Big Shoes to Fill

There may be no bigger shoes to fill after last season's national championship season than those of Brandon Siler. Siler was the emotional leader for the Gators, but also backed-up his leadership with outstanding play on the football field. Sophomore Brandon Spikes is expected to fill those shoes this fall, but it hasn't been an easy journey.

Brandon Spikes came into Gainesville in Urban Meyer's heralded recruiting class of 2006. As a true freshman, he saw action in eight games, and even started against Division I-AA opponent Western Carolina so Siler could rest a sore knee.

But Spikes' real journey began this past spring when Siler passed on his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. From that point forward, Spikes was the frontrunner for the starting middle linebacker spot in the fall, a spot that Meyer points to for leadership and toughness. The Gator defense starts with strength up the middle, so even though Spikes looks the part, he also needed to act and play the part.

"I don't think he handled it January, February, March," Meyer said last week. "Preseason is really hard. We don't spend as much time teaching guys how to bench press as we do trying to back them into a corner to see how they fight their way out and he didn't pass that with flying colors. However, right now I'd have to grade him a solid B or even heading towards an A because right now he's practicing real hard, he's trying to keep that defense together."

Florida's intensive offseason program includes mental training just as much as strength and conditioning. It's in February that the staff learns how a player handles when it's fourth and goal on the 1-yard line in a crucial situation.

"A lot of times in the weight room I had a hard time adjusting to the way you work out and train," Spikes said. "With me being a middle linebacker, I need to be a tough, strong guy, and at times I got frustrated with the things we were doing in the offseason. I didn't perform the way he wanted me to, but I came out during camp though and showed him that I was ready and wasn't going to give up again."

Meyer was also concerned with Spikes' ability to lead.

"With me being a middle linebacker, he wasn't sure if I would be ready with the guys following me and stuff like that," Spikes said. "He just wanted me to be strong."

Spikes has had a solid start to fall camp, and he's earning back Meyer's trust as the starter of one of the defenses most coveted positions.

"He talked to me the other day and said in the spring I didn't trust you, but now I think you are going to be ready for the season," Spikes said.

With the linebacker corps starting to take shape, so is the entire defensive unit after losing nine starters from last year's squad.

"Everything is going great right now," Spikes said. "The guys are coming together and are executing their plays on defense. The intensity level of the defense is great right now."

The Gators are also getting some depth at linebacker thanks to some guys who were in Spikes' position last year. Freshman Lorenzo Edwards came in as a safety, but was moved to linebacker right away and is working his way into the two-deep rotation.

"Lorenzo is a good guy, he's a smart kid," Spikes said. "He's handling things better than I did in my first year. He's coming on."

Just last week, Meyer moved freshman heavy hitter Jerimy Finch also from safety to linebacker.

"He's a very talented guy," Spikes said. "He just needs time to come along and learn the plays. He'll be all right. I think he'll be ready for the season."

While the linebackers are learning their new roles, Spikes hopes most of his learning is in the past.

"I think I did [learn from the spring]," he said. "When stuff gets hard, just don't quit and keep going through it."


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