If persistence is the intersection of optimism and grit, Lake Wales (Fla.) Excessive soccer coach Tavaris Johnson leaned closely on these traits each time he crossed paths with Gervon Dexter within the hallways of the college.
Johnson, who can also be a dean, was desirous to see Dexter, a hulking freshman and proficient AAU basketball participant, on the soccer area. His preliminary efforts have been met with the sort of box-out Dexter would use to corral rebounds simply.
“I knew Gervon and I knew his household nicely,” Johnson stated. “I performed with a number of of his uncles. He comes from a really proficient household. The very first thing I stated to Gervon was, ‘Hey, a man your measurement must be on the soccer area. You’re a dream ready to occur.’ He seems at me and he says, ‘Coach, I’m not taking part in soccer.’ I’m like, ‘What?!? You’ve received to be kidding me.’”
Undeterred, Johnson stored a full-court press on Dexter into his sophomore yr and he remained singularly dedicated to basketball.
“I used to be fairly agency,” Dexter recalled.
With spring soccer approaching, Johnson labored to persuade Dexter into giving soccer a attempt throughout the 20 days allotted to spring soccer observe within the state.
“Gervon, pay attention, it’s a must to play soccer. That’s your goal,” Johnson stated.
“Coach, nah, I’m not ,” Dexter replied.
Johnson pushed ahead, ultimately convincing Dexter to attempt on a soccer uniform within the locker room and to see what he seemed like in one of many Highlanders’ black jerseys with white lettering and orange numbers.
“I feel that was simply the catch,” Johnson stated. “He felt that uniform.”
“All proper, Coach, I’m going to do that,” Dexter stated. “When do you suppose I’m going to get my first supply?”
“Gervon, no one goes to give you!” Johnson stated. “You haven’t performed a down of soccer. It doesn’t work that manner. You’ve received to present me a while to work.”
“Properly, I’m not going to play then,” Dexter replied. “I’m not going to waste my time. I’m not going to waste your time.”
“Gervon, pay attention, I’m telling you, that is the place you belong,” Johnson stated.
Johnson’s dogged pursuit and Dexter’s eventual willingness to attempt a sport he had performed solely as a youth led to larger issues before the coach might have imagined. Johnson was in attendance at Dexter’s draft get together when the Chicago Bears chosen him with the 53rd choose with the hopes he generally is a key piece in the midst of a defensive turnaround.
“Feeling the emotion and the power within the room was simply surreal,” Johnson stated. “After all it was predestined for him. He’d accomplished the issues he wanted to do to ensure this turned a actuality.”
On the primary day of spring ball, after Dexter was hooked by the concept of how he seemed within the Highlanders uniform, then-South Florida assistant coach Eric Mathies was at observe. Johnson was displaying him a listing of prospects on the college. The Highlanders sometimes have about 4 youngsters transfer on to varsity soccer annually.
“(Mathies) turns round and Gervon is within the nook,” Johnson stated. “ ’Coach, who’s that child?’
“I stated, ‘That’s a mission proper now, that’s Gervon Dexter.’ ”
Mathies walked over to Dexter and noticed him undergo a number of drills and informed Johnson he was going to supply him a scholarship that day. Three days later coaches from throughout the Southeast have been flocking to Lake Wales. The phrase was out.
“Transferring by means of his junior yr, he’s performed one season, helicopters have been touchdown on our baseball area,” Johnson stated. “You’d have thought we had the Pope right here with how a lot visitors we had with individuals coming by means of to see Gervon. He dealt with that every one nicely. He walked with humility. I informed him success is proportional to effort. You’ve received to determine this out.”
In a short while — ridiculously brief contemplating some recruiting tales — Dexter emerged as a five-star recruit and ultimately settled on Florida.
Then-Gators line of defense coach David Turner burst into laughter when requested if Dexter was nonetheless comparatively uncooked by the point he set foot on campus in Gainesville.
“What would you suppose?” Turner shot again. “He was uncooked with loads of athletic capability. There are loads of issues you’ll be able to coach, however you’ll be able to’t coach 6-foot-6, 280 kilos. From that standpoint, he had all the instruments. He was a pure and aggressive child. The advantage of soccer, you don’t get 5 fouls. So he can tough them up just a little bit and he doesn’t have to fret about fouling out.
“He wasn’t an entire lot totally different from (Kansas Metropolis Chiefs defensive sort out) Chris Jones. I had him at Mississippi State. Chris didn’t play soccer till his junior yr and thought he was a basketball participant. … Gervon is a child that wished to be coached. He’s an incredible child. ‘Sure, sir. No, sir.’ I used to be excited to have an opportunity to work with him. The advantage of it, there weren’t an entire lot of unhealthy habits he needed to break. You simply needed to coach him up. He wished to be nice and it was a pure development.”
Dexter’s father, Gerald, died of a mind aneurysm throughout the spring of his senior yr at Lake Wales in April 2020, making his transition to Florida more difficult.
“Acquired nearer to the person above in addition to simply utilizing my Dad as motivation,” Dexter stated when requested how he channeled his grief.
Dexter noticed common taking part in time as a freshman, logging 254 snaps, and greater than doubled that complete in 2021. The Gators used him as a penetrating defensive sort out within the first two seasons — how the Bears envision utilizing him — earlier than a change in coaches final fall led to a brand new scheme. In logging 636 snaps (53 per sport), Dexter was requested to learn and react extra and preserve visitors off linebackers. Whereas he proved to be sturdy, he wasn’t precisely taking part in to his strengths.
Nonetheless, in 36 video games (23 begins), he completed with 125 tackles, 5 sacks, 10½ tackles for a loss, two interceptions and 51 quarterback pressures.
“The SEC just isn’t an actual entry-level place, so he needed to get on-the-job coaching, and the one manner he was going to get good was to see and perceive that everybody is huge and robust,” Turner stated. “The most important factor in his sophomore yr was method and pad degree. He nonetheless wasn’t the place I wished him to be however he understood it having been examined and thrown within the fireplace. Every part his freshman yr was the primary time going by means of it so the second time was simpler.”
Turner’s comparability to Jones, a four-time Professional Bowl choice who twice has had 15½ sacks, is fascinating as a result of the mix measurables, are comparable in lots of respects.
Chris Jones | Gervon Dexter
- Peak: 6-5¾ | 6-6
- Weight: 310 | 310
- Arms: 32¾ | 32¼
- Wingspan: 85 | 80⅞
- 40-yard sprint: 5.03 | 4.88
- 10-yard break up: 1.69 | 1.81
- 3-cone: 7.44 | 7.50
- Bench-press reps: 26 | 22
Turner stated Jones had a quicker first step and was just a little extra fluid. An NFL personnel man stated Jones is faster laterally with looser hips and the power to bend like some elite edge rushers. Nonetheless, if Dexter is 75% of the participant Jones, a Kansas Metropolis Chiefs second-round choose in 2016, the Bears may have a star.
“It’s exhausting once you’re gifted with measurement and energy to grasp issues are going to take time to be the place you wish to be,” Turner stated. “That was the largest factor having (Dexter) perceive the method, being affected person inside improvement. You’re not going to be nice now, however ultimately you’re going to have an opportunity to be a extremely, actually good participant.”
Dexter is measured when discussing targets with the primary steps this weekend at rookie minicamp. He needs to get the playbook down, which shouldn’t be an excessive amount of hassle for a defensive sort out.
He’s thrilled the Bears are asking him to be a one-gapper, charged with getting upfield and wreaking havoc. He’s excited to study alongside fellow rookie Zacch Pickens from South Carolina.
The NFL is an adjustment for all rookies, much more so for ones with restricted expertise. Dexter set a purpose when he received to Florida to play for 3 seasons earlier than making the leap to the NFL. The overarching purpose, although, is one he made along with his father earlier than his demise.
“Simply making an attempt to do it for him,” Dexter stated. “I wish to be the most effective.”