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Jalen Tabor went from surprise Florida signee to game-changing freshman

The former five-star prospect for the Gators delivered against a rival and is your national Freshman of the Week.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Creating the turnover that led to the only touchdown scored by the Florida Gators against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday is the definition of an impact play. That's why Florida freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor is SB Nation's True Freshman of Week 6.

The weekend before, the Gators' secondary had been torched by the Alabama to the tune of 449 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air in a 42-21 loss. In an effort to battle the aerial attack of the Volunteers and quarterback Justin Worley, Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin inserted Tabor into the starting lineup.

The 6'0, 195-pounder came through for his coach and his team late in the third quarter, when Tennessee held onto a 9-0 lead with the ball near midfield. On 2nd-and-5, Durkin dialed up a cornerback blitz and Tabor was free on the quarterback, who was looking down the field to his left and never saw the Washington, D.C., product coming from his right. As Tabor arrived at the quarterback, he raked at the football, jarring it free and pouncing on it for the big recovery.

Overall, the Florida secondary played much better with Tabor in the lineup, holding Worley and the Tennessee passing offense to 205 yards while producing two interceptions. Neither of the interceptions was credited to Tabor, but the true freshman did provide five tackles (four solo) and two pass breakups, one of which saved a touchdown that would've tilted the game in favor of the Volunteers.

Entering Saturday, Tabor had produced only four tackles and two tackles for loss to start his career.

Cornerback is a position where top prospects can often make an impact early, so the expectations for Tabor were always high as he arrived in Gainesville. Given a rating of 98 by 247Sports, Tabor was the No. 14 player overall, the No. 4 cornerback and the No. 1 player in D.C. in the Composite ratings. Those rankings were good enough for him to be a consensus five-star prospect.

During his recruitment, Tabor held offers from dozens of schools, including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

In the 247Sports Crystal Ball projections, Alabama was the runaway leader for his services just before and after a December official visit, but Tabor announced for Arizona at the Under Armour All-American game after a Crystal Ball surge for the Wildcats.

Then, as Florida head coach Will Muschamp fought on the recruiting trail to land the talent necessary to save his job, his staff was able to convince Tabor to flip his pledge to the Gators, days before the star cornerback enrolled early in Gainesville.

Just how surprising was the decision? The only Crystal Ball prediction for Tabor to Florida was the first, one made in June 2013, a little less than eight months before the five-star prospect made his decision.

A product of the Friendship Academy, Tabor was the top-rated signee in a Florida class that also featured another consensus five-star prospect, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and a 247Sports five-star prospect in defensive tackle Thomas Holley. That Gators class ended up ranking No. 9 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. It's a group that will help decide whether Muschamp remains in Gainesville.

Tabor has now proven his ability in crucial moments for the Gators and should remain a mainstay in the Florida secondary as his career advances.