From day one, and every day and every speaking engagement since then, Florida coach Dan Mullen has been stressing relentless effort to any and all who will listen.
Study with relentless effort. Prepare with relentless effort. Play with relentless effort.
Every. Single. Play.
He wants the UF program to be defined by relentless effort in everything the Gators do.
Now that that’s been well established, and seemingly embraced by the players, there is a new face of Florida football to match the mantra.
His name is Jachai Polite.
The junior from Daytona Beach is the hustling, hitting, raging definition of relentless effort, according to his coaches and teammates.
“You can ask some of our o-linemen about him. He’s a wreck,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “His energy level, you guys have seen it before. He’s like an energy ball.
“The running back may be 10 yards down the field and he’ll sprint, go tackle him. So, he’s an energy ball.”
The energy ball was on full display last September in the Tennessee game. Polite made a hustle highlight play that went viral on social media.
Early in the fourth quarter, he came quick and hard off the edge, getting deep into the UT backfield. The Vols threw a quick screen to speedy running back John Kelly, who took off down the sideline.
Polite turned after the ball was thrown and started to chase Kelly, who was eight to 10 yards in front of him. Relentless in his pursuit, Polite somehow managed to get in front of Kelly and bring him down 30 yards downfield.
He said that might be the furthest he’s chased down a play, but he’s not sure.
“I never count how far I go, I just go until he stops,” Polite said.
Playing with relentless effort is nothing new to Polite. He’s done it in practice and in games since he arrived at Florida in 2016. And it started well before then, and years before Mullen started demanding it nine months ago.
“I’m not going to lie, I used to slack a little bit,” he said. “But over the years I’ve learned that hustling creates opportunities. A lot of people don’t want to be the one to hustle, so I’m going to do it. Make more plays.”
That attitude seems to be rubbing off on his defensive teammates.
“I take a lot of pride in it. It gets my teammates going, too,” he said. “They all go faster now. They don’t want me to make the play. Be the first one there, so it’s all good at the end. It’s better collectively.”
Franks said Polite sets a good example of relentless effort wherever he’s at. It never stops, whether it’s in games, on the practice field or in the weight room and offseason conditioning program.
“He’s a really good player, one of the best d-linemen I’ve seen,” Franks said. “That’s a testament to how hard he works in the weight room, when we are out there running sprints, stuff like that. He’s a really hard worker.”
Said defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson: “He plays like he practices. His motor is high and he doesn’t let anything go past him.”
Polite seems to be playing faster than ever now that he’s back at his more natural position — rush end. Last season, at a little more than 270 pounds, Polite was moved inside to tackle in some situations.
Knowing he was going back to a full-time defensive end this season, Polite lost 25 pounds in Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program in the offseason.
“Savage got me right,” he said. “I’m down to 13 percent body fat, 11, somewhere in there. It’s just been a miracle with Savage.”
His teammates are predicting a big season for the quicker, faster Polite.
“One of the best d-ends in the SEC right now,” Gardner-Johnson said. “As the season goes on, one of the best in the country.
“He’s got the size of Von Miller, Khalil Mack. He can do everything. He can drop in coverage, he can blitz, he can continue.”
He can do everything. And everything he does, he does it with relentless effort.
What inspires that?
“My family is who I do it for,” said the new face of Florida football. “That’s my why. That’s why I go so hard.”
Who: Kentucky (1-0) vs. No. 25 Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Tickets: Visit FloridaGators.com. Fans may also call the Gator Ticket Office at 375-4683 or visit it on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.