Omar Hunter knows his time is running out.
Florida’s redshirt junior defensive lineman fought early hype and nagging injuries during his first three years with the Gators and now sees that he’s got to step up or sit and watch.
Hunter doesn’t want to do the latter. He had all the right to that this spring when a nagging injury returned. While he was listed as limited on Florida’s pre-spring depth chart, he pushed through the pain and competed as much as he could with a new coaching staff watching.
“It was tough, but they [the coaches] realized that I was injured and I was still trying to fight through some things,” Hunter said. “They let me off a few times on some things that they could have easily gotten on me for, but they understood I had an injury and took it easy on me a little bit.”
Hunter, who is down to 300 pounds after working at 307 this spring, decided that participating would help him learn defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s new system and get him more familiar with defensive line coach Bryant Young’s new philosophy. If he was going to show the new staff he was ready to take his game to a new level, he had to do it -- hurt or not.
Hunter’s ability to stay on the practice field this spring also helped him gain more respect from his teammates. With depth issues and a gang of youngsters pushing for time on Florida’s line, Hunter wanted to not only show he wasn’t going to just hand his spot over, he wanted to prove that he was going to be a leader for the line.
“The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he said. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”
The young talent certainly motivated Hunter. Regardless of how he felt physically, Hunter knew he’d have to fight off some pups this spring.
Leading the underclassmen charge is sophomore Sharrif Floyd, who will compete with Hunter for time at nose tackle when the Gators go into the 3-4. Dominique Easley, who blossomed this spring, and Leon Orr are also pushing for time on the interior.
Hunter is looking over his shoulder at those players, but he’s also helping them. While his goal is to be the disruptor in the middle, he wants what’s best for the team, and development of the younger players will be key to keeping Florida’s line fresh.
“I keep pushing them, they push me,” Hunter said. “We’re all getting better because of that.
“Last year, we were a close group, but we could have been closer. If we would have been closer, we would have been even better.”
The unit could be special, really. There is talent oozing at each position. Senior Jaye Howard, who ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper ranked as the fourth-best draft-eligible returner at defensive tackle, missed all of the spring because of surgery on his ankle, but is expected to be full-go for two-a-days. Senior William Green will maintain one of the end spots, and while he hasn’t truly broken out, he’ll fit nicely into Florida’s multiple defense.
Sophomore Ronald Powell will play the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position known as the Buck. He’s got all the athleticism and speed to be a menace in the pass rush, but he’s got to continue to mature. Cal transfer Chris Martin and junior Lerentee McCray will also get time at end.
Florida’s line is young, but the ceiling appears high for the unit. Barring injuries, this could be the strength of Florida’s defense in the fall.