Okine raring to play
Published: Friday, March 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 12:13 a.m.
During Florida’s national championship run last season, defensive end Earl Okine had only one highlight moment.
He was named scout team player of the week for his effort in helping UF’s offensive tackles prepare for LSU.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the former Gainesville High standout. He gave up most of his senior season in basketball with the Purple Hurricanes last year for one reason. To play early on the Gators’ depth-shy defensive line. He did not enroll at UF early to be practice fodder for the guys who play on Saturday.
But that’s the way Okine’s first season played out.
“When you’re part of the team during the week and you can’t play on Saturday, it kills you,” he said. “I wanted to be out there with my teammates. I felt horrible. I wasn’t contributing.
“I’m used to playing and didn’t like watching from the sideline. It was horrible last year. It’s not going to happen this year.”
After going through spring practice a year ago and then bulking up in the weight room during the summer, Okine seemed poised to make a push for serious playing time in the fall. But the plan caved in on him when he contracted mononucleosis before the start of the season and lost almost 50 pounds.
By the time he was ready to get back on the practice field in the fall, he was too far behind to catch up.
“I had mono and a whole bunch of other stuff (physically wrong),” Okine said. “I lost a lot (of weight). I was down to like 225. I was too small.”
So instead of competing for playing time, he spent his first season at UF on the scout team competing against the starters and backups to get them ready for game day.
He picked up a national championship ring, but he said he’s not so sure he actually deserved one.
“To a certain extent, I feel like I did because I was helping (starting offensive tackles) Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins get better,” Okine said. “On the other hand, I didn’t play so I didn’t feel like I helped at all.”
Okine is ready to help now, ready to play, he said. He’s healthy, he’s stronger and he’s carrying 280 pounds on his athletic 6-foot-7 frame now. And he’s ready to compete for playing time at two positions - end and defensive tackle.
“(Defensive line coach Dan McCarney) is talking to me about how it’s time for me to contribute any way I can,” Okine said. “I could play defensive tackle and end. I have a better chance of playing more if I’m playing two positions.
“I played defensive tackle in high school and a little bit last season. I’m used to it. I like end and tackle. It doesn’t matter to me where I play, as long as I play.”
At 280, he’s still probably a bit undersized for tackle. But he’s about 55 pounds heavier than he was early last season, so he’s got a chance now.
Okine said he gained the weight by changing his diet and hitting it hard in the weight room this winter.
“I started eating healthier, and eating a lot,” he said. “And I worked hard. I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I drank nothing but water and ate healthy.
“This spring, I feel I have to go harder and get better if I’m going to play next year.”
UF coach Urban Meyer said if Okine wants to play, it starts right now.
“He’s bench pressing 400 pounds,” Meyer said. “He’s either going to play or he’s not. If he waits until July to go make his push, or August, he’s going to watch a lot of football for us instead of playing.”
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