"It's no secret," Duke Lemmens said, shrugging his shoulders. "I've played every year here and just been a suitable backup. I've never been a star. I had the privilege of backing up great guys while I was here. That kind of played into my mindset last year. I wasn't going to be a Jermaine Cunningham, but this year I have a real opportunity to help this team win games."
The Gators lost 39 career sacks when Carlos Dunlap and Cunningham were taken in the second round of the NFL Draft. The two played so many snaps at defensive end, the Gators have no proven pass rush threat returning to the team.
They have players like Lemmens that have contributed off the bench, but there is no star they know they can count on. Lemmens hopes to change that.
"It's my last shot," Lemmens said. "I have no excuses to make anymore. I can mess around and do the things I've done my whole life after this, but this is my one last shot at college football."
The changes came off the field. He overhauled eating habits, times he went out with friends, and even improved his schoolwork, although Lemmens made sure to clarify his grades were never an issue. He is eating lean meat and eating it fast, because "if you eat slow, you play slow." It's a feeling of being grown up that Lemmens is the most aware of.
"I'm still going to do what I've always done," Lemmens said. "I'm going to practice as hard as anyone, just like I've done since I got here. But I've got to start making plays. I know everyone knows that and people have a lot of doubts in me. My one goal is to erase doubts this camp."
The work he put in over the summer was the first step to erasing doubts and giving those around him a new imagine of Duke Lemmens. His work ethic or motor on the field has never been questioned. However, the work he put in before was simply to get his workout finished and move on with his day.
This summer, that changed. He hit the weight room everyday with the mindset of improving.
"I've never taken my offseason more serious," Lemmens said. "I've always worked hard, but everything in my life changed this offseason. It's my last shot. I have no excuses to make anymore. I can mess around and do the things I've done my whole life after this, but this is my one last shot at college football."
While Lemmens hears the doubts about his ability from those on the outside, his defensive line teammates have heard the doubts about the talent on the line.
The defensive linemen sat in a meeting Wednesday night before camp started the following morning. They ran through the usual conversation before starting a brand new season, but this meeting had something different.
The players were informed that a recent poll ranking SEC defensive lines put the Gators seventh. Lemmens said the room grew quiet, almost surprised.
"We put that (list) out there (Wednesday)," Lemmens said. "It's a slap in the face to us, which is a good thing at this point. You never want people writing about how good you are right now. We're at the University of Florida and we always expect to be the best. I'd rather them doubt us than put us at number one. It's fuel for the fire."
Sitting in that defensive line meeting room was the top freshmen defensive line class in the country. Ronald Powell, the top defensive end and overall player in the country, has a chance to start. Shariff Floyd and Dominique Easley, the top two defensive tackles out of high school, will provide depth in the middle. Lynden Trail has speed off the edge, but still needs weight before seeing the field.
"All of them are well-spoken, great kids," Lemmens said. "None of them have come in and caused problems. A lot of times you see freshmen come in and run their mouth to the older guys. They don't do that. I think they're a great bunch. So far, they all look like incredible athletes. I think it's one of the best classes I've seen in a long time."
The optimism must be held back somewhat until the pads go on August 11. However, the freshmen have passed all the tests in the weight room and certainly look the part.
"They're genetic freaks," Lemmens said. "Even skinny Lynden is putting on some weight. (Ronald) Powell is obviously fit. Shariff (Floyd) is just a monster. He looks like a man-child. Same with Easley. They're all great kids, and it's real fun to watch them. None of them are overweight. They're all lean. In the past we've had some guys come in overweight, which delays people's progress because you have to lose that high school baby fat. These kids don't have any of that."
Follow Cody Jones on