Florida's Gervon Dexter determined to grow up fast as a dad and a player | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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Gervon Dexter is growing up fast. Just four years ago, he was a giant football baby in diapers. Now he’s changing the real items.

Gervon Dexter Jr. entered the world on May 9. That made the summer of 2022 quite a revelation for his dad, Florida’s defensive tackle.

“I’m sure some of you guys know if you have kids, it’s not about you anymore,” Dexter said. “It’s about him now. Everything I do now is trying to set his life up for the better.”

The better things go for Junior, the better they should go for UF. The Gators need Dexter to continue his sprint to football maturity.

Most of the muscle from last year’s defensive line is gone. If Florida’s defense is going to avoid getting run over, that hope begins with the 6-foot-6, 312-pound Dexter.

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That’s his official weight, though he looks a bit leaner and meaner as the Gators prepared for their first fall practice Wednesday. Whatever the tonnage, it’s hard to believe Dexter weighed four pounds at birth.

He was three weeks premature, but still. His development defied the growth chart.

“I caught up fast,” Dexter said.

Gervon Dexter was a basketball player first

Florida Gators defensive lineman Gervon Dexter (9) pressures Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Ken Seals (8) in the first half. The Florida Gators lead 21-0 at the half over the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday afternoon, October 9, 2021 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]2021

Not so fast with football, however. He dabbled in the sport as a kid, but a banged-up ankle convinced him his future was on the basketball court. Dexter started as sophomore at Lake Wales High and recruiting services took note.

You can find clips on the internet of a budding power forward with dancer’s feet and bullish moves around the basket. The football coaches were entranced by Dexter’s size, strength and long arms and persuaded him to give that sport another try.

Two years later, he was the highest-rated recruit Dan Mullen signed at Florida. A prodigy with five-star potential and two-star experience.

“I had a lot of bad technique,” Dexter said.

His raw ability got him on the field every game as a true freshman. He became a starter last season and developed into one of the Gators’ best players.

Solid start:Florida Gator Gervon Dexter looks to improve on strong freshman season

Dexter’s a vocal guy, but he deferred to veterans to like Zach Carter and Antonio Valentino when it came to policing the defensive line. Now they’re gone, as is the coaching staff that signed most of the players.

Dexter realized it was time to expand his presence. He’s been one of Billy Napier’s biggest boosters on social media.

He’s championed everything about the new regime, most notably the conditioning and nutrition programs. The successful kicking of his Twinkie habit became the talk of spring practice.

“It was hard,” Dexter said. “I ain’t gonna lie.”

What are Gervon Dexter's NFL prospects?

Florida Gators defensive lineman Gervon Dexter answers a question from the press during Florida Media Day held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville FL. August 2, 2022.

He also ain’t gonna lie about his time in Gainesville. It’s probably up after this season.

Dexter’s rated an early-round NFL Draft pick. Maybe a first-rounder, if his technique catches up to his talent.

Scouting reports use terms like “problematic pad level” and “does not employ hand or rush moves beyond his initial punch.” The chatter has not been lost on Dexter.

“He's constantly in my office trying to perfect his craft,” defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. “One time I asked him, ‘Could I borrow my office, so you could get out of here one or two times?’”

Spencer’s been coaching defensive linemen in college and the NFL for 27 years. That’s a lot of knowledge to soak up.

“I wouldn’t think this could happen, but in probably a month’s time he’s changed my game,” Dexter said. “So, imagine what four or five months could do. That’s all I’m going to say.”

In four or five months, he could have shot up the mock draft boards. The last part of his college journey began this week. When Dexter left his apartment and checked into the training camp hotel, he had one thing on his mind.

It wasn’t football. It was Dexter Jr.

Though they are now intertwined. A good season for the father means a more secure future for the son. There’s not much better motivation than that.

“That was probably one of my saddest days leaving him,” Dexter said. “But like I said, it’s for the better. And it’s been, I can’t even explain how good it’s been for me being a father.”

He’s growing up fast. Better yet, he seems to be growing up right.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley

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