GAINESVILLE — Though he stands a towering 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, University of Florida junior defensive lineman Leon Orr has learned he’s just as vulnerable as any human being.
Orr played in only one game his senior season at Gulf High in New Port Richey before being sidelined by a broken leg. Last season at Florida, he missed the final four regular-season games with an illness.
Those setbacks have given Orr an appreciation for football. And as he approaches his fourth year at Florida, the former four-star prospect is eager to show what he’s truly capable of accomplishing.
“It’s no way to explain the emotion behind me trying to let the world know that I’m going to produce and I’m going to be one of the those guys they talk about when they talk about the Florida defense,” Orr said.
It was after the Georgia game last season when Orr felt flu-like symptoms. He was checked into a hospital.
From there, it’s a blur.
“It was devastating,” Orr said. “For at least a week and a half, I really didn’t even know what was going on with my body. A lot of sleep and waking up and a lot of me not playing.”
His illness kept Orr away from football for four games. He returned in time for the Sugar Bowl against Louisville and recorded two tackles in the loss. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including five for a loss and one sack.
In the offseason, Orr was relentless in his approach to becoming more of a defensive factor.
“That’s all it comes down to, is me physically grinding and getting my body prepared and hitting the film room and doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff that nobody gets to see to prepare myself,” he said. “The only way to let people know that I’m really grinding and doing what I say I’m doing is to show it.”
Missing the majority of his senior year at Gulf proved detrimental. Until his junior year, when he made the transition to defense, Orr was primarily a tight end and an offensive lineman. Orr practiced as an offensive lineman during his redshirt season at Florida in 2010, then made the transition to defensive tackle during spring practice of 2011.
“It was probably one of the more difficult things I did in my life because when I was in high school I played tight end and a stand-up tight end at that,” Orr said. “So, I never got the chance to hone in on my technique at a specific position. I was a big, athletic guy, so I never played a lineman position.”
Orr’s above-average athletic ability compensated for his mechanical weaknesses.
Former Gulf football coach Jay Fulmer recalled watching in awe as a large incoming freshman rode up to the school one summer day on a small bike to inquire about the sports program. It was Orr, who said he’d never played a day of football.
Fulmer instantly saw major-college potential.
“Leon is so talented, and it’s God-given,” Fulmer said. “Not just moving, but he can run, block, catch the ball and kick the ball. He played tight end, fullback, kicked off and kicked field goals. He was a rare athlete at that size.”
As a redshirt freshman, Orr appeared in all 13 games during the 2011 season, making 10 tackles with a pass breakup.
Fulmer applauded his former star player for learning a new position while playing for a program with such high expectations in the most competitive conference in college football.
“Everything considering, what he’s doing up there is pretty impressive,” he said.
Playing football at a high level, Orr learned, is not just a gift, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It just came down to one day it hit me, this sport, this thing you wake up for every day, can be taken away from you,” he said. “It’s something I cherish and it’s something I hope can take me and my family to another level in society, so I have to take advantage.”