In Florida’s final game in The Swamp in the 2011 season against Florida State, a breakout season for Dominique Easley ended with a torn ACL in his left knee. While it was a setback for the Gators and Easley, head coach Will Muschamp put things into perspective following the game.
“It’s unfortunate for him, but he’ll be back.”
Easley did come back, playing defensive end in 2012 before moving back to tackle in 2013. He was putting together the type of season that would have likely ended with his name being called as a first round selection by Roger Goodell this May in the 2014 NFL Draft. That was until Easley suffered another ACL injury, this time to his right knee, which not only ended his season, but his career at the University of Florida.
“Dominique is definitely going to the NFL next year,” Muschamp said Monday. “He’s a guy that’s had two ACLs. You know, I think that’s the best move for him right now and going to prepare himself for April and get ready for that. He and I talked briefly about it and that’s what he wants to do and I support it 100%.”
Easley had a tough decision to even come back to school this season. He could have made a lot of money leaving early with his close friends Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd but decided to stay and continue pursuing his degree, something his mother really wanted him to do before leaving school.
“My mother, she wanted me to get my diploma,” Easley said. “And for the simple fact that I don’t believe I left my mark here at Florida the way that I want to leave it.”
Easley went on to say that he wanted to be considered one of the best to play at Florida. While Easley may not be able to leave the exact mark he wanted to at the University of Florida he has made an impression on his teammates.
As Easley’s roommate, Damien Jacobs has spent more time with Easley than anyone since his injury. Jacobs has tried to keep Easley’s spirits up and keep his mind on the positive.
“It was a heartbreaker,” Jacobs said. “It was probably one of the worst things I’ve been through, just losing him and losing that presence. He’s doing pretty good [now]. He’s staying positive, and I’m trying to keep him positive, so everything is going good.”
This season, linebacker Mike Taylor has taken a sharpie to his forearm sleeve each game and inscribed, “4 U Nana.”
“I put four for [Andre] Debose. I put “4, U and Nana”. My grandma passed last year so I always dedicate something on my body to her every game.”
After losing Easley last week, Taylor added to the message that he wears on his arm every Saturday.
“Last game I put ’4, U, 2 Nana’ and it kind of flowed – for Debose, for Easley and also for my Nana,” Taylor said. “So I usually try to put my fallen soldiers on me somewhere.”
Taylor isn’t the only player that has gone out of his way to remember Easley on game day, Dante Fowler has as well, in his own way. Fowler was seen with Dominique Easley’s Chuckie doll before and after the win against Kentucky last Saturday. Since Easley arrived in Gainesville four years ago, Chuckie has never been too far from his side and Fowler took it upon himself to make sure that if Easley couldn’t be at the game, a piece of him would be with the team in Lexington.
“Just with Ease, to bring a piece of him with me or stuff like that,” Fowler said. “Just to know that he’s still there.”
“He [Easley] always has the Chuckie doll everywhere he goes,” senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. “Actually seeing that made everybody cheer up a little bit about not having him there. It made everybody play a little harder.”
Easley stood up in front of the team following his injury and told them to never take anything for granted and to cherish every moment you have playing the game you love because you never know when it can be taken away from you. Those words really hit home with his teammates.
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t think on a Tuesday practice that would be his last Gator game.” Watkins said of Easley. “It meant a lot to us and we knew we had to go out there and play for him, especially since he couldn’t come on the trip with us.”
The impact that Easley has had on them personally is undeniable, but the Gators’ have also had to replace Easley’s production on the field. The defense – especially the line – has a new chip on their shoulder playing without Easley and they know that more will be expected from them as they try to fill the void that is left in the middle of the line.
“Even though we missed Easley those guys played with a chip on their shoulder not having Easley,” Watkins said. “And they took it upon themselves to show they are going to fill the void for Easley, the guys that played behind him and around him.”
With Chuckie still in the team locker room and Easley always on their mind, the Gators’ staunch defensive unit has a new found attitude for the remainder of the season.
“Go out and play like he played,” Taylor said. “Which was very angry, very aggressive and finishing the opposing player and making him completely quit by the end of the game. That’s what our goal is to do.”