FALL CAMP: Healthy Javy Looks to Play

After two-plus years of battling injuries during his Gator career, junior defensive tackle Javier Estopinan is finally healthy and ready to contribute to the rebuilding of the Gator defense.

Estopinan is a favorite with the Gators coaches with his unselfish attitude and gritty style. His wrestling background --- he was a state champion in high school --- helps him hold his ground against larger opponents. At 6-1, 278-pounds, Estopinan is undersized by SEC standards, but that doesn't keep him from battling for a starting job this fall.

I spoke with the Gator from South Miami High School about his role in putting the Gator defensive line back together.

LV: What kind of opportunity does the departure of the veterans up front provide for you this fall?

JE: Well, we're all young and Coach Mattison is all about the best players are going to play. Right now, we just need to develop and make sure the defense is in sync. It's not about who wants to be playing, it's about who is the best fit and what defense is going to be the best out there.

LV: Are you the healthiest and strongest you've been as a Gator?

JE: Yeah. With all these injuries I've had one of my goals this year is to stay healthy.

LV: Do you feel like this is the first time you've really been able to show what you can do?

JE: I guess. I've had a lot of opportunities, but injuries have stopped be from taking advantage of them. Basically, I just have to stay healthy and get my fundamentals right. I haven't played in a long time so there's a little bit of rustiness going on. That's why two-a-days are so good because it lets you get a lot of that out before the first game.

LV: What is your assessment of the young defensive tackles?

JE: They're young and really talented. The best thing I can suggest to them is to try as hard as you can and try to learn things as quickly as you can. Our depth is short and eventually over the course of the season we're going to need ‘em.

LV: How confident are you that the Gators will be able to put together a top flight defensive line this season?

JE: We have the talent. Our coaches do a great job of recruiting guys and we have confidence in their coaching skills. We're going to have one of the top defenses in the nation again.

Making this defense one of the best in the nation is no small challenge with ten key players gone from a year ago. While the Florida Gators are awash in young talent, veterans need to set the pace and the example, especially this time of year.

Whenever you see a guy battle through repeated injuries and keep on pushing, you can't help but root for him. Javier Estopinan does not have all the physical gifts of some of his younger teammates, but he has the drive and work ethic to make up that gap and then some.

He and Clint McMillan will make sure of one thing. If the young guys want playing time, they'll have to work awfully hard.

P.S. Despite what you may see written or hear broadcast, Javier pronounces his last name ess-toe-peen-YON

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