Chad Simmons

Lakeland a key area In Gator history

The list of Gator Greats from Polk County is a long one. The area is rich in talent and rich in Gator flavor with the vast majority of the locals being Gator fans. Florida head coach Jim McElwain spoke at the Polk County Gator Club on Wednesday and knows full well the history of the place and what it means to Florida.

Some of the bigger names in the list of the past of the quarterback position alone were from Polk County and the Lakeland area. Wayne Peace, David Bowden, and Larry Libertore were some of the men that helped pave the way as signal callers just before Florida football hit the championship era

Willie Wilder and Lorenzo Hampton are two prime examples of big time running backs that starred for the Gators and from Polk County.

At receiver, Terrence Barber was one of the weapons at the disposal of Steve Spurrier as he came to Florida and set all kinds of passing records with a new offense.

The offensive line has had more than its fair share of big time players at Florida that came from Polk County. Hesham Ismail, Jason Watkins, David Williams, Bruce Mulliniks are just a few to remember.

On defense, we can talk about defensive lineman / linebacker Sammy Green or defensive back Bobby Downs. 

Of course how can we forget the Super Seven Dreadnaughts that were signed in 2007? Running back Chris Rainey, receiver Paul Wilson, offensive linemen Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, defensive tackle John Brown, and safeties Stephen Wilks and Ahmad Black as a group played a significant role in one national championship and many big time wins in their time on campus.

It is a history that Jim McElwain is quite familiar with and he knew about the talent in the area well before he showed up to be the head coach at Florida a little over two years ago.

“Actually I do have a little bit of history, because I recruited this area for about 15 years when I was at Louisville, Michigan State, and Alabama,” he said. “So I know it well and I understand the power of the Gator. I was excited about being part of that and I look forward to keep the thing going but more than that keep building the strength of this area and the guys in this area being Gators.” 

Florida stepped into Polk County this past recruiting cycle and signed two players from the area. Linebacker Ventrell Miller and receiver James Robinson are expected to arrive on campus in June and compete right away for paying time. They are two guys that can add their own history to the University of Florida football program annals.

“This whole area, when you talk about being historically the place being (the place where) the Gators are dominating, where the Gators come from, this is one of those places that I think is really special,” McElwain said. “Just even the fact there are more Gators here than anywhere else. They get the importance of the University of Florida and understand what it’s all about. We are excited about those guys and as we continue that tradition of getting really the best players in this area up to Gainesville.”

“This is something that’s real and to get those guys to jump on board, man I can’t tell you how excited we are. We have a really good group of young guys coming in and I think they were a real big part of our success as we closed recruiting and you know what, I’m excited for him to be here.”


Robinson had a bumpy ride to the finish line to sign with the Gators. Some academic issues and some off-the-field issues made it a not so automatic signing. McElwain says that he expects Robinson to turn things around and that is why he finally signed on.

 “There’s a bunch of misinformation out there about what the heck is going on,” McElwain said about the situation. “Here’s the beauty, I’d be willing to bet that whoever reads this article, or whoever listens to this, might have maybe at one time in their life maybe messed up a little bit. And yet, it’s not about him, it’s about all of our players. It’s about what we do to help them to be successful, help them learn. You know what? I look forward to him being a part of us.”

He can see both Miller and Robinson getting on the field as freshmen, but nothing is guaranteed of course.

“It goes for all of them, I think my track record shows I’m not afraid to play true freshmen,” he said. “And yet, I’m also not in a hurry to put someone out there that’s going to fail. Here’s the interesting thing about that. I tell every guy on our team, they know from the start that none of us coaches are responsible for playing time. The actual individual is responsible for their playing time and we’ll put the best players out there.”


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