By Chris Harry
GatorZone Contributing Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Enough went wrong with Florida football during the fall that it would be tough to differentiate the lows from the even lowers.
Unless you’re Sharrif Floyd, that is. UF's sophomore defensive lineman tends to find the positives in everything.
“Adversity is bad ... but it’s not all bad,” Floyd said Tuesday. “There is some good in it. You learn from it and you move on.”
There isn’t a Gator on the planet that doesn’t want to move on from a 2011 season that ended with a 6-6 mark, the program’s first non-winning season since 1987. The Gators that wear the helmets -- not to mention the ones who wear the headsets -- are far more anxious than their fan base to take the field Jan. 2 against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. And not just to salvage something from a season seemingly lost, but also to spring ahead with a resounding jumpstart into Coach Will Muschamp’s second season.
In other words, the Gator Bowl isn’t an end as much as it’s a beginning.
“What we’re trying to establish in this game is what we’re going to be next year,” Floyd said. “The kind of team we’re going to be; what we’re going to bring to the table. What we’re going to show. The toughness. Everything. This is the game we’re going to put it all together. We’re done being young. There are no more excuses now. It’s get it done, learn your craft and learn the game.”
For Floyd, the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder from Philadelphia, the focus on the future rings particularly true. In some ways, Floyd’s ’11 season mimicked UF’s season in microcosm. The effort was there, but so was a lot of running in place.
That’s what a controversial two-game suspension to start the season a move to defensive end for the first time in your football life will do to a player.
The NCAA suspended Floyd to start the season for accepting $2,700 worth of expenses from charitable foundation in Philly that helps underprivileged prospective athletes attend camps and combines. At the time Muschamp said he was "angered, disgusted and disappointed" by the ruling.
When Floyd returned, circumstances dictated the career three-technique tackle slide over to defensive end. He did an admirable job there, finishing with 44 tackles (second-most among UF lineman) and tying for the team lead with four quarterback hurries.
Not bad, but not Floyd.
"It was frustrating at the beginning," he said. "I tried talking to my coaches about. They said, 'Hang in there, work with us." So I did it for the team."
Now comes the payoff for his selflessness. Against the Buckeyes and a rushing attack that averaged 195.7 yards per game this season, Floyd will be back inside and in the middle of the action, following a season-ending knee injury to Dominique Easley.
“Don’t like the way it happened or the reason why, but that’s the game of football,” Floyd said. “I can’t be more excited.”
Floyd is where he wants to be and where he belongs. As he put, he’s a three-technique tackle "from now until I'm done." It’s the place he’s always played, from which he’s always the excelled and for where the Gators recruited him during a stellar prep career.
"Sharrif will play inside,” Muschamp reiterated this week. “For a lack of numbers, we played Sharrif at end, [but] he is a more natural inside player.”
That’s not to say that Floyd’s time at defensive end was not without benefit. It’ll be a nice plus on his NFL resume reel, relative to his versatility, but the young man -- he won’t turn 20 until May -- is a tackle and is itching to get back to that pinball lifestyle in the trenches and make like the player he most admires: Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Haloti Ngata, a poster boy for “3” techniques.
“Since I’ve been playing over eight or nine years, I’ve been at the d-tackle,” Floyd said. “I know the position, I know all the blocks, I know what’s coming at me. There’s no thinking, just going. I understand it a little bit more.”
Floyd gets something of a gleam in his eye just talking about it.
“It’s a whole lot more fun,” he said. “You can’t run away. Basically, you’ve got to deal with it. You can’t say, ‘All right, [the ball carrier] is in the middle.’ It’s either here or there and that’s where I plan on being. At defensive end, they may say, ‘Yeah, he’s making plays,’ but they can run away from him. That makes it harder. And more frustrating.”
So figure Floyd on unleashing a sophomore season’s worth of frustration on OSU’s run-happy quarterback Braxton Miller (695 yards), tailback Dan Herron (596 yards) and any other Buckeye messes with the UF middle.
"Sharrif has the tools to be a difference maker at the point of attack,'' UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "He eats up space and is athletic enough to affect the quarterback in the pass rush. He is a player we are excited about moving forward.''
Oh, and there’s a nice little subplot for this next step forward: Floyd, one of the top defensive line prospects in the nation in 2009, picked Florida over Ohio State, his second choice.
“Can’t wait,” he said.
And doing it from his first-choice position.
Adversity, after all, can be a good thing.