Estopinan enjoying swan song

Published: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 2:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 2:54 p.m.

BOCA RATON – As Javier Estopinan went through his final practice in full pads at Florida, he couldn’t fight back his feelings.

The 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle didn’t admit to crying, but said that as he stood in front of his teammates and spoke about his time at UF in a ceremony known as “Senior Tackle,” he felt his body go weak.

“It was very emotional,” Estopinan said. “It’s always very emotional.”

Despite multiple knee surgeries coming into the 2008 season, the redshirt senior is having the ultimate swan song.

He’ll end his career with the University of Florida in his hometown of Miami in the BCS National Championship Thursday, and more importantly he’ll be playing.

A year ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.

He tore his anterior cruciate ligament for the third time against Georgia in 2007 and was lost for the rest of the season.

As summer faded into fall, Estopinan slowly saw his starting spot disappear. Once the season began, he fell out of the regular rotation in the interior of the defensive line. He was then converted into an offensive player when UF’s coaches put him into the Gators’ backfield in certain third-and-goal situations as a lead blocker. He also became an invaluable member of UF’s punt team as he was thrust into acting as the last line of defense in front of punter Chas Henry.

Without so much as a hint of resentment, Estopinan graciously accepted his new roles and is thankful for an injury-free senior season.

“It’s been great,” Estopinan said of his last year at UF. “To be able to go through a whole season – your last season – is awesome.

“I couldn’t have it any better. My last game ever (with UF) is in my backyard. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Fellow redshirt senior, and roommate, Butch Rowley said this is the happiest he’s seen his best friend since the two moved in together two years ago.

Rowley, UF’s holder, lamented about the times he came home from practice to see Estopinan slumped on the couch “heartbroken” from not being able to participate with his teammates.

Now, the rejuvenated big man is on the move constantly.

“It’s been truly a special year for us,” Rowley said of Estopinan’s progress. “Coming home every day and ‘Javi’ is running around, playing ping pong. This year we’re playing pool and going out and playing tennis. We try to keep ourselves busy and it’s great to have Javi there with us.”

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