May 17, 2011

Duke Lemmens Parting Shots Part II

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2011 Must Read Parting Shots: Emmanuel Moody | Terron Sanders Duke Lemmens (Part I)

Parting Shots is a series in which Inside the Gators interviews departing seniors and NFL early entrants for a detailed look back on their time at Florida as well as what they're up to now and plans for the future.

Today, in part two, former defensive lineman Duke Lemmens shares his thoughts on Urban Meyer's decision to step down a second time, the attitude of the team during the 2010 season, the love-hate relationship with the Class of 2010, Steve Addazio being in charge and more.

Inside the Gators: The first time Meyer stepped down, the team was mostly concerned with his health above anything else. The second time he announced he was leaving, was that something you saw coming and expected or was it just as surprising?

Lemmens: "It was not as surprising as the first. This last year really took its toll [on him]. As much as I'm proud to say I'm a Gator and - for the most part - love our fan base, they were brutal this last year. First year without as much success as we should have. It was crazy that a few plays kind of separate us from being a middle-of-the-pack team like we needed up being and being [better]. That ball bounces any other way against LSU; if our kicker is not hurt in some other games. It was almost shameful to see some of the behavior that these fans brought upon us, and the pressure they put on us. The way they were treating Coach [Steve] Addazio and stuff like that kind of just, at some points, made me shameful to be a Gator this last year."

Inside the Gators: The external pressure was certainly on Steve Addazio, but I'm sure the team as a whole also felt it. Did you feel that there was a big support system internally - everyone counting on each other and having each other's back - or were there some difficulties in dealing with that pressure?

Lemmens: "When you have a really young team and we have a lot of outside influences coming in - a lot of 'outside poison' I like to say - of course it took its toll. The guys who are real guys, guys who really care about the team and were behind each other, we just every week the guys who mattered would come in and work and do what they had to do to try to win the next game. There was no lack of effort on either side."

Inside the Gators: Early in the season Mike Pouncey made a comment about there being some difficulties getting along with the highly touted incoming freshman and that there was somewhat of a rift between the senior and freshman class. How bad did it get?

Lemmens: "Every year freshmen come in and every year freshmen are cocky. Not every one of them, but people get so caught up in having six or seven stars…that kind of stuff kind of ruins football in a way. These kids are coming out of high school being told how good they are, and they come in and don't know that they're just going to be treated like every other guy. You've still got to earn stuff. Just because you have six or seven stars, that doesn't mean anything. That's not something that was special to this year. That happens every year with certain people. There are certain freshmen who have a hard time with the transition and certain freshmen who just come in, shut up and work hard.

"It might have been more publicized this year as we had a lot more freshmen come in than we have in a long time, but it was nothing different. My freshman class had it. The one after me, too. It will continue to happen as long as there are all of these dot-coms and people telling everyone how great they are, they are going to come in an expect a lot."

Inside the Gators: Let's go back to Meyer for a second. How much did he delegate this year compared to previous seasons? Do you feel that had a lot to do with some of the team's struggles?

Lemmens: "It just strained him. Coach Addazio is his boy. Coach Addazio got thrown under the bus, and it really pained Coach Meyer to see what happened with that whole thing. It just took its toll, if you ask me. It was just unbelievable some of the outside forces. Everyone sings, 'Through all kinds of weather we stick together.' A lot of people don't mean that [crap] when it comes down to it. Coach Meyer's own success kind of brought it on; people expect a certain thing after so many years [of success]. We still played in a January 1st bowl and won a January 1st bowl and the season was considered a disaster. The expectations completely changed, and our fans got spoiled rotten. It was just brutal. That's not everyone, it was just a few people I guess, but it took its toll. You could just see it as the year went on. It's just crazy to think if that ball bounces differently against LSU on the fake field goal and a certain play goes another way, how different the season could have been."

Inside the Gators: All of the players felt the frustrations of the fans, but John Brantley in particular had a lot to deal with pressure-wise on his own. Did he ever lose the confidence of the locker room? Were guys starting to get on him for not performing well enough?

Lemmens: "When things aren't going right, it's the human element. People start snapping at each other, you know? That happens with everyone. Everything's awesome when you score 40 [points] a game. When that's not happening, people get snippy with each other. It's nothing that no team has ever seen before. It's nothing we didn't experience a few times under the [Tim] Tebow era. It's just the way it is. People are competitive and like winning, but everybody respects Brantley.

"All I got to say is Brantley is a great kid. He was my roommate my freshman year. Him and his family took me in every Thanksgiving because I was never able to come home. His mom would come and do my laundry. Brantley has done nothing but work hard and do everything he can. This transition of him being a different style quarterback, he was thrown into the fire and it wasn't a good situation for him and the fans just did not support him at all. It just made matters worse. I can't tell you how much I'm pulling for Brantley this next year. If any kid deserves it, it's him. If I was him, the [crap] people put on him this last year - what the fans did to him, my ass would have been out of there. The fact that he stayed…

"I talked to Coach Mick when I was out there a few weeks ago. [Brantley] did nothing but work his ass off this whole off-season. He's just been working his tail off. If any kid deserves a payoff, it's Brantley. I just hope the fans give him a chance because he deserves it. He's got a lot of talent, and I think he can do great things."

Inside the Gators: Talk about some of the younger guys that fans should look out for this season in the defensive front seven. Who really impressed you during practice?

Lemmens: "Of course [Dominique] Easley, talent-wise, I don't know if I've ever seen someone with that kind of explosion. From what I saw in spring and from what I've talked to other coaches and talked to him, he's just really matured this last year. He could have played for us last year if he had his head on right. He'll probably be the first to tell you that he was real messed up last year, just didn't have a good attitude. With that said, he didn't have the best attitude last year, but I still thought he was a great kid. He's one of those guys I was thinking might try to find greener pastures, but it's awesome that he ended up staying and having such a good spring. He's a guy who has first-round potential if he continues to maximize it."

Inside the Gators: What is your take on Sharrif Floyd? Do you see something special in him as well?

Lemmens: "Sharrif is a man-child. When I first saw him, I thought he maybe spent 20 years in prison doing push-ups and sit-ups. He's a freak of nature the way he looks, the way he plays. As far as an attitude, him and Trey Burton probably have the best freshman attitude you could possibly ask for. [They] go out and work every day. Sharrif is someone who expected nothing to be handed to him. There should be no reason that he isn't a star in these next few years. I should also mention that Willie Green is going to have a good year and is a guy that has had to wait his turn like me but has worked harder than anyone."

Inside the Gators: In no way am I trying to compare the two as players, but do you see from Burton a lot of the leadership qualities that Tim Tebow exhibited during his time with the Gators?

Lemmens: "Yes, very much so. It's special when you have a guy who is that athletic and that talented who will also out-work anybody on your team. That was Tebow's attitude, and Trey definitely has a lot of that in him. He was a guy who - I say this sarcastically - only had three stars coming out of high school and ended up being just as productive as anybody. He really made a difference. I know this year they're moving him around all over the place. I don't even know if he knows where he's going to end up, but I know he doesn't care. He just wants to help the team win. He's a very special kid."

Inside the Gators: What was the process like for you after the season was over as you prepared for Pro Day and working out in front of NFL scouts? Obviously anyone's goal is to be selected in the NFL Draft and unfortunately that didn't happen for you. Are you looking to go the free agent route in the NFL, play in another league or do something else?

Lemmens: "Starting in January, I moved back home. I'm lucky enough to live at a place where, four minutes away from my house, is a great training facility with Proactive Sports. The last few months have just been fun training with a bunch of NFL guys. A lot of them are from my area like Clay Matthews, his brother Casey who I went to high school with. [Antonio] Cromartie trains with us. C.J. Spiller was out here. Ricky Elmore, who just got drafted from Arizona, grew up out here. Joey LaRocque, who just got re-signed by the Jets, [is here, too]. Just a bunch of guys who I've either heard of or grew up with who have made it or are in the process of making it. It's just fun to have us all push each other. As far as working out here, it's a dream come true. I get to live at home and go get the best workouts I possibly can with people who push me.

"As far as the draft went, it was disappointing. I got my hopes up, but going in I went in thinking I'd be a free agent. It's just when you have teams calling you on draft day saying they're going to take you and they don't, it gets you a little disappointed. I know that I was on a lot of people's boards. If there were eight rounds, I have no doubt in my mind that I would have been taken. But it is what it is. This lockout is just kind of my luck. The one year I come out, there is a freaking lockout. It's just kind of being in the dark. I know it will get lifted; I don't know when, but when it does I know teams will call and I will get my opportunity.

"When it comes down to it, a free agent and a guy who gets drafted fifth, sixth or seventh have just as good a chance to make a team. You're able to pick a situation that may better suit you. Instead of a team picking you, you kind of get to pick a team. I'm just hoping I can be paid to play the game I love. I'm not ready to go to the real world. I just want to keep growing out my hair and hit people."

Inside the Gators: How many teams did you speak with during the draft and what specifically did they say?

Lemmens: "Just teams in the sixth round calling me, saying they had picks in the seventh and were going to take me. And then the seventh comes and no calls come and then the lockout is back in affect and you're back in the dark. I felt kind of sorry for myself for a few days, and then I just started training again and realized that nothing is going to be handed to me. Nothing ever has. I'm just going to out-work everyone; that's my goal every day. When my time is ready, I'm going to give it my all and have no regrets about it."

Inside the Gators: Who was the best dresser on the team last year?

Lemmens: "[Laughing] If we're talking strictly Gator Walk, it's me. But as far as just being dressed all the time, I'd probably maybe have to go with Ahmad Black. Most of us for class or during the day would just go in flip flops, sweatpants or sweat shorts and any T-shirt we could find, but Ahmad Black went to class looking like he was about to hit the club every day with his V-necks and stuff. I might give that to Ahmad. But as far as the Gator Walk, I don't know if the Gators will ever see a guy dress as impressive as I did. I take pride in that."

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