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August 14, 2010

Alli emerging as a play making option

FALL FOOTBALL PRACTICE: Brantley sports old school look | Elam: Lean & Mean | Player hospitalized | Meyer Friday Q&A | Antwine anxious for healthy finale | McCarney recaps defensive line | Emmanuel Moody Q&A | Antwine anxious for healthy finale | Lemmens intends to prove himself | Dozens of more updates...

One of the more intriguing prospects in Florida's 2009 recruiting class was Andover, Conn. wide receiver Stephen Alli.

An unknown three-star prospect who had only one year of football experience under his belt, he received an offer to play football for the Florida Gators and didn't hesitate to accept it.

After spending his first year getting into college playing shape and learning the playbook, Alli is ready to contribute in 2010.

With his rare blend of size and speed - he's a 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver who runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash - he gives the Gators a match-up nightmare on third down and in the red zone.

On Saturday, fellow wide receiver Deonte Thompson raved about Alli's athletic ability.

"He's a freak athlete," Thompson said. "He goes up and gets the ball."

Back during spring practice, Alli was one of the pleasant surprises in a receiving corps looking to replace its top two targets from a year ago.

He was virtually unstoppable on short slants. None of the defensive backs could get position on him, and his huge frame made him an easy target for the quarterback.

But Alli isn't just your average possession receiver.

He can really fly.

On one play in the spring, he took a short out route and turned it into a 30-yard gain up the sideline. On that play he flew past both the cornerback covering him and the safety sliding over to make the play.

Asked about the receiving corps as a whole so far in fall camp, Alli said that the group has made great progress and is right on track.

"We're young but everybody is giving great effort," he said after Saturday's scrimmage. "We're gonna be a good group this year. (The competition) is open. That's what we have two-a-days for right now. Whoever's doing the best is gonna get it."

On Friday, head coach Urban Meyer said the coaches are still looking for one or two skill position players to step up to be part of that rotation.

Alli was well on his way to being one of those guys in the spring before he was slowed with an injury. In the off-season, he worked to get back to the playing form he was at before the injury.

"It set me back a little bit," he said. "During the summer that's when I had to really fight to get it back. I'm getting it back. I'm just trying to get better, that's all I'm doing now."

Getting physically in shape isn't the only thing that Alli has worked on to try to get on the football field.

Having only played a year of high school football in the U.S. he has had to make a serious adjustment to the playing speed of the college game. And he's still trying to pick up the finer points of the game.

Asked about his progression from 2009 to now, he said it was "night and day."

"It's not even comparable."

Where has Alli improved his game?

"Where haven't I really," he said. "Blocking, catching, route-running, knowing plays. Stuff like that. I didn't have a whole lot of football knowledge coming in, but I'm trying to catch up to our other guys. I can't really have an excuse saying I didn't play it when I was younger, I still got to know what to do on certain things. I have to have a good IQ on that."

Even Thompson said Alli has made great progress picking up the game. Having wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni on board has made his transition a whole lot easier, according to Thompson.

"Coach (Azzani) is one of the best things that could have happened to him," Thompson said. "He's going to get him back to fundamentals and teach him the game. He's making strides."

So can Alli be a big-time contributor for the Gators?

Thompson sure thinks so.

"He's going to be a great player," he said. "In the near future he's going to be a great player."


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