Jordan Scarlett stood in the corner of an interview room in the southwest corner of the stadium, a stadium he missed and that missed him. He wore his UF-issued blue Jumpman golf shirt and, while the cameras and tape recorders pointed at him, it felt like the bulging muscles in his shoulders pointed back.
Really, it was impossible not to stare a little bit. Is he wearing a neck brace? We saw it in the spring and we’ve seen it this summer, but it’s still remarkable.
“He’s got something in his genes, his DNA, something different,” said Florida linebacker James Houston.
Scarlett’s Incredible Hulk body is the result of a lot of hard work when, well, there was nothing else to do. Suspended for all of last season, he worked out at NUMA Speed on Newberry Road and wondered if he’d ever be back at Florida.
Now, he’s back and hoping to atone for the mistakes of the past. All we know for sure is that he didn’t spend his year off eating chicken wings and binge-watching The Bachelor.
Instead, he worked toward an uncertain future.
His body — a combination of the fitness center and Nick Savage — tells us how hard he worked.
Scarlett is now benching 465 pounds, making him third on the team by his own estimation behind teammates Jabari Zuniga and Tanner Rowell.
“And he was already probably the most physically talented back in college football,” said linebacker David Reese.
Last season, the Gators lacked (among other things) that physical back, a third-and-short pounder, something that was a specialty for Scarlett during his sophomore season. According to Pro Football Focus, Scarlett recorded 74 percent of his yards in 2016’s regular season after contact.
And he was going to be the workload back heading into last year’s opener until he was suspended along with eight other Gators for credit card fraud.
“I had a lot of time,” he said. “I took advantage of it. I was always looking forward to coming back.”
But before that could happen, Scarlett had to be welcomed back. Not only was the credit card fraud on his bad-news resume, but a misdemeanor marijuana arrest that caused him to be suspended for the bowl game as a freshman against Michigan (raise your hand if you wish you also could have missed that one).
And let’s get something straight. He’s on a short leash. And he should be. Nobody should feel sorry for Scarlett. He did it to himself. His past is checkered, but he can shape his future.
“It was a difficult time for me,” he said. “I watched the games. I still had the thought in my head I would be back any week. It was definitely hard for me to watch.
“It was never, ‘Do I want to come back?’ It was more would he let me back? If not, I’ll got to the NFL. (Dan Mullen) is a very open guy. He told me that everyone makes mistakes and he wants to have a clean slate. The biggest thing was that I learned from it and wouldn’t have any other issues.”
We will see. The body has been fine-tuned, but is the spirit willing? Scarlett has taken on a leadership role as an older player, but will he lead in the right direction?
He has in the weight room, that’s for sure.
“You should have seen him in high school,” Houston said. “He was huge. He’s really like a freak of nature. The way he’s built really doesn’t make any sense, so I’m surprised he’s actually gotten stronger.
“I told you, he’s probably the most NFL-ready back we have.”
Yep, he looks like a 25-carry-a-game running back. But this is Florida’s deepest position and there is only one ball.
If Scarlett stays out of trouble and can stay on the field …
If he stays healthy and can stay on the field …
If he truly gets it …
It could be something special.
“I took the game for granted,” Scarlett said. “Once I didn’t have football anymore it showed a lot to me. Now I have a different job and a different purpose.”
Just being in uniform Sept. 1 will be a victory of sorts. The sounds and the colors and the smells of a game day are a lot different when you are watching the game on TV vs. being part of it.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I dream about it sometimes. The whole atmosphere. Hundreds of thousands of people screaming at you. Be ready to get a couple if touchdowns in The Swamp.
“I miss that feeling.”
The feeling, for Gator fans, is mutual.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.