It all began to click for Jachai Polite in 2017, and former UF defensive tackle Taven Bryan seemingly deserves much of the credit.
Bryan, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft this year by the Jacksonville Jaguars, wowed professional scouts with his athleticism for his size, specifically his ability to bend under the guard’s edge and get to the quarterback.
If Bryan, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing just north of 290 pounds, could create that combination of speed and power, Polite knew he could, too.
“Last year, my sophomore year. I saw Taven Bryan do it, so I wanted to be like that,” Polite said. “I used to always watch him do, like, ankle flexibility things. So I just stole his trick, I guess.”
His accelerated development as a pass-rusher — Polite is adamant he didn’t start weightlifting seriously until midway through his high school career — is even more apparent this season under coach Dan Mullen and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri.
Through six games in 2018, Polite has forced four fumbles, with much credit going to his persistence when it comes to getting into the backfield and sniffing out the quarterback. And Polite’s pair of sacks in Florida’s 27-19 win over LSU brought his sack total to six, putting him on pace to become the first UF player to record double-digit sacks since Derrick Harvey recorded 11 sacks in 2006.
Polite added six tackles and a pass break-up against the Tigers, and his combination of speed and size continue to amaze even those who witness him in action on a daily basis.
“Jachai’s speed off the ball is probably the best in the country. He’s probably hands down the best pass-rusher in the country, and I love playing with him. Just seeing that guy transform — that was my roommate coming in here, and seeing how much weight he shed, how hard he worked, and he’s always been that athletic type of guy,” junior linebacker David Reese said. “And he can stop the run also, so it’s not like he’s just a pass-rusher. He’s an all-around guy.”
If he continues playing at his current rate, Polite will only draw more acclaim — in addition to a consistent double teams from Florida’s opposition — and an NFL paycheck similar to Bryan’s should follow.
When asked about Polite’s talent level, Mullen, who abstained from watching much film from Jim McElwain’s tenure prior to either Spring or Fall camp, could think of just one other defensive end over the past two decades he has witnessed who possessed a similar all-around skill-set: Dwight Freeney.
Freeney, a seven-time Pro Bowler who played 16 seasons in the NFL before retiring in April, honed his craft as a freshman in 1998 at Syracuse — the same year Mullen served as a graduate assistant for the Orange.
“He was a freshman. Back in the old days though, too, right, you had the three-a-days, like, the freshmen came early. Coaches, they’d like to whine that it’s not enough guys, so I had to block,” Mullen remembered. “I think Polite, he’s got that type of explosion.”