The work in progress for a work in progress offensive line was by his own admission a slacker a couple of years ago. Carlton Medder was 349 pounds, going nowhere and needing some direction in his life when Florida changed coaches. Urban Meyer, not one to tolerate slackers, was willing to give everybody a fresh start on life and football and Medder thought what the heck, why not try it their way?
Doing it their way meant changing his entire outlook on life, on school work and on football and it meant his Pillsbury Doughboy look-alike body had to undergo some serious changing. All those changes weren’t going to happen overnight and he knew it, but he was willing to start the process. Now, more than 20 months later, the changes are still taking place and he’s the first to admit he’s still got a way to go, but he likes the direction he’s going. More importantly, he likes being Carlton Medder.
“I guess it’s all about growing up,” said Medder after Monday evening’s practice. “When I first got here it was all about living the college life and football came in second. I didn’t have that mentality to get the education and playing football before getting into the college life. The coaches opened up my eyes and now I’m playing football and things are really different. I like the way I am now.”
The way he is now is a 6-5, 309-pound fourth year junior right tackle that has come on strong in the past few weeks. Starting with the August preseason drills to last Saturday’s season opener against Southern Mississippi, Medder has become a dependable, consistent offensive lineman. He got his first start ever in the opener and along with center Steven Rissler and left tackle Phil Trautwein, he graded champion for his performance. Florida’s inexperienced offensive line, with only one consistent starter from 2005, turned in a credible performance as the Gators racked up five touchdowns in their 10 offensive possessions.
Looking back, Medder knows he never would have had a chance to start a football game when Meyer and his staff arrived. He felt he was drifting along, needing some motivation and direction to get his football career on track. It was somewhat of a shock that the first conversations he had with Meyer and offensive line coaches John Hevesy and Steve Addazio would have very little to do with football.
“When I first met with them and I didn’t know them at all they were talking about my school work and about what I’m going to be as a person,” he said. “That was the total opposite of what was here before.”
He liked the personal interest that was taken in him. He liked going to the coaches’ homes for cookouts and the chance to meet their families. It didn’t take long before he felt like he was part of a family along with his fellow offensive linemen.
“We eat with them at their homes, we know their families and they’re involved in my life and in my school work,” he said. “That’s how they were then and that’s how they are now. They’re tough love guys, too. If you’re not doing things right, they let you know it but you know, they made it fun to be here. They made football fun and they made it fun to be on the team.”
Hevesy noticed from day one that Medder was willing to make the right changes in his life. There was a lot to change, but Hevesy noticed immediately that Medder wouldn’t back down from the challenge.
“When he first got here he never had any true guidance of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to do things,” said Hevesy. “One thing I’ve always loved about Carlton is that he loves to play. He just needed to reshape his body. There was never an attitude about football because he loves playing but he needed to pay attention to detail and specifics of what he needs to do.”
Change didn’t occur overnight but Medder was encouraged. He played last season on extra point and field goal protection plus he got to see action on the offensive line in the fourth quarters against Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Florida State. That only made him more determined to improve as a player.
“It’s taken him about a year but in the spring he caught on and figured out that I can play if I pay attention to things in the weight room and off the field and on the field,” said Hevesy, who said Medder has made himself into a player. “This is what you do this for. This is what you coach for to watch a kid like this grow.”
In addition to the coaching staff, Medder was motivated by teammates who were in his recruiting class. So many of them were playing and making big contributions but he hadn’t done a lot. It also hurt him that his parents kept coming to Florida football games and instead of seeing him play, they were watching him encourage teammates on the sidelines.
“The class of 2003 is almost gone and I haven’t had a chance to play with all my boys that I came in here with,” he said. “I decided I wanted to be a contributor. I wanted to contribute and have a chance to play in games with everybody I came here with. I was a slacker before but now I’m getting a chance to contribute with the same boys I came here with.
“I got tired of my parents coming here every game and seeing me being a cheerleader. I wanted them to cheer for me but that means I gotta play. Things had to change for them to see me play but now they’ve got a chance to cheer for me.”
He’s getting his chance to play because he’s learned that Hevesy and Addazio won’t put a player on the field that can’t move his feet and play with the right technique. You can know the offense inside and out, but if you can’t move the feet and play with the right technique you won’t see the field.
“That’s what these coaches really want,” he said. “With them it’s all about technique and footwork. They repetition you every single day, same thing every day, and until you get your footwork, they get after you. You don’t play until you get it. You can know all the plays but until you got the footwork and technique you don’t get on the field. They stay after you but they don’t give up on you as long as you don’t give up on them. They’ll make a player out of you if you let them and I like that.”
When he looks back on where he was in January of 2005 and then sees where he is now, working hard to start his second game of the 2006 season, it’s like he’s seeing two different people.
“I lost a lot of weight, trimmed a lot of fat, shaped up my body and got in good football condition to play this game,” he said. “I was 349 and now I’m a good 309 and my body fat is 18 percent, which I think is pretty good being as big as I am. I wanted to make a contribution to the team and now I’m getting a chance to start. I graded out champion in my first start and that’s a good feeling, a really good feeling. I’m going to do the best I can to do that again this week.”
When he runs out the tunnel of The Swamp Saturday afternoon for game two against Central Florida, he will hear the Gator Nation roar so loud that it feels the ground is about to move. This is his chance to make his mark as a Florida Gator and he intends to make the best of the opportunity he’s been given to not only turn around his football career, but his life. He knows he’s not the only Gator that feels this way.
“Players like me that weren’t going anywhere and didn’t get a chance to play before, these coaches gave us a shot and believed in us,” he said. “They put the joy in football for us again.”
MEDIA DAY NOTES: Meyer thought the offensive line needs more work but he wasn’t totally displeased with their play. He was, however, unhappy that quarterback Chris Leak got nailed from his blind side on one of two sacks allowed.
“You can’t let your quarterback get hit in the back,” said Meyer. “If he gets hit in the front, that’s his fault. Chris Leak got hit one time on the back side, and that can’t happen again. The positive is that there were very few times when we had unblocked people. We have four new starters, and I think they played okay, but they’ll get a lot better.”
Meyer said that with senior tailback DeShawn Wynn uncertain for Saturday’s game due to a neck stinger, freshman Mon Williams will be readied to play. Sophomore Kestahn Moore is expected to start and Williams and sophomore Markus Manson will provide depth. Manson missed the Southern Miss game with a thigh bruise.
“Markus Manson is a go. I guess probable is the correct term. DeShawn Wynn is questionable. He was playing pretty hard before he got hurt, sticking in there pretty well.”
True freshman wide receiver Riley Cooper will probably see his first action Saturday. Cooper didn’t have a particularly good August, but in the last several days his performance has stepped up considerably.
“Riley Cooper, up until last week, had very average practices,” said Meyer. “He’s had about a four-day stretch where he was right in there. He and (freshman) Jarred Fayson are battling it out right now. We need Riley Cooper. He’s one of the more talented guys we have. We just have to push him harder in practice and get him game-ready.”