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Carroll, UF defense healing at same time

Middle linebacker's return coincides with one of unit's top games.

By DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Travis Carroll's journey crossed state lines, spanned several years and included overcoming a few injuries.

It reached a pinnacle Saturday.

The Florida middle linebacker's last start came at Vanderbilt Stadium during the 1998 Music City Bowl with Alabama -- his last game with the Crimson Tide.

"Words can't describe it," Carroll said. "This year has just been crazy frustrating to me. I'm just glad I was able to come out here today and show everybody here at Florida what I can do."

The outcome for Carroll and the Gators was different as well. In 1998, Alabama lost to Virginia Tech 38-7.

Carroll helped the Gators take the 40-23 victory on Saturday with one interception and six tackles (one for loss).

"It's kind of ironic," Carroll said. "The last time I played in this stadium, we lost. I'm just glad we got the victory this time."

Saturday's game was Carroll's first start and the first time he played an entire game since the Music City Bowl. He opened this season with a three-game suspension for breaking unspecified team rules. During his first game back, against Kentucky, he injured his knee, keeping him out for another four games.

Carroll had to sit out last season after transferring.

"He was real excited," defensive end Alex Brown said. "He hasn't been 100 percent ready to go in a long time. He's just very vocal. He's a good athlete. And he makes plays."

The knee injury was not Carroll's first serious setback. He injured a shoulder in 1998, leading to off-season surgery.

Carroll's leadership and strong play became more critical to the Gators after starter Andra Davis injured his knee in the opener. Carroll's return will help strengthen a position that had come under scrutiny.

"It's not so much just playing hard," Carroll said. "It's playing our assignments and doing what our coaches tell us. If we do that, then we can have one of the best defenses in the country."

Carroll's strong performance contributed to a defense that held Vanderbilt to 199 yards, its best performance this season.

"I played for Alabama for two years and this defense has ... a lot better talent than I've ever seen," Carroll said. "Hopefully we can do this the rest of the way out, the way we played in the second half."

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