Durkin helping injured freshmen linebackers

First-year Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin doesn't look at recruiting simply as getting players to campus in Gainesville. He's trying to build relationships and figure out what it would be like to coach those players in orange and blue. It worked out when he flipped linebackers Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin, and with their recent injuries, their relationships have paid off this spring.

Without the strong bond D.J. Durkin built with the two linebackers during the process, this spring would be a lot tougher on Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin. They should be seniors in high school right now, but they're spending their first extended time away from family while suffering from injuries that have kept them off the field this spring.

The relationship with Durkin has strong enough for him to flip both linebackers in the recruiting process, and he's trying to use it to keep both players positive and working hard through their rehab.

"In the recruiting process, it's more than just signing a guy," Durkin said. "That whole time when you're recruiting a guy, you're getting to know one another and getting to know your position coach, and in my case, position players. That way, when they get there, you have that relationship built up. It's not (like) we're starting from scratch day one. That would make it much harder.

"As you go through it, you get to know each other, you get that relationship built up and it makes time like this when you have an injury or some adversity happens in your life, you've got a guy you know pretty well because you've gone through over a year-long relationship with them before they ever got there."

Anzalone went through a few practices this spring

Rolin tore his ACL during his senior season and has been out for the entire spring because of his recovery. Anzalone suffered a shoulder injury during the first few days of spring practice and was kept from participating in any other practices.

There are still benefits to both being on campus. The Gators don't have much depth at linebacker after the departure of Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray after last season. While Daniel McMillian is now the only healthy freshman linebacker going through practice, Anzalone and Rolin are still working to make progress off the field and learn the defense.

Both are going through the normal linebacker meetings and watching film with their position group while trying to learn the Florida defense. The only reps they're missing are the physical ones, but the Florida coaches have encouraged them to take mental reps as if they were going through the practice.

"As a freshman coming in here, there's a lot of benefits just to being here -- to be in meetings, hear what's going on and be learning the defense and getting acclimated to school and class and all that sort of thing," Durkin said. "Alex and Matt are both big-time competitors, and they would like to be out there on the field.

"It's just a day-to-day, and I think they're both smart enough to understand that they've got a job to do right now and that's get themselves as healthy as they can and get ready for summer. They're doing a good job of that."

Rolin continues to rehab his ACL

The recruitment of Anzalone and Rolin took multiple turns during their senior years. Anzalone was committed to Ohio State and Notre Dame, but he continued to visit Florida throughout the process before eventually flipping to the Gators just days before enrolling early.

Rolin committed to South Carolina early in the process and was comfortable there after having multiple family members that were alumni. He took a late visit to Gainesville before flipping his commitment one week later and deciding to play at Florida.

It was an up-and-down process for the Gators to continue recruiting both, especially at an important position of need in the 2013 class, but Durkin's consistency paid off. He preached the same message to both recruits, and that paid off in the end.

"With those guys, their recruitments both took a lot of twists and turns, but they knew that no matter what, they were going to hear the same message from me in the same voice, and I'm not going to get upset or down if you say you like another place," Durkin said. "I'm just going to keep recruiting you, and let's go till signing day and see what happens. Obviously we were fortunate it worked out."

Fightin Gators Top Stories