Mohamoud Diabate came to Florida as a defensive end, but the Gators’ coaching staff had different plans in mind for him.
For some players, going away from the only thing they’ve ever known once they get to college is a deal breaker. But when Diabate’s coaches approached him after his freshman season with a proposal to move to inside linebacker, the switch was a no-brainer.
“If I have coaches like Coach [Todd] Grantham and Coach [Dan] Mullen and Coach [Christian] Robinson, who know what they’re doing, I’d be an idiot not to listen to them and follow that path,” Diabate said. “It wasn’t too much thinking to me. I seen it was a good idea and I decided to follow through with it and listen to them.”
Diabate did not see it as a change in positions, but rather another set of skills he could add to his tool box. He saw guys like Isaiah Simmons and Jeremy Chinn thriving in their young NFL careers without being fully tethered to one position on the field.
He figured the more he could learn, the more valuable he’d become. And for the first time, he had to diagnose formations, backpedal and flip his hips instead of just rushing as hard as he could every play.
“Playing inside linebacker, there’s a lot more thinking,” he said. “It’s a lot more of a mental game. You have to realize a lot of things. You have to look at formations. That’s something that I never had to do at outside linebacker.”
That is a lot to take in during a single offseason, especially one as unconventional as 2020. He didn’t get a spring to dive into his new role, and when fall came around, he had to pick up on things quickly.
The deficiencies showed early in the season, but Diabate found his way in a struggling defense as he gained experience. He did not test positive for COVID-19 during Florida’s midseason pause, and he said he took advantage of those extra two weeks of practice.
On top of that, he benefited from going up against Kyle Pitts day in and day out. When he got into a game, he actually had a chance.
“The hardest matchup was in practice,” Diabate said. “That dude 84. Nobody was harder than him compared, like remotely close.”
Now that the season is over and the Gators are back to a somewhat normal schedule, Diabate fully intends to take advantage of the month ahead.
And after that, he plans to bulk up with Nick Savage.
“Last season, we didn’t have the opportunity with the COVID and everything,” he said. “Going home, you’re on your own. This season, once spring gets over with, I’m really excited to have the summer session with coach Savage. Hopefully get up to 235-240, add just 10-15 pounds, and I feel like that will make a good difference in my play that you guys will notice.”
He said he might just start taking big freshman Desmond Watson’s plate to get a head start on summer for both of them.
But before he steals their dinner, Diabate is ready to become a mentor for the younger players in Florida’s defense. Heading into his junior season, he is one of the most experienced linebackers on the team behind redshirt senior Ventrell Miller.
After last season, it is apparent the Gators need several guys to step up and take on more leadership on the defensive side of the ball.
“If Ventrell’s the leader, I’ll be his lieutenant,” Diabate said. “I feel like having been here three years, having a lot experience, playing a lot of games, making a lot of different plays, I feel like I have the experience, you know, to lead the defense, lead guys, tell guys what to do. I have the knowledge of the defense, so I’m excited to do that.”
Though Diabate was critical of himself and the defense as a whole following the 2020 season, he is carrying a sense of positivity into spring. Florida has a lot to work on between now and September, but looking back, Diabate does not think the problems are as deep as they once appeared.
“All those things are incredibly fixable,” Diabate said. “Coach Grantham, Coach Mullen and the rest of the staff are working extremely hard to make sure we can fix those issues and I have a great deal of confidence that we’re gonna get that done.”