Florida head coach Urban Meyer knew that his recent recruiting class had to be centered around building a strong defensive line. After all Meyer and his staff had to replace four members off the defensive line. The Gators signed six players to aid them on the defensive line. Four of those players are projected to play at the end positions.
With defensive line commits like Carlos Dunlap, Torrey Davis, John Brown and Justin Trattou, it's easy to get lost in the crowd. Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian defensive end Duke Lemmens will have to deal with that as he prepares for his 3,000-mile move to Gainesville. He'll also have to do it with a bum shoulder.
"I had shoulder surgery 2½ months ago on my labrum, so for about a month and a half I couldn't really do anything," Lemmens said. "I'm just trying to get back into it. I've been working out every day."
Lemmens, who stands at 6-foot-5 inches, said he has spent most of his off season rehabbing a right shoulder that has been in pain since the beginning of his senior season. Lemmens' weight dropped to 222 pounds after his surgery, but has gotten it back up to 240 pounds. However, he is in no hurry to keep putting the weight on.
"One of the main reasons I chose Florida was their (defensive) ends are not huge like 270 or 280 (pounds)," he said. "They like them quick, I mean Jarvis Moss wasn't the thickest, biggest guy in the world, but he could sure move. Whatever weight I can be as quick as possible at and as strong as possible at is what I'm gearing for."
With his shoulder slipping out of place repeatedly, Lemmens was still able to have a productive season while playing both sides of the ball, lining up at left tackle and allowing zero sacks.
The three-star lineman said his shoulder is getting better, but that he is behind when it comes to his physical strength and learning the playbook. He's working with physical therapist Austin Wheatley, a former NFL tight end who had brief stints with the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys, to get his speed and strength up before he reports for summer workouts with the Gators.
Lemmens said he works out three times a day, starting promptly at 6 a.m. for about an hour and a half. He then works out for another hour with Wheatley during his long lunch break at school. He finishes his day with a two-hour workout in the evening with fellow teammate and Texas A&M commit, defensive end Michael Ebbitt.
The glamor and swagger that surrounds Florida at the moment won't be anything new for Lemmens, he said. The celebrities that walk the Florida campus should be easy for the lineman to relate to because he has spent the last four years playing with one of the most highly touted recruits ever. Quarterback and Notre Dame commit, Jimmy Clausen.
"It's just been a wild ride (with) all the publicity I've just seen Jimmy get since my 8th grade year," Lemmens said of Rivals.com's top-rated overall player. "He's already back and we've been hanging out with him, just talking about what college is like and trying to get a heads up about what to expect.
Clausen might be helping Lemmens get ready for Gainesville, but if given the opportunity, Lemmens would hold nothing back if he were to sack the all-world recruit.
"Oh I'll definitely do some kind of dance over him," Lemmens said. "I wouldn't care (about a celebration penalty) I'm sure coach Meyer would, but he's been practicing with me for four years and he always got to wear that yellow jersey so it's going to be fun."
But the words of Clausen can only help so much, Lemmens admitted. Lemmens will have only two weeks off between his high school graduation on June 8, and his arrival in Gainesville on the June 24. The transition from life on the West Coast to life in the southern town of Gainesville is something Lemmens has been both excited and nervous about. However, once he learned that four-star Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic quarterback John Brantley would be his roommate for the fall, the nerves began to die out.
"With me being the one that lives the farthest out of state and I didn't really know anybody, so I guess coach (Greg) Mattison thought it would be the best fit for me, rooming with someone who lives pretty close (to Gainesville)," Lemmens said of Brantley. "It will be pretty cool to have a roommate that I can go to his house and have a home-cooked meal on the weekend."
Lemmens said he and Brantley stay in contact through text messaging every other day and usually call each other once a week.
Despite the nerves, Lemmens said he's thrilled with his decision to make the cross-country leap. He loves the town and the people, but the one thing he is most excited about is getting to work with one of the top defensive lineman in the country.
"The biggest thing I have to look forward to being able to play and practice with a player like (Derrick) Harvey this next year," Lemmens said. "Next year if he doesn't go to the league (NFL) it'll be a big surprise."
Lemmens said he has a lot of work to do if he wants to shine on a line that should be getting positive reviews for years to come. Lemmens might not have been the most talked-about recruit of the bunch, but in the end it's winning that he has on his mind.
"I can't wait to push them and I can't wait for them to push me," he said. "Competition brings out the best in us and hopefully it will lead to another national championship defensive line."