Let’s start with the obvious. The Pouncey twins are enormous. We’re not talking about roly-poly enormous, either, the kind of size you would normally associate with offensive linemen just 90 days removed from their last high school football game. Their listed size is 6-4, 310 pounds and that might be their exact height and weight but they look capable of causing an eclipse of the sun.
Three months ago they were breaking into tears at Dolphins Stadium, unable to contain their emotions after helping Lakeland High School win its third straight state championship and second straight national championship. Now here they are on a warm March afternoon, wearing new colors for the first time in their lives, participating in their first spring practice at the University of Florida and unable to contain their happiness. Florida blue has replaced Lakeland’s black and orange but the smiles on their faces remain the same and the laughter still comes from their bellies.
The Pounceys seem quite comfortable with the new changes and it’s evident they’ve toned up their bodies since arriving in Gainesville. Baby fat has been replaced by muscle. They’ve lost fat and yet they’ve gained 10 solid pounds just since January.
As they grin, laugh and answer questions from more media than they’ve ever seen — they were surrounded the moment they leave the practice field — it’s evident that the transition from high school to college has gone smoothly so far. They’re only 17 years old (won’t be 18 until late July), still growing, still can’t shave (baby faces, both of them) and they haven’t been around long enough to know that spring practice is supposed to be a grind.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a tough grind, but somebody better tell the Pouncey twins. Maurkice Pouncey and Michael Pouncey think spring football is fun. The heat? No problem. Learning new technique and a new playbook? No problem.
They even thought mat drills were fun back in February. Mat drills are supposed to be demanding and tough. Only the strong survive, they say. Mat drills are supposed to stretch your physical and emotional limits to near breaking points. Every action, every competition in mat drills has a purpose which is to push and prod, to separate the weak from the strong and to make everybody on the team a whole lot tougher, both physically and mentally.
There’s a reason why there are 50-gallon garbage cans lined along the walls when the team arrives at 5 a.m. for mat drills. They are there for the guys that are pushed so hard that they can’t hold down whatever’s in their stomachs.
“We didn’t puke,” says Maurkice with a grin.
“We got choked up a little bit the first day but we came back the next day and we were just fine,” says Michael, who adds, “we didn’t see anybody on the offensive line puke.”
“That’s right,” adds Maurkice. “Offensive linemen are supposed to be tough and we’re supposed to be leaders.”
At Lakeland they were leaders and they were the biggest guys on the team. Here at Florida, they’re big. They’re really, really big.
But for now, at least, they are not quite the biggest and not yet the team leaders that they were in Lakeland. All that will come with time. For now, they’re just a pair of newbies, learning what to do and when to do it and following the lead of their veteran teammates who seem genuinely pleased that the two big kids from Lakeland took early graduation from high school to enroll early at the University of Florida just so they could get a head start by participating in spring practice.
Leaving all their friends and family in Lakeland wasn’t easy but the Pounceys weighed their options and decided the benefits to enrolling early at Florida far outweighed waiting until August. There are among eight freshmen and one junior college transfer that decided to enroll early so they could get a head start on the others in the recruiting class.
Florida Coach Urban Meyer says that like quarterbacks Bryan Waggener (junior college) and Cameron Newton (high school), there would be almost zero chance that the Pouncey twins could expect any playing time in the fall if they weren’t participating in spring practice.
“No chance unless they’re here,” said Meyer, who understands what a kid has to give up when he skips out on his last semester of high school. “It’s selfish but being the head coach at the University of Florida I love having them here.”
Maurkice Pouncey says he can already tell the football is tougher and a whole lot faster, but he’s making the adjustment. The hardest part for him is learning a system that is far more complicated than the one he played in for four years at Lakeland.
Michael says they knew there would come a time they would have to leave Lakeland. It happened sooner, not later, because the benefit of early enrollment helps from an academic and athletic standpoint. Still, it was tough saying good-bye.
“You leave your high school friends and everything but there is a time in life that you have to move on,” he said. “We felt like grown up people, just leaving so we can get used to it here.”
So they have moved on. They’re at Florida where Michael will wear number 55 and Maurkice will wear number 56. Other than the numbers on their football jerseys, the only way you can tell them apart is the new tattoo that Michael has on his leg. They still hang around with their buddies from Lakeland, wide receiver Paul Wilson and cornerback Ahmad Black, who both enrolled in January. They’ve made plenty of new friends, both on the team and on the campus, where they have become instant celebrities. They’re a lot like Joakim Noah or Tim Tebow. Everybody knows and recognizes the Pounceys.
On the football field and in the weight room, they’ve become favorites of their teammates and the Florida coaching staff, too.
“They bring a lot of contagious enthusiasm to the team,” said Meyer. “They are a lot of fun. If you haven’t interviewed them yet, you’re going to love being around them. They’re eager, they’re anxious, they’re talented … they’re great family guys. Those are the kind of kids you like being around.”
Saturday, they will get to put on shoulder pads and helmets for the first time and they’ll bang heads and bodies with their teammates at Florida’s first full contact scrimmage. They’re eager to hit for the first time. Their strength, mobility and aggressiveness give you reason to believe that it’s only a matter of time before they are competing for playing time.
But playing time must be earned and earning playing time means taking care of business.
“There’s a lot to learn,” said Maurkice. “I think we’re doing pretty good right now but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Michael calls it a “progression. We’re going to get better every day.”
There will be ups and downs along the way, days when nothing goes right and days when they can do no wrong. It won’t be easy but they’re prepared to do whatever they have to do to help the Florida Gators become a better football team. Away from the field, they’ll do whatever they need to do to fit in on a campus that’s every bit as well known for its campus lovelies as it is for its championship sports teams.
The campus lovelies are another reason they chose early enrollment. Asked about college girls, the response was two big grins, two thumbs up and “aaaayyyyyy …. we like that.”
So there you have it. Day one of spring football is over and the Pouncey twins are doing just fine, living large and having fun just being Gators. There will be a time when life is a whole lot more complicated for them but let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon because Urban Meyer is right. They are contagious. When Michael and Maurkice Pouncey are having fun, the whole world just seems like a better place.