Gator Rookies Rely On Each Other Early In Camp

Posted Jul 25, 2013

Jenkins, Gillislee and Sturgis get to share in their development.

Adjusting to the rigors of an NFL training camp is never easy for rookies, and if there are no familiar faces to lean on it’s even harder. Fortunately for Miami Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins, running back Mike Gillislee and kicker Caleb Sturgis, they have each other.

When Sturgis was taken in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft out of the University of Florida he became the third Gator chosen by General Manager Jeff Ireland that weekend. Jenkins went in the fourth round with the 104th overall pick and Gillislee went two picks ahead of Sturgis in the fifth round with the 164th overall pick. Their additions made third-year center Mike Pouncey a happy man because he was no longer the lone player from Florida on the roster.

“I think Mike Pouncey has done an unbelievable job here. I think he’s so well loved and such a good team player,” Sturgis said. “They did a really good job and brought in two more really good guys in Gillislee and Jelani. They’re going to do great here.”

The fact that each player is on a separate unit – Jenkins on defense, Gillislee on offense and Sturgis on special teams – makes it a little tougher for them to connect on the practice field other than in team drills. They’re also in separate meeting rooms inside the Doctors Hospital Training Facility broken up by position, but when the entire team meets in the auditorium is when they can make eye contact.

For Gillislee, whose favorite running back growing up in DeLand was former Dolphin Ricky Williams, he’s just happy he got to stay in his home state. But even though Pouncey surely tried to prepare his former college teammates for the weather conditions in South Florida in late July compared to Gainesville, it still was a shock.

“It’s a little different down here. It’s a little hot,” said Gillislee, who rushed for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Florida in his only season as a starter. “It’s a lot more humid down here but you get used to it.

Jenkins was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was a three-year starter for the Gators at linebacker. He finished his career with 182 tackles (109 solo), six sacks and three interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. When his name was called in New York City, Pouncey reacted with pride on Twitter and after Gillislee was taken the 2011 first-round pick playfully predicted Sturgis to be next.

Of course at the time of his selection, Jenkins had no clue that two of his teammates would be joining him in South Florida so he was just looking forward to being reunited with Pouncey. Having three of the guys he shared a locker room with for his entire career in Gainesville is proving to be an added bonus for him.

“They’re guys I’ve been with for the last four years of my life,” Jenkins said. “We know what each other is thinking. We’re all happy to be together.”

Even though Pouncey never played for current Gators head coach Will Muschamp he knew that Jenkins, Gillislee and Sturgis had to be coached well over the past two seasons to all end up being drafted. And Muschamp, who spent the 2005 season with the Dolphins as their assistant head coach/defense, knew he was sending his former players to a good situation in Miami.

“They got three great people, three great guys in the locker room and three really good football players,” Muschamp said of the rookies. “Obviously, I’ve got tremendous respect for Jeff Ireland and the job he’s doing down there. He’s a guy that I’ve known for a while here through the scouting process and the different places that I’ve been and I think we have similar styles in terms of what we want to be. I think if you look at the physicality they want to play with on both sides of the ball is kind of what we’re about here at Florida.”

Now these three will continue to try to make that transition to the NFL together, making sure to have each other’s backs.

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