Locally Grown Okine Preps for Senior Day

Earl Okine is one straight shot from where it all began. Less than five years ago, Florida's senior defensive lineman was treading between nearby goal posts making an impact for the Gainesville High Hurricanes. On Saturday, Okine will make his last plays as a Gator in The Swamp. Though Okine's career at UF was filled with ups and downs, he said it's an experience he wouldn't change for the world.

Okine, a power-house at 6'7, 287 lbs., already proved himself as an all-star athlete before snagging his high school diploma down the road. When he wasn't suited up in his football pads, he was stomping the basketball court for the Hurricanes or throwing around weights competitively.

But his freshman year at Florida was far less action-packed. Though he dressed for six games his first year in orange and blue, he never made his way into a game and redshirted.

He said experiencing that low, along with various injuries throughout his career, was a feeling he was able to share with his "close-knit" family who lives nearby.

"There have been many times where I've been real down," Okine said. "But that just comes with playing in your hometown. My family is there through everything, and I feel like they've probably felt as bad as I have."

They've gotten to feel the pride and the happiness together, too.

Okine played in five games during his time as a redshirt freshman and in 11 the following year — when he recorded his first quarterback sack against Kentucky.

However, it wasn't until his third year, Okine said, that he started recording a heavy chunk of action on the field. In 2011, he played in all 13 games and was tied for the team's lead in quarterback hurries when the Gators' first season under coach Will Muschamp wrapped.

It was Muschamp, he said, who challenged him to play more aggressively at the start of his final season.

"I feel like I've played as physical as coach Muschamp wanted me to play," Okine said of his performance for his senior season. "I've done than and all the things he wanted me to do to get bigger and stronger and more violent at playing."

And according to Okine, the violent attitudes he and the rest of the defensive have taken to the field start right back at the head coach's red-hot demeanor. Okine said now, the defense looks across the way and the goal is to hurt the person across from them.

Though Okine said it's Muschamp's insatiable appetite that has ignited the team's production on the field.

"He's a very tough coach and he's very hard to please," he said. "That's what you need in a coach, so nobody's ever complacent. Everybody's always working."

But in spring, Okine wasn't able to work. He was sidelined from spring practice with a grueling back injury — freezing him from workouts, too. He bounced back this fall, and has 10 tackles in his 10 games played this season. As a Gator, he sits at a total of 25 tackles for 38 games.

Saturday will be his last opportunity to record any numbers in the Swamp. And his friends and family wouldn't miss it. Okine said this week, his family and friends are begging him for tickets to his last game at Florida. So far, he has had 20 tickets requested for the Jacksonville State matchup.

Looking past this season, Okine said there are a variety of different avenues his life could take upon receiving his diploma this summer. He said he "has a shot" at the NFL, but if not, he may swing for a double major or attend graduate school.

"If this is my last time playing football, that's fine with me," he said.

Sporting No. 91 for the Gators, though, is an experience Okine said he'll never let go.

"I wouldn't change it for the world," he said. "I love this university and I wouldn't have redone anything. I love this program. It'll always be a part of my life."

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