The pivotal role of Edge rushers Justus Boone and TJ Searcy

by | Apr 2, 2024 | 0 comments

Justs Boone

Following an offseason of significant changes in defense, Mike Peterson, the Florida Gators Edge coach, is the only coach initially hired by Billy Napier who still remains. Peterson now faces the challenge of replacing last season’s sack leader (7.0), Princely Umanmielen, who transferred to Ole Miss.

“I got a lot of guys, man, and I’m excited about them,” Peterson said on the edge rushers stepping up following Umanmielen’s departure. “I got some young ones, I got some old ones that was here last year. So, I’m excited about the group as a whole.”



Edge rusher Justus Boone was expected to be a key contributor to the Gators’ defense in 2023. Instead, he missed the entire season due to a torn ACL suffered in preseason camp.

“I’ve worked hard to be in the position that I’ve been put into, as far as being a leader, being a part of the defense,” Boone said this week. “To have it kind of stripped away from you in the moment is very devastating.”

Recovering from a torn ACL is no easy task.

“Right now, he’s going through probably the hardest thing in football,” said Gators assistant coach Mike Peterson. “I tell all the guys, ‘Injury, it’s a process coming back.’ You want to be ready tomorrow, but it doesn’t work that way. You got to do what you’re supposed to do in the training room and get yourself back.”

Boone has had the support of his teammates and coaches throughout the recovery process, but it’s never been. He continues to work his way back with the Gators in the middle of spring camp.

“It’s definitely humbling,” Boone said. “Just as fast as you can be granted with a lot of great things and great opportunities, they can be taken away from me.”

The 6-foot-3, 263-pound Boone is a veteran leader in the locker room. Due to his injury, he has yet to participate in full-contact drills, but teammates and coaches still feel his influence.

“Boone is the leader of the group,” said Peterson, who coaches the edge rushers and outside linebackers. He’s the guy who’s been around. When the group is looking a little slow or sluggish, I just get on Boone, and Boone kind of gets the group right.”


As the Gators search to produce more disruption up front, the experience second year outside linebacker, also known as the JACK position, TJ Searcy earned as a backup to Umanmielen should pay dividends. Searcy earned Freshman All-SEC Honors after recording 26 tackles (9 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, two QB hurries, and a forced fumble in 2023. Searcy did not miss a tackle a season ago and graded as Florida’s best tackler, according to PFF.

“I had a great experience my freshman year. I had a lot of fun in the games, and I was just trying to get better each time I got on the field,” Searcy said. “I feel like me coming in spring last year helped a lot, with me getting playing time earlier in the season and being able to prove myself so I could be in later on in the season.”

“A guy that could do it all,” Peterson said on Searcy. “You know, he can play the run, he can rush the passer, he can drop into coverage. Complete player, and a great kid also. That’s probably the biggest thing he has going for him.”

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Peterson is highly optimistic about the potential of the Edge group, highlighting the wealth of talent he has at his disposal. However, the forthcoming season could very well hinge on the performance of Justus Boone and TJ Searcy. Their production and leadership will play a pivotal role in the Gators’ defensive success. Peterson’s confidence in their abilities underscores the high expectations for the upcoming season.

Photo credit: Isabella Marley, UAA Communications

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