Lemmens is Moving Up the Food Chain

The Florida Gators have the luxury of returning everyone on the defensive roster from a national championship season, or so it was supposed to be. There are a couple players recently out of school for one reason or another from the defensive front and now the Gators are going to need all hands on deck along the defensive line in 2009. Duke Lemmens is doing his part so he can make a difference.

With the recent departures of Torrey Davis and John Brown from the defensive line and some others being shifted around, the numbers along the defensive line have dropped. Ends Jaye Howard and Earl Okine have moved inside to tackle and so the end position is down to five bodies and only four healthy so far this spring.

Junior Duke Lemmens has not seen a lot of time on the field in his first two years at Florida, but he has been in there in a few big situations. Always a bit undersized for the SEC, Lemmens relied on his tenacity and quickness to make anything happen for himself and the Florida defense.

Now, starter Carlos Dunlap has been sidelined and Lemmens is vying for time to play in that vacated spot this spring. He along with fellow junior Justin Trattou are competing in order to make this Gator defense even better than the one that finished eighth in the country in total defense last season and held record setting Oklahoma to just 14 points in the national title game. Lemmens enjoys the competition and the chance to make Florida a repeat champion of college football.

"It's early and we have so many good players," Lemmens said about the fact he is lining up with the first unit at practice right now. "I am giving it my hardest and all of us competing with each other only makes our team better. It's not like rivalries with each other, we just want to do our best. We know Carlos (Dunlap) is hurt and he's a very important part of our defense."

For Lemmens, it has been a battle with his weight since he arrived at Florida in the heralded class of 2007. Arriving at around 220 pounds, he has bulked up considerably and that bulk has allowed him to be a much better player. The weight over time has been morphed on his body to the right places.

"I am about 263 and last year going into the season I was the same but it didn't feel as good on me," Lemmens said. "This year I feel like I put it on a lot more proportioned. I feel really good about it and Coach Mick (strength coach Mickey Marotti) is really professional about it and the best in the business."

Lemmens can feel the difference in his body on every snap as he tries to go up against some of the nation's best offensive linemen. It has allowed him to move from the smaller end position Florida calls the Fox to the regular defensive end position.

"It is crazy how much it's changed," he said about his play on the field. "My freshman year I felt like I won if I didn't get driven five yards back. Now, I feel like I can stale mate with some of our biggest guys. I am never going to win a one on one drive blocking contest with Carl Johnson, but I feel like I can compete and shut off blocks at the line of scrimmage. I am playing a lot more end when I wasn't able to do when I was a lot lighter at Fox you can get away with it because you don't have a tight end on you."

It is still a battle for Lemmens who knows Marotti will be on him if he doesn't regulate his body to the weight that will allow him to compete at this level.

"Every day, if I'm not at my weight, I am drinking water trying to get there," Lemmens said with a grin and a shake of his head. "It's a daily struggle...those days you want to sleep in, you can't because I know if I miss breakfast I'm not going to hit that weight and that means two pounds of water I have to drink."

It has been a learning experience and one that he knows is more a way of life as a well conditioned athlete.

"I wish I could take some pill or something," he said. "When we try and gain weight, it is just as important as the workout. You have to take the meals seriously and put the right stuff in your body."

Lemmens is having an impressive spring and really pushing Justin Trattou to be better. As of day five, Lemmens was running with the first team while Dunlap is out. His hunger to help Florida be the best is what feeds his hunger to maintain his weight.

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