GAINESVILLE | It’s time to lead at the University of Florida — especially for three First Coast products who are taking on new or enhanced work loads with the Gators this season.

 

Junior defensive end Cece Jefferson of Glen St. Mary, junior offensive guard Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville and senior defensive back Nick Washington of Jacksonville will be depended upon not only to perform on the football field but to urge younger players to follow the example they’ve set to this point in terms of being responsible and accountable.

Winning two SEC East titles in the last two years was nice. Getting routed by Alabama both teams was not so nice. There’s a chasm the Gators need to traverse in joining the Crimson Tide and it started on Thursday with the first day of a preseason camp coach Jim McElwain said will be challenging.

In the mix, working, sweating and leading, were Jefferson, Jordan and Washington. They’ve all played multiple positions for the Gators, displaying an attitude of doing whatever it takes or filling any role to get to the bottom line of winning.

“I feel like I’m a leader,” said Jefferson, the Baker County High product who will slide more to the outside this season to bolster UF’s pass rush after playing all defensive line positions during his first two seasons. “My teammates are making me feel like I’m a leader. Younger guys are comfortable enough to come to me with problems or any concerns they have and share those with me. My role on this team has gotten bigger.”

Washington, a Trinity Christian graduate who has played every secondary position, is needed even more with the loss for the season of safety Marcell Harris. He fits in perfectly with defensive coordinator Randy Shannon’s philosophy of every secondary player required to learn more than the position at which he was recruited.

“I was excited about the roles Marcell and I were going to have and now that he’s not going to play, I think all of the veterans have got to step up that much more,” he said. “Everyone has to learn to play corner, safety, nickel … we play the best guys not the best guys at that position. We know the standards that [coach Jim McElwain and his staff] have set and we know it’s not going to be an easy camp.”

Jordan, who has played both guard positions, right tackle and center, appears set at left guard on an offensive line that McElwain is touting as the most improved position group on the team.

“I’m older, I’ve been in the system longer, and I feel like I need to take on the leadership opportunity,” he said. “One thing I want to do from the first day is take charge out there, show I’m a leader and show I’m one of the guys coach Mac can depend on.”

Shannon said leadership doesn’t always mean being vocal and he said Washington is a great example who will accomplish just as much in a quiet conversation with a teammate during a time out as someone else who jumps on a bench at halftime for a rousing pep talk.

“Nick is a very smart football player … who can get them lined up, play different positions and knows he doesn’t have to do anything above and beyond, just be Nick,” Shannon said. “We always tell him, ‘just be yourself, Nick. Don’t try to be a motivator.” Nick has never been the motivator type of guy. He’s been the guy who pulled somebody aside, communicate, talk to him … that’s Nick.”

McElwain said Jordan, who was pressed into duty as a true freshmen perhaps before coaches were ready to throw him in the deep end of the SEC pool, and battled injuries last season, has developed a thick hide after those experiences.

“Obviously got thrown to the wolves early in his career,” McElwain said. “I think his understanding of what it is to play and what it takes to play is really going to help him.”