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Friday, June 21, 2024
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-132727da-ca34-026b-e8e2-a524b4775722"><span>As a junior-transfer in his first year at UF, guard Jalen Hudson (left) led the Gators in scoring with 15.5 points per game. He was named SEC Player of the Week three times in 2017-18.</span></span></p>

As a junior-transfer in his first year at UF, guard Jalen Hudson (left) led the Gators in scoring with 15.5 points per game. He was named SEC Player of the Week three times in 2017-18.

A trio of freshmen – corners Marco Wilson, CJ Henderson and running back Malik Davis – stood out in UF football team’s 4-7 campaign last season.

However, they weren’t the only first-year Gators that had to mature early in their UF careers. Transfers Wil Dalton, Jalen Hudson and freshman Hannah Adams also made significant contributions to their teams and were nominated alongside the football freshmen for the alligatorSports Newcomer of the Year award.

Sports writers Andrew Huang, Evan Lepak, Mark Stine, Brendan Farrell and Chris O’Brien debate their picks for 2017-18’s best new athlete.

Andrew: Technically, shooting guard Jalen Hudson has been with the Gators men’s basketball team since 2016. After underwhelming freshman and sophomore seasons at Virginia Tech, Hudson decided that the Hokies’ coaching staff and playing style weren’t good fits for him.

The 6-foot-6 guard then decided to join Florida coach Mike White’s roster but had to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules and boy, was it worth the wait.

He was extremely productive and was frequently UF’s best player on the court in his first season wearing the Orange and Blue. Hudson was so consistent that he won SEC Player of the Week three times – first in November, then in January and last in March.

He led the Gators in scoring with 15.5 points per game, including eight 20-point games. He also sank a team-high 78 three pointers at an impressive rate of 40.4 percent. Overall, he shot over 45 percent from the floor, good for eighth in the SEC.

Hudson was also third on the team with 20 blocks, the most of any UF guard. While he wasn’t efficient from the free throw line (just 66.2 percent) he still led the Gators in both makes and attempts by a wide margin. And this is all despite coming off the bench in 15 of Florida’s 34 games.

Evan: The freshman tandem of Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson burst onto the scene early and often for the Florida football team last season, providing a bright spot to an otherwise forgettable 2017 season.

Wilson, a Fort Lauderdale native, came to UF as a highly rated 4-star defensive back and was thrown into the fire early due to lack of depth.

He would go on to start all 11 games at corner, compiling 34 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups.

The rising sophomore played well enough to catch the eye of the SEC coaches as well, earning himself a spot on the Coaches’ Freshman All-SEC Team.

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Much like his freshman teammate, CJ Henderson found himself playing very early on in the 2017 season.

The Miami, Florida, native became a household name quickly last September when he picked off then-Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight and returned it 41 yards into the endzone. He’d garner another pick-six two weeks later against Tennessee, solidifying himself as a key member of the secondary.

Henderson went on to play in all 11 games in 2017, including five starts.

The 6-foot-1, 186 pound, ballhawk tallied four interceptions during his freshman campaign, good enough for third in the SEC and tying Duke Dawson for most on the team.

With Dawson graduated and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson moving back to safety, both Henderson and Wilson will look to build upon the invaluable experience they received last season to anchor Florida’s young secondary in 2018.

Mark: One of the hallmarks of a freshman athlete are the mental mistakes made due to inexperience at the college level. What made last season so special for UF’s first-year second baseman Hannah Adams was the lack of mistakes she made.

Florida coach Tim Walton boldly chose the Hoschton, Georgia, native to be the starting second baseman, moving senior infielder Nicole DeWitt over to third. Adams started all 67 games at second for the Gators and was the only UF infielder not to register an error. She also finished second on the team with 93 assisted outs.

Adams was a reliable offensive player as well. She achieved a solid .276 batting average and a .402 on-base percentage despite bouncing around the batting order, and she finished third on the team in hits (53) and fourth on the team in walks (40). Adams was also second on the team with 15 multi-game hits, only trailing SEC Player of the Year Amanda Lorenz (21).

She also started the first five games of the season as the team’s lead-off batter and got a hit in four of those games.

On May 31, Adams led off the fifth inning for the Gators in their opening round matchup against Georgia in the Women’s College World Series. She pummelled a 2-2 offering from UGA pitcher Kylie Bass for her third homer of the season, sparking a three-run rally that led to the mercy-rule of the Bulldogs, 11-3.

With the loss of DeWitt and first baseman Kayli Kvistad to graduation - two of the first four hitters in UF’s offensive lineup - Florida will have a lot to replace in its infield and batting order. Adams will bring much needed stability to both of those areas of need.

Brendan: Since we’re counting transfers as newcomers, I’m going with Wil Dalton as my Newcomer of the Year. The Columbia State Community College product was one of the best pure power-hitters in the country last season, hitting the 11th-most home runs in the nation (and second-most in the SEC) with 19.

In 70 games, Dalton had a .262 batting average, 60 RBIs (second-most in the SEC) and a slugging percentage of .542. He was named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and earned Second Team All-SEC honors.

Along with teammates JJ Schwarz and Jonathan India, Dalton helped form one of the most formidable trios in college baseball.

In just one year, the former 29th-round pick went from an unknown playing in the junior college ranks to being an integral part to one of the best programs in the country.

Chris: I’m not even going to lie, I struggled on this pick. UF had a great athletic season, but not a lot of freshman really, truly showed out.

With all the respect to lacrosse’s Shannon Kavanagh, who was an absolute BEAST last year, running back Malik Davis was like a 100-watt LED light-up glove in the fictional town from Spongebob called Rock Bottom - like a torch in advanced darkness.

Before his season-ending injury against Georgia, he totaled 526 yards on 79 carries (6.66 yards per carry), finishing second on the team in yards per carry. For comparison, the team rushing leader (running back Lamical Perine) played four more games and had 136 attempts, yet only netted 36 more rushing yards.

Against Vanderbilt, he and Perine absolutely obliterated the Commodores as the rushing attack carried UF to a win. The freshman led the way with 124 yards rushing as the two combined for five touchdowns, the last a 39-yard scamper by Davis.

Davis also had the fourth-highest yards after contact average last season for returning running backs.

Every time he touched the ball it seemed like he took it for a big carry, always sparking the team. In the face of a very, very hopeless season, he was hope for next year.

Hopefully for Gator fans, Davis sees a full recovery from his torn ACL. Even so, he’s going to have to battle several other teammates for carries, but he’s capable.

Simply put, Davis was the best back on the team in 2017. With the absence of suspended Jordan Scarlett, he stepped up when the Gators needed him to.

 

You can contact Andrew Huang, Evan Lepak, Mark Stine, Brendan Farrell and Chris O’Brien on Twitter or via email as follows:

@AndrewJHuang

ahuang@alligator.org

 

@evanmplepakkk

elepak@alligator.org

 

@mstinejr

mstine@alligator.org

 

@Bfarrell727

bfarrell@alligator.org

 

@THEChrisOB

cobrien@alligator.org

As a junior-transfer in his first year at UF, guard Jalen Hudson (left) led the Gators in scoring with 15.5 points per game. He was named SEC Player of the Week three times in 2017-18.

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