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UF Front four wants to be remembered

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Front four wants to be remembered

The defensive line is loaded with talented, experienced players who could comprise the best in Gators history.




GROWING UP: Ray McDonald, left, and his teammates on the defensive line gave up an average of 158.5 rushing yards in 2003 against teams such as Kentucky. Now, they make up one of the most feared units in the nation.

Injuries mount for UF

GAINESVILLE - They don't want much -- just to leave a legacy.

Ambitious? Presumptuous? Or just confident?

Florida's front four wants to make a name for itself this year -- and beyond.

''We want to leave our mark,'' Ray McDonald said. ``We want to be remembered, five years, 10 years, 100 years. We want to be the best.''

McDonald's return to the line is a big reason this front four has a chance to be the best Florida has seen in years. Not only is this group talented, but it has more experience than anything the Gators have seen in a while.

''I compare this group to the one we had in '94-95,'' said UF co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who was an assistant head coach in '94. ``That's when we had Ellis Johnson, Kevin Carter, Henry McMillian and Mark Campbell. We had a veteran group. They had so much experience because Carter and Johnson started as freshmen. Marcus Thomas and Ray McDonald started as freshman. This [group] has that kind of experience.''

The '94 team held opponents to an average of 84.6 yards rushing and had 40 sacks that season. Last year's Gators held opponents to 94.9 yards on the ground and had 33 sacks.

''I don't know how many sacks we can get,'' said defensive end Jarvis Moss, who wasn't healthy his first three years at UF but emerged last season. He led Florida in sacks with 7 ½ while playing only on third downs and might break the Gators record of 13 -- if a teammate doesn't beat him to it.


''Those guys in the front four are so good they make the plays before I can get there,'' said Florida middle linebacker Brandon Siler, a preseason All-SEC first team player.

''Those guys are scary. They don't just have a chance to be the best in the SEC,'' Siler said. ``They have a chance to be the best in the country.''

The emergence of Moss, who says he is on the threshold of having the season of his life, is part of the story. Thomas has been plagued with a nagging back injury but said he feels better now than at any time in his career at UF. He's 6-3 and 286 pounds yet agile enough to do a standing back flip. McDonald, considered the best lineman a year ago, missed most of season and had two surgeries on his knees, but his return fuels this group.

''I'm back and I'm at 100 percent,'' McDonald said. ``I can't wait for the season to begin. We all feel that way.''

That's part of this group's confidence -- it's closeness.

''We all feed off each other,'' Thomas said. ``When Ray and I were both coming back [from surgeries] we pushed each other, and that's the way this [front four] is. Everybody is pushing everyone else to be the best. That's the goal, to be the best this year. When we line up, we don't feel there's an offensive lineman we can't beat.''


The Gators plan to use McDonald at end on running plays and at tackle on passing plays, when they can bring in Derrick Harvey. McDonald and Thomas lined up at tackles as freshmen, when UF gave up 158.5 yards of rushing per game. As sophomores, they were on the field when UF's defense collapsed three times in the final minutes of bitter losses.

''We'll never forget that,'' Thomas said. ``We have been through so much. That's the difference.''

Steven Harris, who started at tackle last year as a junior, was suspended, but has rejoined the team and could be a factor. Joe Cohen, who started at end as a sophomore two years ago, will be a backup.

''The thing that makes [them special] is they highly respect one another,'' Strong said. ``They are such a tight-knit group of guys, and any time you get a group like that when they care about one another, then they start feeling good about themselves and about the other guys. And they know that they are not going to let the other guy down.

''It's their time now,'' Strong said. ``If this program is going to take the step it needs to take then these guys need to play up to their ability.

``They will have a chance to leave their mark.''

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