Hunter finishes emotional senior day

As the final seconds rolled off the clock in The Swamp on Saturday, senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter didn't know what to do. So he found someone in the same situation as him — senior linebacker Lerentee McCray. The two fifth-year seniors embraced, taking in the memories of their long careers in Gainesville. As the seconds ticked away, both knew the memories in The Swamp never would.

"It's very hard," senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "As soon as the clock hit zero, me and Lerentee went and hugged each other and went, ‘man, we'll never play here again.' We took a look at the whole stadium. That's when it really hit me that I'll never play here again."

Even in a team meeting room as he talked with members of the media about a half hour after the game, the emotion was still noticeable on Hunter's face. It was still trying to set into his brain. The stadium he fell in love with as a freshman, while the Gators were winning a national title, meant so much to him since coming to Gainesville.

In those last seconds, the memories of transition flooded his mind.

Hunter came to Gainesville as a hyped, five-star recruit that former head coach Urban Meyer put the weight of the world on. The Gators needed help at defensive tackle going into 2008 and Meyer wanted Hunter to be that guy as a freshman. He came to Gainesville out of shape and wasn't able to make that happen.

Under Dan Quinn and the Florida defensive coaches, Hunter has become more consistent and a space eater inside on the defensive line.

"It's been fun," said Hunter, rolling through the memories in his mind. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. I don't regret anything."

For a defense led by upperclassmen, and plenty of seniors, what happened Saturday was the goal. After allowing a 76-yard play on the first play of the game, the Gators allowed just 166 yards the rest of the game and didn't allow Jacksonville State to get on the scoreboard.

To cap off the home schedule, the Gators played their final home game the way they've played all season. It wasn't pretty on offense. On defense, it was dominant.

"I was smiling ear-to-ear when it was over with," Hunter said of the shutout on senior day. "I took it all in. To get that on senior day was just really special.

"It was everyone telling each other to stay positive and not that get us down (after the opening play). It was kind of a fluke play. He didn't go down but we thought he was down. Guys stopped running to the ball. That's our fault. He made a great play, but I just told everyone to keep their heads up."

Games like Saturday aren't a surprise in Gainesville this season. The Florida offense has sputtered while the defense has been the anchor holding the team together. There's no doubt the defense would like the offense to give the unit some cushion, but if it doesn't happen, they're fine, too.

The pressure of carrying the team is something the Florida defense has become used to this season.

"I love it," Hunter said. "I wouldn't have it any other way. The defense play hard, tough nosed football. The offense will ground and pound the ball. We've got great special teams. That's how you gut those wins out. It's not pretty, but I'll take it."

The Gators ended the season with a 7-0 record at home and secured a ten-win season for the first time since 2009. Being undefeated at home was important to the team, especially as it became a more attainable goal.

"It's a big achievement," Hunter said. "That's not something we talked about at the beginning of the season, but the more realistic it became, we tried to talk about it. We wanted to finish undefeated in The Swamp. To win in the SEC and be undefeated at home—it's tough, very tough."


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