Trouble Off the Turf, Florida Gators Alumni Behind Bars

The 2008 Florida Gators college football team, led by coach Urban Meyer along with quarterback and pop culture phenomenon Tim Tebow, won the Bowl Championship Series National Championship over the University of Oklahoma Sooners and finished with a 13-1 record. 

Their only loss was by a single point at home to the Ole Miss Rebels, a stunning defeat that inspired a Tebow postgame speech that has become immortalized on a plaque outside Florida’s football facility.  Unfortunately, Tebow’s sterling example, further epitomized by his “30 minutes for the rest of our lives” national championship halftime speech, was not followed by many of his teammates.

Championship aside, the 2008 Gators will live in infamy; an astonishing 41 out of the 121 players, almost 34 percent of the roster, has been arrested either in college or afterward.

The most infamous former Gator is, of course, Aaron Hernandez. The former New England Patriots tight end is currently in jail after being indicted on a charge of killing Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez is also currently facing two other lawsuits, both involving deadly use of a handgun.

The second-most infamous member of the team, Riley Cooper, was arrested in February 2009 for resisting a police officer, yet he managed to embarrass himself further.  Cooper, who was a wide receiver for the 2008 Gators and currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, became notorious this past summer while attending a Kenny Chesney concert.

While being filmed on a cell phone camera, he drunkenly threatened to fight anyone who would attempt to stop him from running on stage, using a racial explicative in the threat. This incident likely made the Eagles locker room an awkward, tense environment.

While no one else on the team has done anything of Hernandez’s magnitude or Cooper’s stupidity, a few other former Gators who are currently high-profile NFL stars have faced legal trouble.

Cam Newton, current quarterback for the Carolina Panthers and Heisman winner at Auburn University, was the backup quarterback for the 2008 Gators prior to an injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt season. University of Florida campus police arrested Newton two weeks into the 2008 season after he allegedly stole a student’s laptop and tossed it out of his dorm room window. His arrest led to his release from the Gators football team. 

In 2009, Carlos Dunlap, defensive end for the Gators from 2007 to 2009, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence. As a result, coach Meyer suspended Dunlap from play, forcing him to sit out the Southeastern Conference championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Gators lost the game 32-13.

In April 2011, Janoris Jenkins, a cornerback on the 2008 Gators team, was arrested on a charge of possession of marijuana. The offense was his second in the same year involving marijuana. In May 2009, he faced charges of resisting arrest without violence after being involved in a fist fight.

There are, however, several NFL players who were on the team that have avoided any legal trouble.  Percy Harvin has become a star wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns is one of the league’s top cornerbacks. Maurkice Pouncey of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Pouncey of the Miami Dolphins have blossomed into two of the NFL’s best centers. 

Yet even the “good guys” have major character flaws. Harvin has developed a reputation of having a serious attitude problem and was suspended four games in 2012 for substance abuse. The Pouncey twins were widely criticized for wearing “Free Hernandez” caps at a nightclub in support of their friend.

A tremendous season for the 2008 Gators, including a national championship, a 13-1 overall record and a 7-1 record in the SEC has been blemished by the statistics regarding the players who have faced legal issues during or after their college careers.