Easley looks to step forward for Gators

Published: Monday, April 4, 2011 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 at 7:49 p.m.

The response from Florida football players is usually the same when they’re asked about true sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

He’s got the fastest, most explosive first step off the ball of any lineman they’ve ever seen.

We almost saw this early last fall. Easley came close to taking that explosive first step right out of Gainesville.

At least that was the perception when Easley did not show up for practice one day and the word leaked that he was packing up his locker and getting ready to head back home to New York.

Seven months later, Easley said he never really came that close to quitting.

“I was just a freshman going through a phase,” he said. “I’m over it now and I’m going on to the season.”

When Easley missed practice that day there were whispers that he was unhappy with his playing time — and unhappy with how some of the seniors were treating him and some of the other true freshmen.

But Easley said it was brought on by a simple case of homesickness.

“Yeah, almost every freshman gets homesick,” Easley said. “I went through it. Now, this is my home.”

His home this spring has been in the UF backfield, where he’s been producing tackles for loss and disrupting the offense with his incessant presence.

“That’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen somebody get off the ball,” junior middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “The quarterback is saying hut and (center) Jon Harrison is two yards deep in the backfield. (Easley’s) get off is crazy.

“Sometimes we’ll pause the film just to look. Every other defensive lineman is taking a half step or a step and he’s already taken two or three.”

He hasn’t really done it in a game yet, but Easley’s first step is already becoming legendary among the UF players.

“Easley is so explosive off the ball,” true sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell said. “His get off is just ridiculous. It makes it hard for people to block him, because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”

At one point early last fall, Easley tried to get past Powell to perhaps bolt from the team. But Powell, a five-star defensive recruit like Easley, tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam, refused to let Easley go.

Powell missed the same day of practice that Easley did. The two returned the following day.

“I was actually one of the guys that was sticking with him and talking to him,” Powell said. “Coming into this thing, we all chose to come here together, and we decided to stay here together.”

Easley returned, but many were wondering in the weeks that followed how long he would stay. Urban Meyer at the time said Easley’s status with the team was a little bit of an ongoing process.

But Easley stuck it out, and now he’s sticking it to the Florida offense this spring.

By all accounts, he’s been one of the most dominating players on defense.

“It’s been going good,” Easley said. “I’m working hard and getting into the new system and learning everything.

“We’re playing as a team. Everybody wants one goal — to win a national championship. Everyone is striving for one thing. That’s what you want on a team.”

You also want guys like Powell and Floyd playing next to you, Easley said.

“It’s great to have great players right next to you, every one of them,” Easley said. “I just want to play for my teammates, for Sharrif and Ronald and the rest of the team. They make me work harder.”

For most of the spring, Easley has been working over the offensive front with his lightning first step. He says that was what he was known for coming out of Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y.

“That’s what everybody loved about me,” he said.

Some think Easley was close to taking a quick step out of town early last season.

He says that wasn’t the case.

“I never thought different,” he said. “I never thought I was going anywhere else.”

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