As an early enrollee, Florida defensive back Trey Dean spent last spring and summer working and studying, preparing himself to play as a true freshman in the 2018 football season.
But when his opportunity came, he was, well, not quite totally prepared.
“I didn’t have my shoes tied,” Dean said. “Going into that game, I’m like, ‘No chance I’m going to get in. I’m just going to look around the stadium, take in the atmosphere.’
“I looked back and, ‘Trey, get in.’ ”
Dean’s call to duty caught him off guard because it came so much earlier than anticipated — in the first defensive series of the second game of the season.
He went from backup true freshman to sudden starter when starting cornerback Marco Wilson went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opening minutes against Kentucky.
Once he got over the initial shock — and got his shoes tied — Dean settled in and was fine, for that game and the rest of the season.
“I just had to trust in God that He was going to bring me through,” he said. “I didn’t know my name was going to get called (in the UK game). I just had to grow up quick. It’s a dog-eat-dog mentality. Eat or get eaten.”
Dean ate, thanks to getting here early and putting in the work over the spring and summer.
“Oh, (enrolling early) helped tremendously,” he said. “I would tell everybody to do it. It allowed me to learn the playbook. And our receivers are very good, too. It helped me to go against them every day. When I played on Saturday, I played with confidence.”
Now, in the middle of his second spring at UF, Dean is working hard to master a new position — the star, which is a combination cornerback/safety/outside linebacker.
Dean is still getting some reps at corner, but the ideal scenario for the Gators would be for him to become the starting star, which would put UF’s three best defensive backs — Dean, Wilson and cornerback CJ Henderson — on the field at the same time.
Star is a physically and mentally demanding position, and can seem complicated at times, but Chauncey Gardner-Johnson showed last year what kind of production it can create when it’s played right.
Dean has been picking Gardner-Johnson’s brain about it.
“Yes, sir. Most definitely,” Dean said. “Just to look at the offense’s tendencies, what they’re going to do, technique. Look at the offensive line, a lot of things. How to play it, what technique to use on what down, different stuff like that.
“Most definitely, (you have a chance to make a lot of plays). You get a lot of chances to blitz. They don’t know where you’re going to come from. Sometimes you’re going to blitz. Sometimes you’re going to play pass. Sometimes you’re going to play the run. Different things.”
The move to star moves Dean closer to the line of scrimmage. As part of his new role, he will be supporting the run defense, disrupting wide receiver screens and covering slot receivers man-to-man at times.
“Biggest adjustment is knowing I’ve got to play run and pass,” he said. “You have to get off blocks, be physical. You’ve also got to cover sometimes the best slot receiver.”
Dean said he’s already comfortable at his new position.
That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Dean’s size (6-foot-3, 194 pounds) and skill set seem an ideal fit for the position, Grantham said.
“He has corner skills, he has length, size and power and he’s a good blitzer,” Grantham said. “He’s got some toughness. When they run those bubble screens you’re going to have to take on blocks.
“When you bring him on a blitz, if a back’s blocking him, he’s going to have a chance to win that and get after them. And then he can cover. He really brings those three things to the table as a star. He’ll continue to get better.”
Dean may be at a new position, and he’s a projected starter now, but he’s going about his business just like he did a year ago.
“Same approach, just trying to get better,” he said. “You’ve just got to have the drive, the will. Nobody can take that away from me. You’ve just got to come out there and grind every day, play with confidence, never cockiness, outwork the opponent.”
And make sure your shoes are tied.