Olympic silver medalist sprinter and former University of Florida RB Jeff Demps said that the Patriots' "family-based" environment with three ex-Gators on the roster was one of the main reasons for choosing New England over Tampa Bay.
Olympic silver medalist sprinter Jeff Demps was going to be at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday – regardless of whether he signed with the New England Patriots or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because the two teams were holding joint practices this week prior to Friday night’s third preseason game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
As it turned out, the Patriots won the recruiting battle and Demps, who played football and ran track at the University of Florida, is thrilled to be playing with Tom Brady and Co. and didn’t have a hard time deciding between New England and Tampa Bay. Demps traveled to New England for a workout on Thursday and flew back to Florida on Friday and signed his three-year contract, which features $211,000 of guaranteed money, according to NFL.com, with the Patriots.
“Once I talked to the Patriots I got the feeling that that’s where I wanted to be,” Demps said. “Everything was family-based. It was like I was already part of the team. It wasn’t hard for me to decide to go with the Patriots.”
Demps, who has run the 100-meter in a time as fast as 10.01, did not sign with an NFL team after going undrafted in April because he wanted to focus on training for the 2012 Olympics at the time. As a free agent, Demps had several teams interested, including the Buccaneers, who had been touching base with Demps as far back as the early summer prior to the Olympics.
In fact, the Bucs came close to signing Demps this summer when he failed to qualify for the Olympics, finishing seventh in Oregon. He was added to the 2012 U.S. Olympic roster as a member of the 4x100 meter relay teams, as a replacement for Mike Rodgers who had suffered a stress fracture.
Demps ran in the qualifying preliminaries in London, but did not run in the finals, which didn’t bother him.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” Demps said. “With me just being there, I told the relay coach that I was going to do whatever it took to help the team whether it was running or supporting those guys. I got the chance to run in the prelims, so that was good enough for me. It would have been nice to run in the finals, but it wasn’t important.”
Demps’ first practice with New England was at One Buccaneer Place against the Buccaneers and he was happy to don a football uniform again.
“It went pretty good for my first day,” Demps said. “I’m just glad to be out there running around. The toughest part is just getting back in that football shape and just learning the plays.”
Demps, who doesn’t know how much playing time he’ll get against the Bucs on Friday night, has strictly focused on track since the Gators bowl game and didn’t do any training leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.
“Since January 1 after our bowl game, I haven’t touched a football since then,” Demps said. “Today was my first time. We still have a long way to go. I’m just going to come out each and every day and work harder.
“[Football] was an uncertainty. I was just focused on running and competing in the Olympics. Once all that stuff was over I was ready to come back to the game. I just want to fit in and help the team out.”
The newest member of the Patriots said that having the likes of former Florida stars like linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham and tight end Aaron Hernandez helped recruit Demps to New England over Tampa Bay.
“It played a good role,” Demps said. “I knew some of the faces. They took me in like they did when I was at Florida. It was a good thing.”
Demps, who has lost five pounds since he last played football for the Gators and weighs 183 pounds, said that he was thrown into the mix right away in 1-on-1 blitz pick-up drills against Tampa Bay’s linebackers.
“I’ve always had that football background,” Demps said. “I’ve always been a football player first. I’m used to jumping right into it coming off track season. This is like the same transitions except that the guys are bigger.”
Demps said that he has a better grasp of the Patriots playbook because former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was the playcaller during his time at the University of Florida.
“Being with Charlie definitely helped me coming in and knowing some of the pass plays,” Demps said.
Blessed with 4.2 speed, Demps is expected to become part of the kick return game, which he did with the Gators, as he learns New England’s offense. Demps’ career at Florida was impressive as the speedster finished his time in Gainesville as the school’s eighth-leading rusher with 2,470 yards on 367 carries, a 6.7 average, and 23 touchdowns on the ground.
As a receiver out of the backfield, Demps nabbed 57 passes in his career for 481 yards, an 8.4 average.
“It was just a blessing coming from the Olympics to a football field,” Demps said. “It’s just a blessing. Not many people do that.”
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