Florida middle linebacker David Reese knew early, real early, that he would be returning for his senior season in 2019.
We’re talking August early, actually.
That’s when he sustained an ankle injury late in preseason camp and realized he would be missing the first few games of the 2018 season. And that’s when he made the decision to put his NFL aspirations on hold for another year.
Easy call, he said.
“When I was hurt, I knew I wanted to come back and see if I could put a whole perfect season together (in 2019),” Reese said. “I wanted to see if I could stay injury free and come into the next season and give it all I’ve got.”
After missing the first three games last season, including a home loss to Kentucky, Reese returned against Tennessee and had an immediate impact, leading the Gators in tackles (11) and recovering a fumble that led to a touchdown in UF’s 47-21 win.
He stayed healthy the rest of the way and had a typical Reese season, finishing second on the team in tackles with 77 and recording nine tackles for losses, four sacks and five pass break-ups.
Despite putting lots of good stuff on tape for the pro coaches and scouts to analyze, Reese stuck with his original decision to return for his senior season. He didn’t even bother to file paperwork with the NFL to get an idea where he might be selected if he declared for the draft.
“I didn’t do anything. I knew I was coming back,” he said.
Reese, the quarterback of the defense who is known for his high football IQ, didn’t need feedback from the NFL to know what he has to work on to improve his game and future draft status. He already knows.
“I understand what I’ve got to do. I didn’t have any questions about it,” he said. “I need to show people I can work in space. And just continue to lead my team, continue to show sideline-to-sideline things.
“That’s it. It’s just a thing where it’s time to get better.”
Working in space means making tackles in the open field and covering receivers out of the backfield. Reese has been focusing on that aspect of his game since last spring, and the work will continue under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and linebackers coach Christian Robinson.
“I’m going to put my head down and be ready to work for the upcoming season,” Reese said. “I’m going to grind and get better.”
Reese picked up Grantham’s defensive scheme quickly last spring and appeared comfortable in it throughout last season. He’s looking forward to how well the Gators perform in the defense in year two.
“We’re all going to be a lot more comfortable,” he said. “We won’t be starting from zero, we’ll be starting from a couple of steps up. Being in the same defense for a second straight year is going to do us great justice.”
Reese’s return is big for the defense, and the Gators in general. He’s not only emerged as a team leader, he’s the player on defense who makes all the calls and makes sure everyone is lined up correctly and ready to execute their assignment.
“In practice, he’ll call out our plays,” rising senior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “He knows what we’re running. That lets you know he’s always in the film room trying to get better, watching what we do and what other teams do.
“He’s a great linebacker. When he announced (he was returning), it was big. He’s a pivotal piece.”
And a tough, physical piece, running back La’ Mical Perine said.
“He’s a hard-nosed football player. He’s a throwback,” Perine said. “He’s one of those old-school players like in the 1980s and ’09s. Tough, hard-nosed.
“If I was on the opposing team, the running back on the opposite side of the ball, I would not like to run into David Reese.”