GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Seven years ago, he made a cross-country recruiting visit to the University of Florida and sampled the “Swamp” firsthand.
Anybody remember the Jarvis Moss game?
Like every Gator, Duke Lemmens will never forget it. That blocked field against South Carolina -- and the entire UF experience -- converted the California kid.
“I loved the passion,” recalled Lemmens, then a defensive end with mostly Pac-12 schools on his recruiting radar. “I wanted the big stage.”
Lemmens got four years of it, signing with UF, winning a national championship in 2008 and bowing out his senior year as a team captain and with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl his final game.
Now he’s back for more.
Lemmens, one of the most popular players on the team during his 2007-10 playing career, has been hired as a defensive graduate assistant for the 2013 season and hopes to add an advance degree to the undergraduate version he earned in sports management.
Make that two former Gators with national championship rings working on the field as grad assistant coaches for Coach Will Muschamp's staff this season. Quarterback Chris Leak has been accepted to grad school and will assume duties as Lemmen's offensive counterpart.
“This is a special place and it’s so good to be back,” said Lemmens, who started 14 of the 45 games he played at UF, tallying 66 tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery along the way. “I know it’s not going to be glamorous -- not with the hours I’m going to put in and no huge paycheck -- but I feel so blessed for the opportunity to be back involved in a game I really love.”
Lemmens, 24, signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but was released before the season started. He took a crack at the CFL, spending some time with the Montreal Alouettes (led by Marc Trestman, now head coach of the Chicago Bears), but was released by that franchise, too.
During a spin in the sales world, Lemmens did some volunteer coaching for his high school, Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, and got the football juices flowing again.
When he returned to UF last spring to complete his undergraduate work, Lemmens reconnected with new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who was also an assistant under former coach Urban Meyer, and received entre’ to Will Muschamp, who eventually offered Lemmens the grad assistant post on the defensive side.
He expects to be better at it -- and enjoy it much more -- than sales.
“I tell people a bad day at football is better than a good day in the real world,” said Lemmens, who so far has embraced his duties and the time he gets with the players. “I like to ask them, ‘What are you thinking about when football is over for you?’ I like to get them thinking about, because you don’t realize -- I certainly didn’t -- that the real world is tougher than you think.”