Earl Okine’s career as a Gator hasn’t always been enjoyable.

Early on, he struggled to get on the field, and when he did, he didn’t perform well enough to earn extensive playing time.

As a native of Gainesville, the frustrations were exacerbated. He constantly had to hear about his lack of production from those closest to him.

“There have been many times when I was just real down,” Okine said. “But that just comes with playing in your hometown.”

For those reasons, Saturday will be a special day for the redshirt senior defensive lineman, who has had his most productive season in his final go-round at Florida.

Okine will have more than 20 friends and family members in attendance when he and 18 other seniors are honored prior to their last game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. No. 7 Florida (9-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) hosts Jacksonville State (6-4, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

A graduate of Gainesville High, Okine redshirted in 2008 before playing in five games in 2009. Entering 2012, he had recorded just 15 tackles.

He credits Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s coaching for the strides he’s made over the past two seasons.

“Dan Quinn is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me in my football career,” Okine said. “He’s just an excellent coach. I can’t say enough about him. He conveys his message on his techniques very well — better than I’ve ever seen a coach do.”

Through 10 games in 2012, Okine has 10 tackles. He also blocked a critical field goal attempt in Florida’s 31-17 win at Vanderbilt on Oct. 13. Quinn said Okine made progress with his ability to shed blocks

“No. 1 with him was him recognizing some of the blocks and seeing it,” Quinn said. “He

has certainly worked hard at that and you can see him improving.”

Every current UF senior was a part of the 2009 team that was undefeated before falling to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Fifth-year seniors such as Okine, defensive tackle Omar Hunter and Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray were around for the 2008 national championship run.

The seniors have also experienced the other end of the spectrum, as Florida struggled through a five-loss season in 2010 and a six-loss campaign in 2011.

While the Gators won’t be in the conference title game this year, senior linebacker Jon Bostic said being a part of UF’s bounce-back season was most meaningful.

“I was here my freshman year and went to the SEC Championship, so I’ve kind of been here through the highs,” Bostic said. “Then, you know, sophomore, junior season, just being able to turn everything back around and get everything back on track.”

Although Okine struggled early on, he does not regret the way his Florida career played out.

“I love this university,” Okine said. “And I wouldn’t have redone anything. I love this program, and it will always be a part of my life.”

Okine is content with his college career. He would not be distraught if he doesn’t make it to the NFL.

“If this is my last year playing football, that’s fine with me.”

Contact Josh Jurnovoy at [email protected].

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