The only thing David Reese could do back then was take the criticism.

 

Only a few weeks after he made the stunning decision to decommit from Michigan and play college football across the country at Florida, Reese watched the two teams play in the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season.

The Wolverines embarrassed the Gators 41-7 in front of a national audience, and people let Reese hear about it.

“After I decommitted, I saw Michigan beat Florida on TV like that,” said Reese, who grew up in Farmington, Mich. “Everybody from my hometown said, ‘Why are you going there? Dah, dah, dah, stupid decision in your life.’ I’m just ready to prove everyone wrong.”

Reese has an opportunity to deliver a message to everyone back home when the No. 17 Gators take on the No. 11 Wolverines at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The sophomore linebacker offered a polite small while talking about the game this week, but there’s no doubt it’s one he is desperate to get a win. And a shot of redemption.

“I cherish this opportunity to play them,” Reese said. “I always watched them growing up. I wish it was in the Big House, but you can’t get a better stage than Texas, so I’m excited.”

A motivated Reese should equal a productive Reese, not that he had much problem with that during his freshman season.

Reese, whose decision to play at UF centered around an opportunity to enroll early, appeared in 12 games (four starts) before missing the Outback Bowl with injuries to both wrists.

He finished the season with 49 tackles, including two for a loss.

Reese will see an even bigger role this season, beginning with Michigan.

He will fill the middle linebacker spot vacated when former Camden County star Jarrad Davis enter the 2017 NFL Draft. Davis was selected by Detroit in the first round.

“We know we’re going to have to buckle up,” Reese said. “They’re gonna try to hit us straight in the mouth, and we’re just going to have to be more physical than they are and just play with a lot of energy.”

How Florida’s front seven attacks Michigan’s offensive line will be crucial.

The Wolverines are replacing three starters up front, which could allow for game-changing plays to be made by Florida’s defense.

For Reese, it’s the chance he’s been waiting for since arriving at Florida.

“I’m ready to play vicious, play with a lot of energy and ready to get this win,” Reese said.

Phillip Heilman: (904) 359-4063