(Brandon Spikes profile)
Early on when I would call Spikes for a recruiting update, he would make sure that I knew he wanted to be a linebacker. He would ask what site I was writing for and when I told him GatorCountry.com, he assured me he would check and make sure I didn't label him as a defensive end. He was obviously bothered by all this defensive end talk.
The defensive end talk was fueled by his play as a junior when he played heavy. Even though he showed flashes of big time ability, the extra weight limited his mobility. Motivated to regain his quickness, Spikes shed close to 20 pounds prior to his senior year and in the process he became quicker and more agile. The pounds weren't the only thing he shed. He also lost that defensive end label in the process and for that, he can thank his mother.
"My mom was the most influential person on me as a player," Spikes said. "She is what has kept me going. She is strong and doesn't let things bother her, even though we went through a lot. She knows things are going to be alright even though they may not be going right. She is always telling me to keep pushing, don't be satisfied."
Dissatisfied with the thought of having to play on the defensive line, Spikes lost the weight and transformed his body into an ideal wrecking ball at the linebacker position. He now stands at 6-3, 235 pounds and can run like a deer. He was so impressive at practice sessions for the Carolina Shrine Bowl in mid-December and in San Antonio for the US Army All-American Bowl in January, that scouts and evaluators had him climbing the recruiting charts. Some were even saying he was the best linebacker at both those all-star games.
With two weeks of scrutiny, Spikes was elevated from a somewhat forgotten four-star soon to be defensive end to a five-star dynamic linebacker player that plays with ferocity and passion. He loves to play football and he's motivated to be the best by thoughts of his mother and family.
"Everything I do I try to make her happy," he said. "One day, if I keep getting better I can take care of her and my whole family. That is the whole reason I try to get better. She may not know it, but I look at her as a super hero. She has done a lot for me in the last couple of years. She always lets me know, if I'm not anything, I am still her baby."
Family is at the heart of Brandon Spikes and it is the family atmosphere that was the magnet that attracted him to Gainesville and the University of Florida. The closeness of the players and coaches at Florida offered a warm, caring atmosphere and the more he saw, the more he wanted to be a part of it.
Even on his first visit to Gainesville, Spikes could see that the players were buying into the team and family concept that first-year Coach Urban Meyer was trying to instill. The first visit was addictive and he couldn't stay away.
"I chose Florida because of the atmosphere, the academics, and the family they have down there," Spikes said. "I felt like I was home with the players down there.
"I went down there three times over the summer. I knew pretty much everyone down there. That was another thing. I knew the coaches were straight forward because I knew everyone else. I just feel like they will look after me."
Spikes is sold on Meyer's belief that a close, disciplined team is the type that will win championships. He also believed strongly that Meyer is the kind of coach that will help him improve as a player to the point that he can fulfill his lifelong goal of playing at the next level so he can take care of his mother.
"It means a lot to me to play for a coach that cares about me, a coach that wants everyone to do the right thing and just get the job done," he said. "I love that discipline. The players told me that when I went down there … they want to win ball games and let me know what I would be getting into. That was what I was looking for, the whole team doing things the right way."
One obstacle in the way for Spikes becoming a Gator, even though he had already committed to Florida, was that his mother and hero had never met his new coach, Urban Meyer. Meyer is only allowed one in-home visit during the recruiting process and Spike's mom couldn't make it to Gainesville on his official visit. Meyer was able to make it during the week leading up to signing day. By all accounts, mom was sold too.
"The in home visit went great," he said. "I wanted my mom to meet Coach Meyer. She met Doc (Gator Assistant Coach John 'Doc' Holliday) so may times but I wanted her to meet him [Meyer] and see what kind of guy he is. They kicked it off really good, and he was telling her about the program and his expectations of me.
"I think he is a real out-going person and I can relate to him. I know he is about winning ball games, winning championships and trying to make great players, and that's what I want to be."
Part of being successful is seizing opportunities and Spikes sees a great opportunity at Florida. For years the Gators have struggled for quality depth and even quality starters at the linebacker position and they still haven't recruited themselves from out of that hole. It's a big time opportunity for a difference maker at the position to step in and play right away.
"I feel like I have the opportunity to get in there early and help them out," Spikes stated. "They told me they have needs at the linebacker position, they had one that graduated (Todd McCullough) and they needed a young guy that can come in and play early. I think it is just perfect timing. I was looking for that, and it was looking for me." v The time is drawing near. In a few months Brandon Spikes will be making his way down to Gainesville and starting a new part of his life. He welcomes the opportunity to be a part of a program on its way to the top and he's ready to give the Gators all he has. He's ready to be the best he can be both on and off the field.
Gainesville is a place he knows fairly well, a place that he plans to grow and enjoy during the next four or five years of his life. He's lived his life in North Carolina but now he's ready to become a transplant, a Floridian by choice, and the one moment when he knows he belongs will be that first time he runs out of that tunnel into a jam-packed Swamp that's just ready to erupt.
"I am looking forward to getting down there to see the beautiful state of Florida and Gainesville," he said. "I loved everything about it. It just seemed like a perfect town. I want to get around the players and the coaches and work out. The main thing is I can't wait to run out into The Swamp. The whole Swamp atmosphere is outrageous."