Despite losing Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, the Gators defensive line is shaping up to be one of the best units on the team.
Players like Dante Fowler Jr., Jonathan Bullard and Damien Jacobs are poised to build on the solid seasons they had a year ago, while newcomers Darius Cummings, Jarran Reed, Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Antonio Riles and Jay-nard Bostwick will give the Gators great depth along the line.
However, the most important piece to the defensive line puzzle was just a day away from never putting on orange and blue again.
Dominique Easley is the most experienced defensive linemen that Florida has heading into 2013 and if not for a newborn son and some motherly advice, he could be preparing for the NFL draft rather than preparing for his senior season.
“Last day we were supposed to put our papers in that’s how close” Easley said. When asked about what led him to the decision he ultimately made, Easley credited the birth of his son and his mother. “My mom wanted me to stay in school. You can’t fight her. She made me, so I do what she say.” Speaking about his son, Dominique Earl Easley II, Easley said, “I want to experience him talking. I want to experience him walking and everything, so that played a big part.”
If not for those two people in his life, the Gators defense would look a lot different heading into next season.
Despite their losses, Easley doesn’t foresee the Gators defensive line taking a step back.
“I don’t think so. They were here, so the younger dudes played under them, so they see how they played, they see the expectations that need to be met, so I don’t feel like there’s going to be [a] drop-off.”
Easley also sees Florida’s pass rush taking a step forward in part due to the techniques that new defensive line coach Brad Lawing is teaching. “He’s real knowledgeable, he knows what he’s talking about, he knows how to use his hands. He’s a real help.” Easley continued, speaking about Florida’s pass-rush, “a whole lot better because we have more knowledge, different knowledge. Different knowledge is always good knowledge.”
Will Muschamp credited Easley with taking on a leadership role this offseason. Easley is not the typical vocal leader; rather he leads by the example he sets in the weight room and on the field. “I don’t really take into leadership. I just like to play. I’m not really into that. I don’t really focus on that. I just like to do.” Easley continued. “I mean, if people look up to me, they look up to me. I just try to do my best at everything. Everybody else is gone, so I feel like I have to step up a little bit more because all the veterans have left.”
Whether or not Easley realizes it, he is a leader on this team. He may not be the guy to stand up and deliver a speech in the locker room but he is a guy who can let his play do the talking.
Easley has played both defensive end and defensive tackle during his first three years on campus, compiling 67 tackles, including 16 for a loss, 5.5 sacks and a blocked punt.
While Easley prefers one over the other, he will play both inside and outside this season.
“I like inside more just for the fact that I like to fight a lot. That’s more fighting in the middle.”
Easley believes the Gators defensive line is hungrier to prove themselves this season and that will be a motivating factor in 2013. “Real good, real good. They’re really experienced, real ready, like they want it. That’s the difference.”
As for himself, Easley will look to cut down on penalties this season. Easley was called for four offsides penalties last season and he knows that penalties not only drive his head coach nuts but also can kill a teams’ momentum. “How many times did I jump off-sides last year? You want to be disciplined. The more penalties, the more chances we have to lose.”
The birth of his son has given Easley some perspective on life. And thanks to Dominique Jr and his grandmother, Gator fans will get a little more Dominique Easley in their lives.