Mattison never gave up

When Urban Meyer and Greg Mattison first came to Gainesville, the draft position of the defensive line was the furthest thing from their minds. There were injury issues, academic issues, discipline issues and more, but in two short years, the combined effort of the coaching and support staff created one of the best success story in college football.

Four linemen were drafted in April's NFL Draft, and one signed a free agent deal shortly after the draft ended. All five players had unique stories that brought them to the same place – the opportunity to play the game they love at the professional level.

"I think the kids got what they deserved," Mattison said. "Every one of those kids' stories is what college football is all about right now. To find a way to make sure your kids do the right thing, but at the same time help them any way you can to be successful."

Every player had to battle both on-the-field and off-the-field issues, but through it all, one thing remained constant. The coaching staff as a collective group never gave up on any one of them.

"We're very proud of our kids for that because we have two goals when you play defensive line at the University of Florida," Mattison said. "First is to graduate and second is to play at the next level. That's the way we recruit and that's the way we coach. We want all our kids to graduate and have the chance to play at the next level and make a living playing the sport they work so hard at."

The amount of time and effort the coaching staff dedicates to its players in all phases of their lives is what separates Florida from a lot of other programs across the country. Their efforts are paying dividends as proven by the last two recruiting classes that ranked among the top in the nation.

"It's one of the things that marks the difference between Florida and some of the other programs," Mattison said. "In today's society, all young men are going to be faced with problems. It's no perfect world out there. It's going to be how our kids handle it and how our coaches and support people work with our kids to get them through that. The easy thing to do when there is not something quite right about a kid is to get rid of him. We don't need him. But when you do that, you don't win national championships."

That philosophy was never more evident when one looks at the story of Jarvis Moss.

"I remember coach Meyer and coach (Mickey) Marotti and I saw Jarvis Moss in the spring and he could hardly stand up on the field," Mattison said. "I thought maybe we should rule him out of football. Maybe he can't play football anymore. The two of them said absolutely not. We'll go to every doctor we can to make sure we find out what's wrong with him because he's obviously not right. Sure enough, they found out what was wrong and now he's a first round draft pick."

Last spring, Steven Harris wasn't even practicing with the Gators. Off-the-field issues had dominated his life and his ability to dedicate himself to both football and academics. Harris not only made a significant contribution on the field last fall, but also now holds a degree from the University of Florida.

"He was so close to hanging it up, but decided to come back because he knew we would work with him," Mattison said. "He was so instrumental in us getting a national championship. He was a huge part of that game, and now has a chance to play with the Denver Broncos."

There is also Ray McDonald who underwent double ACL surgery last January – exactly one year before he stood on the field at the BCS title game as a national champion.

"It would have been very easy to tell Ray that's it," Mattison said. "Instead, we got both knees operated on at the same time. All of sudden, here's Ray going in the third round and probably would have gone in the first round had he not had those knees."

Whenever last year's defensive line was discussed, one was always left out of the conversation. Joe Cohen had moved from offense and defense and then rotated at every position on the offensive line. Before day one of the draft ended, Cohen was with the San Francisco 49ers.

"He was kind of the unsung guy," Mattison said. Everybody said Joe rotates. But when you watch the film at the end of the year, Joe Cohen was a huge part of this defensive line and made some unbelievable plays that allowed Moss and (Derrick) Harvey and Ray to make big plays. He got what he deserved."

There was one story that didn't work out for the Gators, but it may still have a happy ending. After serving a suspension at the beginning of the year, Marcus Thomas was dismissed from the Gators in early-November, missing both the SEC and BCS championship games.

"We tried our hardest to help him and hopefully the lesson learned is the help he needed," Mattison said.

What the future feel-good-stories are remains to be seen. Andre Caldwell suffered a broken leg, causing him to miss most of the 2005 season, but he should find himself being drafted next year. Cornelius Ingram was all but gone from Florida before former player Vernell Brown and the coaching staff convinced him to stay. He may be another big pro prospect in upcoming years.

The stories are unkown, but there is one thing for sure. The coaching and support staff will do whatever it takes to make each member of the roster successful on and off the field.


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