Jachai Polite saw it coming.
In the first quarter, he watched LSU receiver Russell Gage take a sweep play 30 yards to the end zone. So the next time he saw the Tigers receiver in motion, Polite pounced. As Gage took the handoff and made a bead for the right side, he met Polite, Florida’s 6-foot-2, 260-pound sophomore defensive end. In the span of a few seconds, Polite picked him up, put him down 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and performed his new celebration: “mask off,” gesturing like he’s lifting a cover off his face to reveal himself to the world.
Nah, not today. Another week, another Jachai Polite highlight play. pic.twitter.com/Mej29LsbHI— Zach Dean (@ZachDeanDBNJ) October 7, 2017
Thanks to a breakout season, Polite’s gotten plenty of opportunities to try out that celebration. But the story of the edge rusher from Daytona Beach, Florida, isn’t about arrogance, bragging or style points. It’s about how the hardest working player can earn that right to celebrate.
Polite initially came to UF as an underrated three-star recruit. He played fairly often as a freshman but didn’t stand out. So going into his second season, he raised his own expectations. He started reaching out more to defensive line coach Chris Rumph. Over summer, Polite sent texts, tweets and pictures to Rumph about how good he would be in the fall. So when fall practice started, Rumph challenged him, sending the same messages back to Polite to make sure he hadn’t forgotten the standard he’d set for himself.
And he didn’t forget. Through five games, he’s reminded fans, coaches and teammates why he’s at UF in the first place.
No play showcases Polite’s ability like the now-famous tackle he made on Tennessee running back John Kelly, a clip of which has tallied thousands of retweets on Twitter. Kelly caught a screen pass on the opposite side of the field, eluding multiple Florida defenders for a 29-yard gain. It would’ve been more, too, but Polite tracked Kelly the whole time, chasing him down and getting in front of him before delivering a textbook tackle. Not bad for a 260-pound defensive lineman.
Plays like this is why 99 will be playing on sundays 💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/B7NEKhFcya— Lawrence Martin IV (@ShowOut_65) September 16, 2017
“He has a great motor. You saw it on the play,” UF safety Nick Washington said. “He was the first guy at the quarterback and still came around and made the tackle, a great form tackle.”
It was such a perfect example of a don’t-give-up-on-the-play attitude that Gators coach Jim McElwain had the whole team watch the clip later in a meeting.
McElwain wasn’t the only coach impressed with the play. Scott Wilson, Polite’s high school coach, was one of the 87,763 in attendance that Saturday. It’s plays like those that convinced Wilson that Polite has a shot to play in the NFL. And that’s coming from someone who coached Ricardo Allen, who started in Super Bowl LI for the Falcons, and Pro Bowler Leonard Williams.
At Mainland High School, Wilson realized Polite’s preparation, attitude and football IQ will take him however far he wants to go.
“I have not seen something that he wants that he hasn’t earned,” Wilson said.
When Polite first joined the team in high school, he was so large and so skilled that the coaching staff couldn’t decide where to play him. He played defensive line, safety, cornerback, tight end, took snaps at quarterback and even starred on special teams.
“He was our punter and led the entire area in punting average,” Wilson said. “It’s amazing what he can do.”
After the team’s offense improved, Polite found his comfort zone along the defensive line.
“He had a passion for going after the quarterback,” Wilson said. “Once we saw how much damage he created on that side, we couldn’t take him (off).”
Polite had such an impact on the school that his stardom within the community never died down. To this day, Polite uses that influence to set an example for kids in Daytona Beach, reaching out to students and giving talks to players whenever he can. It’s a part of who he is. If you look on his social media accounts, weaved between in-game highlights you’ll see posts like this one Thursday from a youth football coach:
“Reach out to Jordan, What ever you said to him worked. He’s working his butt off and leading! Keep motivating him for me! I appreciate you!”
Reach out to Jordan, What ever you said to him worked. He’s working his butt off and leading! Keep motivating him for me! I appreciate you!— Brian Colubiale (@BColubiale) October 12, 2017
Some of Polite’s biggest fans are his teammates at UF. And like the kids back home, they look up to him because they’ve witnessed his work ethic and will to get better.
“After that video (went) viral, I was like, ‘Bruh, I gotta practice like you,’” defensive tackle Luke Ancrum said, “because it’s really the way he practices. That’s why he’s like that.”
Polite continues to burst into backfields and separate himself this season. He’s the only Gator to force a fumble so far and he’s second on the team in quarterback hurries, behind only veteran defensive end Jordan Sherit. Polite is a bright spot on what’s been a down year for the Gators, but even in dark moments, his presence uplifts others. After UF’s 33-17 loss to Michigan, Sherit was asked if there are any positives to take away from the game.
“I love the way Jachai Polite played,” Sherit said. “He’s a second-year guy who didn’t get a lot of shine. But I expect a lot of big things out of him.”
You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at [email protected].