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DaKCMan AP
12-03-2008, 07:15 AM
Would love for this guy to be our leader on defense!!!!!


Florida digs in at defense with linebacker Spikes at the helm

By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY

GAINESVILLE, Fla. The conversation between Florida coach Urban Meyer and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes took place in the spring, a few months after the Gators defense had embarrassed itself with lackluster play during the 2007 season.

The conversation not only changed Spikes, the team's best defensive player and inspired leader, but influenced the direction of the Gators' 2008 season. As Meyer borrowed the words Spikes told him in that spring talk, he kept his team focused through its 11-1 season. A victory against No. 1 and undefeated Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday all but ensures a trip to the national title game for the No. 4 Gators.

Spikes and several other underclassmen were thrust into the starting lineup last season simply because there were no other options. Many of the group's standout players on the 2006 national championship squad had left early for the pros or graduated.

"It was awful last year," Meyer says of his defense. "You can underline it, you can bold it and put a couple of exclamation points next to it. I'm not just talking about performance, I'm talking about demeanor, effort level. I was embarrassed to show the film."

When Meyer met with Spikes, that was the major topic addressed.
"He just looked in my eyes and asked me what happened," Spikes says. Then the tears started flowing. "I got emotional. I felt I didn't prove them wrong."

To Spikes, the "them" are those from his hometown of Shelby, N.C., who doubted him. When Spikes' older brother, Breyon Middlebrooks, was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole for a murder during a drug deal in 2001, some in his neighborhood assumed the street life would consume Spikes as well.

"There was a lot of negative people who said, you won't do this, you won't do that because he didn't do this, he didn't do that," Spikes says. "You won't ever get a scholarship, you won't go to Florida and play as well as you did. My whole career has been about proving people wrong."

As he talked to Meyer, he tried to explain why succeeding, and proving the doubters wrong, meant so much to him.

"I let him know this is my life. Without this, I don't know where I would be. Football has been everything. It was my way out; it was my way here," he says. "I just told him this is what I do. I wake up in the morning and I breathe, and this is the first thing on my mind."

This is what I do.

The words stuck with Meyer, who has repeated them to the team nearly everyday, without mentioning their origin.

"This is what you do," Meyer tells the Gators. "We're here for a reason. To get an education, represent Florida and play as hard as we can. There's really nothing else."

The message was simple, but it resonated.

Last season, Spikes, 6-3, 245 pounds, was hesitant to lead, feeling the role belonged to older players. This fall, as a junior on a defense without a senior on its depth chart, it was clear he could no longer leave the responsibility to others. The defense needed to improve for the Gators to contend for an SEC title. The offense had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Tim Tebow, an electric wideout in Percy Harvin and most of the offensive line returning. Of course, the Gators would again be good on offense. But would the defense let the team down again?

Spikes embraced the added responsibility, and the defense thrived off his energy and intensity. As Spikes goes, the defense goes, Gators coaches and players frequently say.

"I look at it like this: Tebow is our leader on offense, Spikes is our leader on defense," defensive coordinator Charlie Strong says. "Our offense can't do without Tebow. We can't do without Spikes."

Spikes told Florida Today this week that he intends to petition the NFL's draft advisory board to find out about his status, but he said Tuesday that he would not even think about it until after the season.

Drastic improvement

The Gators defense is now No. 7 in the country after being No. 41 last year. "Night and day," Spikes says. "I just want to win, and for them to put it on me, it's an honor. I'd rather have the pressure on me, to put it all in my hands." Spikes leads the team with 80 tackles. His four interceptions against top 25 teams tie him for first nationally and are the most by any linebacker in the country. He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

The most significant play this season came two snaps into the Nov. 1 game against then-No. 8 Georgia when Spikes slammed running back Knowshon Moreno to the turf for no gain. Just to make his point stick, Spikes lingered on top of Moreno, who usually pops up like bread from a toaster as soon as he's hit.

"Not today, Knowshon, not today," Spikes told Moreno, who had run for 188 yards on the Gators the previous year. The stop set the tone. Florida held Moreno to 65 yards and won 49-10.

A large framed picture of the tackle hangs outside the coaches offices in the newly renovated football complex. Fans frequently hand Spikes photos of that play to autograph as well.

"That is the play of the year for us," Meyer says.

Spikes will have a chance Saturday to stop a few more of the league's top running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram and wrestle with an offensive line that features two All-America candidates. "We're facing a physical running football team," Strong says. "It plays right into his hands because he's a physical football player."

Or as Meyer says, "He displaces people. He'll hit linemen. He's a big linebacker that lives for contact."

Spikes, a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy for the nation's best defensive player, might have new-school dreadlocks, but he loves old-school football. His favorite player is Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

"When Spikes hits you, it's kind of like a miniature car crash," Florida freshman running back Jeff Demps says.

Lots of film study

Despite his intimidating on-field presence, Spikes leads without yelling, his tone more instructional than scolding. On Mondays, the team's day off, he holds his own meetings. The social and behavioral sciences major gathers the linebackers to watch film. He takes home DVDs to study on his laptop; on plane rides to games, instead of playing video games like others, he watches videos of his opponent.

He is driven because of his life experience, because of his brother, who writes him regularly and watches what games he can from his cell at Scotland Correctional Institute in Laurinburg, N.C. The guards also keep Middlebrooks, now 28, up to date on Florida's games. "It's no place for a human, but his spirits are always up," Spikes says.

Growing up, Middlebrooks kept an eye on Spikes when their mother, Sherry Allen, was clocking 12-hour days at a fiberglass plant. When Allen was laid off after 23 years at the plant, she moved to Gainesville to be closer to her youngest son; she now has a janitorial job at a local school. On rare days off from football, mother and son go fishing together not far from campus. "She's my world," Spikes says.

That world is as clear as the ink on his arms. On his right forearm, there is a tattoo of his mother. Above his left wrist another reads: "I love this game."
It was his way out; it was his way here. It is what he does.

<table border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="1"><tbody><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatitle">Defensive uprising</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatextbold">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">The Gators have made the largest improvement nationally over the past year in scoring defense:</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Team</td><td class="vatext">2007 pts allowed</td><td class="vatext">National rank</td><td class="vatext">2008 pts allowed</td><td class="vatext">National rank</td><td class="vatext">Difference</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Florida</td><td class="vatext">25.5</td><td class="vatext">T-46</td><td class="vatext">12.3</td><td class="vatext">T-4</td><td class="vatext">13.2</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Navy</td><td class="vatext">36.4</td><td class="vatext">108</td><td class="vatext">23.4</td><td class="vatext">T-50</td><td class="vatext">13.0</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Northern Ill.</td><td class="vatext">30.8</td><td class="vatext">T-85</td><td class="vatext">18.1</td><td class="vatext">18</td><td class="vatext">12.7</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">Florida's defense has stepped up in other areas:</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">
</td><td class="vatext">2007, national rank</td><td class="vatext">2008, national rank</td><td colspan="3" class="vatext" rowspan="5">
</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Pass defense</td><td class="vatext">258.5, 98</td><td class="vatext">172.9, 17</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td colspan="2" class="vatext">Pass efficiency defense 128.7, 71</td><td class="vatext">93.6, 2</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Total defense</td><td class="vatext">361.8, 41</td><td class="vatext">275.6, 7</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td class="vatext">Interceptions</td><td class="vatext">11, T74</td><td class="vatext">23, 2</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext" height="8">Sources: Florida, NCAA</td></tr><tr><td colspan="6" class="vatext">http://images.usatoday.com/_common/_images/ipr/grey.gif</td></tr></tbody></table>
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/sec/2008-12-02-florida-spikes-cover_N.htm

milkman
12-03-2008, 07:26 AM
I'd love to have Spikes, as well, but his place in the draft will not be a good one for the Chiefs.

DaKCMan AP
12-03-2008, 07:30 AM
I'd love to have Spikes, as well, but his place in the draft will not be a good one for the Chiefs.

Probably not... the only hope would be if he slipped with Rey, Laurinaitis, Cushing and Curry in the draft and we grabbed him at the top of the 2nd or traded up into the bottom of the 1st.

CupidStunt
12-03-2008, 07:31 AM
The best KC can hope for is a Curtis Lofton/DeMeco Ryans-type LB who falls because of "ordinary athleticism." We're not going to be in any position to take a guy like Spikes.

milkman
12-03-2008, 07:45 AM
Probably not... the only hope would be if he slipped with Rey, Laurinaitis, Cushing and Curry in the draft and we grabbed him at the top of the 2nd or traded up into the bottom of the 1st.

With as many holes as this team has, trading up, ordinarily, would be a bad draft day strategy.

But in this case, if he were still on the board at around 26-27, I would be inclined to pull the trigger.

This kid is going to be a great player, IMO.

Sure-Oz
12-03-2008, 08:00 AM
Yeah i've seen this kid a few time on the tube, he's a badass

talastan
12-03-2008, 08:10 AM
If he falls to the second or the bottom of the first, go for it! Filling a position of need and adding a leader to this defense will go a long way to fixing our problems. However based on the belief that Clark keeps Herm another year, how does Spikes grade out as a Cover 2 MLB? Normally the MLB in a Cover 2 has to be a beast to be successful.

the Talking Can
12-03-2008, 08:15 AM
i would love to have him, but he'll go late first round, i bet....

DaKCMan AP
12-03-2008, 08:52 AM
If he falls to the second or the bottom of the first, go for it! Filling a position of need and adding a leader to this defense will go a long way to fixing our problems. However based on the belief that Clark keeps Herm another year, how does Spikes grade out as a Cover 2 MLB? Normally the MLB in a Cover 2 has to be a beast to be successful.

He's a beast, and as stated in the article, he leads the nation in INTs for a LB.

PhillyChiefFan
12-03-2008, 09:03 AM
He is only going to move up on draft boards IMHO, he is around every single play normally mauling whoever has the ball, or picking it before it can get to a receiver.

Spikes would be a great pick up for the Chiefs, he's a big reason why Florida's defense is so good.

Pestilence
12-03-2008, 09:08 AM
Do we have anyone else on our team that we can trade for an extra 1st round pick?

evolve27
12-03-2008, 09:10 AM
I hope the Chiefs can somehow land this guy.

http://cdsdraft.com/profile.php?id=1380

Overview
Has appeared in 22 games with nine starts at linebacker...Collected 146 total tackles (90 solo) in his first two seasons...Registered 17 tackles for a loss of 38 total yards...Owns one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries...More than tripled the number of pass deflections collected in his sophomore season (7) than as a freshman (2)...
Strengths
Spikes absolutely flies to the ball. When his defense is on the field he is always in and around the action. Loves going on the blitz and creating havoc in opponent's backfields. Doesn't let anyone slip away once he's got them in his grasp. Great hustle.
Weaknesses
Possibly lacks a few pounds in terms of being prototypical size. Not helped by the presence of 2 other great MLBs in the draft.
Projection
Somewhere on the bubble between the 1st and 2nd round right now in my estimation.

Pestilence
12-03-2008, 09:12 AM
I have no clue who I want us to get in the 1st round....but if we can pull it off...I'd love to get this guy with our 2nd round pick. Even if it costs us that and one of next years picks to trade up.

evolve27
12-03-2008, 09:15 AM
I have no clue who I want us to get in the 1st round....but if we can pull it off...I'd love to get this guy with our 2nd round pick. Even if it costs us that and one of next years picks to trade up.

Easy. Bradford in the first, Detroit will be idiots if they pass on him.

Pestilence
12-03-2008, 09:15 AM
Easy. Bradford in the first, Detroit will be idiots if they pass on him.

ROFL:clap::spock:

bkkcoh
12-03-2008, 11:20 AM
Easy. Bradford in the first, Detroit will be idiots if they pass on him.

They probably wont pass on him since they got rid of MM