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Dominique Easley played his last game against Tennessee before a knee injury ended his season.

Thursday November 14, 2013Easley: 'Overcoming Obstacles in Life, I do it Everyday; This is Not Any Different'

Dominique Easley played his last game against Tennessee before a knee injury ended his season.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The days are long and tedious.

Twice a day, Dominique Easley trudges into the Andrews Institute in Pensacola for rehab sessions on his surgically repaired right knee. The first session usually starts around 10 a.m., the afternoon session around 2.

His family has helped him get around since surgery to repair a torn ACL and medial meniscus on Oct. 17. Easley is finally starting to get back to his old self.

“I’m walking,’’ he said Thursday afternoon on his way to his second rehab appointment of the day. “I started to walk last week.”

The Florida defensive tackle was playing like an All-American in the first three games of the season for the Gators. In wins over Toledo and Tennessee, and a 21-16 loss at Miami, Easley was Florida’s best defensive player with four quarterback hurries and two tackles for loss.

Equally important, he was the Gators’ emotional leader.

Dominique Easley

NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay, who is director of scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc., was impressed at the start of Easley’s senior season.

“He was playing like a first-rounder before the injury,’’ McShay wrote recently on his blog. “He had thrived after moving inside from defensive end to a 3-technique and might have been the most dominant defensive player in the country at the beginning of the season.”

Three days after Gators starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending broken leg in the first quarter against Tennessee the Gators were at practice the night of Sept. 24. Near the end, Easley went to make a cut to defend a play.

His right knee gave out and Easley dropped to the turf.

“I knew right away,’’ he said.

The next day he received word from trainers that it was a torn ACL, the second of Easley’s UF career. As a sophomore in 2011, Easley tore the ACL in his left knee during the Florida State game.

He rehabbed the knee and was able to return to start 11 games as a junior, finishing with 26 tackles and a team-leading four sacks.

The mission this time is different. Easley is rehabbing to get ready for the NFL Draft. He recently withdrew from school to focus on his physical therapy with plans to return to earn his degree in the future.

“Of course, I have to,’’ he said. “I’ve got a mother on me about that.”

Meanwhile, it’s too early to speculate how the knee injury will impact Easley’s draft status. McShay had Easley going in the first round and still considers him a first-round talent.

“Based on what I saw of him in his first three games it was enough for me to move him from a Day 3 grade in the preseason to a first-round grade,” McShay said at the time of Easley’s injury.

“His tape speaks for itself and how he plays the game,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “There will be a lot of organizations that want him in their organization.”

At 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, Easley’s speed and aggression make him an ideal fit on the interior defensive line. Renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed Easley’s surgery last month and by all accounts the procedure was a success.

Now comes the hard part for Easley in his quest to get back on the field. Easley, who grew up in the New York City borough of Staten Island, said he is up to the challenge.

“Overcoming obstacles in life, I do it everyday,’’ he said. “This is not any different. Whoever knows me understands me -- it's what I do.

“I’ve done this already. I’m not worried how I’m going to come back. I know I’m going to come back stronger and faster. I’m breaking down my body to rebuild and will be better than I was. It’s just another course in life to take. I look at it that way.”

Easley plans to leave Pensacola soon for South Florida, where he will work out with the same trainer who conditioned former UF teammate Matt Elam prior to last year’s draft. Elam was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

Easley said he still maintains daily contact with his teammates and will be at The Swamp on Senior Day when the Gators host No. 2-ranked Florida State on Nov. 30.

Since his injury, Easley has watched the games on TV and has been amazed at the Gators’ misfortune like everyone else.

“It’s been crazy,’’ Easley said. “I’ve never seen something like this happen before.”

The 4-5 Gators play at No. 12 South Carolina on Saturday needing two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible. Florida has not missed a bowl game since 1990, before Easley was born.

He was not surprised Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley voiced support for Muschamp on Wednesday.

“I always knew that,’’ Easley said. “The way the season has gone this year, that’s nobody’s fault. No one can control what has happened. Everybody knew what direction we were headed until all the injuries.”

As Easley looks forward to rejoining the Gators for one final time on Senior Day, he has one eye on the draft in April.

Between now and then, he plans to lose a lot of sweat – once in the morning, once in the afternoon – as part of a different kind of two-a-days.

“[The draft] all depends on how the rehab goes,’’ Easley said. “That’s a goal, but not right now. My goal right now is to get my knee better. I can’t think ahead. Without my knee being better, I can’t go nowhere.”

 

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