Valdez Showers and Florida go back a long way.
“Urban Meyer,” he said last week.
Showers, the former Madison Heights Madison running back/defensive back, committed to the Gators in August 2010 when Meyer was their coach.
By the time Showers took his official visit to the school in January 2011, Meyer had resigned for health reasons, and Will Muschamp had taken over.
Showers paused but was encouraged.
“I was playing defensive back at the time, and coach Muschamp was a great coach and put a lot of defensive backs in the NFL,” Showers said. “His system was great, so I decided to give it a try.”
Looking back, the coaching transition was the first hint that Showers’ career might not take a straight path.
But five years and four positions later, he has no regrets and has the chance to end it full circle, facing one of his home-state schools, Michigan, in the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl.
When the matchup was announced two weeks ago, his phone began blowing up with calls and texts from friends back home.
Now he’ll get a chance to show them what he’s been doing since he left.
Showers was ranked as the No. 8 player in the state’s 2011 class, and despite repeated unofficial visits to Michigan and Michigan State — he really liked the Spartans — he felt it was best ultimately to leave home.
“For me that was the deciding factor, just getting away and doing everything on my own,” he said.
He adjusted well to Florida and made the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times in his first four seasons.
The football evolution was a bit rockier.
He arrived as a corner. He moved to safety. After redshirting as a true freshman and playing on the scout team, he was primarily a special teams player in his first year on the field. He speed made him an asset but maybe too much of one to stay on defense.
Before the 2013 season, his redshirt sophomore year, Showers flipped to offense, where he had shined at Madison, rushing for 2,024 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior.
“The running back transition was because we needed depth,” Showers said. “We had a lot of injuries. They didn’t have any speed guys, a home run threat.”
Splitting time between tailback and receiver, he looked natural with six touches for 54 total yards in the 2013 opener against Toledo. While never handling a heavy load, just a few offensive touches per game, he got in the end zone on a catch against Arkansas and was contributing. He scored against Alabama in 2014 on a 28-yard catch.
The past two years he’s been Mr. Versatile, catching eight passes on offense, making 24 tackles on defense and returning eight kickoffs for 113 yards.
Not the career he planned, but he has enjoyed the experience.
“Of course I always feel like I could have done more, but at the same time, I think everything happens for a reason,” Showers said. “I have no problem with how everything worked out. I know I gave it everything I could.”
That disposition has made all the chaos easier to handle, especially as there was another transition before this year with new coach Jim McElwain.
“Being positive is something I’ve learned will help a lot,” Showers said. “I actually felt accustomed to that over the last year and a half, being positive, having a positive mind-set and knowing things will work out. That’s kind of what I do every day, and it helped me. You know, once you think positive, positive things start to happen around you.”
Showers’ decision to play at Florida was unconventional, spurning the local schools. Yet he and his mother feel it has allowed him to mature, meeting new people and adjusting to a different culture. (Though he’s had to set his teammates straight that it’s not really Christmas unless it’s cold and snowing.)
“We support him in everything he does, and having that support actually helps him a lot,” said Showers’ mother, Conya Hall, who was able to find cheap enough flights to get to see him five or six times a year. “Plus having an older brother kind of give him some direction, too. That’s where it comes from.”
While he hopes his speed could let him continue his football career in the pros, Showers is realistic about his chances and knows he still has one more game to make an impression — one he knows everyone at home will be watching.
While Hall still wasn’t sure if she would be able to find a reasonable price to make it to Orlando for the bowl game, watching her son end his career against the Wolverines will make for an interesting conclusion.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “I’m going to root for both teams, because I’m from Michigan and going to root for Valdez as well.”
Up next for U-M
What: Citrus Bowl.
Matchup: No. 19 Florida (10-3) vs. No. 14 Michigan (9-3).
When: 1 p.m. Jan. 1.
Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando.
TV: ABC (Ch. 7 in Detroit).
Line: Wolverines by 4.