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Walking the walk and talking the talk

300-pound tackle Gerard Warren's antics provide a spark for the Gator defense.

It was a hot summer day in Gainesville, and the Gators were running sprints. Gerard Warren was running late.

Cleats? Who needs 'em?

T-shirt? Why bother?

Shorts? No time.

Always looking for new ways to express himself, Warren, a 300-pound defensive tackle, joined the drill by marching across the field wearing nothing but his skivvies, bellowing in his unmistakable baritone: "One time for the crew."

Yep, that's Warren.

"I'm crazy," he said.

The big man at the front of No. 7 Florida's free-wheeling defense, Warren sets the tone for the Gators with his boisterous personality. Whether it's the opposing backfield or a scuffle on Bourbon Street, Warren is sure to be in the middle of the action.

"There's no telling what will come out of Gerard's mouth," said senior Jesse Palmer, UF's backup quarterback. "I don't even know if he's talking English sometimes. He's just making sounds."

Every locker room, it seems, has at least one loud-mouthed, obnoxious, annoying player. A guy who sings at the top of his lungs, off key. A leader who gets in your face and under your skin, and everyone loves him for it.

That's Warren.

"I speak what's on my mind," said Warren, a junior chosen the team's most inspirational player last spring. "I believe I'm heard. I believe I'm listened to. I do my best to get my teammates jacked up."

As Florida prepares to play No. 2 Miami in Tuesday's Sugar Bowl _ the first meeting between the once-bitter rivals in 13 seasons _ Warren is perhaps as underrated as he is outspoken.

Toiling in the interior, the 6-foot-4 Warren was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection behind Georgia's Richard Seymour and Tennessee's John Henderson. He gets overshadowed by teammate Alex Brown, a flashy junior end who drew preseason All-America honors, but Warren's statistics say plenty about his most productive season.

Warren had a team-high 23 quarterback hurries and tied Brown for the team lead with 11{ tackles for loss. Warren was second to Brown with 4{ sacks and 36{ "big plays," a catch-all category that tallies a variety of game-swinging plays. Brown had 7{ sacks and 41{ big plays.

"If you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk," junior middle linebacker Travis Carroll said. "And Gerard does."

They call him Big Money, a nickname he picked up at Union County High School in Raiford, though the name's origin is unclear. Was it because Warren's playmaking ability was money in the bank? Was it a comment on his NFL earnings potential? Both seem to apply.

Warren, 22, Brown and junior offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker have petitioned the NFL for their draft status as underclassmen. So far the feedback has been vague.

"That's about all they tell us _ between the first and second round," Warren said. "Then you have to make your own decision from that. I have a whole lot more thinking to do. Right now I am just focusing on playing the best that I can during the Sugar Bowl."

Underclassmen have until Jan. 12 to declare for the draft. Florida defensive coordinator Jon Hoke thinks Warren and Brown would benefit from another season of college.

"There are a lot of tackles coming out this year, so instead of being "a guy,' Gerard could be "the guy,' " Hoke said. "They both could benefit from another year. Whether they listen to me is another story. There's probably three or four others guys telling them they have to come out."

Wednesday night, Warren was one of two UF players handcuffed by New Orleans police who broke up a scuffle between Florida and Miami players on Bourbon Street. No charges or reports were filed, and no players were suspended for Tuesday's game.

Warren declined to comment, but coach Steve Spurrier came to his defense.

"You can say it was troubling, or you can say he jumped in there while one guy was getting clobbered by six or seven of them _ the story we got," Spurrier said. "I don't know. Can you say Gerard was bad for pulling a teammate out between five or six of them?"

Notorious for his big mouth, Warren has had little to say to reporters since September, when Spurrier banned him and several other Gators from interviews for a week because they ran their mouths before the Tennessee game. It is the only forum in which he holds back.

"If you hear somebody hollering for no reason, you know it's Big Money," Walker said. "He has been like that since we walked on campus as freshmen. He might irritate everyone else, but that's Gerard. You always need somebody wild and crazy, ready to do anything. He fits the mold."