KNOXVILLE — David Reese's job once included handing the football to John Kelly.
On Saturday, Reese will do everything he can to rip it out of Kelly's arms.
More fundamentally, the sophomore linebacker and the rest of Florida's defense are focused on simply bringing down Tennessee's starting running back when the Gators (0-1) and Volunteers (2-0) meet Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"What I can say is he is a hard runner and we've just got to make sure we tackle," Reese told reporters Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla. "The last two games, we had 78 missed tackles against Tennessee, so just this game period we're going to have to wrap up."
Kelly and Reese are from suburban Detroit and played football together growing up. Reese, who led Florida with 11 tackles in Florida's season-opening loss to Michigan, was the quarterback, he said Wednesday. Kelly was the running back.
"Every time we go home, we go back and speak to our little league team," Reese said. "We had several guys on that team that play Division I football, so it was good. Michigan kids, we're always close together and we always look out for each other because we've been playing with each other since we were little."
The two talk often but have not spoken leading up to Saturday's game, Reese said. The Southeastern Conference opener for both schools is a rivalry game that has left scars on both sides over the past two years.
Florida led 21-3 at halftime last year in Knoxville before Tennessee rallied to win 38-28 and snap an 11-year losing streak to the Gators. In 2015, Tennessee led 27-14 in the fourth quarter before the host Gators rallied and held on to win 28-27 when Aaron Medley's last-second 55-yard field-goal attempt slipped wide right.
Florida's tackling struggles in those games have provided its defensive coaches with a motivational ploy in advance of this year's matchup.
"You would think 78 tackles would be missed in more than just two games," Florida star cornerback Duke Dawson said. "We have to really be hard on ourselves about tackling this game — any game, really — but just knowing that we missed 78 tackles in two games, that's not good."
Kelly has not been easy to tackle this season. He ran for four touchdowns, including two during overtime, in Tennessee's season-opening 42-41 win over Georgia Tech. He also leads the team with 10 receptions.
"After he breaks a 6-yard run, he gets up and looks like he just scored three touchdowns back-to-back-to-back," Tennessee senior offensive tackle Brett Kendrick said. "He always gets up off the ground, bounces right back up. It's always good to see a running back do that, especially if he breaks one for 20 or 30 yards and he bounces back up and wants Coach to give him the ball back.
"As an offensive lineman, that's somebody you really want to block for, is somebody who has the energy like that."
Reese described Saturday's game as a fork in the road for Florida's season. He'll have to help his college teammates get through his old youth football teammate if the Gators are going to make the turn they desire.
"It's going to be a great opportunity," Reese said. "We went head to head his last high school game and my junior year. So it's a great experience to play with someone who is doing something positive, too, and being on the field. I just look forward to playing hard and getting the win."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.