Florida senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard wouldn’t change much about his time in Gainesville.
While his final year hasn’t been great, considering the Gators’ 6-5 record heading into Saturday’s game with Florida State, he says he’s grown more as a person and a player in this one year than any of the years prior.
Howard has been one of Florida’s most consistent defensive linemen and is third on the team with 55 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and three sacks. He was also considered to be a top defensive tackle draft prospect for next year’s NFL draft before the season.
ESPN.com spoke to Howard to discuss his final year, the Gators' struggles and his career at Florida.
Edward Aschoff: How many emotions will be running through you this weekend in the Swamp with this being your last game and it coming against a rival like Florida State?
Jaye Howard: It’s huge. At this point, I can say that I don’t like them. But it really hasn’t hit me. Honestly, it won’t hit me until I hear my name called on senior day. It’s going to be very emotional, man. I just want to get a win for this program and for my senior class.
How important has this game been for you every year since you’ve been at Florida?
Very important. It’s always been a big one for me personally. Now, I have to go out there and play well in order to solidify myself for the next level.
Speaking of solidifying yourself for the next level, earlier in the season you said you were playing the best football of your career. Now that the season is almost over, where do you think you are?
This has been the best year of me being a Gator. The coaches have taught me a lot. Right now, I feel like when I’m out on the field I can play with anyone.
Stats are something that a lot of people harp on, but what do you think is the most impressive part of your game?
I still have a motor. I play hard every play that I’m out there. I play hard and I cause havoc. I haven’t put up big numbers as far as having sacks, or TFLs, but I’ve been causing havoc for offenses.
You said you’ve learned so much this year. What specifically have you learned from your new coaches?
The technique, man. The technique has been awesome to learn. Both coach Dan Quinn (defensive coordinator) and Bryant Young (defensive line coach) have taught me exactly what it takes to be effective.
Considering what this season has been like, how tough has this year been for you as a senior?
It’s been tough, but I try not to think about that. I try to go out there and win every week. Things haven’t gone as planned, but I know it’s a rebuilding year and these guys are going to be great for years to come.
Even with the struggles, do you still feel like this is one of the closest teams you’ve been on during your time at Florida?
Yeah, no question. When teams go through tough times, teams get divided, and we haven’t been divided. We’ve stuck together and we’ve been through the fire. My teammates have the utmost respect from me. A lot of teams would have already broken down.
Going back to your last game in the Swamp, what were some of your favorite memories there?
My first memory was my freshman year, coming out of the tunnel; I got trampled coming out. I can’t even remember who trampled me, it happened so fast, but I managed to get up before anyone saw me fall. My favorite memory is probably the 2009 Tennessee game. I made a bet with (former defensive end) Carlos Dunlap that if I made a big play I’d do the Daunte Culpepper (celebration), the “Roll on.” I made a big play against Tennessee and “rolled” for about 15 yards and got a penalty and got pulled out of the game.
Was it worth it?
So how would you sum up your career at Florida? You started off as a defensive end, now you’re a defensive tackle. You have some good times and down ones. It sounds like it’s been a wild ride.
Yeah, it has been. I came in as a defensive end, undersized, and blossomed and turned into a defensive tackle. It’s been good, man. I have no regrets about coming to the University of Florida and everything works out for the best.