Florida safeties built a close bond

When Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal survey the Florida defense before a snap, they’ll go through hand signals and scream out verbal signals to make sure everyone is lined up in the right spot. If they only have to communicate with each other, it’s much easier.

The relationship the two have built is so close that they swear there are times on the field where they know exactly what the other is thinking. They’ve worked hard to stay in touch off the field and have been close friends since they met when Neal was a freshman and Maye was a redshirt freshman. This year, they head into the fall as the starting safeties for what should be one of the best secondary units in the country.

The cornerbacks get most of the attention. All-American Vernon Hargreaves III is the headliner of the group and sophomores Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson will see plenty of time on the field with him. But in the last line of defense, it’s Maye and Neal that will be trusted this year.

“We can look at each other and pretty much be on the same page,” Marcus Maye said. “It definitely helps. Being together for three years makes it more easy and comfortable back out there.”

Ask them the last time a day went by without Maye and Neal being in contact, neither can remember one. Maye got to campus a year earlier than Neal, but Maye took a redshirt during his first season. That put the two safeties in the same class heading into the 2013 season with high expectations for their futures.

The relationship didn’t take long to take off. Whenever both of the safeties are on campus for classes, they’ll text each other to see where the other is and meet up. They spent countless hours at each other’s houses playing video games.

“I love playing with Maye,” Keanu Neal said. “He’s a great player and competitor. He communicates well. That’s what we need -- great communication.”

Maye added, “Not a day goes by when we don’t talk to each other.”

The friendship off the field has allowed communication on the field to be simplified. They’ve already spent so much time in the secondary together, and that has helped. But their friendship also plays a big part of it. Maye insists that the time they spend together off the field has improved their communication on it.

“You have that relationship and time around someone, you know them better,” Maye said. “You know how to approach them, how to talk to them and bring up different situations. The more you’re around each other, and as much as we are around each other, it makes things on the field seem like normal.”

Both players saw up close last season how well the secondary played despite counting on Tabor and Wilson as true freshmen. Duke Dawson, another true freshman, was involved at safety and will see his role grow this fall. The only member of the secondary that played much and graduated after last season was safety Jabari Gorman.

The unit is now older and more experienced than last season. Playing in a similar defense under a new coaching staff will help the unit play well, but Neal cited their familiarity with each other for giving this unit the potential to be the best at Florida in recent years.

“We’ve gotten a lot better,” Neal said. “We’ve got a lot of experienced guys and the young guys have really stepped up and matured and taken on leadership roles. We’re out there with chemistry. Last year we didn’t have that much chemistry. But after having a year under our belt, that chemistry has built up and I think we’re better because of it.”

For the experienced players like Maye and Neal, it’s especially important to make sure the bar isn’t dropped in the secondary. After the unit played so well under Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, the veterans in the secondary want to make sure there is no excuse for being less productive this fall.

“This is our third year playing together,” Maye said about the older members in the secondary. “We started it when we were all freshmen and sophomore, and now we’re all juniors and seniors. We’ve seen each other grow. We’ve grow with each other. It makes it a lot easier to be on the field with each other. Just the more we’re around each other, it should correlate to when we get on the field.

“It makes it a lot easier to communicate with each other on the field, knowing what responsibility each other has on the field. Just knowing what I expect out of you, you expect out of me. We set high expectations for each other.”

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