Florida needs seniors Martez Ivey, Cece Jefferson to live up to the hype this season

Despite all the newness surrounding the Florida Gators in 2018 – new coach, all-new staff, new schemes on both sides of the ball and, of course, new hope – the two most important members of Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class will be expected to be foundations of sorts.

Senior offensive lineman Martez Ivey and senior defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson were five-star prospects and national top-10 overall recruits in McElwain’s first class, in 2015. As it turned out, they were the only five-star recruits signed by McElwain and his staff during his three-year tenure.

Both were thought to be headed to the 2018 NFL draft but bucked the trend – six of the top-10 players in the ’15 recruiting class are bypassing their senior seasons – and remained in school. Given the amount of unfamiliarity surrounding the program, their presence is vital – both on the field and off.

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Ivey and Jefferson are two of the eight members of Florida’s “leadership council,” which is voted on by the players.

“I’m a fan of the leadership committee,” Jefferson told the school’s athletic department website. “Since those coaches got here, we have turned a new leaf. The mindset is just different and you can tell it. I’ve definitely been seeing some change within the program with guys being more disciplined and doing what they are supposed to do. Just the little things that you catch out of the corner of your eye that you know a couple of years ago the team would have let slide. That’s going to make us better in the long run.”

Of course, what also is going to make the Gators better in the long run is more consistent play up and down the roster, including Ivey and Jefferson. Both have played extensively, but neither has lived up to the five-star billing – at least not yet.

Ivey has started at guard and tackle, and has made 31 career starts for the Gators. Ivey was named second-team All-SEC in 2016 and ’17 by the conference coaches and The Associated Press. While that acclaim is certainly noteworthy, he hasn’t been the dominant blocker that most expected.

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He played guard in his first two seasons on campus, then moved to left tackle – his position in high school – last season. Ivey can be a brutally dominant run blocker, but struggled at times last season with speedy edge rushers. Given his versatility, his landing spot along the line this season may depend on how others perform, especially during spring practice. There are two new tackles on the spring roster in JC transfer Noah Banks and Texas transfer Jean DeLance, who sat out last season. Conceivably, one (or both) could seize the opportunity for a starting job, and Ivey could slide back inside. Regardless, he is a for-sure starter for the Gators and will be expected to contend for all-league honors – first-team all-league honors this time.

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