GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Damien Jacobs is not only trying to learn a new defensive scheme and how to play in the Southeastern Conference, he's also trying to not become another part of Florida's trend of junior college busts.
The early returns on the 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle from East Mississippi Junior College have been positive. He's a solid player against the run and his pass rush has improved from the spring. All indications are that he'll be a big part of the Gators' rotation at tackle.
"He showed some flashes as far as his get-off," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "He's got quick hands. He can flip his hips in the rush. He's a guy that can anchor in the run game. He's got all the tools, it's just the consistency in his performance, down in, down out. We've got to get him headed in that direction."
Jacobs -- who has not been made available to the media -- also is apparently pretty strong. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter has been impressed with what he called Jacobs' old-man strength, which he explained this way: "You might could bench more than him but on the football field he's just strong. Just crazy strong."
But is he strong enough to overcome UF's run of disappointing junior college signings? There have been 13 since 2003 (not including Jacobs) and only three turned out to be above-average players. One of those, safety Reggie Nelson, became an All-American and went on to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
The other two -- cornerback Reynaldo Hill and defensive end Jeremy Mincey -- were drafted in the later rounds.
Here's a look at those 13 junior college players:
OL Billy Griffin: He appeared in just 10 games in two seasons after transferring from Ventura Junior College.
OL Anthony Guerrero: He was a first-team All-American at Cerritos Community College but played in only 14 games (three starts) in two seasons. His two best games came in 2004 against Middle Tennessee and Georgia.
CB Reynaldo Hill: Signed with Florida out of Dodge City Community College and went on to play in 25 games (12 starts) in two seasons. He was a solid cover corner who finished his career with 57 tackles but only one interception. He was drafted in the seventh round by Tennessee in 2005 and played four years with the Titans, starting 26 games.
DT Eric Holcombe: He was a third-team All-American at Northeast Mississippi Junior College and played in 17 games over two seasons. He had just 19 tackles.
OL Tavares Washington: The former first-team All-American at Mississippi Delta Junior College played in six games in 2003, received a medical redshirt in 2004, then started 10 games in 2005.
DE Jeremy Mincey: He started every game in 2004 and 2005 after starring at Butler Community College. He had 110 tackles and 5.5 sacks, including 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2005. He was a second-team All-SEC selection that season. He was drafted in the sixth round by New England in 2006 but got cut and picked up by San Francisco, then Jacksonville. He has been on the Jaguars' active roster since 2007 and had the best year of his career in 2011 – 8.0 sacks while starting all 16 games.
TE Markell Thompson: He was a defensive end at Southwest Mississippi Junior College but moved to tight end after signing with the Gators. He played in every game in 2004 (four starts) and was on the field more than any other tight end (327 plays) but never caught a pass. He suffered a leg injury in August 2005 and never played again.
S Reggie Nelson: Nelson originally signed with Florida in 2003 but failed to qualify and ended up at Coffeyville Community College. He played only one season there (2004) before re-signing with UF in 2005. He went on to become the best safety in school history. He played in 11 games (four starts) in 2005 then had a monster season in 2006 and helped lead the Gators to the national title. He picked off six passes and was named a consensus first-team All-American. The Jaguars selected him with the 21st overall pick of the 2007 draft. He played three seasons in Jacksonville and the past two with Cincinnati. He has 13 career interceptions.
QB Bryan Waggener: The transfer from Citrus College never appeared in a game for the Gators in 2007. He transferred to Northern Colorado after the season.
DT Troy Epps: He played in just 12 games in two seasons at Florida after being an All-American at Coffeyville Community College. He made just seven tackles in his career.
WR Carl Moore: He caught 73 passes (including 16 touchdowns) in two years at Sierra Community College and was one of the most sought-after juco recruits in the country. He caught 14 passes in 2008, redshirted in 2009 because of a back injury, and then caught 27 passes in 2010. His two-year totals at UF: 41 catches, 533 yards, two TDs.
DT Edwin Herbert: He played in just one game in his only season at UF after transferring from City College of San Francisco.