Football is fun again for Jonathon Colon

After four straight springs when he was rehabbing some sort of injury, usually either a knee or a chronic back, the 6-7, 315-pound tackle from Miami is virtually pain free four games into the season. Once again, football is fun, but more importantly, now that he's playing at a high level without much pain, he feels like he's making a contribution to the team.

"I'm excited every week," said Colon after the Florida Gators finished their Monday practice under the lights in The Swamp. "I'm feeling good every day. Everything seems to be going pretty good for me. Best of all, I feel like a normal human being for a change. Now I just go out there every day trying to improve and working on the game plan for whoever we play on Saturday. It's a great feeling."

Colon came out of Miami Central one of the most highly regarded offensive linemen in the nation. After a year of prep school, he came to Florida with those same high expectations. He got in some snaps in the 2001 season, enough that observers thought the natural progression of age and maturity would lead him to a stellar career at UF.

The greatness that was predicted early never arrived, though. His sophomore year he battled injuries. He missed the first four games of his junior year, but played the final nine games with back pain and knee problems. He missed spring drills for the fourth year rehabbing injuries.

During all the pain and frustration, he never got down on himself and always believed that better days were ahead.

"Look, I'm not the only person in the world that something bad ever happened to," he said. "That's just life. Things just happen and sometimes they're not what you planned for. Sometimes you just have to deal with it. Things didn't go like I wanted, but I just decided to do the best with the day I have.

"It's paid off because now I'm out there having fun again, helping my team win football games."

Through four games, Colon has played graded out well at left tackle. He's been steady in pass protection and has shown mobility getting out in front of receivers on screen passes and pulling on sweeps. Other than a couple of false starts and a holding penalty, he has been a steady presence on the offensive line.

Saturday's assignment will be Colon's toughest of the season. He will be going head to head with LSU's All-America defensive end Marcus Spears, 6-4, 290 and one of the quickest big men in the country. Spears was so outstanding during LSU's run to the national championship in 2003 that most observers thought he would bypass his senior year to go to the NFL draft where he would have likely been chosen in the first 15 picks. Instead, he came back for one last fling at LSU.

"He's a great player," said Colon. "I've gone up against him before and I know how quick he is off the ball. He's a very intelligent player, too. When you go up against him, you know he's studied you and studied all your tendencies you have to be on top of your game.

"When you play a smart player like that who's also so strong and so quick, you have to play up to his level. You know he's going to do all his techniques right and he won't blow assignments. That's why he's such a good player. You have to bring your level of play up to his or else he'll eat you up."

Florida Coach Ron Zook said that Spears has a natural awareness of where the ball is and he has an instinct to show up at the right time.

"Good players make plays and he's a very good player," said Zook. "Some guys just have an awareness to be around the ball when it comes out of the quarterback's hand."

Offensive coordinator Larry Fedora is quite aware of Spears and the rest of the LSU defensive line, which he believes is one of the best in the country.

"They're still leading the league in sacks I'm sure," said Fedora. "They know how to get to a quarterback.. They pride themselves in knocking a quarterback to the ground."

Fedora is well aware of Colon's assignment Saturday evening, but he believes the big senior is up to the task. Having Colon healthy this season, he says, is making a huge difference in the way the Gators are able to diversify the offense, showing tremendous balance in the running and passing games.

"He (Colon) has been tremendous for us," said Fedora. "Look what he's done for us already. He's the guy we always thought he was but now he's healthy. We're getting a lot out of him."

ZOOKNOTES: Zook said that injury wise, the Gators are in good shape. Corey Bailey had a dinged up ankle but he was at practice Monday. Tight end David Kenner had his ankle in a boot, but he was the only player to miss practice... Zook thought Saturday's blowout loss for LSU to Georgia (45-16) was just an aberration. "There's a thin line between you're a-game and you're a-minus game," he said, believing that LSU was off just slightly but that was enough for Georgia to capitalize.

Zook said it doesn't matter who LSU plays at quarterback, senior Marcus Randall or freshman Jemarcus Russell. "Somebody's going to take a snap," he said. "It doesn't make any difference to us, you just better be ready to play." Zook said the only difference he sees in the two quarterbacks is experience.

Although he much prefers to play day games, Zook said he is hoping The Swamp is a zoo Saturday night. "We will really need our fans," he said. "We need them to be excited. We need their energy. It's going to be one heckuva football game against one heckuva football team that's coming in here."

Zook said he's had a discussion with quarterback Chris Leak about trying to leap over defenders. He gave a wry smile when the topic was mentioned after practice. He said the whole play only took a couple of seconds but it seemed from his vantage point on the sidelines "like a minute and a half." In discussions with Leak he "probably said something (to Leak) like he doesn't need to do that anymore."

Fedora said when he saw Leak go airborne, all he could think was "NO! My heart was in my throat. I wasn't real excited about it. I've looked at it and on film it looks even worse." Fedora, too, has had discussions with Leak to the effect that going airborne "Well, that's not going to happen again."

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