Florida's Gervon Dexter striving for greatness, playing new position

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Gervon Dexter performs a drill during spring practice at Florida.

Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter has never been one to rest on his laurels. 

After earning a fifth star at the end of his recruitment — becoming the first consensus five-star to sign with Florida coach Dan Mullen — Dexter didn’t let the rating go to his head. 

“It means a lot as a high schooler,” he said at the time. “But in college, it won’t mean nothing at all.”

That mindset was instilled in him by his late father, Gerald Dexter. He attended all of his son’s games and pushed him to pursue football as a junior in high school. 

Gerald was his biggest supporter — and critic.

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“My father would never let me know I’m doing good. He had ways of showing me, but he never wanted me to be satisfied. I think that carried over and made me the person I am,” Dexter said of his father, who died in April following an extended illness. Dexter has a portrait of Gerald tattooed on his chest. 

“He’s gone, but it’s almost like he’s still here and living through me. I think about him every day as motivation and that pushed me every game last season.”

Dexter made an interception in his collegiate debut and appeared in all 12 games, starting twice and finishing with 19 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Though he cracked the rotation as a true freshman, it wasn’t an easy transition for him. 

“Right when I came in, I didn’t really get a lot of time to work on my craft with Coach [David] Turner and Coach [Todd] Grantham. Everything was really fast for me,” Dexter said. “For me to get in there and play in all conference games, it was good to get that early experience and see how the SEC is.”

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Dexter came to Gainesville with high expectations, and Florida fans clamored for him to play more as he showed flashes. That prompted Turner to sit down with Dexter this offseason and advise him on handling the outside noise. 

“He’s a work in progress, but everybody wants him to be great now,” Turner said. “I said, ‘Hey man, you can’t walk around here with the way everybody looks at you just from a physical standpoint and expect to just wreck shop every Saturday.’ That’s really not what he can do yet because he’s still new to the game. This is only his fourth year playing football.

“He’s a prideful kid. He doesn’t like not to play well. He’s just gotta take it one day at a time. He’s not going to be as great as everybody expects him to be right now. It’s a process.”

Turner’s words of wisdom to Dexter served like a pep talk from pops, reinforcing the lessons Gerald taught him. Greatness is a process — not a destination — and must be strived for. 

“Coach Turner basically pulled me to the side and said it’s not going to happen overnight,” Dexter recalled of their conversation. “He told me I gotta put in the work and block out all the noise. 

“I see a lot of people say I’m a great player, but I’m not actually that yet. I gotta become that. I’m not there yet, but eventually what people are saying will be true if I keep working at it every day.” 

He’s spent the past month working in his first spring camp at UF. Dexter feels the full offseason and 15 practices have helped him take “a major step” in his game. 

He credits his improvement to the extra time with Turner. 

“Spring ball has been a big, big jump for me,” Dexter said. “Me and Coach Turner are working on a lot of stuff we didn’t have time for last year. At practice he gets to just watch everything, see what I’m doing wrong and then actually fix it the next practice instead of getting ready for an SEC game.

“He finally gets to coach me up on the bad techniques I had, like staying low and playing with more leverage. I’ve learned a lot. Now I can just come off the ball fast and I don’t have to wait or think. I know what I’m doing and how fast the game goes in college. I’m still young to it, but I’m not numb to it or dumb to it.”

After playing defensive tackle in 2020, Dexter has switched to a new position. He’s now at nose tackle, where the Gators lost starter Tedarrell Slaton to the NFL. 

Slaton was a mentor to Dexter and both played basketball in high school. 

“He always talked about how he would dunk on me. TJ’s a big dude and he can jump, but I ain’t gonna let it happen,” Dexter joked. “But I got to watch TJ a lot last year and he helped become the player that I want to be. 

“Just seeing him and Kyree, they left a mark on me by setting a good expectation of how it’s supposed to look. TJ played the nose, so that’s who I want to model my game after.” 

Dexter has two more seniors to learn from this season in grad transfers Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Shelton. He called them “a blessing” because of the experience and knowledge they bring to the defensive line. 

Mullen thinks Newkirk and Shelton will rub off on Dexter, who he’s been pleased with this spring. 

“I think it's huge for him just to learn how to work, how to grow, how to develop and how to prepare yourself (from the transfers),” Mullen said of Dexter. “I think he's done a really good job. I see him taking huge steps forward this year.”