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The twins, whose friends and teammates tell them apart by the faint scars on Mike's right cheek and the different tattoos on their forearms, live together in an off-campus apartment and eat nearly every meal together. (Mike has a nine-month-old daughter, Janiyah, who lives with her mother, a former girlfriend, in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla.) The twins even get around on similar Vento motor scooters, though they had to make do with one for a time last year after Rainey borrowed Maurkice's scooter and crashed into a utility pole. Rainey wasn't injured, but the scooter was totaled. So for the three months before Maurkice got a replacement, the twins tooled around campus on the same scooter. "It was like a circus act," says senior right tackle Jason Watkins.
THE POUNCEYS are much more than an entertaining sideshow: With the exception of Tebow, no other Gators may be more valuable than the twins. "They're emerging as big team leaders, and not just for what they bring to the field," says offensive line coach Steve Addazio. "They're fun-loving. They make everyone smile, but make no mistake: If you line up against them on the football field, they want to maul you."
Since 1990, when Steve Spurrier took over the program, Florida has been known for its stars at the high-profile positions. On the surface these Gators are no different. Freakishly athletic, they have Tebow, the first sophomore to win the Heisman, leading the offense, and 12 players who have run the 40 in 4.4 or under. That includes a freshman tailback, Jeffery Demps, whom many regard as the swiftest running back—college or pro—in the nation, and a wideout-tailback, Percy Harvin, who might be the second-fastest football player around.
But as Meyer says, "Anyone who really knows this team knows that what we're doing here isn't fast-break basketball on grass." The emergence of the Pounceys and the jelling of the line allow the offense to play a smashmouth game; the linemates relish the trench wars in the SEC. "This team wants to be physical," says Meyer, who left Utah for Florida in December 2004. "We take great pride in running the football. We take great pride in protecting the quarterback. The key is to get the Harvins and the Dempses into the second level where they can make guys miss."
Injuries and inconsistent play plagued the line early in the season, when Florida rushed for only 89 yards against Miami and 124 against Mississippi. Since the loss to Ole Miss, the Gators have had games in which they piled up 278, 265, 214 and 231 rushing yards—four of Florida's six highest totals in conference play during the Meyer era. Tebow has been sacked 1.22 times per game and only once in his last three outings. "Every week they've gotten better as a unit," says Addazio, a Gators assistant since 2005. "It's as talented a group as we've had here—each guy has his own strength."
Watkins (6'6", 310) manhandles defenders with his long reach. Left guard Carl Johnson (6'6", 330) overwhelms opponents with his sheer size. Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6'6", 310) has tremendous acceleration off the ball. And the Pouncey twins? Says Addazio, "They have the same strengths: all-around power with great, furious explosion off the snap."
Asked to cite differences between the two, Addazio pauses before saying, "There are none. They're the same person. Sometimes it gets to the point of being ridiculous. Invariably, when one gets hurt in practice, the other gets hurt in practice. One guy dings his butt, and the other one all of a sudden hurts his back. I'm like, Are you kidding me? You can't be without your brother?"
THE TWINS have always been inseparable, even when they entered a Head Start program as three-year-olds in Lakeland. "The first day they were put in different classes, and it was the first time they'd ever been apart," recalls their mother, Lisa Webster, whose husband, Rob, has helped raise the boys since they were a year old. "On the drive back I heard one of them ask the other, 'Did you miss me?' The other went, 'Yeah.' Then the other said, 'Well, I missed you too.'" She adds that even when the twins would occasionally fight, "they'd wind up rolling around on the floor and giggling."
Maurkice and Mike had perfect attendance until the 11th grade, and both wasted no time distinguishing themselves once they started playing for Lakeland High, the USA TODAY national champion in 2005 and '06 that has produced six pro football players. "Right away you saw their passion for the game and their work ethic," says Dane Mooney, the former offensive line coach at Lakeland. "Every morning before 7 o'clock they'd both be standing outside the weight room waiting for the head coach to open the doors."
As juniors they were all-state, Maurkice at left guard and Mike at left tackle. Don't bother asking anyone who was the better player of the two. "I'd say Maurkice was maybe always a little ahead of Mike, but ask someone else and you'd get a different answer," says Mooney. It was Maurkice, however, who made a lasting mark at Lakeland High. After a big win over rival Lake Gibson, Maurkice told Mooney that he had just broken the school record for most pancake blocks in a game. Mooney, knowing the mark was nine and set sometime in the mid-1980s, replied, "You're crazy." But when he watched video of the game later, Mooney counted 11 pancakes. "He was an animal that night," the coach says.