Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 5:44 p.m.
Dee Finley is glad to be a Gator ... again.
A member of Florida's 2008 recruiting class, Finley didn't qualify academically. He spent a difficult year at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y. while his future teammates won the BCS national championship.
"It was one of the toughest things, but actually it was a lot of motivation, though, seeing how good these guys were where I was coming to," Finley said.
A USA Today second-team All-American as a high school senior, Finley added the discipline instilled in him at Milford has made him a better student-athlete.
"It helped me a lot," Finley said. "I had to get my grades and stuff down. It helped me with my responsibilities."
Now, the 6-foot-2, 211-pounder is working out at both free and strong safety hoping to find time at positions that are among UF's deepest.
Back for the Gators are junior strong safety Ahmad Black, whose seven interceptions was tied for the national lead, hard-hitting junior free safety Major Wright, athletic sophomore Will Hill and veteran Dorian Munroe, who missed last season with a torn ACL.
"I've got a long way to go," said Finley, who recorded 70 tackles and seven interceptions in his senior season at Auburn (Ala.) High School. "I'm just trying to contribute."
However, he added he thinks he's at right about the same level as other freshmen who arrived in January.
"This program is one of a kind," Finley said. "There really isn't anybody, freshman-wise, ahead of anybody.
"We all got shocked when we got here."
But that doesn't mean Finley is overwhelmed. He's already caught the attention of coach Urban Meyer.
"That Finley guy is a tough dude," Meyer said. "I was really impressed with some of the stuff (in the first spring scrimmage Saturday)."
While away at Milford, Finley said he spoke with Hill and cornerback Janoris Jenkins just about every day. And even with a lot of quiet hours to re-evaluate whether UF was the right place for him, Finley said he never wavered on his decision.
"I was 100 percent the whole time for Florida," Finley said.
Meyer said making sure Finley stayed a Gator was a new part of the coaching experience for him.
"That's the first time we did that," Meyer said. "We've never done that (place a player) before. The people at the prep school were fantastic. (Safeties coach) Chuck Heater did a phenomenal job. Three times a week there was conversation (between Heater and Finley). He monitored him. (Finley) comes from a tough situation.
"That was not easy how he ended up at Florida."
And now, even though it is a year later than originally planned, Finley said he is excited about being a Gator.
"It's a dream come true," Finley said. "I'm just happy to finally be here."
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