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Everett still playing by Grandma's rules

The work ethic can be traced directly back to Eunice Williams.

Whenever his coaches and teammates talk about Florida senior linebacker Earl Everett, it's one of the first things they mention. Nobody is going to outwork Earl.

And that's exactly what Williams, the grandmother who raised him, intended.

"I tried to instill in him, and all the rest of my children and grandchildren, you've got to work for what you want," she said from her home in Webster. "No matter what it may be, nobody is going to give it to you. And the best way to get it is to work for it."

Everett got the message. Last season, he finished with 72 tackles, the only Gator to break the 70-tackle barrier.

"Earl's a great football player," teammate Reggie Nelson said. "I knew Earl since our (recruiting) visits, and we became close friends. I'm just happy to be playing on the same side of the ball with him."

Everett, 6 feet 3 and 234 pounds, leads the team and ranks 14th in the SEC with 72 tackles, including 40 solo. He is on pace to become the first Florida player to lead the team in tackles in consecutive seasons since Carlton Miles in 1991 and 1992, and only the fifth in school history to do, so joining: Pat Moorer (1988-89), Alonzo Johnson (1984-85) and Wilbur Marshall (1981-82).

"It would definitely mean a whole lot to me," Everett said. "When I first got here, that was one of my goals, to lead the team in tackles, but on top of that, to increase my tackles every year, and I think I've been doing it every year so far. But my main goal my senior year was to at least get to 90 or close to 90, so I've still got a little ways to go."

Everett, 22 on Dec. 10, grew up in Webster, a small Central Florida town in Sumter County, with his grandmother and three siblings - an older brother and sister, and a younger brother. When their mother decided to return to Lakeland, the school-aged children chose to stay with Williams.

But in reality, the whole town was his family.

"Webster is a little small country town, and it seems like everybody around there is some kin," he said. "Growing up, everybody knows everybody. You grow up with all your cousins and family. It's real nice.''

It was there in the back yard of his grandmother's house that he learned to play, and love, football.

"Every day I had a yard full of kids and that's all they would play," Williams said. "The kids would stay here until dark. Their parents wouldn't worry because I guess they felt like they were in good hands being here. They would stay here, and sometimes I would have to say, 'All right, ya'll go home now.' "

And when Williams spoke, all the children listened. She and Everett both describe her as "strict." How strict? Everett and his siblings weren't allowed to spend the night at anyone's house, but their friends were always welcome at theirs.

His upbringing is evident in everything Everett does, his friends said.

"He's just a solid guy," senior receiver Jemalle Cornelius said. "He goes to work every day. He's one of the best athletes on the team all around. He's like a no-nonsense kind of guy. When he's working, he's working. You don't want to bother with him when he's out there on the field. When he's on the field, he's a totally different person."

Everett began playing organized football in middle school as a receiver and quarterback. In high school, he played strong safety his first three years at South Sumter, then moved to linebacker his senior season. He's so quiet, his grandmother said, sometimes she would forget he was in the house.

But on the field, his play speaks for itself.

"I always come, handle my business and go home," he said. "That's just me. I do what I have to do at school and at practice. And as far as on the field, I'm the type of person I let my pads do the talking. I'm not the one that screams and yells and mouths off."

For the past several weeks, Everett has been nursing a sprained left ankle, although he hasn't missed a game and coach Urban Meyer said Thursday that Everett's status is questionable. Wednesday night, as he gingerly limped toward the locker room, Everett vowed to be on the field when Florida plays Arkansas on Saturday in the SEC title game. He's been through too much, fought too hard, to not play when the Gators seek their first championship since 2000.

It's part of the work ethic that resonates from his grandmother. If you want it, you have to work for it.

"She taught me a lot, and I thank her for everything that she did for me," Everett said. "Because if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be who I am today."

Antonya English can be reached at (813) 226-3389 or