Friday November 26, 2010A Random Stop In Gainesville Changed The Gators' Fortunes
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If you have spent much time around Tallahassee the past four years or live next door to a Florida State fan, you probably know that Gators senior center Mike Pouncey and his brother Maurkice are liked about as much as – well, think LeBron and Cleveland – by FSU fans.
Garnet and Gold one day, Orange and Blue the next.
That’s at the heart of the story of the Pouncey twins.
Maurkice is now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium, Mike Pouncey will play his final regular-season game in the stadium his family used to call their weekend home in the fall.
“Our whole family grew up Florida State fans,’’ Mike said earlier this week. “One weekend changed our whole life.’’
The weekend Pouncey is referring to came in the spring of 2006. The Pouncey twins had already committed to FSU early in their careers at Lakeland High. However, on the way home after a visit to Tallahassee, the Pouncey boys decided to pull off Interstate 75 and stop in Gainesville.
While in town they met Florida coach Urban Meyer, who had just completed his first season, and some of Meyer’s assistants. No one seemed to mind the Pounceys wore Florida State gear.
Four years later FSU fans still lament the recruiting loss, which also helped the Gators land senior safety Ahmad Black and redshirt junior fullback Steven Wilks. Maurkice is already in the NFL, and Mike and Black are expected to join him there next season.
“We knew what we had there and it’s been a heckuva ride,’’ said Steve Addazio, Florida’s offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. “[The Pouncey brothers] are great players. Obviously, we’re really grateful that they were able to be here. It was great because we knew we had landed two big-time guys that we felt had great, great futures ahead of them.’’
After they committed to Florida, the brothers had two really difficult phone calls to make. One was to their mom, Lisa Webster, a lifelong Seminoles fan. The other was to FSU defensive line coach Odell Haggins, a former FSU player who had established a strong relationship with the Pounceys during the recruiting process.
“My mom was like, ‘What are you all doing?’ She was crying and she didn’t know what to do,’’ Mike sad. “We felt like we made the best decision for us.’’
Meanwhile, you can imagine the reaction of Meyer and Addazio in contrast to FSU’s coaching staff.
“They were thrilled,’’ Mike said. “It was tough on [Coach Haggins]. It was tough on us to have to make that phone call to him because we had a good relationship all throughout high school. It was emotional for him and for us.’’
Mike started his career as a defensive lineman before switching to the offensive line late in his freshman season. Saturday will be his 53rd game for the Gators and second in Tallahassee. If the Pounceys hadn’t stopped in Gainesville that day, he would likely be taking part in Senior Day at FSU on Saturday.
Instead, an emotional Pouncey played his final home game at The Swamp in last week’s 48-10 win over Appalachian State.
Webster was there and totally at peace with how her sons’ decisions altered the family’s weekend plans the past four years.
“If you think about what the Pounceys have done for this program … to see their mom out there emotional as she was [on Senior Day] and what Florida has meant to their lives and what it means to us, that's an amazing deal,’’ Meyer said.
An important player in making everything fall into place was Gators junior receiver/running back Chris Rainey, who also starred at Lakeland High. Rainey committed to Florida before the Pounceys reversed field, and during the entire recruiting process – Rainey lived with the Pouncey family in high school – he tried to swing the Pounceys toward the Gators.
Meyer acknowledged Rainey’s role as an important factor in helping the group of Dreadnaughts – Lakeland won 45 consecutive games during their time there – become Gators.
“Chris Rainey was kind of the lead nut in that whole deal, the lead recruit,” Meyer said. “I first met him at an FCA banquet in Tampa at an Outback Bowl deal, and we developed a great relationship. And from then, the Pounceys jumped and Ahmad Black jumped and Steven Wilks jumped, and obviously that high school team will go down as probably one of the best ever.’’
Pouncey also said his decision was made easier by his perception that former FSU coach Bobby Bowden, the man who built FSU’s program into a national powerhouse and one of his mom’s idols, was detached from the Seminoles’ interest in him and his brother.
“That was one of the big keys why I didn’t go there,’’ he said. “I was committed there for like a year or two and I talked to Coach Bowden probably twice, and it was real short,’’ Mike Pouncey said. “So I guess they had somebody better than me and my brother coming in.
“At times I did meet him, he’s a great guy. You could tell he know a lot about football.’’
With the way Pouncey’s college career started, it seems fitting in some ways that his final regular-season game is in Tallahassee. After all, that’s the way it was supposed to end.
“I love playing this team because this is the team that I grew up loving,’’ he said. “I wanted to go to Florida State. It was a dream for me.’’
Pouncey’s dream turned into a nightmare for the Seminoles.