No. 1 on the list: who would fill his place?
As it turns out, junior transfer Ronald “Mannie” Nunnery Jr. has emerged as a prominent piece on the defense.
At his press conference on the day of James’ surgery, Gators head coach Billy Napier predicted Nunnery could elevate his game with added playing time.
Napier stated that the loss of James “presents a great opportunity” and “Nunnery can offer experience.”
So, who is Mannie Nunnery?
“He’s like a freak of nature,” fellow linebacker Scooby Williams said. “I don’t know if you remember, but I think in spring we had interviews and I told you how athletic he was and [how he] made one-handed plays and all that, so I’m really excited for him to be able to display that for everybody.”
It seems that sports run through Nunnery’s blood. His father, Ronald Nunnery Sr., was a standout basketball player at Lamar University and later played for the Harlem Globetrotters.
The younger Nunnery also played basketball at Westbury (Texas) Christian before transferring to Shadow Creek High School his senior year.
A native of Fresno, Texas, Nunnery committed to play for the University of Houston. Additionally, he was a receiver/safety in high school but started as a special teams player for the Cougars.
Nunnery redshirted during the 2019 season, played eight games in 2020 and emerged as a critical contributor two seasons ago for Houston. In 13 games, Nunnery blocked two punts and three kicks en route to earning the National Special Teams Player of the Year award.
Shifting into a role as a full-time linebacker in 2022, Nunnery posted 46 tackles with three tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a sack and a quarterback hurry for the Cougars.
One of 12 transfers brought in this past offseason at UF, Nunnery spoke to the local media for the first time as a Florida Gator on Wednesday.
Nunnery entered the transfer portal on the Jan. 18 deadline and elaborated on his decision.
“It was a last-minute deal,” he said. “I entered the portal last day; it was a stressful decision.”
While deciding to leave Houston was difficult, Nunnery recounted the story with a smile.
As it turns out, Nunnery grew up a Gators fan.
“Florida’s always been my dream school…