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In a game otherwise dominated by the two offenses, freshman defensive tackle Gervon Dexter made the defensive play of the game on Saturday when he intercepted a pass late in the first quarter that had been batted into the air by Brenton Cox.
“Oh my gosh, I was in the stands crying,” his mother, Stephanie Jackson-Dexter, said. “When he caught that pick, I literally was crying because I didn’t realize it was him. And his older brother was beside me and he’s, ‘That’s Gervon! That was Gervon!’ And I just, I cried in the stands. I cried.”
The reason for her strong emotional reaction goes far beyond her talented son making a game-changing play in his first college game, however. Her husband and Gervon’s father, Gerald Dexter, died in April following an extended illness that saw him have surgeries on both his brain and his heart. Gerald had attended every one of Gervon’s football and basketball games and track meets.
The days leading up the Ole Miss game were tough for Gervon.
“That night before he left [for Ole Miss], he was like, ‘I can’t believe I got to do this without my dad,’” Stephanie said. “And that was emotional.”
In a way, though, Gerald was inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, both literally and figuratively. Stephanie wore a T-shirt with a picture of her and Gervon with Gerald on one of Gervon’s visits to UF as a recruit to represent him being there.
Gervon was extremely close with his father. It was Gerald who got him into sports when he was around five years old and took him to all of his games and practices.
Gerald was his biggest supporter but also served as Gervon’s personal coach.
“He was also the type of father that if he saw mistakes, he would remember it and tell him, ‘Well, you did good here, but you need to work on this,’” Stephanie said. “So, he was always critiquing him as well as supporting him.”
If it weren’t for Gerald, Gervon wouldn’t be playing college football right now.
“He played football earlier, like at the end of elementary school and middle school and then when it was time for him to go to high school, I’m the one who really didn’t want him to play football because he was so good at basketball, and I feared him getting hurt,” Stephanie said. “I didn’t want him playing high school football, and his dad actually convinced me because of how good he was to go ahead and allow him to play football in his junior year. If he hadn’t of pushed that, Gervon wouldn’t be where he is right now.
“My fear was of him getting hurt, and his dad’s fear was of him wasting his talent.”
While sports played a huge role in their relationship, Gervon takes after Gerald in other ways as well.
“He’s relentless, doesn’t give up, doesn’t fear much,” she said. “He puts his all into anything he cares about and is an extremely loyal person. I think the Gators see that now. He’s extremely loyal. Once he’s attached to you, he’s just an awesome kid.”
His fearlessness and loyalty were challenged after Gerald’s death. Gervon briefly lost his passion for football and considered making a life-altering decision.
“In the beginning, when he passed, he literally said he didn’t want to play football anymore,” Stephanie said. “He said it didn’t matter anymore. He was in that funk for at least a week. And then I talked to him that the best way to honor his dad was to continue the dream that he had for the both of them and let him know that his dad’s still going to see it and basically the best way to honor him was to go all out and do everything that he said you would be.”
Gerald Dexter is smiling down with pride from above – and wishing he could offer Gervon some advice on what to do next.
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