UF's Anzalone brings versatility

Florida Gators linebackers Alex Anzalone, left, and Neiron Ball talk with reporters during football media day in the Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sunday, August 3, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 9:50 p.m.

After a freshman season of injuries and inconsistent play, Florida sophomore linebacker Alex Anzalone is aware that playing time could be hard to come by.

“I'm just trying to do what I can to get in there,” Anzalone said. “I can't really control how much I play.”

Anzalone is a cautionary tale that even the mostly highly touted recruits can be humbled. The 6-foot-3, 236-pound linebacker was a five-star prospect and Under Armour All-American out of Wyomissing (Pa.) High. But the recruit who flipped his decision from Notre Dame to Florida the week before National Signing Day finished with just two tackles in the 2013 season.

Of course, it could have been different if Anzalone was fully healthy. After enrolling early at UF, Anzalone suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in spring drills that required surgery. Anzalone dislocated the same shoulder and sprained an ankle during UF's loss to Georgia Southern and sat out the season finale against Florida State.

“It was tough,” Anzalone said. “You just have to think about it in ways ... you can control the control-ables. You just have to do what you can to get on the field and really just be positive.”

Anzalone is healthy now and coming off a productive preseason camp. UF coach Will Muschamp said earlier this week that Anzalone is pushing for significant playing time.

“I've been pleased with how Alex Anzalone is coming on,” Muschamp said. “He's playing both Sam and Mike (positions). He's been able to be a guy that has stepped in there and proved much from the first scrimmage to the second.”

Anzalone said he learned during his freshman season the importance of taking care of his body and preparation, both physical and mental. He also leaned on the upperclassman linebackers for advice. Playing behind talented experienced linebackers like Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball and Antonio Morrison, Anzalone said he absorbed information like a sponge.

“That's probably the most beneficial thing there is right now because I get to pick their brains,” Anzalone said. “During practice, you don't always get to ask (defensive coordinator D.J.) Durkin, what was that assignment on the play … you can ask an experienced player like that and they'll tell you and they'll help you learn.”

Ball, in particular, has become a mentor to Anzalone because both play the strong-side linebacker position. Ball said he's told Anzalone the importance of taking quality mental reps. Like Anzalone, Ball was a highly regarded player coming out of high school.

“It takes a toll on young guys mentally because that's something that they aren't used to,” Ball said. “I mean, all they have to do is keep working hard and they'll become the guy that they were in high school.”

For now, Anzalone said he'll try to keep learning while he waits for his opportunity.

“It's just part of the game,” Anzalone said. “You have to compete. That's what makes really good players.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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