Nelson and Stamper Stand Tall for '05

David Nelson

It was not a good recruiting class by any stretch, not even for a staff that was just brought in to a new school. The 2005 recruiting class for the Florida Gators had very few heroes in a small group to begin with. The class was shredded by discipline and academic issues. As their time winds down, two of the last pieces of the class are making a difference for the nation's No. 1 team.

If you follow recruiting like many die-hard fans do, you might want to skip this next part. The names we are about to repeat from the 2005 class, are players that might just leave you shaking your head and ask just how did Florida do it with this particular class. After five years, it wasn't pretty.

The list is littered with malcontents...Jon Demps, Nyan Boateng, Josh Portis, Darryl Gresham, Ronnie Wilson, and Kalvin Baker all of which had some issue with the law or blatant team rules and were dismissed from the program before the end of their sophomore eligibility.

Bryan Ellis was the only recruit in Urban Meyer's five years on campus at Florida that didn't qualify and make it into school.

Simon Codrington and Eddie Haupt had career ending injuries and never made the field at Florida.

Eric Sledge transferred before he was a sophomore.

The Avery Atkins story is the saddest of all. Atkins was dismissed from the team, and then worked his way back only to get caught up in a situation that not only had him off the team again, but also accidentally take his own life.

Of the 18 scholarships that were signed in that first recruiting class, just seven players made it long enough to really contribute to the program. Johnathan Phillips, Louis Murphy, Reggie Nelson, Kestahn Moore, Ryan Stamper, Dorian Munroe, David Nelson.

Four are still on scholarship as Phillips is a backup kicker now and Munroe is out with an injury. Munroe was listed as one of four starters at safety at the beginning of the year after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. He was hurt early and basically missed this entire season. Of that group only David Nelson and Stamper will likely see playing time against Florida State when senior day rolls around.

The '05 class was just a shell, just two years into it's maturity, but had some success too. Reggie Nelson was a bona fide All-American and first round NFL pick at safety. Louis Murphy started his final two years and was drafted and is a part time starter in his rookie year in the NFL. Moore started most of his four-year career, despite lacking some of the skills of others on the team. Phillips was All-SEC caliber as the starting kicker for the 2008 National Championship team.

The 2006 class will get a ton of publicity over the next several weeks as one that will go down as maybe the greatest in Gator history. Names we all know like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Carl Johnson, Marcus Gilbert, Jermaine Cunningham, Terron Sanders, Lawrence Marsh, Brandon Antwine, Dustin Doe, Brandon Spikes, A.J. Jones, Wondy Pierre-Louis, and Markihe Anderson are the backbone to that class. All of those listed were starters at one time or another in their Gator career. Some will walk on senior day and some will return as redshirt seniors in 2010.

The classes are drastically different and incomparable. Yet, the Gators would not be where they are if not for the two guys from the 2005 class that will play a lot on Saturday. David Nelson and Ryan Stamper are your fifth year senior hard working, unselfish players that make a team better by making others around them better. Urban Meyer calls them future coaches and they act like it on the field. They have done their part in the success of the last two seasons and continue to represent their recruiting class of 2005 proudly.

The significance of the situation hasn't seemed to be forgotten by Stamper, who will be a starter in the game Saturday against rival FSU at WILL linebacker.

"A lot of guys from my class got kicked off or transferred we are about what is left, so that is a big accomplishment for us," Stamper said of he and David Nelson still playing and contributing to the team. "We have wars in the locker room when every player tries to represent their class...there are only two of us and it's funny, but we try and represent it well."

Stamper was an afterthought on the team up until the middle of his junior season in 2008 when starting WILL linebacker Doe got hurt. Once implanted into the game, the staff saw Stamper play at a level that kept him in the starting rotation even when Doe was healthy again. In time, Stamper made himself invaluable as a linebacker that can play any of the three positions and has been forced to do so all in one game due to injuries. He may now be the most valuable linebacker on the team. He has gone from five tackles in his freshman season to leading the current team in tackles with 64 and at least three games left to play.

Amazingly enough, an afterthought on the team during the early part of his career, he was almost an afterthought in recruiting as well. Stamper committed to Auburn during his senior year of high school simply because the previous coaching staff at Florida didn't recruit him.

It was tough when Urban Meyer got to Florida in January of 2005 and tried to sway the Jacksonville First Coast linebacker to make a switch.

"Florida recruited me late, then coach Meyer got here," Stamper said. "When a school recruits you late it seems like they didn't want you. I was sold on Florida didn't want me and Auburn wanted me the whole time. But my mother liked that it was close to home and I always liked the Gators. I came to Florida and it as the best decision of my life.

In fact, it was Stamper's mom that was the big recruiter for the Gators. She was always a Gator fan and really wanted her son close to home. In the end, she helped convince Stamper to make the switch. A switch that has benefited the Gators a great deal in these last two successful seasons.

"Coach Meyer tells me all the time that I am here because of my mother," Stamper said. "He says my mom is a great woman. My mom is a big time sports fan period. When he came to the house (during the recruiting season in 2005), she knew everything about Urban Meyer before he even got there. She knew about Utah, Bowling Green, and everything. She fell in love with him before he ever showed up. Ever since my freshman year she goes to every home and away game. She is a big time Gator fan."

Nelson had a similar path to Florida and during his career as a Gator, with the big difference being he was a Texas high school athlete. Nelson committed to Notre Dame in high school and was headed to play for Tyrone Willingham. Once Willingham was fired and Charlie Weis was hired, all bets were off.

Nelson was an Army All-American out of high school and probably a little more well known than Stamper. The staff at Florida got on him soon after arriving in Gainesville and was able to convince him to make a move and sign up to be a Gator.

Like Stamper, it took Nelson to the middle of his fourth year to finally make a big impact as a Gator. For Nelson, it was just a matter of buckling down and trying to make the most of himself. It all happened after the Ole Miss game last year, the game that was maybe the defining moment in a lot of the lives of the players on that Gator team.

The Ole Miss game was the fourth game of the season in 2008. At the conclusion of that game, Nelson had zero catches on the year. A light went on some time after that game.

"That was a really tough day for me, not only for my athletic career but for my personal life," Nelson said of the Ole Miss loss that refocused a Gator team that let one slip away that day in The Swamp. "Things just weren't going right for me and it was a turning point in my life. I went home and talked to a lot of people that I trust and respect. I felt like I needed to do something to change my life and the way I approached it."

The now famous speech by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow was something that helped inspire Nelson along with family, friends, and coaches.

"I saw "The Promise" by Tebow and talked to Coach Meyer the next day," Nelson said. "I knew I needed to change my approach and a needed a different way to look at life. It was deeper than football, more of a way to look at life for me. I just changed the way I was doing things in every aspect of my life. It led to different things and building and building, now I am enjoying the process."

After catching nothing in the first four games, Nelson had his best season yet as a junior in 2008. He finished the year with 12 catches for 228 yards and five touchdowns. He helped by scoring decisive touchdowns in both the SEC Championship game against Alabama and the BCS Championship game against Oklahoma. He currently has 17 catches in his senior season for 178 yards and a touchdown.

That first year under Meyer and Nelson and Stamper's first on campus, the Gators lost three games and a lot of questions remained about just how this team would fare down the road. Almost four seasons later and the team is on the brink of its third possible national championship and currently on a 21 game winning streak. It has been better than Nelson could have ever thought.

"We have won 21 straight and it has been a crazy ride, a crazy year and a half," Nelson said. "Even though we have won 21 games, there have been many times when we could have lost those games. It speaks volumes to the guys on the team and how much character we have on the team."

He understands that they haven't finished anything yet.

"It sounds cliché, but this year we take it one week at a time," Nelson said. "It has been a roller coaster year, but at the same time, I would have never imagined after hearing that "promise" that we would win 21 straight."

On Saturday there will be more tears shed by fans of the Gators as the seniors are announced than maybe any Gator senior class in history. Tim Tebow and a lot of guys in his class are the reason for most of those tears. Yet, Stamper and Nelson are two guys that will be sorely missed. And Stamper is going to miss being a Gator as well once his playing career at Florida is over.

"It flew by," Stamper said about his career as a Gator. "Sometimes I get emotional thinking it was five years and it is almost over. Five years of my life and all I know is Florida football. I have to move on with my life. It will be sad, but it happens every year. We are just happy we accomplished the things we did while we were here."

And so many Gator fans feel exactly the same way.

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