Gervon Dexter: Chicago Bears rookie manager's untapped potential (2023)

If tenacity is the intersection of optimism and reluctance, Lake Wales (Fla.) High football coach Tavaris Johnson relied heavily on those qualities whenever he passed Gervon Dexter in the halls of school.

Johnson, who is also a dean, was looking forward to seeing Dexter, an imposing freshman and talented AAU basketball player, on the football field. His early effort was met with the kind of box-out Dexter would use to easily secure rebounds.


"I knew Gervon and I knew his family well," Johnson said. "I played with some of his uncles. He comes from a very talented family. The first thing I said to Gervon was: 'Hey, a guy your size should be on the football field. You're a dream waiting to come true.' ". .' He looks at me and says, 'Coach, I don't play football.' I say that?!? You got to be kidding".

Undeterred, Johnson kept a full-court pressure on Dexter as a sophomore and remained singularly dedicated to basketball.


“I was pretty much stuck,” Dexter recalled.

As spring football approached, Johnson worked to persuade Dexter to try out for football during the 20 days allotted for in-state spring football practice.

Gervon Dexter: Chicago Bears rookie manager's untapped potential (1)

"Gervon, look, you have to play football. That's your purpose," Johnson said.

"Coach, no, I'm not interested," Dexter replied.

Johnson stepped up and eventually convinced Dexter to try on a football suit in the locker room and see what he would look like with one of the Highlanders' black jerseys with white lettering and orange numbers.

"I think that was just the problem," Johnson said. "He felt that uniform."

"Okay Coach, I'll try this," Dexter said. "When do you think I'll get my first offer?"

"Gervon, no one will offer it to you!" Johnson said. "You haven't played a bad run of football. That's not how it works. You have to give me some time to work."


"Well, I'm not going to play then," Dexter replied. "I don't want to waste my time. I don't want to waste your time."

"Gervon, listen, I'm telling you, this is where you belong," Johnson said.

"Coach, who is it?"inbarn?'

Gervon Dexter: Chicago Bears rookie manager's untapped potential (2)

Johnson's dogged pursuit and Dexter's eventual willingness to try a sport he'd only played as a youth led him to bigger things sooner than the coach could have imagined. Johnson was present at Dexter's draft party when the Chicago Bears selected him with the 53rd pick in the hope that he can be a key player in the midst of a defensive trade.

"To feel the excitement and energy in the room was just surreal," Johnson said. "Of course it was meant for him. He had done the things he had to do to make sure this came true."

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On the first day of the Spring Ball, after Dexter was hooked on the idea of ​​what he would look like in a Highlanders uniform, South Florida's then-assistant coach Eric Mathies was at practice. Johnson showed him a list of prospects at the school. The Highlanders typically have around four sons who move up to college football each year.

“(Mathies) turns around and Gervon is in the corner,” Johnson said. "Coach that isThat boy?'


“I said, 'It's a project right now, it's Gervon Dexter.'

Mathies went to Dexter and watched him do some exercises and told Johnson that he would offer him a scholarship that day. Three days later, buses from across the South East arrived in Lake Wales. The word was out.

"Going into his junior year, he played one season, helicopters landed on our ball field," Johnson said. "You would have thought we had the Pope here with the amount of traffic we had with people coming to see Gervon. He handled it all well. He walked humbly. I told him success is proportional to effort. You have to realize this ". outside."

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In a short amount of time, ridiculously short considering some recruiting stories, Dexter emerged as a five-star recruit, eventually settling in Florida.

Then-Gators defensive line coach David Turner laughed when asked if Dexter was still relatively raw when he stepped onto campus in Gainesville.

"What would you think?" Turner responded. "He was inexperienced with a lot of athletic ability. There are a lot of things you can train for, but you can't train at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. From that point of view, he had all the tools. He was a natural and aggressive kid. The good one in the football, you don't get five fouls. So you can mess them up a bit and you don't have to worry about fouls.


"He wasn't much different than (Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle) Chris Jones. I had him at Mississippi State. Chris didn't play football until his junior year and thought he was a basketball player... Gervon is a kid who wanted to be trained. He's a great guy. 'Yes sir. No sir.' I was excited to get the chance to work with him. The good thing about it was there weren't a lot of bad habits for him to break. You just had to train him I wanted to be cool and it was a natural progression."

on the job training

Gervon Dexter: Chicago Bears rookie manager's untapped potential (3)

Dexter's father, Gerald, died of a brain aneurysm during the spring of his senior year at Lake Wales in April 2020, making his transition to Florida more challenging.

"Reach out to the man upstairs and just use my dad as motivation," Dexter said when asked how he channeled his pain.

Dexter saw regular playing time as a freshman, recording 254 snaps and more than double that total in 2021. The Gators used him as a penetrating defensive tackle for the first two seasons, the way the Bears envision using him, before of a coaching change last fall. led to a new arrangement. Logging 636 snaps (53 per game), Dexter was asked to read and react more and keep traffic off linebackers. While he proved durable, he didn't exactly play to his strengths.

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Still, in 36 games (23 starts), he finished with 125 tackles, five sacks, 10½ tackles for loss, two interceptions and 51 quarterback pressures.

"The SEC isn't a real entry-level position, so he had to get training on the job, and the only way he was going to be good was to see and understand that they're all big and strong," Turner said. "The most important thing in his sophomore year was technique and pad level. He still wasn't where I wanted him to be, but he understood that he had been tested and thrown into the fire. His entire freshman year was the first time he got past it, so the second time was easier."


'I want to be one of the best'

Gervon Dexter: Chicago Bears rookie manager's untapped potential (4)

Turner's comparison with Jones, a four-time Pro Bowler who had 15½ sacks twice, is interesting because the combine measures are similar in many ways.

Chris Jones | Gervon Dexter

  • Height:6-5¾ | 6-6
  • Weight:310 | 310
  • Armed:32¾ | 32¼
  • wing catch:85 | 80⅞
  • 40 Yard Force:5,03 | 4,88
  • 10 Yard Split:1,69 | 1,81
  • 3 cones:7,44 | 7,50
  • Bench Press Reps:26 | 22

Turner said Jones had a quicker first step and was a bit more fluid. An NFL source said Jones is faster laterally with looser hips and the ability to bend like some elite running backs. Still, if Dexter is 75% player Jones, a second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016, the Bears will have a star.

"It's hard when you're endowed with size and strength to understand that things are going to take time to get to where you want to be," Turner said. "That was the most important thing for (Dexter) to understand the process, to be patient in the development. You won't be great now, but eventually you will have the opportunity to be a very, very good player."

Dexter will go head-to-head in discussing goals with first steps this weekend at rookie minicamp. He wants the playbook, which shouldn't be too much of a problem for a defensive tackle.

He's thrilled that the Bears are asking him to be a one-of-a-kind player, tasked with lifting the field and wreaking havoc. He is excited to learn along with his fellow rookie Zacch Pickens from South Carolina.


The NFL is a fit for all newbies, even more so for those with limited experience. Dexter set a goal for himself when he came to Florida to play for three seasons before making the jump to the NFL. The overall goal, however, is one that he did with his father before his death.

"I'm just trying to do it for him," Dexter said. "I want to be one of the best."

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