Jon Bostic committed to Florida on Jan. 3, 2009, and enrolled in classes a few days later as a 17-year-old freshman.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds coming out of Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central, Bostic was a “tweener.” He had lined up at safety, cornerback and running back in high school but had the physical skills and mentality of an inside linebacker.
Then-Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, along with UF assistant Billy Gonzales, were in charge of Bostic’s recruitment. Strong, now Louisville’s head coach, believed Bostic could be the next Brandon Spikes-type player and switched Bostic to linebacker before spring practices began.
Strong actually told Bostic during his junior season in high school that he already was bigger than some of the linebackers Florida had on campus. Bostic never envisioned playing linebacker before that conversation. He ended up choosing the Gators over Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and LSU, among others, largely due to his close relationship with Strong.
“Bostic is a really good football player and I went to visit him as many times as the administration would let me,” Strong said Thursday. “Bostic was too big to play safety and it was just a matter of time before he could eat his way into playing linebacker.
“I have to hand it to the university for giving me the opportunity to recruit such a talented player like him.”
Bostic and Strong will be reunited Wednesday night when Florida and Louisville meet in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET.
After Bostic arrived as a wide-eyed freshman, Strong encouraged Spikes to serve as Bostic’s mentor. They became tight during Spikes’ senior season as the young linebacker soaked up as much knowledge as possible from the veteran, who went on to star with the New England Patriots.
Bostic, whose father played cornerback in the NFL, has blossomed into a 246-pound senior leader. He is now the one teaching young linebackers what Spikes taught him.
For his career, Bostic has played in 50 games and recorded 231 tackles, far more than any player on Florida’s defense. He also has 18 tackles for a loss, including 7.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He has started 31 games, including 26 consecutive, which is the second longest streak on the team and just one behind offensive lineman Jon Halapio.
Whether stops for losses or interception returns for touchdowns, Bostic has made countless impact plays. He was one of the main reasons Florida was able to shut down quarterback Johnny Manziel after mirroring the Heisman Trophy winner’s every move in the second half of a 20-18 comeback win. One of Bostic’s stops of Manziel on a third-down scramble in the red zone is a play UF coach Will Muschamp believes helped win a game many say was the turning point in the program.
In other words, Bostic has made an enormous contribution on the Gators’ defense despite playing for three different coordinators in four seasons.
It’s all thanks to his first coordinator, Strong, seeing Bostic as a linebacker instead of a safety.
“He’s the kind of guy that will get after you right away and push you to do the right thing,” Bostic said on Strong on Thursday. “He’s the main guy who recruited me to come to Florida. I’ve had a good relationship with him ever since high school. A lot of coaches try to sell the program when they are recruiting, but he really wanted to form a relationship with me and be more than just a coach.
“I knew wherever Charlie went he was going to have success. It was just a matter of time before somebody gave him a chance after all the great things he has done.”
Strong said he hasn’t had much time to think about what it will be like coaching against his former players, including a few he formed close bonds with such as Bostic.
Regardless of what happens Wednesday night, look for Bostic to find Strong after the game to thank his former coach for helping get his career pointed in the right direction.
Even though it will be Bostic’s final game in the orange and blue, his career isn’t over. NFLDraftScout.com ranked him as the No. 2 prospect in this draft class at his position — inside linebacker.