GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor vowed last month to announce any decisions about his future “the right way.”
He chose The Players’ Tribune, saying goodbye to the Gators on Thursday in a lengthy letter in which he thanked coaches, teammates, two academic advisers, former athletic director Jeremy Foley and fans. As expected, Tabor decided to skip his final year of college eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
“It’s an exciting time for me,” Tabor wrote. “I’ve decided to do what’s best for me and my family by continuing to pursue my dreams. But I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying see you later. Hopefully I’ll make y’all proud and show how my passion for this game continues to shine through. You can measure how fast a guy runs and how high he jumps, but you can’t measure how much heart he has — even though there’s nothing more important.
“After three years, I’ve given Gator Nation everything my heart has.”
A junior from Washington, D.C., Tabor was widely considered one of the top defensive backs in the country this season and likely will be one of the first ones selected in the NFL draft in late April.
He had 33 tackles, four interceptions and a sack for the Gators (9-4), who already lost cornerback Quincy Wilson, offensive tackle David Sharpe and linebacker Alex Anzalone to the pros. Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley also is expected to leave school early.
Tabor spent much of the season in the spotlight, not always for something positive.
He made headlines over the summer for boldly predicting Florida would hand Tennessee a 12th consecutive loss. The Gators got rolled in Knoxville.
He was kicked out of practice for a week and suspended for the season opener after getting into a fight with teammate C’yontai Lewis during practice in August. A few days after the suspension, Tabor posted video on social media of him buying a homeless man shoes and giving him $20. Some questioned Tabor’s timing, saying he was merely trying to make up for the fight.
He also was suspended one game in 2015 for violating University Athletic Association policy. He openly criticized the UAA on Twitter for its decision and later apologized.
He kept a much lower profile after his second suspension, likely realizing more issues would damage his NFL stock and cost him financially.
He stayed out of trouble, kept quiet and proved to be Florida’s best defensive player. Although opposing quarterbacks rarely threw his way, Tabor broke up six passes and returned one of his four picks for a touchdown.
He was named a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection by The Associated Press and league coaches. He also received second-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated. He was a third-team AP selection.
“Even though I’m leaving for the NFL, I’m a Gator through and through,” Tabor wrote. “Wherever I end up next, I know that I’ll find myself back in the Swamp at some point next season to cheer with y’all. I’ll always come back and show some love. It’s the least I can do for a place that has given me so much.”