GAINESVILLE — The official separation began Monday.
That's when former Florida C Maurkice Pouncey said goodbye to Gainesville and headed to Orlando to begin his NFL training, while his twin brother, OL Mike Pouncey, remains for his upcoming senior season with the Gators.
It's the first time, with the exception of one week a few years ago, that the twins have ever been separated.
It's a bittersweet time for Mike Pouncey, but he believes that he's doing the right thing by returning and that his future — and the Gators' — will be better because of it.
"I made the decision, and I believe it's the right one," he said.
At 6 feet 5, 315 pounds, Mike Pouncey has played in 39 games and has 28 consecutive starts. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press and the coaches' vote this past season. During his tenure, he has played center, moved over to the defensive line as a freshman when depth issues plagued the Gators, then back to guard. Next year, he's moving to center.
"I'm comfortable anywhere on the (offensive) line, but I'm going to move to center, and that will help me out a lot," Pouncey said. "A lot of coaches have told me by moving to center, it will improve my stock and I could be a first-round pick."
Don't think for one moment that the decision to return was easy. The twins told everyone if they were projected first- or second-round picks, they would leave, but Mike's status wasn't solid. Some projections showed him second round; others had him going in the third. He didn't want to take that chance.
And then there was the family pressure. The twins and their parents spent nearly a week weighing the pros and cons of leaving or staying.
"My parents wanted me to go," he said. "Everybody was telling me, 'Go, go, go,' all my family in Lakeland. But I made the final decision myself. My parents were 100 percent behind me once I made my decision."
It was interim coach Steve Addazio, who is also the Gators' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, who helped in the final decision.
"I sat down and talked with Addazio, and he gave me the best advice," Pouncey said. "He said I can only improve if I come back. I feel like I'm a great player, but if he's telling me there's room for improvement, I'll improve. He gave me the honor of a scholarship; this is my way of paying him back. Florida's been very good to me. I'm on target to graduate next December. I don't have to worry about money issues because of my brother. It's all good."
"I know that Mike has a great future ahead of him," Addazio said. "I believe he will be the top returning offensive lineman in America."
Preparing for change: The SEC's new television contract with ESPN has ensured that each school will be on a Thursday-Saturday schedule at least three times this season. For a team such as Florida, riddled with injuries and lacking depth, it could be a huge challenge. The Gators will play at Arkansas on Thursday then host South Carolina on Saturday.
"It's going to be different for everyone in the league," coach Billy Donovan said. "It's almost like an NCAA Tournament-type situation with one day in between to prepare. The benefit of the NCAA Tournament is you're at the same site. With regards to travel, this is a little bit different, and we're going to try to do some things this week as it relates to travel.
"Because of a lack of depth for us, it matters how quickly we can get them back and the balance of preparation going into the next game, when we'll have less than 48 hours to do that. It's difficult, it is challenging, but that's what comes with the TV package that we put together this year. You're always worried about balance, keeping guys fresh for the next game, but also trying to improve."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.