida Gator.

Bowman was that dude, even back then.

Bowman was a coup when he decided to transfer to Florida.

And he looks like he might be that dude right now.

Unquestionably, he’s been the buzz of both of Florida’s closed scrimmages, with highlights of two runs that sure seem to showcase his explosiveness leaking and going viral.

Does a reputation and a pair of fine runs in scrimmage settings mean that Bowman is going to be the next great Gators playmaker, or Florida’s RB1, or even the running back that Dan Mullen gives the most touches this fall? For better or worse, I think the answer is no.

Knox has stressed that Florida’s incredibly deep backfield — Bowman is one of two five-star transfers who will get the rock this fall, along with Miami transplant Lorenzo Lingard, and it’s possible both of them are behind returnees Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, and Nay’Quan Wright on the depth chart at present — isn’t going to depend on any one player, and Mullen’s entire history as a head coach suggests similar when it comes to RB usage.

But the hype is there with Bowman. Right now, and at least until his first touch on a Saturday this fall, he is in rare air.

When we all tune in this fall, many of us will be doing it to see No. 23.