Gators notebook: Diwun Black's long journey to first UF practice

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Diwun Black

For most of the Florida football roster, Friday marked the return of preseason camp — for others, their first glimpse of practice at UF. 

When Diwun Black, a member of the latter category, took the field in his No. 30 jersey, it marked the conclusion of one arduous journey and the beginning of another. 

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Before spending two seasons at the JUCO level, Black initially signed with the Gators on Feb. 6, 2019, as a highly ranked member of that recruiting class. He stayed in touch with Florida’s coaching staff rather than reopen the recruiting process, however, leading him to sign once again on Dec. 16, 2020, as a member of UF’s 2021 class. Black still needed an academic credit during the Spring semester to qualify at Florida, further postponing a reunion long in the making. 

Now, with Black enrolled, eligible and — most importantly — healthy, his Florida career can finally begin, which for the coaches means no more evaluating Black from afar — it’s time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who met with the media Friday via Zoom, and linebackers coach Christian Robinson to personally help Black fine-tune his craft.

And both sides know it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for patience and perseverance. 

"That's the No. 1 thing in coaching, is not to give up on kids. The No. 1 thing in coaching is to make kids better. Yeah, I can talk about first-round picks I've had, but I can also talk about guys like Diwun or other guys that were able to get their degree and live a quality life and provide for their family,” Grantham said. “Everybody comes from a different environment and different circumstances. But as you learn kids and you learn how they're good kids and some kids are dealt different cards than others. You've just got to play them as they come out and you stick with them.

"That's the rewarding part of coaching, at least for me, is to see guys have success with that kind of stuff. You don't turn your back on players, you continue to work with them as they continue to work hard to help them benefit themselves in their lives."

Jadarrius Perkins practicing with Gators

Black, ranked the No. 1 JUCO prospect, isn’t the only highly rated signee from the junior college level, as the Gators added Jadarrius “JD” Perkins to the roster in June after Perkins, ranked the No. 5 JUCO signee by 247Sports, was initially set to join Missouri before a late change of heart. Although he’s less familiar with Perkins than he is Black, Grantham did come away with an opinion of Perkins’ first practice with Florida. 

“Very good movement skills. Can run. Got to continue to work, this is basically his first day with us, didn’t have spring practice. So we got to work hard to catch him up,” Grantham said. “(I) like his attitude, like his mindset on how he wants to help our team and he shows talent. If you can get guys who can run, that have length to them, that play with physicality, then you have a chance to be a pretty good corner.”

The mystery of Trey Dean’s position

At least Grantham identified Perkins’ position — something not to be taken for granted, apparently.

Florida senior Trey Dean let off a rather confident tweet on the morning of July 26 when he declared he considers himself to be the best safety in college football, which wouldn’t necessarily be noteworthy if it weren’t for the subterfuge afoot. 

Dean, who has played multiple positions in the secondary for the Gators throughout his career, was asked Thursday at the beginning of the question-and-answer session where he feels most confident playing, how effective he would be at said position and whether or not he could confirm he’ll play safety this season, the position he played as a highly rated prospect out of Dutchtown in Hampton, Georgia. 

Dean paused and smiled, before evading the question. 

"I really play any position in the secondary. I feel wherever my teammates need me, that's the position I'm going to play,” he said. 

Asked which position he’s practiced at the most, Dean wouldn’t bite. 

“I play everywhere,” a still-smiling Dean said. 

With the man maintaining the strategic — some would say conspiratorial — approach, the question was tabled until Friday, with the hope some information could be pried from Grantham. 

Unfortunately, it ended up being futile, too.

“He’ll be a DB (defensive back),” Grantham said. 

And the wait continues. 

Telling apart the transfers

Grantham and Florida’s coaching staff already have a solid impression of defensive tackle transfers Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Valentino, thanks to the pair arriving on campus in time for Spring practice, but not much is known about how the pair will fit into Florida’s defense from a schematic standpoint. 

According to Grantham, they share more in common than just arriving on campus in the same window, and the expectation is their similar skill sets will bolster a position —  interior of the defensive line — that was seen as lacking proven depth prior to their arrival. 

“There’s probably more similarities than differences from an off-the-field standpoint, they’re both high-motor guys, work hard, character, the kind of guys you want. Then when you get on the field they both understand block recognition. They both understand where the ball is going, how to press blocks and they both have pass-rush ability. So they’re really understandable from that standpoint. They can play both positions or they can play side by side; that’s kind of how we’ll play them,” Grantham said. “One came from the Big Ten, one came from the SEC. When you look at how they play blocks, their ability to be physical, their ability to rush the passer, a lot of similarities between the two, and certainly glad they’re here.”

Tyreak Sapp en route

UF coach Dan Mullen wasn’t asked about St. Thomas Aquinas signee Tyreak Sapp, a top-50 prospect and one of the top strong-side defensive ends in the 2021 class, during his Thursday news conference, so Grantham was given the task of providing an update on his expected arrival. 

A source confirmed to the Gainesville Sun that Sapp had been cleared to enroll at Florida, though Grantham implied Friday he’s yet to arrive on campus for practice. 

“Yeah we’re looking forward to getting him here and he’s working to get here,” Grantham said, “and we’re just moving forward with that.”

Gators add Clemson OL as preferred walk-on

Prior to taking the practice field, news broke of a late addition to the Florida roster

The Gators added offensive lineman Kaleb Boateng as a preferred walk-on, the Sun confirmed. Gators Territory was the first to report Boateng’s transfer from Clemson back to his home state. A former three-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale High School, Boateng played in four games and redshirted as a freshman before playing just five snaps last season with the Tigers, leading him to find a new destination to finish out his collegiate career.