Since the University of Florida first fielded a football team in 1906, the Gators have produced 89 first team All-Americans, 31 of which were consensus All-American’s. It’s been a long history, marked by some of the most talented players the game has seen in it’s 150 year history.
In 2015, the Gators had their first unanimous All-American since Joe Haden (2009), when corner Vernon Hargreaves III was named an unanimous selection. Hargreaves was awarded an All-American brick in front of the Gators football facility, joining others who have been named first team by one of the five NCAA recognized All-American voter pools: The Football Writers of America, the Associated Press, the Walter Camp Foundation, AFCA and Sporting News. Given the depth of talent that has consistently come through Gainesville, Hargreaves was an anomaly more so by being one of the rare unanimous selections than simply for being a first team selection.
Since, there has been a lull. Florida hasn’t had a first team All-American from one of the aforementioned five organizations since Hargreaves. It is the longest such interval since the six year period from 1958 to 1964.
But the long wait just may be over…or at least, it should be. Defensive lineman Jon Greenard has done everything on his part this season to be an All-American. The senior has been named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times this season and already been recognized as the best at his position in the conference. Now it's time for the national recognition.
“I’ve seen a bunch of them. He’s playing at a high level,” said head coach Dan Mullen of Greenard.
“I think when you look at those things, some of them get tough because it’s not just are you playing at that quality, but you’ve got to have some of the statistics to match. He’s doing both. I think that’s always kind of the hard thing. You’re comparing 128 teams in the country, guys that are trying to be All-Americans. Not everyone—you don’t know all about all of those different guys and all of those different players, so stats come into it, too. You’ve got to have been playing great, performing at a high level and stats, putting up numbers. I think he’s done all of that.”
The senior transferred from Louisville to play in Todd Grantham’s defense and have the breakout season Grantham always knew was within Greenard. He’s done just that this season, playing like a monster on the field, changing the outcome of games like the Auburn win. He was recognized at the mid-way point when he earned 2nd team honors from the Associated Press. For the purpose of this article, we will use that AP mid-season ballot as a reference.
At the time, the AP named Chase Young of Ohio State and James Lynch of Baylor as the first team selections. Yetur Gross-Matos of Penn State joined Greenard on the second team.
What could stand in the way of Greenard receiving recognition is the position he plays. Florida employs the BUCK position, which is a hybrid position that floats from defensive end to linebacker. The AP labeled Greenard as an end for the mid-season ballot. But he also will drop into coverage at times and moved to the other side of the line as more of a pure defensive end with a hand in the ground at times when Jabari Zuniga was injured. During that time, Grantham rotated Greenard between the BUCK and Zuniga’s end spot, letting Zach Carter play at BUCK for those snaps, in order to get the best players on the field. Because of this Greenard’s stats are a bit all over the place, making it hard to pinpoint him into one position and compare him to others around the country.
With the assumption that the AP voters will work off of their mid-season ballot, let’s compare Greenard’s numbers to the other three players. Keep in mind Chase Young was suspended two games and has therefore only played in 10 games this season. And due to an injury, Greenard has played in 11, with one of those only being for a half. GatorBait Media did reach out to AP All-American voters to ask for a reference on their criteria but were informed that information isn't shared this close to a vote.
*All stats taken before Saturday conference championship games
Greenard has nine sacks in the regular season, with three coming against Florida State in the finale. Chase Young leads the country with 16.5; Lynch is 13th in FBS with 10.5 and Gross-Matos is tied at 25th with 8.5 total.
Greenard has totaled 15 tackles for loss; Young has 19.5 which is 6th in the country, Lynch 15.5 and Gross-Matos with 14.
As the numbers show, the other three players are ahead of or right around Greenard in the two categories that are largely used to defined true defensive ends. But again, because of his unique hybrid position, there are other areas Greenard shows up in the game that set him apart.
Starting with tackles: Greenard leads the four with 52 total, Gross-Matos is next with 39, Young with 38 and Lynch with 34.
Young leads the group with six forced fumbles, compared to Greenard and Lynch’s two forced fumbles. Lynch jumps off the page with five pass break ups and 12 quarterback hurries but Greenard is the next closest with three PBU’s and eight QBH’s. Young has one PBU and four hurries.
Greenard is the only one of the group with an interception and a touchdown, the latter of which came courtesy of a scoop and score.
Often the impact of these type’s of players can’t be quantified though. As important and telling as the statistics are, their talent demands an opponent’s attention bringing double teams and/or plays that purposely go away from the guys like Young and Greenard. Then there’s the impact they can have on the guys around them. Are they elevating the play of their teammates? And does that matter? It’s the question that arises every year for this post season awards. Do you award the best player or the player who makes his team the best? The argument could be made that Greenard fits both of those bills and it’s that overall picture that Todd Grantham feels has earned his prized pupil this honor.
“I think if you look at where he’s come since he’s been here. First of all, the conference in which you play. The numbers he’s put up. The impact he’s had on our team, not only his production and his play-making ability, but his character and work ethic. I think he’s had as good production or season as anybody who would make that board.”
No matter what happens, just the fact that Greenard’s name is in the conversation is a humbling moment for the Hiram, Georgia native.
“It’d mean everything, I mean, talk about that just now just still crazy cause I mean just as a child I never expected it to be like this or even get mentioned that or talks about my name in the same conversation. That would basically be the icing on the cake.”
But he deserves it all. Jon Greenard has had an All-American season, in every possible way.