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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Deonte Thompson came to Florida as one of the top wide receiver recruits in the 2007 class, but three years later, he still hasn’t produced on the field.

Thompson spent the first two seasons waiting for his chance to start, and last season, he got his shot but failed to do much with it.

The redshirt junior finished with 24 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns, but never had more than five receptions or 66 yards in any one game.

With receivers Riley Cooper, Brandon James and David Nelson all graduating, Thompson will be the only returning wideout with much game experience.

“He has to be the man. He has to develop into being the X receiver,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Him and Carl Moore have to be the main guys. We have some numbers, but it’s time Deonte becomes like he’s the number-one receiver in America.”

Early last season, Thompson struggled with drop passes, letting two slip through his fingers in the first two games.

Just as he started showing his big-play potential with two touchdown catches against Troy, Thompson strained his hamstring and missed two games.

When he returned from the injury, things didn’t go as he hoped. Thompson said he was disappointed with his role in the offense.

“When I got hurt, I got set back a little bit, and it seemed when I got back after the two games, the quarterback forgot about me,” Thompson said.

But with a new quarterback in John Brantley and a new receivers coach in Zach Azzanni, Thompson gets a new start.

Brantley taking over as the starting quarterback for the Gators will likely result in more of an emphasis on the passing game next season, as he is known as more of a pure passer than Tim Tebow was.

Azzanni brings a different coaching style than Billy Gonzales, which could be just what Thompson needs to emerge as UF’s go-to receiver.

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“It’s always good to get a fresh start for some people sometimes, and some of these guys needed a fresh start,” Azzanni said. “Every coach has their own style and philosophy, and I think I brought some things they hadn’t heard before and maybe a different way of teaching  the same things than coach Gonzales did, and that kind of put the shockers on their heart and got them going again.”

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