GAINESVILLE — The past is a constant reminder of what might have been lost and how far he has come, but Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is now happily living in the present.
Last year at this time, Floyd was a spectator after being suspended for two games by the NCAA for violation of preferential treatment rules, including receiving $2,500 cash over several months from an individual not associated with the university. According to the NCAA, Floyd used the money for living expenses, transportation and other expenses.
"Mentally and physically, it was one of the hardest things that I had to do, sit and watch my teammates play, knowing I was capable of playing and couldn't," Floyd said. "You get knocked down, but you get back up."
It was an uncertain and difficult period for Floyd, which is why this preseason camp and start to the 2012 season has been his most rewarding.
"It feels really good," said Floyd, now at 6 feet 3, 303 pounds. "It's probably the first year going into a season I didn't have any controversy. So it feels good and I've been focusing on football since the bowl game and that feels great too. To know that I can just focus on one thing, and it's something I love."
Floyd joined the Gators in 2010 as the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle out of Philadelphia George Washington High. He started at defensive tackle that season, but when depth at defensive end became a serious issue, Floyd was moved in spring 2011 to help ease the burden. He played last season at end, where admittedly he was uncomfortable and struggled at times.
He finished with 6.5 tackles for loss and just 1.5 sacks — a total of 69 tackles in two seasons. Floyd got an opportunity to play tackle Jan. 2 in the Gator Bowl, but with depth still an issue he returned to end last spring.
Floyd dedicated himself to improving at both positions. He worked on his pass rush from the outside and the middle, versatility that will come in handy, second-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.
"I think he's in a good spot there (inside)," Quinn said. "But he adds value for me for our defense because I know he can do it at end."
Floyd insists he'll do whatever is best for the team, but won't deny he's happiest — and most productive — at tackle.
"It feels great," he said. "It's like winning the lottery. I love it, but I love all that I can do for the team and the chemistry it brings, so I'm happy to be back where I'm comfortable and still do what's best for the team."
With Ronald Powell still recovering from an ACL injury, and the loss of senior Jaye Howard, the Gators have moved Dominique Easley — who played tackle his first two seasons — to end, which enabled Floyd's move.
Easley started 12 games at defensive tackle, and Floyd started 11 at defensive end last season, and the two combined for 83 tackles, 14 for loss, and three sacks.
"He's a bear, so it's good to have a bear in the middle," Easley said of Floyd.
Floyd had four tackles, including 1.5 for loss, in Saturday's win over Bowling Green. He expects, he said, to ultimately have a much greater impact this season. Part of a team-wide pledge.
"Besides the coaches holding us to a standard, we're holding each other and ourselves to a higher standard," Floyd said. "Because we know we're better than what we've been on film."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]