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Orlando opener comes full circle for Florida Gators’ Jonathan Greenard

A year after dislocating his wrist while playing for Louisville, Greenard will be back at Camping World Stadium as a potential starter against Miami.
Florida Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard talks with reporters during media day. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ] [MATT BAKER]
Florida Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard talks with reporters during media day. [ MATT BAKER | TIMES ] [MATT BAKER]
Published Aug. 22, 2019

GAINESVILLE — Not long after Jonathan Greenard made the move he couldn’t have envisioned a few months earlier, he began to think about the circumstances surrounding his Florida debut.

When his No. 8 Gators open against Miami on Saturday at Camping World Stadium, he’ll be playing in the same venue and at the same kickoff event where he wrecked his wrist one year ago.

RELATED: Florida Gators, Miami Hurricanes have the national focus. Now they must show they deserve it.

“I can face my fears,” Greenard said.

And maybe afterward, he can step back and appreciate the return to Orlando that will allow his college career to come full circle. Without the low point he suffered in last year’s opener for Louisville, Greenard wouldn’t be where he is now — ready to enjoy his final college season at a premier program with a coach who believed in him before he believed in himself.

RELATED: Even Louisville was surprised how FSU ‘laid down’ in 2016 blowout

Greenard was coming off a breakout season a year ago after recording seven sacks and ranking fifth in the ACC with 15 ½ tackles for a loss in 2017. The 6-foot-4, 263-pound linebacker was a team captain and chosen to represent Louisville at the league’s media days.

Louisville's Jonathan Greenard answers a question during a news conference at the NCAA Atlantic Coast Conference college football media day in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) [CHUCK BURTON | AP]

Then the season started.

Two series in against No. 1 Alabama, Greenard fell near the sideline and tried to catch himself with his right hand. He didn’t feel anything at first; his adrenaline was still pumping. But when he lined up for the next play, he could hear his wrist clicking.

“I knew it was completely out of place,” Greenard said.

He didn’t look down at an injury so gruesome that trainers had to cover it with a towel. Greenard had dislocated his wrist and torn almost every ligament inside.

His season was over after nine plays.

While he recovered from a surgery that left three pins in his wrist, Greenard decided to come back for one more year instead of pursuing his NFL dream. He boosted his course load to graduate in December instead of May — not because he wanted to leave as a grad transfer but because he wanted to put himself in a better place academically for his return to Louisville.

RELATED: Five things juco recruiting can teach us about the transfer portal

But the Cardinals cratered. Coach Bobby Petrino was fired.

“Then all of a sudden, of course understanding the circumstances I had, an opportunity presented itself,” Greenard said. “I had to take it.”

Around the same time Greenard was preparing for grad school entrance exams, he put his name into the transfer portal. Although the decision to leave Louisville wasn’t easy, the destination was. UF was the obvious choice.

RELATED: What’s it like to be a player in the transfer portal? ‘It’s a lot’

Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had given Greenard one of his biggest college offers, back when Grantham was at Louisville and Greenard was an undersized prep linebacker in Georgia.

“He saw something in me that I didn’t even see,” Greenard said.

Then Grantham put him in position to make plays for the Cardinals with a system Greenard liked —one he wouldn’t have to relearn at UF.

RELATED: Why Todd Grantham turned down the Bengals to stay with the Gators

The Gators’ final advantage came on the depth chart. With Cece Jefferson and all-SEC talent Jachai Polite gone, UF had an opening for a game-ready buck edge rusher.

“There was an immediate need for somebody at that position, and he already knew the system and had success in it,” Grantham said. “So it was pretty easy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play in The Swamp, right?”

But first, Greenard has to return to Camping World Stadium, where he can get past his fears and embrace the full-circle path that brought him back to the national stage.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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