MY TAKE/By PHIL HUBER In Appreciation of David Reese, Who Will Be Hard for the Gators to Replace

Updated: May 29, 2020

“McElwain was a 'players’ coach,'" he said, and he missed his position coaches. But in the end it worked out splendidly as he openly welcomed Todd Grantham and Dan Mullen.

How many times have we heard Coach Steve Spurrier say, “God smiled on The Gators”? He sure smiled on the Gators the day the University of Michigan told David Reese II that he couldn’t enroll early. That was after Reese did everything he could to graduate high school midyear so that he could get into the school of his choice for both spring practice, summer workouts, and of course, to get a jump start on academics. Was he disappointed? Yup, he sure was.

Before I talk about that, let’s recall some facts. For four years David Reese II was The Gator’s Linebackers' Linebacker. The Leader’s, Leader. He was the heart and soul of The Gators defense. He was every coach’s dream. He worked very hard in both the classroom and on the playing field. Reese gave everything he had to give, every day in all that he did. He did it in the weight room, at practice, and certainly on the field. And when he missed a couple of games due to an ankle injury, the defense sure looked different without him – he was the glue that made it work the way it’s supposed to work. As David told me, that injury was one of his greatest challenges that he had to overcome during his four years on the team.

David enrolled at 6-2, 220 pounds. He leaves for the Charlotte Panthers, at 6-2 239 pounds. While the Gators were very fortunate to bring him on board, the Panthers are more than fortunate to have him. My bet is that their choice was a very good one.

The other day, I had a chance to spend some phone time with David -- polite, articulate, dedicated, and an especially good guy. And when he said, “It’s a blessing, and I was blessed,” they were not clichés. He meant it. You could hear the sincerity in his voice.

David Reese II is a special young man. Which reminds me of something I recently said to a fellow Gator: “I never remember there being a nicer group of kids on any Gator football team than the 2019 team.”

Anyone could see that they were a “team” in the strongest sense by everything they said and did. They hung together and they encouraged one another to get better. They celebrated when others – even in their position groups succeeded . They were competitive with one another, but rooted hard for each other’s success. You could feel their joy when one of the guys did something well. I am sure coaching played a big part, but you can’t get to that place without a bunch of good guys to work with. And it sure seems as if they were good guys. David Reese II, thrived as a result of this environment.

When David said “They were/are family,” he meant it. He said that “all the athletes, no matter their sport, stick together.” Respect and camaraderie were the driving force. I can tell you that back in the 1960s – when I was in school -- that was not always the case. Today, it seems to be one large and talented fraternity. They respect each other. Respect what others do. And relish their success. My guess? Good kids, and good leadership.

Needless to say, David was disappointed when Michigan told him he couldn’t enroll early. The Michigan offer was a big one. Academically, it’s a top school with a storied football tradition. He thought he could play early. It was very close to home. He had family close by. But when the shoe dropped he then had to think about other offers from schools like Texas, Nebraska, and UF.

At the time, Coach Randy Shannon was doing the recruiting for Florida. Shannon made an impression. Academics, current depth chart, tradition, and the SEC helped David decide to accept Florida’s offer. His parents influenced him by helping him through it and as he told me, he “always wanted to be a Gator.” He accepted the Panthers’ free agency offer for similar reasons: Depth chart, coaches, organization, and location. And he’s eagerly awaiting, diligently working toward the opening of camp.

One thing he knows is that there is a life after football. Reese graduated with a degree in sports management and a minor in business. From what I gathered from watching him, and reading about him for four years, he was always prepared. Not doing well is not an option for this guy.

It is also apparent that David has a very close relationship with his parents. He did learn some football from his dad who played defensive end for Eastern Michigan and then Michigan State.

I asked him -- other than football -- about his initial impressions upon arrival at Florida. He was quick to say, “The campus was beautiful, and getting to know people − to include my teammates.” He roomed with, and was close to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jachai Polite and Josh Hammond. “I also was close to a lot of people that didn’t play a sport.” The college experience was important to him, and happily for all concerned, he got the experience – which included “best friends, and great connections.”

He went through a coaching transition, which he said he was sad because he had relationships that he valued. “McElwain was a “players’ coach,’” he said, and he missed his position coaches, But in the end it worked out splendidly as he openly welcomed Todd Grantham and Dan Mullen.

What does it mean to be a Gator? “Means everything,” he said. “I understand what the logo means. Prestige. Tradition, There to make you a winner in life. Big.”

When asked what he would miss the most -- like most young people would say after four years of loving college -- he said, “Relationships, teammates, and a wide variety of friends.”

Someone close to me who played sports and lives in Gainesville thinks Reese was underrated and maybe unappreciated for four years.

He said, “if David was bigger and a more prototypical middle linebacker, the media would have been talking about him as a potential All-American from the time he was in his sophomore year,” said my friend. “But he wasn’t 6-4. He didn’t weigh 250. He didn’t make that kind of visible splash. He didn’t seem to get the media that he deserved.” So I asked David if it bothered him.

His response was typical Reese II. “Definitely − but, I am not a real media guy. I was playing the game that I love. I did what was asked of me. I did play with a chip on my shoulder from the time Michigan didn’t allow me to enroll early. But, I knew that I was blessed.”

He meant it when he said he was “blessed.” He is blessed. And so were the Florida Gators.

Phillip Huber is a freelance writer and former GatorBait contributor based in Florida.

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