The loss against Michigan in the 2008 Capital One Bowl showed a huge missing piece to the Gator offense: an H-back with a block first mentality to take some heat off of pass rushers looking to sack a Heisman Trophy winner. The Gators feel they found their man in T.J. Pridemore (6-2, 235) of Buford, Georgia. Pridemore is a hard-nosed, tough as nails fullback who doubled as a middle linebacker on his high school team.
Pridemore made his commitment to Florida official Wednesday afternoon. Choosing the University of Florida was a matter of looking at everything and coming to the conclusion that Florida had the best of everything he was looking for. The decision was a real no-brainer.
“There really wasn’t any one thing, it was just everything” Pridemore said. “All the small things that really sets the program apart from other programs. It had the most family oriented and best family atmosphere of any school. The coaches will bring you in with their families and they want to get close to their players. It is so competitive and the Champions Club keeps players doing what they are supposed to be doing and it lends itself to being the best that they can be.”
Pridemore has a long-time friend on the Gator roster that him make his decision. Doc Holliday was still on the Florida staff when Pridemore made his official visit. Holliday’s son, Cade, a walk-on wide receiver who plays special teams for the Gators, and Pridemore were inseparable during the visit.
“I have known Cade since I was eight or nine years old,” said Pridemore. “I remember hanging out with him when I was young. The whole time Florida was recruiting me I kept in touch with Cade. I think a lot about him as a player. He is great with a great work ethic.”
Pridemore will get a great shot to earn the H-back spot. The spot was played magnificently two years ago by Billy Latsko who is now playing in the pros. In 2007, Eric Rutledge also did well, but but he was a graduating senior who left the program under bad circumstances when he was suspended for the Capital One game. The position is a huge need for the Gators.
“They told me that I could fit on offense and defense,” he said. “I think Coach Meyer really needs an H-back after Billy Latsko left. That is a big spot to fill when someone like that leaves. Wherever I can help out and get on the field is what I want to do.”
That is just it about Pridemore, he is a “do what it takes” kind of guy. The quality just oozes from him when he speaks.
“I will do what it takes and work to get some playing time next year,” he said. “When that opportunity comes I will make the most of it. I think I have natural instincts for the game and I am exciting about playing with coaches that I believe have the same instincts for the game. With the competition down there and great coaching I feel like it is a great opportunity for me to be all I can be.”
Part of being all that he can be will be protecting the Heisman Trophy winner from ambushing linebackers. It was quite prevalent in the Michigan game to see Tim Tebow scrambling for his life because of missed or blown assignments. Protecting Tebow is a big deal.
“I spent a little time with Tebow and I understand he is a very special person down there,” he said. “I saw the Heisman thing and I know what kind of leader he is. I think it is important for the team. I think I can bring some leadership and bring that to helping block for Tebow in the passing game.”
At 235 pounds now, he plans on gaining a few pounds when he comes in. His work out regimen will certainly make him ready when he enrolls.
“I will gain a little weight,” he said. “I played at 240 this year. I have already graduated from high school. I am working out with a lot of NFL guys in this work out program called Competitive Edge Sports. They train a lot of independent athletes. I am working out with 40-50 combine guys getting ready for the NFL combine.”
Of course there is another friend of Pridemore that we haven’t mentioned yet. A 6-0, 315 pound line crashing defensive tackle named Omar Hunter is a teammate of Pridemore and the two are very best of friends. The friendship between the two dates back a few years.
“We both started getting offers at the same time last year and started taking recruiting trips together,” he said. “We have always been close since the eighth grade when I started at Buford. All the recruiting stuff just made us closer. Playing behind him on the field, I feel really protected and we have had a lot of fun and success together and it all just made it closer.”
Needless to say, he wants Hunter to be a Gator and is busy persuading him. He also wants to give Hunter the room he needs to make the best decision for himself.
“I want his decision to be wherever he wants to go,” said Pridemore. “He and I are close and we have talked about we want to go to school together. We kind of parted ways when I committed to (Georgia) Tech and him to Notre Dame. Now, I think it would be special for us to play together and we talked about it a bit. But, I don’t want him to base that decision on me, I think wherever he is happy is where he will play his best football and work the hardest. If it works out for him, and I think he really likes Florida a lot, then I will enjoy the next four years and play with him. But it is all about Omar and I just want him to be happy and successful.”
As evidenced by his attitude both on and off the field, T.J. Pridemore is exactly what Urban Meyer and his staff are looking for in a football player and a student-athlete to represent their program. Ambitious, intelligent, hard working, and family oriented are offset by an absolute terrorizing approach to the game. Meyer and his staff would sign 20 Pridemores if they could.