- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Florida’s Omar Hunter plans on making up for lost time this season.
Sure, he played in all 14 games a year ago as a redshirt freshman and finished with 17 total tackles from his defensive tackle position.
But it wasn’t the version of Hunter that he expects to see, the version that the Florida fans are dying to see or the version that Florida coach Urban Meyer was telling everybody they would see when the Gators signed the highly recruited Hunter out of Buford, Ga., two years ago.
“This is the best shape I’ve been in since my senior year of high school,” Hunter said. “I’m moving 10 times better and using my ability. I’m making plays now I always should have been making, but couldn’t because of my back and because I was too heavy.”
Hunter injured his back in the Under Armour All-America football game as a high school senior.
And then as a freshman at Florida, and with Meyer hyping Hunter as one of the guys who would come in and bolster the middle of the Gators’ defensive line, he was barely able to get onto the field.
“I couldn’t exercise and condition the way I wanted to and the way I needed to to play here and help this team out,” Hunter said. “I got too big, and that didn’t help the situation, either.”
Hunter was around 310 pounds when he arrived at Florida, but got up to 330. He’s 298 right now and showing the same explosion off the ball that made him one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country.
“It felt great just to get on the field last year and play,” Hunter said. “I started some games and at least felt like I was a part of the team. But now I’m in the best shape of my life and playing the best I ever have. This is the way it was supposed to be from the start.”
The worst part for Hunter was that he felt like he let Meyer and his teammates down as a freshman.
“My freshman year was one of the worst times of my life,” Hunter said. “I disappointed Coach Meyer after he put so much into me and did the same thing to my teammates, who were counting on me. That’s what hurt the most, letting all those people down.”
And with so much hype coming in, Hunter had to endure the typical chatter that maybe he was overrated, even though the reality was that he was simply injured and too heavy to be effective.
“I heard a lot of people saying, ‘He’s not any good. He can’t play here,’” Hunter recalled. “I just want to get back and prove those people wrong. I knew what it was and just tried to tune it all out and support my teammates the best way I could.
“Now, I have the opportunity to go out and play and support them that way, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hunter is part of a deep and veteran rotation for the Gators at tackle. He said freshman tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley have also been as advertised during camp.
“Being able to rotate and keep guys fresh is going to be a great advantage for us,” Hunter said. “The thing about our inside guys is that every one of us could be a starter. I don’t even look at myself as a starter right now. Last year, I got a chance because guys around me were getting injured. Everybody is healthy now and everybody is competing for jobs, and that’s only going to make us better.”
21hTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney