Part II: Vettel 1-On-1 With Kyle Jackson

Today we continue talking with one of the young stars of the Florida Gator defense. Kyle Jackson was impressive (to me at least) from his very first practice at the University of Florida. In fact, about a year ago when I started writing for, I listed Kyle and Tony Joiner right after Brandon Siler as the most impressive freshmen. Anyone who saw the improvement in the Florida secondary knows how much Jackson improved things in the second half of the 2004 campaign.

Many believe Florida beats LSU and Georgia if #3 got more playing time a year ago.

LARRY VETTEL: Kyle, last year I told people that right after Brandon Siler I thought you were the best of Florida's freshmen at practice. I got frustrated waiting and waiting for you to get more playing time. Did you?

KYLE JACKSON: Yeah, I keep telling people Tony Joiner and I would be sitting there watching and say, man I coulda made that play or whatever. I finally got an opportunity later in the season and made the most of it.

LV: A really big game for you had to be the South Carolina game with the two interceptions.

KJ: Yeah, that was a great game and I really enjoyed it. I hope to have many more in the future.

LV: What was it like to be playing in front of 90,000 fans, make a pick and everyone's mood changes at that very instant and you have Gator fans going nuts.

KJ: Man, it's like you're the king of the world. Like you said, 90,000 people waiting for something to happen and, bam you make a turnover and the offense takes it in for a touchdown you just feel so good about yourself.

LV: Lets talk about this defense with you, Jarvis (Herring) Tony (Joiner) and Terence (Holmes) all back, is safety going to be a real strength for the defense?

KJ: Oh yeah, plus we have Deshawn Carter who came over and played really well this spring so it's very competitive. You have Terence, Deshawn and Jarvis as upperclassmen and me and Tony are the sophomores and every day is a battle whether it's practice or the weight room.

LV: When you look at the secondary overall do you think you have a chance to be a really good unit? Especially with the questions about the corner opposite Dee Webb?

KJ: Absolutely. People are always talking about Vernell and he's too small and this but that man can work and he will make big plays. Dee Webb is very good and we had Reggie Lewis come over to corner and he's very athletic.

LV: Talk to me about Reggie a little bit, he never played corner before and he seemed to do a pretty darn good job during spring ball.

KJ: I've known Reggie since high school and I played against him. Like you said, he never played DB in his life before last spring. For him to play like he did, I was amazed, I said, whoa! He just has great athleticism and once he learns the plays he's gonna be good.

LV: You've gotten a pretty good look at this new offense from a different perspective. Talk about how this offense and the Gators receivers are going to cause problems for other defenses.

KJ: Arguably the best receiving corps in the NCAA. Chad Jackson can make a big play any time. Dallas Baker is going to have a lot of chances to score. Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell have amazing speed and if Mike McIntosh comes in healthy, he's going to be great. The thing about them there are so many of them and they are all so good they'll always have guys out there that aren't tired.

LV: Coach Meyer said in the spring Chris Leak had to be more of a leader for this team not only by example, but a vocal leader. Have you seen signs of that this off-season where this is really becoming Chris' team?

KJ: The entire team is almost surrounded by Chris right now. Chris talks, he gets up sometimes right after we run and will have a speech for us. He's opening up and starting to build this team.

LV: Did it take awhile to get used to what his voice sounded like?

KJ: (laughing) No, when I got in Chris and I hit it off right away, I guess because some people think we look alike. He wasn't much of a talker in front of a lot of people but he'll talk to you one-on-one… if you can get him started.

LV: Usually with new coaches there is not a lot of expectation, but that's not the case here where many are picking the Gators to win the SEC with a first-year coach. Do you think this team is up to the challenge of having that kind of year?

KJ: Oh yeah, looking at it we're ranked around 12 or 13 but we want to be higher. Our expectations are much higher than that and some of us are upset that we aren't ranked higher. But all you can do is go out there and show people what we're really all about.

LV: What will be different about the Gators this fall in terms of how they carry themselves on game day. Will it be better fourth quarters? What will we see?

KJ: I tell you what, when I was little I always watched the Gators and they always had this swagger about them. I think we're going to get that back with Urban Meyer. He's going to let us loose and tell us to go play some football and I think we'll bring that swagger back to what you have seen in the past. The National Championship team knew it was going to win and I think that's coming back around now.

LV: How does that swagger come back?

KJ: I think it comes from having great confidence in your teammates. I know Chris Leak is going to get that first down. Chris will believe in Jarvis Herring to get that interception… it's a matter of knowing that everyone on the team is ready to make the play.

LV: Finally, this building, "The Swamp" … a lot of people other than Gators have been winning here in recent years (six home losses in last three years).

KJ: That won't happen this year, definitely.

* * *

Kyle Jackson has been a favorite of mine from the first practice. I think he can be as good as any safety in recent years at UF, and that's saying a lot. His combination of size, speed, smarts and toughness makes him an ideal safety. His personality makes him impossible not to like.

Here's hoping he gets another interception opening day against Wyoming. It would be a great way to set the tone for the '05 Gator secondary. And it's a great way for Jackson to begin to celebrate his 20th birthday the next day.

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