GAINESVILLE | Interim Florida football coach Randy Shannon has never assigned an age requirement to leadership.

 

If a freshman has the right qualities, Shannon reasons, why should he wait until he’s a junior or senior to be a guiding force on the team?

Gators sophomore linebacker David Reese is a good example.

Reese has been a bright spot in an otherwise dim season for the Gators (3-6). Entering Saturday’s game against Alabama-Birmingham (7-3) at The Swamp, the Detroit native leads UF in tackles with 83 (safety Chauncey Gardner is the next-nearest teammate with 52), with four for losses.

Reese also has an interception and 1.5 sacks. More than anything, he’s been one of the few sources of stability on defense during a season in which injuries and suspension have gutted the two-deep depth chart UF started with at the beginning of the season.

And when Florida mailed in its collective effort two weeks ago in a 45-16 loss to Missouri, Reese spoke loud and clear about the lack of effort.

“It’s sometimes disappointing when everybody doesn’t want to come together and just play for each other,” Reese said after the game. “That’s sad to see. We’ve still got a lot to play for. Me personally and our defense, we want to play for those guys. We can’t have appearances like we just had today. That’s unacceptable.”

If anyone wonders whether it was the place of a sophomore to speak out like that, let it be known that Reese was just as vocal last season when injuries to Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone forced him and other young linebackers such as Kylan Johnson and Cristian Garcia into the lineup.

“When we put him in the huddle [last season] the [defensive linemen] were like, ‘we need this guy, this guy is cranked up, juiced up, makes us feel like he’s going to have our back, the guy who’s going to make us do things,’” Shannon said. “As a freshman, getting a bunch of older guys to feel that way, at that point in time, he was a leader.”

Reese, the son of a high school coach and a former quarterback, said he didn’t hesitate when he thought it was the right time to speak out after the loss to Missouri. He also said he learned from the example set by teammates such as Davis and Anzalone.

“This is something that had to be done,” he said. “This is something that guys before me had done at my position so it was just time for me to step up.”

Although the Gators lost to South Carolina last week, their effort, especially on defense couldn’t be questioned. UF forced four turnover and has three sacks, with Reese leading the team with 12 tackles, eight unassisted.

“We did better,” Reese said. “We played harder.”

His teammates say Reese’s leadership isn’t questioned, regardless of the fact that he’s only 19 years old.

“David plays the game the right way,” Garcia said. “He plays with a high effort. You see that every week. He gives his all.”

Garcia said Reese has stepped into the leadership role that Davis and Anzalone served in when they got hurt. And Reese shot up on the respect meter when he had 12 tackles in last year’s 17-16 victory over LSU, while playing with fractures in both wrists.

“He was kind of thrust into that role,” Garcia said. “He had no choice but to step up and be a leader and be mature.”

Reese said his primary motivation in the next two weeks against UAB and Florida State is to help send the seniors out on a winning note.

“We want to get them two more wins in the Swamp,” Reese said. “We have to give out best shot.”