published Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell key Florida Gators

  • photo
    Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley returned for his senior season after a junior year in which he amassed 26 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FLORIDA

Camp start: Aug. 2

Opener: Toledo in Gainesville on Aug. 31 (SEC Network at 12:21 p.m.)

Fun fact: The Gators have gone 33 consecutive seasons since last posting a losing record in 1979. The previous SEC standard of 26 straight years was set by Alabama from 1958 through 1983.

• Coming Thursday: Georgia

They were the nation's three top defensive linemen in the 2010 signing class, and they were going to lead the way as Florida football moved on from its successful Tim Tebow era.

Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley each made Gainesville a long-distance destination, where they experienced peaks and valleys. Easley and Powell suffered ACL injuries, with Powell's occurring before last season and preventing the trio from ever truly shining as a group.

Floyd elected in January to bypass his senior year and was selected by Minnesota in the first round of April's NFL draft.

Championship aspirations that accompanied their arrival were replaced by 8-5 and 7-6 seasons in 2010 and '11, but Floyd and Easley proved to be disruptive for opponents last season as the Gators posted an 11-1 regular season before falling flat against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

"I wouldn't change that for the world," Easley said last week at SEC media days. "You can win all the games you want or lose all the games you want, but the relationships that you build with people will last forever. I consider Sharrif someone I've known my whole life, and it's the same way with Powell. It's a bond you can never break."

Powell was rated the No. 1 player nationally by Rivals.com when he left California to play for the Gators. Floyd, the No. 4 overall prospect, hailed from Pennsylvania, while Easley, the No. 7 recruit, chose to leave New York and was the last of the three to commit.

The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Easley had 26 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss at defensive tackle last season after sustaining his torn ACL in a 2011 loss to Florida State, and his four sacks a year ago were a team high. He had a fumble recovery that sealed the 37-26 win at FSU last November and racked up 3.5 tackles for loss in the surprising bowl setback.

"Dominique Easley is a guy who can play inside or out and had a productive year, especially at the latter part of the season once he got over some of the issues he had with the ACL," third-year Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a guy who has been very productive in his time at the University of Florida."

Easley had 37 tackles as a sophomore in 2011, including nine in a loss at top-ranked LSU. He decided after last season to come back for one more year, citing his mother's desire to have him graduate this December in sociology as the top factor.

Another factor was one more go-round with the 6-4, 240-pound Powell, who had 32 tackles, nine tackles for loss and six sacks two seasons ago.

"I can't wait to see that guy play," Easley said. "We talk about it every day. He's like a guy who hasn't eaten, and his stomach is hitting him back. He wants that first piece of food."

Florida's only returning starters defensively are Easley and cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins. The Gators now will be guided defensively by D.J. Durkin, who has been linebackers coach and special teams coordinator the past three seasons but was elevated to coordinator after Dan Quinn left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

The Gators have quarterback Jeff Driskel and five other starters back offensively, and their nine total returning starters are the fewest of any team in the SEC. Throw in a schedule that contains Miami and FSU outside the league and trips to LSU and South Carolina within conference play, and it's not a huge shock that Florida was picked just third in the East Division.

Florida would have won the East and posted a 12-0 regular season last year had the Gators not lost 17-9 to Georgia in Jacksonville, which is the rematch Easley wants most.

"I hate losing, and especially to lose to the same team two years in a row," he said. "It's not a good feeling, and I think about it every day."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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