Florida Gators defensive line in development, with new players and a new leader in Sean Spencer

Noah Ram
Special to Gator Sports

Florida’s defensive line is filled with new faces. 

Long-time staples like Zachary Carter, Antonio Valentino and Jeremiah Moon have departed. 

Players like Gervon Dexter and Desmond Watson anticipate increased roles, and freshmen such as Jack Pyburn and Andrew Saviinaea hope for any playing time. 

But the most electric new voice of the group is the man leading it — Sean Spencer

The 51-year-old Hartford, Connecticut, native comes to Gainesville with a ton of experience. 

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Sean Spencer brings NFL experience and his motorcycle

New York Giants defensive line coach Sean Spencer signals during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

His coaching career began 27 years as a wide receivers and tight ends coach at Wesleyan College. He coached at 10 different schools, including Vanderbilt and Penn State. 

He arrived in State College in 2014, following Penn State coach James Franklin from Nashville. In his second season with the Nittany Lions, his D-line led the FBS in sacks per game and ranked 14th in total defense. The star of his unit, Carl Nassib, broke PSU’s single season sack record and won multiple accolades. 

In central Pennsylvania, Spencer adopted a habit he’s kept since — riding a motorcycle. 

“State College is really a college town, and I met up with some buddies of mine, and they were riding bikes, and I said I’d never get one and now I got one, and I’ve fallen in love with it,” he said. 

However, riding a motorcycle in Florida arrives with some unforeseen situations. 

“One time, I forgot to put the tarp on, and the condensation in the morning made it totally wet,” he said. “But I like riding it here because in New Jersey, you have all those potholes.” 

He landed in New Jersey in 2020 as the defensive line coach with the New York Giants after six years of success. 

Before reaching Florida, Spencer hadn’t interacted much personally with Billy Napier, but heard some good feedback from Lamar Morgan and others. Morgan is Louisiana Lafayette’s defensive coordinator and previously worked with Spencer at Vanderbilt as a grad assistant. Morgan spoke fondly of Napier, as did Jeremy Pruitt, who worked with Napier at Alabama and Spencer with the Giants. 

“He’s been everything I thought he’d be,” Spencer said of Napier. “He’s a stand-up guy, and I call him a superstar. The guy doesn’t miss a beat. He sees everything.” 

Another coach who has left an impression on Spencer is cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond. 

“He’s like a Yoda of DB play. He talks with so much confidence, and he’s got so much experience,” Spencer said. “He’s played in the NFL and brings so much maturity to our staff.” 

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Spencer’s own bit of experience rubs off on Dexter, who expects to be the leader of the group. Spencer said Dexter works so hard and yearns to reach the level of some of the players he coached with the Giants. 

“One time, I had to tell him to get out of my chair because he’s always in my office, watching film,” Spencer said. “He wants to be great like Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence, and he has the chance. He has tremendous work ethic, and his ceiling hasn’t been reached yet.” 

Desmond Watson makes big impact

Desmond Watson during spring practice on March 19, 2022.

The biggest player on Florida’s defensive line, literally, is Desmond Watson. The sophomore from Plant City, Florida, rings in at 6-foot-5-inch and 415 pounds. 

Spencer said he’s one of the biggest humans he’s ever seen. 

“Sometimes we line him up in a gap, and he’s almost taking up two,” he said with a laugh. “We need to continue to work on his condition, but he moves remarkably well for his size.” 

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At practice, Spencer said Watson blows over strength and conditioning assistant Karmichael Dunbar, a former defensive lineman for the Ragin’ Cajuns. 

“I’ve heard he bench presses 515, and that’s like an electric car, right?” Spencer said. “I don’t think I had anyone on the Giants go above 450.” 

Another freshman on UF’s D-line is Oklahoma native Chris McClellan, who Spencer said is moving along nicely after showing up in Gainesville with a cornucopia of knowledge. 

“He’s young, so the highs and lows, you got to learn how to adjust that because sometimes you go to practice and lose a rep,” he said.