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Redshirt Report: It was like Superman turning into the Incredible Hulk

March 3, 2021
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During the beginning weeks of the off-season, Inside the Gators will take an in-depth look at how last season went for Florida's 2020 signees and transfers. Normally, the focus is on those who redshirted, but since the NCAA mandated that the 2020 season was 'uncounted' as far as eligibility is concerned, essentially every player redshirted.

Today the Redshirt Report series focuses on the freshman season of defensive tackle Gervon Dexter.

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It may come as a surprise to some people when they hear Gervon Dexter didn’t put on a football uniform until his sophomore year of high school. And, according to his high school head coach Tavaris Johnson, he had no idea to put it on correctly.

Fast forward three years and after signing with the Gators as a prized five-star prospect out of Lake Wales High School, Dexter’s now a key defensive lineman at the University of Florida.

Johnson expected first-year difficulties for any student-athlete — Dexter included. He knew Dexter would experience intense workloads both on the field and in the classroom. It comes with the territory when playing football at a prestigious university, in the Southeastern Conference.

He said Dexter possessed the intelligence, responsibility, and intangibles to overcome those obstacles. He knew the expectations were high. But knowing something’s difficult and actually doing it are two different things.

“I told him ‘Man that first year really is the most important year and you'll know right away some people are just not built for it. Some people are just not willing to make the sacrifices,”’ Johnson said. “But, with Gervon, I think he was just he has enough self-discipline and self-control to help make that transition what it has become.”

According to Johnson, Dexter’s always owned a massive frame that drew attention everywhere he went. Somehow he got even bigger his first year in Gainesville.

“It’s like Superman turning into Incredible Hulk,” Johnson said about seeing him a few months ago. “It was unreal. He reaches his hand out (and) his hand just swallows mine up. And I'm just like ‘Man, I thought you were done growing!’”

When he came over to Johnson’s house, Dexter’s old coach told him he didn’t even have a chair in a house he’d fit in.

Dexter saw ample opportunities to utilize that big frame and plus size in his first season as a Gator. The young defensive lineman made appearances in all 12 of Florida’s games. He played a lot early on due to the absence of Kyree Campbell at the tackle spot.

“I think he had to be involved because I think the more he sees that this can happen, the more real it is to him,” Johnson said. “And, it just makes him dig deeper and makes him kind of get and tap into that reserve.”

When Campbell returned to the lineup, Dexter’s involvement on the field took a hit but he still played significant snaps.

And Dexter knew it wasn’t a given that he’d be featured a lot in the defense in 2020. He always told his coach “Hey, I don’t know if I’ll play but here are a few tickets.”

However, it didn’t matter what he was doing. Whether school, workouts, practice, or in-game, it was important Dexter saw a win. According to Johnson, it’s scary when someone like him gets praised because he’s never satisfied.

Dexter’s not content with just playing or starting. He wants to dominate. To Johnson’s knowledge, Dexter even had opposing players in high school pleading with him to take it easy during games. And he’s looking to get better every single rep because he knew everyone’s bigger, faster, stronger, and more technically sound in the Southeastern Conference.

“When you line up across from him you better strap it up,” Johnson said. “I don't care if you’re a coach trying to demonstrate a drill. Gervon — he wants to destroy you.”

So much playing time early in his career proved great for Dexter’s development also.

Johnson said the young man feels he got better with his strength at the point of attack plus getting a feel for his power rush. He always wanted to test his quickness and playing against SEC competition provided that.

“The things he talks about working on (are) his lateral quickness, balance… he's always talking about the pursuit to the ball, the angles, he's always talking about speed or edge rush,” Johnson said. “Technique is all he talks about and he's really big on just learning how to really use his body more and use his hands better.”

It’s astonishing for Johnson to see his former player’s development because he came to Lake Wales as a basketball player. Johnson begged the young hooper to attend one practice because he knew what would come of it.

The high schooler always laughed him off every time Johnson told him playing football could change his life. Dexter finally obliged and came out for a spring practice to see where he stood.

That same day coaches from Florida International and Florida Atlantic were out observing practice. “The coach came back to me and says, ‘Coach in five years he'll be the top prospect in the country.’”

Johnson was incredulous when he heard that. But the coach was insistent, give it some time and Gervon Dexter will be a top college recruit.

Funny enough, before that practice, Johnson shut down any thought of Dexter getting offered immediately. And there wasn’t a day during spring football that Johnson didn’t have 13 to 15 recruiters on campus.

By the time spring ended, Dexter was coming out of a stance and working his arms. It was unreal to Johnson. But that’s when he knew Dexter bought in and fell in love with it.

“He learned from us, but he taught himself,” he said. “From just drills on YouTube. He took my standup handbags home, put them in the back of his truck, and when I go to actually pick him up for practice that next day the bags are in his front yard.”

Now, Dexter’s ready to tear things up as a college sophomore. And it doesn’t matter where it is. Dexter sees himself as a football player. He’s comfortable with all three positions on the defensive line. For Dexter, it’s the coach’s job to put him in a position and his job to execute.

“It's not like he just plays this game because he knows one day he could possibly make it to the top level,” Johnson said. “But he truly loves football. And seeing guys his size…they're compassionate. They're just nice guys to be around. So Gervon’s just got the total package for me. He has a special place in my heart.”

And a special place in his phone too. Every now and then Johnson will send Dexter the picture he took of him the first time he put on a football uniform. Just for a little extra motivation.

Redshirt Report: It was like Superman turning into the Incredible Hulk

10,456 Views | 4 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by cyclogator
UFgator52-20
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I don't want to say he disappointed but he didn't play as good as I expected him to play.

He had the first game and then he disappeared after that.
Mark Wheeler
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Staff
Anything you get from a true freshman lineman in the SEC is a bonus. If you are counting on one as a staff, you are likely in trouble. While he didn't fill up the stat sheet, he did well enough, at times occupying a double team.

I am a rankings guy, but regardless of rankings, if I'm Florida I feel good about a future defensive tackle rotation of Dexter, Lee, Thomas and Watson. Perhaps Boone in there as well. He looks pretty solid in person.
EricN
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I agree with you Mark.

I do think our DL will be stronger and better this year
cyclogator
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Mark Wheeler said:

Anything you get from a true freshman lineman in the SEC is a bonus. If you are counting on one as a staff, you are likely in trouble. While he didn't fill up the stat sheet, he did well enough, at times occupying a double team.

I am a rankings guy, but regardless of rankings, if I'm Florida I feel good about a future defensive tackle rotation of Dexter, Lee, Thomas and Watson. Perhaps Boone in there as well. He looks pretty solid in person.
Its the one bright spot on our Defense. The problem is, do you think Grantham will play a scheme that takes advantage of it or will he continue to go small.
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