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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Child's Play: Often misunderstood, Easley refuses to hide personality

<p>Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley is known for being a jokester in the locker room, helping keep teammates light before kickoff.</p>

Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley is known for being a jokester in the locker room, helping keep teammates light before kickoff.

Here is the doll. The “Chucky” doll. The doll that has become Dominique Easley’s famous accessory. The doll with the murderous streak. The doll that exemplifies the scariness of Florida’s 282-pound defensive tackle.

Or not.

“‘Chucky,’ to him, it’s not a horror movie; it’s a comedy,” said Juan Easley, Dominique’s uncle. “He laughs at the movie. It’s funny to him. … Other people would turn their head when Chucky was slicing people up. Dominique would laugh at it.”

Humor comes easy to Dominique, his friends and family will tell you, and it has been on display from the beginning of the season.

Watch the Gator Walk, where he carries with him the doll, a birthday gift from his girlfriend. Watch on-field celebrations, when he will accidentally knock over smaller teammates with a chest bump or, as was the case two weeks ago, clothesline Matt Elam after an interception.

Watch him on the field between snaps, or on the sidelines, or really anywhere you can find him; Dominique will probably be dancing.

He picked up his moves (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask) from his mother, Carine. She is of Haitian descent and, to hear Dominique’s father describe it, traditional family get-togethers often transform into dance parties.

Standing at the line of scrimmage on Saturdays, waiting for the opposing offense to break its huddle, Dominique will be swiveling his hips, tapping his feet, pumping his arms — even in the rare moments when neither the stadium PA nor the band provides music.

Perhaps because it’s easy, or perhaps because they simply don’t care, outsiders — fans, the media, whoever — tend to accept the dancing as comedy for comedy’s sake, not realizing it is at once funny and necessary. Dancing, Carine says, is how Dominique focuses.

“If you take that away from him, I’m not sure who you’re getting,” said his father, David Easley. “It would send him into a depression, as far as I’m concerned. He was raised that way.”

Like the dance moves, Dominique can be misunderstood by those who don’t know him.

Waiting in the locker room before games at Staten Island (N.Y.) Curtis High, Dominique wouldn’t keep quiet; he was too busy pulling pranks and stealing stuff from his friends’ lockers. Coach Pete Gambardella said it was Dominique’s way of dealing with pregame pressure, of keeping everyone light. Then, he would walk out on the field.

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“People might mistake Dominique for being this tough, grimy person from the way he plays football,” said Juan, his uncle. “You see these pictures with this angry face on. That’s completely different from how he is off the field. He may try to put up a front.”

A former teammate calls him “Big Baby.” His Little League coach calls him “a big, sweet teddy bear.” His father calls him “Popeye,” a fitting name for the boy who had to grow into his bulky arms and legs.

Here is the photo. The photo David Easley still has from about 11 years ago. The photo that shows why Dominique scared unfamiliar parents.

They thought he was a ringer, some older kid masking his real age so he could dominate the 8-year-olds. He was a third baseman, a catcher, a power hitter.  He was also 4-foot-11 and 130 pounds — about eight inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than the average boy his age.

“He was not bigger,” David said. “He was much bigger.”

Suspicious parents or not, at least Dominique was allowed to play baseball. He couldn’t say the same about football, which was his true passion even as a child. Youth football had weight limits, and even when he tried to play with his older brother, David Jr., Dominique was still too heavy.

He practiced with the Staten Island Hurricanes each week, but on game days he watched from the sidelines with Carine, who served as a team mom. He played basketball and baseball, but he kept talking football.

Once he enrolled at Curtis, where no weight limit could hold him back, Dominique quickly became one of the area’s elite players. He switched from linebacker to defensive tackle his sophomore year, and he thrived because of his size and surprising quickness, a product of his time on the basketball court.

Dominique originally committed to Penn State. Then he decommitted. Then he leaned toward Oregon. Then he went to the Under Armour All-American Game in January 2010. Then he picked Florida.

He had not even taken an official visit to Gainesville. The news surprised recruiting analysts. They weren’t the only ones.

“I was shocked,” said Kelvin Dinkins, Easley’s former Little League coach who remains close with the family. “I think his mother was shocked. … I want to say he got caught up with all the hype at the All-American Game, seeing all those other kids choose Florida.”

As soon as he stepped on campus last summer, Dominique wanted to leave. He was about 1,000 miles from home, and he soon butted heads with the coaching staff.

In early August, reports surfaced that Dominique had skipped at least one practice. Rumors that he wanted to transfer soon followed. When Florida played Vanderbilt on Nov. 6, Dominique was left off the travel roster. Urban Meyer said the freshman was “not part of the team right now.”

“There wasn’t a whole lot of communication from the old coaching staff,” Juan said. “The chemistry, it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t there from the beginning.”

Said Dinkins: “He really wanted out.”

Dominique’s family encouraged him to stay, and he actually caught an odd break when Meyer resigned in December. Well aware of the problems in 2010, Will Muschamp called Dominique into his office when the coach first arrived.

Dominique had a fresh start.

Here is the scrapbook. The book with pages of headlines and photos and articles. The book with evidence that Staff Sgt. David Easley’s boy was making a name for himself, even as David collected clips while working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He first shipped out to Iraq in 2004, when Dominique was in middle school. David served in the transportation field, starting as a truck driver before moving into a management position in which he oversaw supplies and people being transported, among other duties.

David returned to the United States in 2005, but he served a second tour two years later, this time in Afghanistan. 

“Even though we never talked about it, I think it was a rough time for them,” David said.

To raise his children, David relied on his family, most notably his brother Juan, who became like a second father to Dominique and David Jr. Juan would call or email David, letting him know when the boys were acting up.

Juan tried to keep them focused on school and football, tried to keep them “out of the mix,” but he knew the burden of having a father at war weighed on them.

“They really wanted (David) to be here,” Juan said. “There were a lot of crazy things happening (in the war). It was nuts. I was worried myself. I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to make them even more uneasy.”

As Dominique progressed on the field, Juan kept David in touch. When the Staten Island Advance mentioned Dominique after a game, Juan told his brother to look up the article online. Other family friends started mailing him the actual newspaper clippings.

The scrapbook now sits in David’s home in Goose Creek, S.C. Even now that he’s in the United States, now that he can watch games on TV or in person — “a precious sight” — David keeps adding clips to the book.

He wants to show them to Dominique’s children one day.

When Florida played UAB one day before the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, players with military ties ran out of the tunnel holding American flags.

Before charging onto the field, Dominique gripped his flag. His eyebrows were tilted down, his mouth curled slightly — a sinister look you would see on a murderous doll, the “front” his uncle swears Dominique only wears on the field.

After running to the sidelines, Dominique began waving the flag. At first, the process was ordinary, traditional. Then, he started dancing.

Here is Dominique Easley.

Contact Tyler Jett at

Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley is known for being a jokester in the locker room, helping keep teammates light before kickoff.

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