HOOVER, Ala. – One of Florida’s most inspirational players a year ago on defense might end up being one of the Gators’ most important players in 2010.
Senior defensive end Justin Trattou played the second half of the season with a torn biceps tendon in his left arm.
As he says himself, “I was playing with one arm.”
The Gators used Trattou as an inside rush guy in passing situations, and even though he admits he wasn’t close to 100 percent, he wound up making one of the plays of the year against South Carolina. His interception and 53-yard return on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Gamecocks driving completely turned that game around.
“Anything I can do to help the team,” Trattou said. “I hope to do even more of that this year.”
Chances are that he will.
He’s back to playing with two arms again. He’s able to lift weights again, and his strength has returned. Trattou will also go back to playing a conventional defensive end position with Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham gone to the NFL.
“I’m stronger than I was this time last year, and I’m back down in the low 250s after trying to bulk up more to play inside last year,” Trattou said. “I beat all my previous bests in all the lifts and runs this year. I’m looking forward to it.
“Even though I basically played the whole second half of the season with one arm, I was effective enough that they could get a solid 20 or 25 plays out of me. But this spring, it was totally different.
“I was able to play real football again.”
Surgery was tossed out there as an option last season, but Trattou would have missed four to six weeks. He never seriously considered it when doctors told him he wouldn’t do any long-term damage to his arm.
“At that point, it was all about managing the pain,” Trattou said. “It hurt more during the week. But your adrenalin is flowing so much during the games that you don’t really think about it until your back in that locker room and it starts hurting again.”
Trattou, one of Florida’s senior captains, likes the makeup of the Gators’ defensive line even though there are not any so-called stars returning.
What the Gators do have is five seniors coming back up front who have played a lot of football and are hungry to prove that the standard for Florida’s defense hasn’t changed, even though guys like Brandon Spikes, Ryan Stamper, Joe Haden, Major Wright, Dunlap and Cunningham are no longer around.
“When you think of Florida, you think of great defense,” Trattou said. “We’re going to work real hard going into camp and are going to get this defense tight like we were the past couple of years and uphold that tradition of Florida defense.
“We definitely have a lot of experience in this line, but we haven’t had that star player in this group yet. This is our chance to go out and prove what kind of players we are.”
Right now, Duke Lemmens is the starter at end opposite Trattou, but everybody in Gator Land is eager to get a look at prized freshman Ronald Powell. Dominique Easley is another highly touted freshman who projects as a tackle, but could get a shot outside depending on what happens.
Trattou doesn’t want to make any predictions about the freshmen until seeing them in pads, which is probably smart.
But he is confident that this defense as a whole has what it takes to carry the Gators back to Atlanta for a third straight SEC championship game appearance.
“It’s definitely different than last year when we were the top-rated team, but this is a new team and a new year,” Trattou said. “The expectations around us might be different, but our expectations are the same, and you could see that by how hard we’ve worked this summer.
“Our goal is the same as it’s always been, to win the SEC East, get to Atlanta and win and let everything else take care of itself.”