GAINESVILLE, Fla. - One respected NFL analyst said last month if Brandon Spikes left Florida after his junior season he could have been the first middle linebacker taken in the draft.
But Spikes decided to return to the Gators for his senior year, and he said Wednesday on the first day of spring practice he does not regret it at all.
"I'm here, I'm happy and ready to try to get my degree," Spikes said. "A kid, 20, 21 years old, I had a chance to go to the big leagues and I didn't take it and you think about getting hurt or whatever you can accomplish. I just think about my family. We sat down and we felt I could benefit by coming back."
Part of the motivation to stay in school is because Florida has a legitimate shot at winning three national titles in four seasons.
That accomplishment, Spikes said, would be a dream, and there is no reason to think Florida can't make it reality. All 11 starters are back on a defense that held high-octane Oklahoma to 14 points in the BCS title game, the Gators' schedule is navigable and the SEC should not be as powerful as usual.
And Spikes is back. Last season, the former five-star recruit from Shelby (N.C.) Crest led the Gators with 93 tackles and he was tied for second in interceptions with four.
Another reason Spikes said he decided to come back is because he's close with all of the players on defense, relationships built through long hours, tough times and a lot of good memories. In his gut, leaving after his junior season just didn't seem like the right move.
"I know Brandon very well but I know the draw and the pull, I've sat in those meetings," said Florida coach Urban Meyer, who did lose Percy Harvin early to the NFL. "He [Spikes] did the right thing. If he would've left he did the right thing. He made the decision. The one thing about Brandon and the one thing I was really impressed, the further our program gets going, kids aren't making snap decisions now. They're very thorough and very thought-out.
"Percy's [decision] was very thought-out. That was not a snap decision. Brandon James, Jermaine Cunningham, there are other guys that have a history. When we first got here they were leaving and they were seventh-round picks. That's not right."
With so much success, complacency could be a concern, but Spikes said he won't let that happen. An example to the younger players, freshman linebacker Jon Bostic said he's smart enough to listen and learn from Spikes even after one practice.
"You have all the guys back from last year's defense, we played well throughout the whole season and it's kind of easy to just get satisfied," Spikes said. "You have two national championships, two SECs and a lot of teams don't even win one.
"We have two but it's keeping guys like Tim Tebow around and me, I'm going to keep motivating guys and that's what I'm here for, to get better fundamentals. I'm looking forward to this season but after I'm gone ... I'm looking forward to watching those younger guys get one, too."