HOOVER, Ala. — Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley is 6 feet 2 and 21 years old, but none of that matters as far as his mother is concerned. Her opinion still holds as much weight as it did when he was too young to take care of himself.
So when Carine Easley told him she wanted him to return to Florida for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft after his junior season, there wasn't much left to think about.
"It was a hard decision, but it was really based off of my mother," Easley said Tuesday at the annual SEC media days. "She asked me to come back and finish school. So I wanted to come back and get as close as possible to finish. She wants to see me walk across the stage, that's her biggest thing. That's what she keeps bugging me about, so you know you've got to make your mother happy."
Easley is scheduled to graduate next spring. He was projected to be a third- or fourth-round NFL pick this past season, which also factored into his decision to return.
He believes he's much better. And he's out to prove it this year.
He is expected to be critical for the Gators as they rebuild their defense after heavy losses thanks to graduation and early defections to the NFL.
Easley said the Gators' offseason has been as intense as ever, fueled in part by a loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. It has, he said, been the complete driving force behind the offseason.
"We've been living off that all (offseason)," Easley said. "They have this big poster of the score right before we walk in the locker room, so every day we have to see that."
His Florida career has had some struggles. He started all 12 regular-season games at defensive tackle in 2011, before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Florida State. He had 37 tackles that season.
Last season, he wasn't quite the same player. He started 11 games, but sat out against Kentucky and Vanderbilt because of injury. He had 26 tackles and a team-leading four sacks.
"It was more of a mental thing last year," he said. "I wasn't so confident in myself because of my injuries. I think it's going to be much better this year."
In preparation for this season, Easley said he has been working out and eating better. He weighs about 285 pounds, up from 270 last season. He has moved from end back inside, to his more natural position. And he's at peace.
"You learn from mistakes and life is all about experience," Easley said. "You take that experience and you try to build from that."
Coach Will Muschamp said Easley "made a very mature, smart decision" to return, which will benefit him and the Gators.
"He looked at the positives and the negatives of the situation, and what would benefit him, and his family and that was coming back to school," said Muschamp, who with former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn counseled Easley on his decision.
With his body and mind healthy, and with his move back to the position where he's most comfortable, Easley said he expects this to be his most productive season.
"I've got to give it everything," Easley said. "I can't save it. I don't want to have any regrets at the end."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]