Gators standout Greenard returns for 1st Florida-Georgia game

Florida linebacker Jon Greenard cleared up any questions about his status for Saturday’s game against No. 8 Georgia with two words:

“I’m playing,” he said emphatically.

He’ll do so with a brace and maybe a limp.

Greenard badly sprained his right ankle late against Auburn on Oct. 5, tried to play the following week at LSU and lasted one series. He ended up on the bench with a towel over his head to hide his emotions.

He sat out Florida’s last game, a victory at South Carolina on Oct. 19, so he’s had nearly three weeks to recover.

“It’s getting there,” he said Monday. “It’s good, though. … I just know I’m going to be out there, and that’s all that matters.”

It matters most to the sixth-ranked Gators (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference), who have to find ways to slow down running back D’Andre Swift and pressure quarterback Jake Fromm.

Swift leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 107.7 yards a game and 6.9 yards a carry. Fromm’s numbers are down a bit, but the Gators won’t forget how he threw three touchdown passes against them in 2018 — all on third down — to help the Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1) win the rivalry game in Jacksonville for the fifth time in the last eight years.

Greenard watched that one from afar.

But he’s no stranger to the series.

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Greenard grew up in Hiram, Georgia, a tiny town about 90 miles from the Bulldogs’ campus, and rooted for rival Florida.

“This game is huge. This is a game I’ve been thinking about since I was a child,” he said. “Obviously, I heard about it, the opposite side, me being a Florida fan all my life. I got all the trash talk already, still got trash talk on my phone.

“But it’ll be good. It’ll be really good to get a W.”

Neither Florida nor Georgia wanted Greenard coming out of high school. He landed at Louisville, where he spent two years learning from current Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

He missed most of last season after dislocating his right wrist and tearing several ligaments in a loss to Alabama in the team’s season opener.

Greenard opted to leave Louisville after coach Bobby Petrino was fired last November, scrambled to complete his degree and ended up in Gainesville as a graduate transfer.

He’s been Florida’s best defender this fall and was sorely missed as he watched from the sideline in Baton Rouge.

The Gators got little, if any, pressure on Joe Burrow. He picked apart Florida’s secondary, completing 21 of 24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Burrow didn’t have a turnover and wasn’t sacked.

Greenard believes he would have made a difference, and few would argue.

He leads the team with 6{ tackles for loss, including four sacks, and was disruptive against Miami, Kentucky and Tennessee. He also had an interception against lower-division Towson.

Getting him back is “obviously huge,” coach Dan Mullen said. The Gators also expect defensive end Jabari Zuniga (ankle) to return after missing three of the last four games as well as elusive receiver Kadarius Toney, who’s been sidelined since injuring his left shoulder against Tennessee-Martin in early September.

“Very few teams, I don’t think, in the country could have dealt with the injuries we’ve had and be in the position that we’re still in,” Mullen said. “That’s a tribute to our guys, next guy stepping up, and our coaches getting guys ready to play. When you start taking star players away from teams in big games, see what happens. A lot of them don’t win.”

Greenard witnessed that last year. Louisville finished 2-10 without him.

It’s why he was so emotional on the sideline in Baton Rouge.

“It was tough. It kind of brought a flashback,” he said. “The flashback I had to me missing all of last year, being in the training rooms, being on the sideline every single day and all year. That just kind of brought a little flashback. But once I got over it, I had good teammates and a good support system and realized I had to be selfless and help those guys.”

He’ll help them more by returning to form against Georgia.

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