Tremaine McCollum: Trying To Prove He Belongs

The end of the journey is in sight for Tremaine McCollum. His football playing days at the University of Florida are numbered. There's one more August camp and then one more regular season and it will all be over. The clock ticks daily on a football career that has been distinguished by outstanding special teams play but not a lot of time on the field as a cornerback.

It's been five years since he and his twin brother Jermaine became late additions to Coach Ron Zook's first signing class at the University of Florida. Tremaine and Jermaine were undersized but super-fast defensive backs out of Miami Southridge. Until Zook offered, they were heading up to West Virginia. Zook's gone now but Tremaine and Jermaine are still around in Gainesville, vital cogs in special teams that became some of the best in the nation last year.

Tremaine understands the importance of special teams play --- last season he recovered a muffed punt that led to a field goal in Florida's 16-7 win over Tennessee and he scored the first touchdown of the game in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone --- but he has a burning desire to prove that he can play cornerback at this level.

He's got one more chance to prove he can do it, one more season to show he is more than just a fast guy that can get on the field in punting and kickoff situations. He would like to be the 2006 equivalent of Vernell Brown. Brown had never started a game until 2005 but he emerged as a player last spring, improved in August and became Florida's best corner as a fifth year senior.

"I've been here five years and that's a long time," said McCollum, a 5-8, 175-pounder. "It's the fifth year, really kind of put up or shut up time for me."

His emphasis this spring has been to play instinctively. He's studied films and his playbook diligently to get to the point that he reacts to everything he sees without having to think about what he's doing.

"Coach (Urban) Meyer and the defensive coaches have been emphasizing going from point A to point B as fast as you can," said McCollum. "Don't think about it, just go, and they tell us they can correct mistakes so don't worry about them now. Right now they just want us to show them that we can get after the football."

During a spring in which he's fought his way through several nicks and dings, he's saved his best efforts for the final two contact scrimmages. He had an interception in last Saturday's scrimmage, his first of the spring, and he had a couple of outstanding pass breakups in the final scrimmage on Wednesday. That effort won't exactly earn him a starting job at cornerback --- Reggie Lewis and Avery Atkins have only solidified their roles as starters in the spring --- but the way teams use three, four and five wide sets these days, he'll have a chance to get on the field with the defensive unit in the fall if he maintains that work ethic.

"It's been a rough spring," said McCollum. "I've been nicked up but I'm getting the job done. I'm just working hard and I'll keep working hard. I want to get a starting spot, that's my goal, but I just want to get on the field a lot. I've still got a lot of hard work to do to get there but hard work never hurt anybody."

The hard work doesn't go un-noticed. Cornerbacks Coach Chuck Heater is appreciative of the way that McCollum comes to practice every day and gives it his best shot. In particular, Heater was happy with the way McCollum played in the Saturday scrimmage.

"We evaluate things after every practice and the bottom line is making plays. He made plays and did a good job. He's getting better," said Heater.

Heater likes tough guys, guys like Vernell Brown that play hard even when they're banged up and bruised. He's seeing a willingness to play through the dings by McCollum this spring.

"He's fought through some injuries, never complained and kept working hard," said Heater. "He's hung in there and I appreciate the effort. I'm praying that he's a guy that will help us this fall.

"The clock's ticking on his career. This is his last year and his last opportunity to make something happen. He's a senior and I pray that this will be his best year. I hope that for every senior. It's good for everybody on the team when a senior can finish up his career on a positive note. I hope that he's a guy that can help us this year."

Meyer adds, "I hope there are some Vernell Browns out there, guys that haven't played a lot of football and then all of a sudden they're going to help us."

McCollum believes the Gators have a chance to be a special team in the fall. He sees a team hungry to win and willing to work very hard to get better every week.

"We've got a long way to go to get where we want to be but I think we're willing to get the job done," he said. "I think we're willing to work as hard as we can to be a good team this year. We lost some key players, especially on defense, but we've had a good spring and now we'll have August camp to find the guys that can replace them.

"I think the team can be better this year than we were last year. We can do it if we want to. It's really up to us to want it."

Going out as a contributor on something other than special teams would be good, but going out with a championship would be even better. He's never been part of a championship team at Florida so there is incentive to make this a year he will always remember.

"It's been a good ride here," he said. "I've got one more year to go and that's not a lot of time but it's been fun and I wouldn't take anything for the time I've had at Florida. I think this will end up the best year yet."

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