Next weekend is a huge one for Marcus Thomas

At 6-3 and 305 pounds, he is an imposing force in the middle of the defensive line. Marcus Thomas of Jacksonville has been a stalwart part of the defensive squad for the University of Florida football team this year. The Florida State game is next on the schedule and it is one that he looks forward to every year.

The Gators won last season's contest between the two teams in Tallahassee. The underdog Gators took away the first game on the newly crowned Bobby Bowden field. With both teams not living up to expectations so far in 2005, the Gators are looking to end their season on a huge positive note. For Thomas it doesn't get any bigger.

Thomas actually publicly committed to play at Florida State during the 2002-2003 recruiting season. In the end, the draw of early playing time at Florida was too much to turn down for the long time Seminole fan. For those reasons and others, this one means a lot.

"This is a big game for me," Thomas said Wednesday. "I always wanted to go to Florida State. It was my dream in life. I needed to make a decision on playing early, and I felt like I wouldn't play early there. That's a big game for me. It's all I grew up hearing about."

The last time the two teams met in Gainesville, the Noles snuck out of town in a game widely acknowledged as "The Swindle in the Swamp." No less than six turnovers that were all controversial calls went in favor of Florida State, who fought back from an early deficit to win the contest in the final minutes. That one dug deep into the souls of many Gator fans as most felt they witnessed a complete robbery in front of their eyes. Thomas looks forward to The Swamp and what it can do for him and his teammates.

"It's going to be great," he said. "It's in our hometown and in our stadium. That 2003 game hurt a lot because I knew we won that one. The crowd is huge, we haven't lost at all this year at home and that is one of the big goals for the season."

The Gators of late have shot themselves in the foot and not been able to live up to the early season play on defense. Costly penalties and breakdowns have plagued them into looking weaker than they feel they really are.

"This game we just need to be fundamentally sound," Thomas said. "We lost track of that and with all the penalties. We need to go back to practicing hard and practice like champions. Our defense started off well, and then we fell off track and quit practicing hard. We are going back to the fundamentals and need to stay away from penalties. That is what is killing us now, all the penalties."

Marcus will meet up with old friends this week. He played high school football with running back Leon Washington, cornerback Tony Carter, and offensive lineman Lucky Lunford all from Jacksonville. A week from Saturday those guys he calls friends during the rest of the year become mortal enemies in a feud that just keeps growing in intensity every year. For Thomas and his teammates, they plan on bringing their A-game.

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