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Confident Elser can back up talk

He can line up at cornerback and flanker. He could play linebacker and running back if coach John Benedetto needed him to. He even returns punts.

He will do whatever the first 11-0 team in Land O'Lakes' 28 years needs. Well, except stay humble, that is.

That's because Keith Elser knows how good he is. Give him enough time _ it doesn't take much _ and he will tell you.

But he always wasn't this talkative, or this brash.

"You have to (talk)," Elser said. "I never talked until I came out my sophomore year and started busting on everybody."

That's because Elser realized he needs that kind of attitude to perform at his best. How else does one field punts, with 11 other players bearing down on them, without having some measure of self-assuredness?

To Benedetto, the 6-foot-1, 168-pound senior represents why the Gators have been so successful.

"I think he's an outstanding player," Benedetto said. "He's a great kid. He works hard. He's very athletic. He's just another one of the reasons we're 11-0.

"You hear all this talk about Logan Payne and (quarterback) Drew (Weatherford) and sometimes (lineman) Joey Tuttle," Benedetto said. "But when you talk about our success, or Land O'Lakes being 11-0, then you have to mention Keith Elser because he's been such a big-play player for us."

Line up at flanker, opposite all-world split end Payne, and make the most of the few passes that come your way? No problem.

Elser is third on the team with 252 yards on 12 receptions this season. He has scored five touchdowns, including a 14-yard strike from Weatherford in Friday's playoff opener that was the difference in the Gators' 14-6 victory over Ocala Vanguard. Elser averages 21 yards a catch.

"It's like ambushing the defense," Elser said. "The defense is always double- and triple-teaming Logan on every play, so I sneak up on them and they don't even see it coming.

"Two catches a game? I'll get 50 yards."

But then he has to play cornerback opposite Payne, too, even if it means opponents picking on Elser's side of the field more.

No problem. Elser leads the squad with five interceptions and is averaging 40 yards a return. Friday against Vanguard, Elser made a crucial pick deep in his own territory, but his return to midfield was called back on a holding penalty.

The cornerback has 20 tackles and 9 assists this season, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble and 2 recoveries.

"It seems like they're not throwing to Logan's side and coming at me more," Elser said. "I don't know why. But if you throw it to my side, you're stupid."

Return punts? No sweat. Elser said he always forgoes calling for a fair catch, instead choosing to run the ball no matter what. He has returned 19 punts for 242 yards this year, averaging 12.7 a return.

"I don't fair catch anything," Elser said. "It's not gonna happen."