As a freshman, Loucheiz Purifoy struggled to get on the field. One year later, Florida can’t take him off it.

Purifoy is the Gators’ most dynamic playmaker this season, contributing on offense, defense and special teams.

Between the end of the regular season and last year’s Gator Bowl, a neck injury suffered by Marcus Roberson created an opportunity for Purifoy. He took advantage.

“He came in and played real well in the Gator Bowl,” coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s huge for a young player to take steps forward.”

In one year, Purifoy progressed from a special teams gunner to an all-around contributor.

Even in an increased role, Purifoy contributed most significantly on special teams, the same area in which he thrived as a freshman. Purifoy played cornerback in all 13 games last season but earned most of his reps on special teams.

The Pensacola Pine Forest High product showed an immediate strength in kick and punt coverage, leading the Gators with 22 special teams tackles in 2011.

But that only set the stage for this season.

Purifoy is a force on special teams in 2012, recording seven tackles and consistently reaching the opposing punt returner before any of UF’s other gunners.

He also blocked a field goal against

Missouri and got his hand on a punt that Jelani Jenkins returned for the game-winning touchdown in Florida’s 27-20 win against Louisiana.

“He’s got great ball skills, and he just has a knack for blocking kicks and playing the ball down the field,” Muschamp said following the win against the Ragin’ Cajuns. “He just has a knack for those things. We always try to put him in a situation where he can block the kick.”

Purifoy’s toughness on special teams helped him earn a starting spot at cornerback this season. While he has been prone to penalties, Purifoy’s aggressiveness has served him well in the secondary.

His 51 tackles rank fourth among Gators. He also has five pass breakups, which ranks third behind Roberson and Jaylen Watkins.

Purifoy really shines in identifying “violators,” a term the defense applies to opposing ball carriers who do not protect the football. He leads UF with three forced fumbles this season.

Perhaps Purifoy’s most crucial forced fumble came on the first play from scrimmage in Florida’s 44-11 win against South Carolina on Oct. 20.

Purifoy blitzed from Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw’s right and knocked the ball out on the first play of the game, setting the tone for the Gators’ dominant victory.

Purifoy described his hit on Shaw as a “kill shot.”

“I love blitzing,” Purifoy said. “I got a mindset of a linebacker. … I just love hitting people.”

Because of Purifoy’s athleticism, Florida’s coaches try to keep him in the game as much as possible. In Saturday’s 37-26 win against Florida State, Purifoy became the first UF player to start on both offense and defense since Keiwan Ratliff did it in 2002. Purifoy also returned the opening kickoff, contributing in all three facets of the game from the get-go.

Muschamp said Purifoy’s days of multitasking are far from over.

“You’ve got to get the ball in the hands of guys that can make plays and play hard and play fast and play physical, and [Purifoy] does,” Muschamp said. “He will have a lot of opportunities as we move forward.”

Contact Joe Morgan at [email protected].

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