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The maturation of a five-star offensive tackle

Florida's O-line has been a liability in Jim McElwain's first two years, but that could all change if Martez Ivey, the jewel of McElwain's first recruiting class in 2015, delivers on his five-star promise.

HOOVER, Ala. — Martez Ivey arrived at Florida three years ago as the nation’s No. 1 ranked offensive tackle recruit. 247 Sports touted him as the second-best prospect in the entire class of 2015; Scout had him at No. 3. Ivey, though, knew better than to get sucked up in his own hype.

“I was so raw coming out of high school,” Ivey told SI Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “I had pretty much zero experience pass blocking.”

Ivey played in a Wing-T offense at Apopka Senior (Fla.) High, so learning and honing his technique once on campus in Gainesville was a must. He has spent most of his college career inside at left guard, starting 20 games for what has been a very suspect O-line. The Gators’ offensive line was a mess when Jim McElwain showed up. UF had just four scholarship linemen. They finished dead last nationally in sacks allowed in 2015 and improved to 71st last season as they started to build their depth back up front, though they still ranked 113th in rushing yards per game.

McElwain is optimistic that his offensive front is primed to become a strength of the team with Ivey, once a signing-day headliner of his first Florida recruiting class three winters ago and now a budding star as a 6' 5", 315-pound junior, sliding out to left tackle. Ivey’s transition from the inside back outside is one many offensive tackles have to make, and it demands a mindset adjustment.

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“I gotta focus on staying patient and not being too aggressive,” Ivey said. “As an offensive lineman you wanna go out there and maul the defensive lineman. There’s definitely less contact out there at tackle than there is at guard.”

“Once you get in the SEC everybody’s big and everybody’s strong. It’s all about who does the little things right. I gotta focus on getting my hands up and putting my hands on them before they can touch me, making sure when I make contact that I keep a wide base.”

Many top left tackles were once standout high school basketball players, but Ivey focused on a different winter sport. He was an excellent wrestler for three years in high school, where he used his long arms to his advantage—something he hopes will help him at tackle. Grasping how to use leverage also has proven to be a major advantage in the trenches. His high school line coach was a believer in playing multiple sports and gave him the option between wrestling and track. He tried to throw the shotput but found he liked wrestling better.

“Wrestling helped me with balance and footwork,” Ivey said. “When I got back from wrestling to football I would see a tremendous difference."

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Aiding that transition has been the arrival of a new line coach, 37-year-old Brad Davis, who was brought in from North Texas after Louisville hired away Mike Summers in January.

“He brought out the hunger within me,” Ivey said of Davis. “It’s a hunger I haven’t had in two years. It was a new energy. Everyone around us had new excitement and we know that our offensive line is going in the right [direction]. I love him as a coach and I love him as a person.

“He challenging us in the way like, ‘We’re the University of Florida. And when you think of that you think Tim Tebow. National championships.’ He’s like, ‘Go show people who you are.’ He brings the hunger. I see it through everybody in the offensive line. I even see it in the walk-ons. They’re excited to be out there. As an offensive line group we have something to prove. He preaches that to us. ‘Go prove it.’ ”

Asked if he felt like UF’s offensive line was lacking that edge before, Ivey said, “I don’t know. Since he’s come in, he’s given us confidence. He’s given us an edge. He wants us to dominate every play.”

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Ivey’s teammates clearly like what they see in the junior tackle.

“If there’s one word I would use to describe Martez it’s ‘monster,’ ” said defensive back Duke Dawson. “He is a complete offensive lineman. He can play any position. He’s so consistent especially with the small things.”

McElwain praised Ivey for being unselfish in his willingness to play inside the past two seasons. “Just to see how he played in the spring with the confidence and how he was affecting the guys next to him. I’m excited to see him play. I think he’ll really flourish now.”