Michael Pouncey is one of the more unselfish big time players to ever wear a Gator uniform. As a freshman in 2007, Pouncey was quick to move to defense when the coaches were desperate for some size and athleticism in the middle of the defensive line. Pouncey had always played beside his brother Maurkice on offense, but when he was asked to help his team he jumped at the chance.
A year later, the Gators had a stealthy defense and Pouncey moved back to the offensive line where he started for the national championship team in 2008, right along side his brother.
A year later, he was left with a huge decision. He could forego his senior season at Florida and opt for the riches of the NFL, or he could stay at Florida and play with his other ‘family’ and finish up his senior season. Maurkice went on to be a first round pick and Michael was going to likely be not far behind him, but he decided to stay.
Saturday he was caught in a moment of reflection when he entered the field through the tunnel for the last time. Tears streaming down his face, Pouncey put his helmet on his head to hide his tears as he made his way to embrace head coach urban Meyer and then on to his family at mid field.
“I didn’t want to show everybody I was crying, but it was an emotional day,” Pouncey told the media after the game. “I gave my life to this program and it paid off today by getting a win out there.”
In a season filled with turmoil and inner-team turmoil, this game epitomized the bond that the older and younger guys have formed as the season started to come to a close.
“More than any other win, this one meant the most to me,” Pouncey said. “It was senior day and we didn’t have the season we wanted to. We had a bunch of younger guys rally behind the seniors and pull this victory out.”
Four years ago, Pouncey and senior safety Ahmad Black came to Florida form one of the more storied programs in high school football. At Lakeland, the Pouncey, Black and five other Gator signees that year won back to back high school national titles. Still, according to Pouncey his years at Florida have been his best.
“I talked to my brother and he said just be proud,” Pouncey said. “I got to run out (of the tunnel) with Ahmad and he’s a guy I got to come into school with. We won championships in high school and won championships at Florida together. He and I cried in the tunnel because these four years at Florida went by fast and it is the four best years of our lives.
“We were just saying that these four years went fast and how much we appreciate each other and for being there for each other. We put in all that hard work together. You think about all the hard work you put in and for it to pay off like this is just a blessing.
“Running out there today was the last tie I was going to run out in that stadium and play in front of Gator nation. It meant the world to me and it meant the world to win that game too.”
For the first time in a tumultuous season, the Gators played a game and had fun doing so at home. Much maligned quarterback John Brantley actually caught a touchdown pass after that has been something discussed by fans and media alike for weeks.
“We were joking about that a lot,” Pouncey said about the play. “We wanted to get it to him last week, but we never could get it going. That was a play we had, but we knew they weren’t going to cover him, so we knew it was going to be wide open.”
On a nostalgic day, Florida found a way to take care of one of the guys that do a lot of dirty work and never seem to reap the rewards. Walk-on Gary Beemer was given three chances inside the two-yard line to run for a touchdown and the third time was a charm. The play meant a lot to Beemer and his teammates including Pouncey.
“He’s a walk-on and works harder than anyone on the team,” Pouncey said of Beemer. “He gave his life to this program too. He doesn’t get all the fame and glory. He is just one of the guys that works hard in practice. We love him like a brother and it meant a lot for him to just be on the field with the Gators.
“We love Beemer, he has a great personality. Coach already hired him as a strength coach, so he is going to have a wonderful career here.”
With all the fun, the Gators needed the win. All the feel good of a couple of positive weeks turned to dust a week ago when the Gators lost at home big and any chance at winning the SEC. Getting their feet back on the ground was important and heading into a rivalry game with Florida State next weekend.
“We needed it a lot,” Pouncey said. “We came out and played well today and needed that to roll into next week to build some of these guys’ confidence back up. This (Florida State) is a big rivalry game. This is another must win for us and if we win this one there will be a lot of proud guys on this team.
“It is really important, I never lost to them. It’s a rivalry game and we are going to bust our behinds this week in practice and let it pay off this weekend.”
The importance of the next game is now at hand. Winning that game is paramount to thinking back on this season as a successful one.
“It will make a disappointing season into one that pays off at the end,” Pouncey said of they can win the game next week. “As long as this team sticks together and wins another game or two, we will be proud of this season.
“(Pride) all we talk about, we can’t go to the SEC Championship, so we are playing for pride for this University.”
One thing that has been learned from this season is that Florida will have to rely on both youth and experience to win moving forward. The 2009 team was a totally experienced team that just came in and willed 13 wins. A lot of those left and the time it took to try and make the young and old guys one cohesive unit has come and gone before they could get the wheels set in a positive motion.
Pouncey thinks this Florida program will be back soon to winning those championships.
“We have a lot of great young players,” he said. “We see flashes of them every weekend. They will get their act together. Florida isn’t going anywhere and will be back to one of the premiere programs in the nation next year.”
But next year is one that the Gators will play without one of their best linemen they have ever had, on the field. The Gators will miss Michael Pouncey for all that he tried to accomplish at Florida. However, it may be Pouncey that misses being here even more.
“I will miss the Gator Walks, and playing in front of our fans,” he said. “It is just amazing playing here and I feel like I made the best decision of my life to come to Florida. I learned so much and won a lot of games. To go out like this is just amazing. We accomplished a lot here at Florida, but the thing I will miss most is the fan base.”