During the first game of his senior season at Mount Dora (Fla.) High School, offensive lineman Brett Heggie suffered a broken scaphoid in his wrist – and without knowledge of the injury, played nine games through it.
Soon, Heggie, a three-star recruit from the 2016 class, would undergo surgery on his wrist and be in a cast for roughly 10 months, but ultimately he felt his wrist injury took about a year to heal. It did play a factor in him redshirting during his first season as a Gator.
"Bowl week I started to feel a lot better, I used it a little bit more,” Heggie said. “It's still trying to get rid of bad habits and using my hand. So it's an everyday fight with me, but I've come a long way, so I'm happy with that.
"I couldn't bend, especially when I got out of my cast,” he continued. “I couldn't bend it, so I had to do a lot of rehab. And then in high school that whole year I really couldn't use it, so I was blocking a lot with my forearm. So, when I got here I was doing the same thing, and you can't do that, especially at this level. You have to be fundamentally sound the whole time. So just really trying to use it as much as I can."
However, now with the spring almost wrapped up and Florida set to participate in the Orange & Blue Debut on Friday night, the 6-foot-3, 317-pound Heggie describes his wrist as “completely healed.” He’s worked at both guard and center this offseason but has been one of Florida’s most rapid risers this spring on the depth chart.
After a few practices of working with the 2’s, Heggie catapulted himself into a role at first-team left guard and has held onto it.
“It’s been going great. It took me one practice to get used to it,” Heggie said of playing guard. “I’m doing a little bit of both right now, but that’s where I’m at right now. … What's the difference between guard and center? Well you have your hand in the dirt, so you have to be faster off the ball. You really don't have to make as many calls, so you don't have to think about it too much. You just play ball really at guard."
Heggie feels he’s become more knowledgeable of the playbook and better accustomed to the speed of the game at the college level since enrolling at UF last summer.
“It's mostly mental,” Heggie said. “Once you get the mental stuff down then you're good. So once I got that down, once I got my wrist healed, I think I made some big strides. But I'm still working. I've still got a lot of work to do."
Heggie has been a player Florida head coach Jim McElwain has continunally had praise for throughout his spring press conferences. Gators coaches and players have also taken notice to Heggie’s aggressive and physical play - and versatility - in the trenches.
“He came in last year, you know he was All-American coming out of high school. He didn't belly-ache towards his redshirt year and stuff like that,” right guard Fred Johnson said. “I feel like he grew as a person and grow as an athlete. Just getting into the weight room and you know attacking the workouts and being attentive in meetings. I feel like last year Brett could have played whenever and this year it just gave him more experience and more attitude to attack the field.”
GARCIA LOOKING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITY
While middle linebacker David Reese has been sidelined this spring with a wrist injury, redshirt senior walk-on Cristian Garcia has filled in during practices as a first-stringer alongside Kylan Johnson and Vosean Joseph, as the Gators have operated a lot of a traditional 4-3 look defensively.
For Garcia, who joined the team during the 2015 season, this is just another step on what has been an inspirational journey from a UF video squad member to a first-string linebacker in spring practices.
“If you would have told me two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Garcia said. “I was leading Swamp Jacks the other day. It’s just a great feeling being out here and being able to work with all these guys. I can’t wait for next year to make some plays. … It’s been a great experience. Something I’ve been used to – anytime somebody gets injured, I’ll hop up from the second or third team, so they’ve counted on me a lot. It’s been an easy transition.”
With Florida dealing with numbers injuries in the postseason at the linebacker position, the Gators turned to Garcia, a special teams regular in 2016, to start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. In that contest, Garcia finished with five tackles, tying for the fourth-best total on the team.
This spring, Florida has turned to Garcia’s experience among a young, somewhat shorthanded group at linebacker.
“Definitely, I can keep some of the guys level-headed when they maybe make a mistake,” Garcia said. “I tell them, ‘Keep your head up, this is what you’ve got to do.’ Me and [Johnson] are probably the guys who can play the most positions out there, because mentally. So we’re able to help out all of the guys, just schematically with the defense and just bringing out all that stuff.”
Florida will only get younger at linebacker by the fall, with three more freshmen signees from the 2017 class – Lacedrick Brunson, Ventrell Miller and Nick Smith – set to arrive in the summer. Some of the Gators’ underclassmen linebackers may not be ready to see the field right away this upcoming season, so Garcia could be relied upon in at least some capacity throughout the year.
“That’s definitely the goal,” Garcia said of having a regular role in the rotation. “That’d be huge for me. I have a lot of aspirations this year to make a lot of plays.”
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