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Tackle tells it like it is

If you're not sure you want an honest answer, don't ask Florida offensive tackle Shannon Snell a question.

In Snell's world, honesty isn't just the best policy, it's the only one.

In a season filled with the ups and downs that accompany a first-year staff, Snell has been a constant.

Outspoken. Confident. Bold.

Ask, and he shall tell. Exactly as he sees it.

"You've got to speak your mind sometimes, and I'm just not about to hold anything back," said Snell, a Tampa native and former standout at Hillsborough High. "Even though I've got to be sensitive sometimes you've just got to speak your mind. It gives my teammates confidence, it gives me confidence and it gives our fans confidence.

"We don't want to go into a game saying, "well I hope we're going to win the game.' That would send a negative image, and I'm trying to send a positive image to my teammates."

For half the season, Snell was a mild-mannered lineman who, along with his teammates, struggled to learn a new system.

Then the Gators were in the midst of the toughest stretch of the season _ with an overtime win against Auburn behind them and No. 5 Georgia up next.

The week of the game, Snell did what comes naturally: he said what he thought. Florida would win.

"I think it took the pressure off (the team)," Snell said. "Everybody was kind of uptight after the Mississippi and LSU losses, and it was time for somebody to just step up and take charge, kind of give everybody some confidence. I guess it was just my time."

Next thing you know, the 20-year-old's comments were in the national media, even though he didn't actually say it the way it was portrayed.

"I turned on the TV that night and they were talking about Shannon Snell said we're going to kick their butts. I thought, you know, sometimes the media just blows things way out of proportion," Snell said, laughing at the memory. "I just went in there confident that we were going to win the game. And that's what we did.

"That was the first time that I've ever had my picture shown on ESPN like that. I liked it. I was hoping every Georgia player saw it just to fire them up. Like I said, when you talk the talk, you've definitely got to back it up."

Snell's offensive line has been criticized as quarterback Rex Grossman has felt more pressure from opponents. But Snell said, under the circumstances, the line and the rest of the team have fared well. His position coach agrees.

"He and Max Starks are the guys with the experience in this group, and they've responded well to what we're trying to do," offensive line coach Joe Wickline said.

After the Georgia win, Snell became the go-to guy for a comment on anything and everything. Through it all, Snell's teammates supported him.

"Shannon's the type of individual that he definitely speaks what's on his mind and what he feels deeply about and we understand that," Starks said. "He has deep convictions and he gets emotional, and if he feels strongly about something, he's going to say it. Then he's going to try to the best of his ability to back it up. I think that's one of the strong characteristics about him. It's good and it's bad, but it has more positives than negatives to it."

Snell started 11 games at left guard in 2001. He has started every game but one this season, which he missed with a shoulder injury.

Snell has been influenced by his father, Ray, a former Bucs guard.

"Football is probably our strongest bond," Snell said. "That's what ties us together, sports and just our love for the game."

Snell said his father would like to see him tone it down, but try as he might, he just can't do it.

"He always told me to keep it low-key, but that's not my style," Snell said. "I've always been like this. I'm not going to create lies; I'm going to tell you straight up. That's the kind of person I was raised to be and that's the kind of person I am.

"I'm a confident person. I'm not overconfident and I'm not cocky, but I'm confident for my teammates and myself. And that's the key to football and to life. Confidence."