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Coming into his own


He may have left the University of Florida as a junior, but he entered the NFL as a baby.

After the departure of perennial All-Pro and Jaguars fan-favorite Tony Boselli via the 2002 expansion draft, second-round draft choice Mike Pearson was considered by many NFL watchers to be more than capable of filling the shoes of the man that for seven seasons hardly let a hand graze his quarterback and best friend Mark Brunell at the left tackle position.

In fact, the comparisons and expectations surrounding the similarities between Pearson and Boselli started swirling even before Pearson played his first snap as a freshman in Gainesville. So much so was the case that his upperclassmen teammates decided to give him a nickname: "Baby Boselli."

When asked what he thought of the sort of oxymoron nickname, Pearson said he's been over and done with it for quite some time.

"It's gone away," he said. "It was just something that when I came to school in my freshman year some of the older guys liked to get the younger guys' goat a little bit. I wore No. 71, and he was my favorite player, and still is. But that's fallen by the wayside."

And when the opportunity came for Pearson to meet his gridiron idol when the Jaguars faced off with the Houston Texans at ALLTEL Stadium two weeks ago, Pearson didn't pursue a meeting with the other No. 71.

"I didn't get to meet him," he said. "We lost the game, and most times when you lose a game you want to get off the field as soon as you can and hit the showers."

And Sunday, just two weeks removed from the opportunity to rub shoulders with the player for which he has the utmost respect, Pearson will look over to the Washington Redskins' sideline and see the man who not only led to the University of Florida to its only national championship, but also his old coach — or his "Old Ball Coach," if you will.

Pearson said he won't attempt to perform any differently when it comes to this game just because Steve Spurrier will be on the opposing sideline.

"I just want to go out there and do my best like I do every week," he said. "Just because he's on the other sideline doesn't have any bearing on how I'm going to approach the game."

And when it comes to having a certain advantage that others may not, considering some around the NFL have had difficulty recognizing Spurrier's offensive scheme, Pearson said he's been watching his former coach closely and would like nothing more than to send the visored one packing with a loss.

"I saw him in the preseason and I could hear some of their audibles, and it was almost exactly the same," he said. "He'll come in here trying to throw the ball and put up some big points and numbers, and that's just the way he is. We're going to go out there and do our best and shut him down and send him home unhappy."

Just one year removed from the Gators' orange and blue, Pearson said a few things have changed, and more than just the colors of his uniform.

"Last year I was kind of the older guy on the team — I was looked up to as kind of the leader type," he said. "This year I'm back to being reserved and expected to sit back and watch and learn. That part has changed, but I think my overall game has improved a lot just because of how we balance the offense. In school, it was totally pass all the time, whereas here we have a good balance."

The speed of the NFL game is most often the cause of hard times and growing pains for rookies at any position, but according to Pearson that's not so — at least for an offensive lineman.

"The speed aspect is not that big for a lineman," he said. "I think it's probably bigger for quarterbacks and wide receivers just because the defensive guys can break on the ball. You know, they're the best. It's the same way on the line, but I don't think it's that big as far as the speed aspect. It's mainly the defensive schemes and being able to pick those out on the fly and really quick because they're never going to play just straight vanilla defense. They're always going to be throwing something new at you."

And even though he'll be dealing with the likes of defensive legend Bruce Smith and the UF reunion between Spurrier and him, Pearson said the bottom line is the outcome of the game and whether or not his team is on the winning end. Nothing else matters.

"Really, it's just about winning; that's the ultimate thing," he said. "You know, every football player goes into a game to just win it. You know, ugly, pretty, however you can get it done — just win it."

No matter the outcome of the first professional meeting between the old coach and his former All-America pupil, Spurrier will almost certainly leave Jacksonville having recognized that the once so-called "Baby Boselli" has evolved into his own man.

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