Cunningham Already Starting To Add Pounds

There is some serious talent at the defensive end position in the state of Georgia this year --- Brandon Wood, Kevin McNeil, Eric Norwood, Demarcus Dobbs are just a few. The Florida Gators landed a pair of defensive line bookends from the Peach State in Lawrence Marsh, the first strong-side defensive end the Gators have landed in a few years. The speed rush end is Jermaine Cunningham, a 4-star terror from Stephenson High School of Stone Mountain.

(Jermaine Cunningham profile)

Cunningham is considered by many to be a little small for the defensive end position at this level. has him listed at 6-4, 210 and those are very lean and cut muscular pounds. He's all muscle, no fat and he's only going to get bigger. With his own self-implemented work-out program, he plans to be weighing in around 220-225 pounds by the time he gets to Gainesville.

"I'm weighing in at about 215 right now," said Cunningham, who had 25 sacks in Stephenson's march to the state semifinals. "I'm going to try to put on at least five to ten more pounds."

A great example of this young man's character lies in his training efforts. With his weight and speed being such a critical part of his success at the next level, Jermaine wasn't content with waiting until February for his work-out program from Florida. He's taken it upon himself to start as quickly as possible. His forty time has benefited as well.

"My fastest time in the forty was a 4.58 … that was at the Nike Camp," says Jermaine. "I'm running track so I'm in the weight room trying to get a little bigger until I get down there...keep my speed up."

And if for some reason Jermaine can't get his weight up or doesn't make it to that next level by September, he would have absolutely no problem taking a red-shirt his first season. With Joe Cohen, Ray McDonald, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss returning, it might not be a bad option to consider.

"It wouldn't be a problem," he said. "I mean whenever they feel I'm ready ... that's when I'll go. I'm just going to go down and work hard and do what's expected of me."

One thing Jermaine has a fine understanding of is the team atmosphere that he's committed to. Like most of the other Florida commitments, he feels Coach Urban Meyer and his staff have done an absolutely incredible job establishing relationships with their players and recruits. It's a family atmosphere that Cunningham believes other schools are lacking. With an impressive list of offers and schools he visited during the recruiting process, he speaks from experience.

"I feel like the whole coaching staff down at Florida is good," Cunningham said. "Coach Meyer ... that's a great head coach. He's real in touch with his players and just communicates with his players and the people he's recruiting. He builds more of a personal relationship with his players, I feel."

Cunningham also likes that Coach Meyer doesn't just build personal relationships with his team. Meyer wants to prepare his players for life so they'll be able to make the right decisions when they're out in the real world. He's constantly preaching to his players to live right on and off the field.

"He wants all of his players to have good character." Jermaine said. "He wants us to do the same thing when he's around and when he's not around. Those are just the kind of players that he wants on his team."

So what's it like to be a star for your high school football team, to live in the heart of the Atlanta-Athens area of Georgia, and to commit to one of the Bulldog's biggest rivalries?

"I'm not really getting pressured from the Georgia fans," Cunningham said. "It's more from my teammates, you know ... where they're going to and more how we're going to handle when Florida plays the teams they're going to.

"I haven't really been that interested in Georgia, actually, but you know since they're a big rival of Florida, I can't be happy enough for the game it's going to be every year between two real good teams. I know a lot of guys going to Georgia, so it'll be fun playing them every year."

Jermaine got offers from just about every top-notch school out there --- USC, Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Georgia, and Tennessee to name a few. He's had an extremely busy year, a year in which he learned so much about himself and how to deal with the pressures of the recruiting process.

"You know it's funny, last year, and the year before that, I wasn't picturing myself being recruited or nothing like that," he said. "But now I've talked to all these colleges and stuff, I feel like I've probably learned a little about the game and learned how to talk and deal with the media ... stuff like that."

June and the start of Summer B at the University of Florida can't arrive soon enough for Cunningham. He's ready to be a Gator.

"I'm ready to get down there," he said. "I'm gonna try to get down there as soon as I get my diploma! I'm trying to get down there as early as possible, sometime in June. I'll be there for summer."

Jermaine plans to major in Business Management. He's already mapping out future plans for after he has his college degree.

"After school, I'm planning on getting into business," he said. "I'll eventually try to start my own business. I'd like to get into a little real estate on the side, owning some houses and flip 'em or sell 'em, rent them out or something ... some condos."

Business and real-estate are long term goals but there is also that dream that just about every kid who goes from high school to Division I football has and that's the National Football League.

"Yeah, getting into the NFL is something I'd like to do," he said. "I'm going to try to get up there."

He's already gotten his first taste of the heated rivalry between Florida and Florida State. Some Seminole fans have tried to get under his skin by comparing him to their recent defensive end commitment from Kingsland, Georgia, Kevin McNeil. The Seminoles are saying they've got the best defensive end. Cunningham just laughs when he hears the comparisons.

"Who's Kevin McNeil from Camden County?" he asked. "He's with Florida State? I think I could teach him a thing or two."

Evidently Coach Meyer and the Florida coaching staff agree.

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