Over mid-way through the first quarter of the SEC Championship Game, a tied ball game between the eventual national championship winners and the Florida Gators reached a possible turning point as the Crimson Tide approached the red zone.
Sitting at the Florida 22, Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones called for the snap, dropped back in the pocket and scanned the field looking for an open receiver. Firing the pigskin over the middle in the direction of Miller Forristall, Jones’ pass is ripped away from the intended receiver by Trey Dean III for the interception.
Taking off in the opposite direction, Dean gets about fifteen yards down the field before getting walloped by Alabama wide receiver John Metchie, resulting in an untimely fumble and a recovery by the Tide.
Painting a representative picture of the highs and lows Dean has experienced throughout his Gators career, the interception-fumble sequence could have changed the outlook of their bout with ‘Bama for the better. However, it is a play Dean has accepted and looks to make the next time he’s presented the opportunity.
“I just look back to it; that’s in the past. I’m always going to have a lot of chances to make plays,” Dean said. “I just know next time what to do and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make the play and it’s going to end on our side next time.”
Going from a true freshman starter to a limited snap count rotational piece over the span of three years, Dean has been faced with a difficult test for a college athlete that is accustomed to being at the top.
Accounting for 26 tackles, five pass breakups and one interception in his freshman season, Dean played as well as anyone could have expected in the absence of Marco Wilson, who went down with an ACL tear against Kentucky in week two.
However, following that impressive campaign on the outside in year one, Dean was moved to the interior of the secondary in year two to play a STAR position that has struggled to find its footing since the departure of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Seeing his production decrease as a coverage man at STAR in 2019, totaling for just one pass breakup — but 26 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception — Dean went into the odd 2020 season in the midst of a positional transition, one that heavily affected his snap count.
Moving to safety, Dean would mark the highest tackle count of his career at UF with 28, also recording one sack, one fumble recovery, and one interception to take advantage of the time he did see. As a result, Dean, yet again, showcased his coveted versatility to successful man all three defensive back spots, an aspect of his game that bodes well for his future.
"Coaches feel like I'm a very versatile player, so I can play all defensive back positions. Just to be out there and do whatever my team needs me to play, no matter if it's corner, STAR or safety. I'm able to play all of them at a high level."
Initially trying to resist the position move, Dean has seemingly come around to the idea that he is a chess piece in the secondary, one to be used however the coaching staff sees fit. “[Wherever] God and my coaches want for me to play, I'll go out there and do to the best of my ability."
The rise and fall of Trey Dean is a well-documented storyline to the people that call themselves Gator faithful. Proving he can play at a high level in a number of spots, Dean’s talent isn’t the only thing that will aid the Gators this upcoming season.
Currently, Dean sits as the eldest player in the Florida secondary, providing the experience to the unit that will be missing in 2021. Leading by example is a must for Dean
At times last season, Florida’s defense looked its best with Dean on the field.
Whether he was playing down towards the line of scrimmage to make big hits on ball carriers or dropping back into coverage to use his heightened skills in the department as a plus, Dean provided a pop for the secondary.
Alongside freshman standout Rashad Torrence in 2021, the remodeling of the safety room is coming at just the right time as Florida looks to move on from the horrid 2020 year.
“Every year, no matter if you give up zero catches or you give up 100 catches, you gotta go back to the drawing board and go through things you need to work on ... I think 2021, we're going to be a new DB corps and bring that DBU swagger to go out there each and every day and [impose] our will on our opponent."
That swagger is something Dean has brought throughout the first couple of spring practice sessions, as he has been literally locking up the opposition.
“Just like a competitive edge, just to say every down we're going to give it our all to lock the receivers up no matter what it is. Having a little fun, having a little competition,” Dean said regarding the handcuffs he carried around with him at practice.
"I wanted to be kind of different. A lot of people have their little turnover chains and stuff like that. So just to start a little trend." To put it simply, at “the end of the day, we gotta win our one-on-one battles.”
While the Gators team moves forward from last season, Dean’s play against Alabama will live in infamy for the debates of “what if?”.
However, the once widely acknowledged defensive back will likely lead the Gators secondary into battle next season. Showcasing the skills necessary to get the job done, Dean is provided with an opportunity to be remembered for something greater in the orange and blue, a chance he is motivated not to squander.