<
>

Kicking it with Florida's Maurkice Pouncey

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

He's one of the most indispensible players on Florida's team. And, no, we're not talking about Tim Tebow.

Junior center Maurkice Pouncey has started somewhere on Florida's offensive line since the day he arrived on campus as a true freshman.

He's gone up against the best -- Glenn Dorsey, Terrence Cody, Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy. He and his identical twin, Mike, have also been the emotional spark plugs of the team. They keep things live, keep them real -- and most of all -- keep them intense.

Pouncey's teammates insist he's never had a bad day. Florida coach Urban Meyer said Pouncey was the best true freshman offensive lineman he's ever coached, and predicted that Pouncey would be one of the best to ever play at Florida "if he keeps going."

He's well on his way, having started 26 of the 27 games in which he's played. He played right guard as a freshman and moved to center last season. He was the rock of an underrated offensive line that paved the way for the Gators to lead the SEC in rushing at 231.1 yards per game, almost 45 yards more than the second-place team in the league.

And when you start talking about winners, Pouncey and his brother are literally swimming in titles. They won three straight state championships at Lakeland High School in Florida and added to their hardware last season with the BCS national championship.

Still, last season was a bittersweet one for the Pounceys. In November, the week of the Florida State game, the twins' stepfather, Rob Webster, lost a leg in a railcar accident at work. He'd help to raise them since they were 1, taught them to play football and coached their youth teams.

It was a traumatic time for the entire family. But showing his commitment to his boys and his strength, Webster made it to the BCS National Championship Game in Miami, his first game in person since the accident.

His boys rewarded him by bringing the national title back to Gainesville.

Here's a Q&A with Maurkice Pouncey, who will anchor a Florida offensive line in 2009 that is looking to replace both tackles:

What was the offseason like coming off a national championship and with so many players back?

Maurkice Pouncey: I think this offseason was even harder. They've done their best to make it harder on us. We've got a bigger road ahead of us, so that means we've got to train that much harder.

Everybody's going to pick the Gators to repeat. Are you guys ready to take on the role of being the hunted?

MP: Everybody knows that we're the defending national champion, and we want to hold that standard up. The only way to do that is go out here and work for it. We've got to take it back, because nobody's going to give us anything.

How do you see this offensive line developing with tackles Jason Watkins and Phil Trautwein both gone?

MP: We've got the potential to be a great offensive line, even better than last year. But we've got to show it. This spring, we've got to go back to work, go through all the preparation with coach (Steve) Adazzio and build our chemistry back. We're coming along. I think we'll be a lot better than last year when everything's done.

You started as a true freshman, which is rare in the SEC. But did you grow up even more last season?

MP: I didn't have any choice. I moved from guard to center. I matured a lot and was in there with a bunch of older guys, and they taught me and my brother the ropes. There's nowhere to hide when you're playing offensive line, not in this league. I had to grow up a lot and take that next step, and I think I did.

Looking back, would you guys have won the national title had you not lost to Ole Miss?

MP: I know it turned our whole season around and the way we practiced and the way we prepared. The team meeting we had after that game got to everybody. Everybody basically said the same thing Tim (Tebow) said, but Tim said it publicly. He was repeating what the whole team felt. I'm glad Tim did what he did. It was out there then, and we were making a promise to ourselves and the fans. We came along as a team, kept growing and learned the hard way that we couldn't take stuff for granted.

Do you and Mike ever pull tricks on people who can't tell you apart. Some of your teammates say they just call both of you "Pouncey" because they never know who's who when you don't have your jerseys on.

MP: We don't do it as much now because everybody's onto us. But we used to do a lot of crazy stuff. Pretty much now, everybody can tell us apart by our tattoos. When we didn't have them, we definitely pulled some things on some people.

How are your tattoos different?

MP: I've got my mom and dad on my arms, and Mike has flames on his arms.

Tebow has gotten so much attention and publicity. Is there even a trace of jealousy among his teammates?

MP: Not at all. I think Tim deserves everything he gets and everything people say about him. He's a hard worker, great athlete and great player. I don't want to take anything away from Tim.

What's the fiery side of Tebow like?

MP: He's the most intense guy you're ever going to be around. He keeps everything going, just the way he leads the team. He's always motivating. He gets in people's faces all the time in practice. If anybody messes up or isn't getting after it like he should, Tim is going to say something. It's probably better that Tim says it than coach (Urban) Meyer saying it. You talk about getting fired up. That's coach Meyer.

Speaking of Meyer, what has made him so successful as a coach from your perspective?

MP: He's all about his players, how well we do in school, how everything's going in our lives. It's not all about football. He's the kind of coach that loves his players, and the players respond to that. You can talk to him, and he's the kind of guy you want to be around. A lot of head coaches don't say much to you. He's never going to be like that.

How much fun did you have celebrating the national title?

MP: It's all passed by so fast that you don't have time to really celebrate it ... not if you want to win another one.