Mattison: DL Recruits High Character, Talent

In Greg Mattison's defensive philosophy there are two critical points to remember: (1) it all starts up front and (2) make the quarterback pay. So, it should be no surprise to anyone that the defensive linemen of Florida's recruiting class of 2006 are tough, quick guys who share a love for doing the dirty work in the trenches and chasing down quarterbacks.

"And best of all," says Mattison, who is Florida's co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, "they're all tremendous young men with outstanding character … guys you just won't have to worry about on the field because they all play hard every play and guys that will live their lives right off the field.

"The thing that makes this class and these guys so impressive is they are the guys we hand picked. They are the guys we zeroed in on right from the start as the guys we said we'd love to have. We think all five of them are a perfect fit at the University of Florida."

The defensive line class includes defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham of Stone Mountain (GA) Stephenson and Lawrence Marsh of Augusta (GA) Josey along with defensive tackles Corey Hobbs of Oviedo (FL), Brandon Antwine of Garland (TX) and Terron Sanders of Bradenton (FL) Southeast.

Depth on the defensive line will be one of the strong points for the Gators in 2006 so there is no pressure for any of these five to come in and produce immediately. Mattison says they will be brought along at a steady pace and they will be mentored by the veterans.

"These are five kids that we won't have to mess around with," said Mattison. "We won't have to babysit them because all five of them are good character kids who will do everything we ask them to do on the field. I guess the right words here are pride and character because guys like that get the job done."

The Gators lost only one starter on the defensive line in end Jeremy Mincey. His place in the lineup will probably be taken by Joe Cohen with explosive Jarvis Moss, who led Florida with 7.5 sacks while starting just half the season, at the other end. If Ray McDonald comes back strong from knee surgery, it's likely he would step in and Cohen would move inside to tackle. The Gators also have Derrick Harvey coming back as a third year sophomore and he's expected to have an outstanding season. Inside, the Gators have perhaps the best tackle tandem in the SEC in Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris. Clint McMillan got valuable experience as a backup last year and Javier Estopinan and Branden Daniel are expected to contribute at tackle now that they are healthy.

With so much experience ahead of them, the five incoming freshmen will not have to learn on the fly. They will benefit from plenty of coaching and have a chance to get bigger, stronger and quicker before they have to take the field.

Cunningham has tremendous quickness off the snap and the kind of speed off the edge to become a recurring nightmare for quarterbacks. He's 6-4, 215 now so he needs to bulk up to become a factor in the SEC but Mattison sees a brilliant future for this playmaker who averaged almost 15 tackles per game.

"I don't think he gets as much publicity or as much credit as he should get," said Mattison. "We think he's an unbelievable talent. To play in the type of league he played in and to have 25 sacks in his senior year after getting 20 or so as a junior is just unbelievable.

"He's just what you're looking for in a fox end … a jet coming off the corner. He's another guy that if you could have been in his home you could say immediately this is a high character kid, just a great young man. We think he's going to be the prototype fox end when he gets up to about 240 or 250. He was the number one fox end that we were looking at in the country."

Marsh is 6-5, 260, and projects to grow into a 275-280-pounder that plays the strong side. He had 14 sacks and 17 tackles for loss on a team that went 0-10.

"This is a guy that can get big and strong enough to put an edge on your defense to play over the offensive tackle or tight end," said Mattison. "We wanted a guy like Ray (McDonald) … a big, strong guy who has the strength and quickness to do that. We think he's got tremendous potential.

"Here is another kid that going into his home you just knew he was a good fit for us here. It's a tremendous home …his mom, aunt and uncle are there for him to love him and care for him. His support system is tremendous. He's going to make his family very proud of him."

The Gators got Hobbs and Sanders early in the recruiting process. Hobbs committed to the Gators back on Father's Day and that was his Father's Day gift for his dad, Randy. Sanders came to the UF summer camp and promptly made mincemeat of every offensive lineman he faced. He committed to the Gators in the summer immediately after he got his offer.

"Corey Hobbs is going to be an outstanding football player for us," said Mattison. "He has a great motor and he just won't quit."

Selected to play for the East in the US Army All-American Bowl, the 6-5, 310-pound Hobbs was the recipient of the prestigious Doc Blanchard/Glenn Davis Army of One Award in San Antonio. That award is given to one player from each team that best personifies high standards of excellence in community service, academics and athletics.

"This is a kid who is just what I'm looking for," said Mattison. "He has unbelievable character and he will be just as good as he wants to be here."

Sanders was not high on the radar of any scouting service but when he came to the Florida camp, the Gators saw a kid who plays with tremendous energy and passion for the game. In the Florida camp the 6-2, 298-pounder was a dominator and like a sponge in that he quickly absorbed everything the coaches taught him.

"Any time you have a chance to see a kid like him go against the best players and he does so well, you know you're not making a mistake," said Mattison. "For three days he went against the best every single day and he kept making plays.

"He's such a humble and hard working kid from a really great family. He just wants to be the best."

Brandon Antwine was the one defensive tackle that everybody in the country wanted. Florida duked it out with Southern Cal to win the recruiting battle for this 6-0, 275-pounder and it was the personal relationship that Coach Urban Meyer and Mattison developed with him and his mother that sealed the deal for the Gators.

"You're just going to love this kid," said Mattison. "Everybody is. He's not only a great football player but a great person who has such high character. He has a real desire to succeed.

"You're going to have to hold him down before games because he is so wired and ready to play. Brandon is exactly what we're looking for in the nose guard. We don't like tall nose guards and he's quick enough to get in the crease."

When Mattison surveys the five talented kids whom he will be coaching in the fall, he sees hard workers that are motivated to succeed both on and off of the football field.

"It's more than what you do on the football field," he said. Our goal is that they will get their degrees and be something in life. As coaches we tell them we will give you everything that we have. All we ask in return is that you give us everything you have and that's a fair deal. That's all you can ask of them as young men and as football players.

"You want a group of guys who have great talent but when you say go hard as you can go and go to class and do the right thing when you're off the campus, they do it. That's these five guys and they'll fit in with the guys we've got. That's what our program is all about here."

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