Pouncey Twins: There's No Changing Our Minds

After a couple of hours of going over the pros and cons of the University of Florida late Tuesday night in their Gainesville hotel room, Lakeland's Pouncey twins, James Maurkice and Michael LeShawn, decided to turn out the lights and sleep on a life-changing decision. When they woke up Wednesday morning, they were completely at peace and ready to announce they were going to be Florida Gators.

(James Pouncey and LaShawn Pouncey profiles)

The first thing they did was call their parents, Lisa and Rob Webster. Lisa and Rob had been to Gainesville a couple of days before and they were impressed with the University of Florida campus, the academic environment and the coaches. While the decision of their twins might have been a little bit surprising since the whole family had been Florida State fans for a long time, Maurkice and Michael knew they had made the right decision based on the reaction of their parents.

"We woke up and knew that this was the right place for us to be," said Maurkice in a telephone interview with Gator Country Saturday evening. "All along we've told people we were going to follow our hearts. Well, we're following our hearts. After coming up to Gainesville, we knew in our hearts that this was the right place to be so we called our parents to tell them."

Lisa Webster answered the phone Wednesday morning and while she might have been a little bit surprised that her boys' decision would come so quickly, she was comfortable that they had thought things through.

"We said 'Mom we want to make a big decision and we want to commit to the University of Florida' and she was okay with that," said Maurkice, a 6-4, 290-pound guard. "When we told her this was the decision we really want to make and told her the reasons we were making it, she wasn't disappointed at all. She was never disappointed, in fact she was happy. She just told us that Florida is really strong on making your grades and that means that if we go there we're going to have to work that much harder than we would any place else. She really loved Coach (Urban) Meyer and our dad really thought this was the right place for us."

On their way home to Lakeland Wednesday morning, they called Coach Meyer to tell him they had made their decision. Michael said they could tell by Meyer's reaction that they had made the right choice.

"When we were there [at the Florida camp] he spent a lot of time with us … all the coaches did," said Michael, also 6-4, 290 and a tackle for Lakeland's Dreadnaughts. "They made us feel welcome, like this was the place we really needed to be. When we told him we were going to be Gators he told us welcome to the family."

* * *

The family atmosphere that Meyer has built at the University of Florida is quite similar to what Maurkice and Michael Pouncey feel they have at Lakeland High School. The Dreadnaughts have become one of the most talked about high school football programs in the nation under the direction of Coach Bill Castle. This year Lakeland will be out to win its third straight state championship, its second straight USAToday national championship and run the table for the third straight year to extend the winning streak to 45 games.

At Lakeland, the football team is like a band of brothers. The kids that make up this team are close friends on and off the playing field. They tend to travel in packs and when you find one or two Dreadnaughts hanging around, it won't be long before they're joined by several others.

The most talked about star on a team that has at least nine Division I prospects is tailback Chris Rainey, a 5-9, 160-pound catch me if you can dynamo that alters games with his speed and dancing feet. When Rainey committed to Florida back in May, that got the Pounceys thinking seriously about the Florida Gators. When teammate Ahmad Black, a tough guy corner who not only locks down receivers but is the leadership heart and soul of the Lakeland team, spurned an offer from LSU to commit to the Gators, it wasn't long until the Pounceys decided they needed to be Gators, too.

"Ahmad was all set for LSU and then he got to camp at Florida," said Maurkice. "We talked to him and all the reasons he wanted to be at Florida were the same reasons we decided that Florida's the right place. Coach Meyer … we love the guy … and all the other coaches, too. They have the academics we want because we want a meaningful career someday when our football career is over. The whole atmosphere is right. It's like a family there."

The days at the Florida camp were almost like an extension of the way that Castle does things at Lakeland.

"Coach Castle has made us like a big family there at Lakeland," said Michael. "That's got a lot to do with our success. We looked at what Coach Meyer is doing at Florida and we knew that it's the family atmosphere that we want. The players are close. The coaches are close and they are really into it with the players."

In the few days they were on the Florida campus, they got plenty of time with Meyer, which proved to be a decisive factor when they made their final choice.

"Coach Meyer is always so positive, so upbeat and he'll do things like go down to the weight room and lift weights with you," said Maurkice. "He knows you and he lets you know he wants to know you more."

The fact that Meyer went out of his way to spend time with them wasn't lost on Michael.

"In all the time we've been going to games and stuff up at FSU, and we've been big Seminole fans, we met Bobby Bowden only once," said Michael. "We went by his office and he was in there so we said 'Hi Coach Bowden' and he said something like 'Hey, how ya doing? Nice having you here' or something like that. It wasn't very personal.

"We went to the University of Florida and it was like a totally different lifestyle. The coaches know you by your name and they speak to you and talk about stuff with you. They take the time to get to know you. The coaches sit down and eat with you and talk about what you want to do in the future and you know they really are interested. Coach Meyer is the one that made the decision easy for us. He likes hanging out with us … me, my brother, Chris, Ahmad … all the guys. You wouldn't catch Bobby Bowden hanging around with us. Can you imagine Bobby Bowden walking around campus with us? Coach Meyer did. He spent the time with us and made us feel like we were coming into a family."

* * *

The Pounceys, Rainey and Black camped at Florida along with Lakeland teammates Stevie Wilks and Paul Wilson. Wilks is a hard hitting 6-3, 190-pound safety who teams with Black to take away one side of the field for the Dreadnaughts. Wilson is a wide receiver who runs such smooth routes that his electronically timed 4.5 speed is deceptive.

"They're going to be next," said Maurkice. "Stevie is going to be next, that's for sure, and when Paul gets back from South Carolina's camp, that's when he'll join us. That's six of us who are going to be Gators."

And there are two other Dreadnaughts that the Pouncey twins believe will be Gators in the long run.

"Jordan (Hammond) committed to LSU but he hasn't visited there yet," said Michael. "Once he gets out there and then once he comes to Florida and sees the family atmosphere and all of us from Lakeland there, I think he'll come around. John (Brown) is our cousin. He's working hard in summer school right now because he knows that if he gets things back in shape on his grades and works as hard as he can on his grades in the fall, he can come to Florida, too. We'll be helping him."

Hammond is a 6-4, 225-pound athlete that projects at three positions --- tight end, defensive end and outside linebacker. In Lakeland's defensive set up, he's a standup defensive end in a 5-2 alignment which means he is essentially already playing outside linebacker. His speed and lateral movement probably make him a natural to play that position at the next level.

Brown is a five-star (by Scout.com) defensive tackle, a 6-0, 295-pounder with amazing agility to go with brute, straight ahead power. In last year's state 5A championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas, Brown took turns taking Notre Dame recruits Sam Young and Daniel Wenger to school as Lakeland won the title in a blowout.

"Eight of us from Lakeland at Florida," said Michael. "That would be something if it happens … and it could."

* * *

Saturday Maurkice and Michael spent part of their day doing some shopping. The family has been wearing garnet and gold a long time but the twins decided a change of décor is in order.

"We bought everybody some Gator gear," said Michael.

"Everybody wore their Gator shirts to the movies today," added Maurkice.

Getting used to the new colors won't take long at all, said Michael. Lakeland's colors are orange and black, so it's simply a matter of substituting blue for black at the next level.

"Cut my veins and I already bleed Lakeland orange," said Michael. "Now you can cut them and there's some Florida blue."

Immediately after the twins announced for Florida, a couple of websites tried to speculate that Maurkice and Michael would soon come to their senses and realize what a big mistake they made to commit to Florida.

Not a chance, said Michael.

"Coach Meyer is the coolest coach we've ever met and that had a huge factor in what we did," he said. "That had as much to do with us committing to Florida as anything. This is where we want to be. We won't change our minds. There's no turning back now. We're Gators."

Added Maurkice, "They care about you at Florida. We know they want their players to graduate and succeed once your playing career is over. They're the kind of coaches that will encourage you and hang around you. We liked everything about them and we knew this was the right place to be. There's no turning back. There's no changing our minds. We are Gators."

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