If there is a defensive lineman in the country who knows about expectations to play as a freshman, it is Omar Hunter. He came to Gainesville before the 2008 season with the weight of the world on his shoulders, expected to play nose tackle from the first snap on a team that eventually won the national championship.
The pressure ended up being too much. Head coach Urban Meyer hyped Omar Hunter starting in the spring of 2008, before the defensive tackle was even on campus. Meyer wasn’t shy in his praise of Hunter, and the Gators expected him to start early in his first season on campus.
But it wasn’t to be. Hunter came to campus overweight and out of shape, and back injuries made playing even more difficult.
Now a redshirt sophomore, Hunter has been able to use his experience to the advantage of the team. Florida’s freshman defensive line class has already been hyped as one of the best of all time. Lofty expectations can stunt growth, and Hunter is trying to make clear to the freshmen what he didn’t understand two years ago.
“It’s a lot of pressure on you,” Hunter said, shaking his head. “You have to be in shape, and I wasn’t in shape. That’s the hardest thing they’ll have to deal with.”
Hunter has already spoken to a few of the highly regarded freshman class. Ronald Powell has a chance to start at defensive end if he can provide pass rush. Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley will provide depth at defensive tackle. Lynden Trail came in struggling to keep his weight up, but players have commented about the increased weight gain in a short span of time. Leon Orr also looks in better shape after struggling during the spring.
The talent at defensive line isn’t a question. If they can master the mental side of the game, they will see playing time early.
“I just come in and tell them to work hard, don’t get down when the coaches yell and scream,” Hunter said. “They look great, though. I’ve seen them running out there and they look great.”
Since Hunter’s disappointing freshman year, he experienced a drastic turnaround. He has dropped 35 pounds since the first day he stepped on campus. He is now slightly over 300 pounds, crediting the Florida sun for peeling the weight off him since that freshman season. The 5.1 40-yard dash time he ran as a freshman has been scraped down to the 4.9 he ran this summer.
Hunter’s diet changed, too. He stopped eating as much food and moved away from fried foods. Hunter, Carl Johnson and a few other players also worked to lose weight while riding bikes in a spin class with Meyer’s wife, Shelley. Hunter lost ten pounds during the three weeks.
“She worked us hard,” Hunter said. “Very hard.”
While Hunter’s physical condition has improved over the past two years, his relationship with defensive line coach Dan McCarney took off. Hunter now says he is “so close” with his position coach.
McCarney makes sure his players know every day that there job isn’t safe. He preaches of how the depth chart is constantly changing.
“A lot of competition,” Hunter said. “It’s going to make us better though. We’ve got to come out and play harder, and the best man wins.”
The competition will leave plenty of depth on the defensive line. The depth was tested over the past two seasons because of injuries, but heading into fall camp, the Gators look like they have depth to overcome injuries. It will also help the starters stay fresh for the stretch run of the season.
“We’re definitely going to need that depth. As the year goes on, everybody gets so worn down, so the depth can only help us out.”
The worry about the defensive line comes in the pass rush. The depth at defensive tackle is stacked with playmakers. Defensive end has plenty of bodies, but they will wait for a pass rusher to step up.
“I know we’ve got two great defensive ends that can rush the quarterback,” Hunter said. “Then we’ve got Willie Green as the third one, and Powell, I think he can rush the quarterback too.”
Justin Trattou will likely start at defensive end. He was Hunter’s workout partner during the offseason, so the two have grown closer off the field as well. They pushed each other through the difficulties of the offseason.
“He’s the one that got me where I’m at now,” Hunter said. “We’re workout partners, so he just motivated me to keep going.”
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