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A centered lineman

Pouncey resisted the urge to jump

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 27, 2011

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Some players can’t wait to leave college and jump to the NFL, whether it’s the lure of being paid to play football or because they don’t like school that much or because they feel as though they’ve accomplished all they can in college.

Mike Pouncey could wait.

But it wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough — Pouncey requested a predraft grade after the 2009 season and was told he was projected as a late-first round to mid-second round pick. To a lot of players, that would be enough reason to make the leap.

Pouncey stayed in school.

Choosing to play another season with the Florida Gators meant Pouncey would be without his twin brother, Maurkice, for his senior year. Maurkice did leave Florida early, was the 18th overall pick in last year’s draft, and was a Pro Bowler for the Steelers as a rookie.

Had Mike entered the draft last year, the twins would have been separated because there was little chance they would have been drafted by the same team. But it was still strange to be in different places for the first time in their lives.

“It was new. It was tough,’’ Pouncey said. “Especially since we spent our whole life together.’’

Though Maurkice left school after three years and quickly established himself as the Steelers’ center for the next decade or so, Mike was the more heralded recruit when the two arrived in Gainesville in 2007.

The twins were brought in as offensive linemen, but Mike moved to the defensive line and learned the position so quickly he played every game on the D-line as a freshman, with four starts.

He switched back to offense as a sophomore, and was the Gators’ left guard for two years. Once again showing his selflessness and versatility, he moved once more as a senior, this time to his brother’s former spot at center.

The transition was not as smooth as his previous move to defense had been — Pouncey snapped a ball over the head of quarterback John Brantley in the season opener, one of a few snaps that were graded as poor by the coaching staff.

“I knew all the line calls, it was just tough after the first game,’’ he said. “I went out and had a bad game. I told myself when I left the locker room I’d never play like that again.

“After that game, I felt like I let everybody in that stadium down. I couldn’t sleep. I woke up the next morning, was the first one in that building, and from then on I got it fixed.’’

Pouncey finished the season as the first-team center on the All-Southeastern Conference team.

While he did improve, many believe Pouncey isn’t a natural snapping the ball and that he may be better suited moving once more, to guard in the NFL. He plays with a wide base, has good lower-body strength, has great field awareness, and also has a mean streak.

Pouncey’s preference is to play center, but he will play whichever position he’s asked to. He contends that while he and his brother are similar as players, he is better at blocking in the open field.

Other than that, they’re two hard-playing, lovable guys — “we’re the total package,’’ Mike joked.

He is projected as a mid-first round pick now.

But Pouncey won’t be happy unless he hears his name called with the 17th pick — or higher — because he has to do Maurkice one better.

“I’ve got to get drafted first. I want to beat him at everything. We compete with each other with anything we do,’’ Mike said. “I have to get into camp and I have to earn a starting spot and I have to play great like he did.’’

And if he doesn’t?

“I’ll never hear the end of it.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com.

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