Competitive, confident, brash, sometimes outspoken, Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson does not seem the type to labor over potentially difficult decisions.
He usually knows what he wants and goes and gets it.
That’s certainly been the case in his two recent big decisions.
The decision to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft was easy, simple, a no-brainer. The decision that came after that was just as uncomplicated.
Coming off a breakout junior season in which he became a team leader and top playmaker, Gardner-Johnson knows the time is right to move on in his football career and start drawing a paycheck.
“I felt like I did a lot for this university,” he said. “Another year they say wouldn’t have hurt me. But for me to leave wouldn’t hurt me, so it was just a decision based on me and my family and what we were going to do.
“I felt like it was time for me to go. Not in a bad way, but my teammates respected it. They know what I can do. I know what they can do. There’s guys behind me ready to step up and step in. It’s time for them to shine too.”
Gardner-Johnson also is about to become a father. But he said the upcoming birth of his son did not factor in his decision.
“Even if I didn’t have my son on the way, I still would have gone,” he said. “This is my year. I had to bounce back and make an impact. He’s a big part of my life but I’m not playing the game for my son. I’m playing the game for myself.
“My son is another part of my life. You can’t combine with football because there’s other things in life you can focus on. One thing in life that I’m focusing on is being a good father to my son not a good football player to my son.”
The decision to enter the draft led to another decision — whether to stay with the Gators and play in the Peach Bowl or shut it down and start preparing for the draft.
It was an easy call.
At the same time he announced for the draft, he stated he would be sticking with his teammates through the bowl game.
“I came in early and the guys that came in with me, they’re still playing,” Gardner-Johnson said. “Even if it was like a lower-level game, not a New Year’s Six bowl, I still was going to play with my team.
“I started something with them. It’s out of respect given to me and all the respect given to them. We worked hard together, so it’s something that I value. I’m not going to give up on nobody. I started something, I’m going to finish it.”
Gardner-Johnson is focused on that finish right now, but he does admit he’ll occasionally check out mock drafts to see if his name pops up in the first two rounds. Having made his decision to enter the draft without any official feedback from the NFL, he doesn’t yet have a feel for where he might go in the draft.
“My dad told me not to (look at mock drafts), but late night I’m still like, ‘Hey, why am I not here, why am I not there?’ ” he said. “It’s all the offseason grind you’re going to do to get yourself in that top tier. I feel like I’m in the top tier in my mind personally, but I’ve got to do more to impress others. Stats, film, whatever you want to put out there, you’ve got to do it.
“I’m probably in the top half, but I don’t draft myself. Executives and GMs draft me. I’m not worried about it. I’m just ready to put on a show.”
In his three years at UF, Gardner-Johnson has played cornerback, safety and nickel, and has excelled at all three positions. His versatility likely will increase his NFL value, UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
“Just talking to guys in the NFL, if you look now the three-wide receiver sets, they’re probably in those now as much as we are in college,” Grantham said. “So what that means is every team up there is going to be a match team and play with three corners. So your ability to play inside adds value to yourself and what you can do.
“It’s certainly something that’s going to be advantageous to him to have done and it’s definitely a trend in the league right now.”
Where he goes in the draft and what position he ends up playing in the NFL will work itself out over the coming months. For now, Gardner-Johnson’s focus is on his final days — and final game — as a Gator.
“I’m focused on beating Michigan in the bowl game and just having fun with my teammates,” he said.