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|Sicily Island graduate gives Florida Gators big hands|
Sicily Island native Robert Webster has had a hand - make it a couple of pair of hands - in a portion of the Florida Gator's recent dominance on the national football scene.
"It's a little bit of Louisiana tradition brought down to Florida," Webster said.
Webster's contribution to the Gator success is anything but little.
His twin stepsons - Maurkice and Mike Pouncey - are two-fifths of a dominant Gator offensive line.
Both players are listed at 6-foot-5 and 318 pounds, and also share an equal respect for a man who stepped into their lives when they were one year old.
"He (Webster) is one of the greatest things to happen to me," Maurkice said. "We love him to death. He has always been there for us. He coached us in Little League and taught us how to play football and be aggressive."
The twins, who are both on the 2009 Outland Trophy Watch List for best interior lineman, were born on July 24, 1989.
Rob and Lisa were married on Dec. 26, 1993 in Lakeland, Fl.
"That's the only father we ever known, so that's our dad," said Mike Pouncey. "Our biological father, he ran out on us when we were one. We haven't ever known anybody else to be our father."
"You have to give credit to where it's due," Maurkice added. "That's our father. We've never seen our whatever he is to us."
The twins don't just admire Webster for being there for them from the near start. They say he's guided them through life, even on the football field.
"We learned how to play football from him, and we credit all that to him," Mike said.
While the identical twins have always been tough to tell apart, there are differences.
Mike has a tattoo on his on his lower leg and the word "Lisa" tattooed on his right arm, His left arm has a cross with praying hands at the top, and flames on his that forearm; he also has "19" and "89" tattooed on his triceps.
Maurkice has a spider web tattooed on his right shoulder and praying hands tattooed on his left arm with the names of Lisa and Robert.
Both players started every game for the Gators last season, Mike at right guard and Maurkice at center. Mike was a backup two years ago who moved to the defensive line to help because of injuries. Maurkice has started 26 games the last two years.
Webster was first-team all-conference as a defensive end in his senior year of 1986, and also played guard and tackle on offense.
"He was real good," Maurkice said with a laugh. "He let us know about it."
Sicily Island, which was ranked No. 1 during the regular season, lost to Mangham in the Class A regionals, 26-13. It was the only loss of the season for the Tigers, and made worse by the fact Sicily Island beat Mangham 36-12 in the third game of the regular season.
"That was very disappointing," Webster said. "We had the kind of team that could have gone all the way."
Webster was a partial qualifier at Louisiana Tech after not meeting the required SAT score. He followed the likes of Walter Johnson and played alongside former Sicily Island teammate Neal Atkins.
"I was taking remedial courses then," Webster said. "It was tough then. That why I always wanted my boys to do well in school. Their mom was a big part of that. They have both been A and B students. Their mother stayed home with them the first couple of years and worked a lot with them."
After two years at Louisiana Tech, Johnson left school and went to New Orleans, where he acquired a job in the parking lot business.
In 1990, Webster moved to Lakeland, Fla. His twin boys were born in 1991. One weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces, while the other weighed seven pounds, 13 ounces.
"I instilled in them that hard-working attitude I had in Louisiana," Webster said.
It didn't take long for the boys to take to football like their father.
"We lived on the country side of Lakeland," Webster said. "With my knowledge of playing for Coach (Albert) Krause at Sicily Island, I helped develop a county team to compete with the all-city league they already had develped."
Webster coached the Crystal Lake Panthers for two years.
"I taught the kids my old positions of guard, tackle and defensive end," Webster said. "They fell in love with football. I coached the defense. The other coaches heard about the Notre Dame Box and we did run a few plays in practice from it just messing around, but having a center to do the long snapping is the trick. We did end up winning the Pee Wee championship. ."
The Pounceys, who are both majoring in Social & Behavorial Sciences, attended tradition-rich Lakeland High under head coach Bill Castle, who has more than 300 wins, six state championships and two national championships.
"I knew I needed to get them in a good high schol and wanted them to play for Coach Castle," Webster said.
The duo helped lead Lakeland High School to three consecutive Class 5A state championships and back-to-back USA Today national titles, and were part of seven Lakeland players who signed with Florida in February 2007.
Another member of that Lakeland High team was Chris Rainey, who lived with the Pounceys for just over three years and is also now a Gator.
"Chris was from a broken home and I invited him to stay with us at the beginning of his sophomore year," Webster said. "I wanted to show him life had different options."
Other members of that team who are now Gators are Ahmad Black, Steven Wilkes, John Brown and Paul Wilson. Kendrick Stewart is a senior defensive tackle at Florida State who graduated two years ahead of the Pounceys at Lakeland.
Webster said his sons were Florida State fans growing up.
"They loved watching the Florida State defense," he said
Webster said his sons have always been very competitive.
"They tease each other a lot and really push each other," he said. "One will tell the other one after he gets drafted he will loan him enough money to buy a house."
Maurkice played his freshman year at center, while Michael played as a sophomore.
"I knew if they kept working they had potential and a great chance to play college football," Webster said. "I knew from experience it was important they made their grades. Once I say them working out, I knew they had the physical ability to block. Maurkice has quick feet and played guard in high schoo, so I knew he would et a chance. I figured he would play three years, but he's surprised me by playing as a freshman. Mike is not far behind. He played some defense his freshman year. Both of them have it down pat now."
Webster has worked for Lakeland Animal Nutrition, Inc, the past 19 years. Originally founded as Lakeland Cash Feed Company, Inc., in 1919, in Lakeland.
Lakeland Animal Nutrition has grown to become one of the largest and most respected independent feed companies in the South, incorporating quality products and advanced services.
It was an accident at his job involving a rail car the Monday before the regular season finale against Florida State that forced Webster to miss the SEC Championship Game last year in which Florida beat Alabama.
"The rail car brakes were not working and I ended up having my right leg cut off," Webster said. "It happened right before the Florida State game in the final game of the season. That was unbelievable. It hurt me because I had never been to an SEC Championship Game."
Webster was unloading animal feed when a railcar came loose in the process. He tried to apply the brakes to one of the cars before it hit another. When it wouldn't stop, he tried to kick away from the train and slipped.
Webster was caught between two railcars and was first listed in critical but stable condition at a Lakeland hospital after having his right leg amputated.
The Pouncey twins were in Gainesville and headed to class when they got a call at about 9 a.m. from their mother, Lisa Webster.
"We just went home, got in the car and came straight down," said Mike, who arrived at Lakeland Regional Medical Center with his brother nearly two hours after.
"That was a real tough time," Maurkice said. "When it happened our mom called crying and we rushed home. The coaches flew down and stayed a while. On Thursday, Dad said, 'Don't you think it's time for you guys to get back.' We knew what we had to do."
Florida coach Urban Meyer drove to Lakeland to be with the twins after the accident.
Florida players and coaches wore wristbands that said "RW" in honor of Webster against Florida State. The Gators trounced the Seminoles, 45-15.
"That was truly amazing," Webster said. "It was very uplifting at the time. It's just a testament to Urban and the team and made me appreciate being part of the team."
"It was really special for us that the team went out and played for him," Mike said. "When it first happened, Rob was like, 'I ain't superman no more,"" Mike said, adding his stepfather even comparing himself to the "Forrest Gump" movie character Lt. Dan, who lost both his legs in Vietnam.
Webster is adjusting to a prosthetic leg.
"Right now I'm still trying to get all the bugs out and tweaking it," he said. "I'll be ready soon to run a mile and wrestle with the boys again."
Maurkice had shoulder surgery during the offseason to repair a labrum issue.
"It went real well," Maurkice said. "I'm back working with the weights and my shoulder feels great."
Both players know repeating as national champs will be difficult.
"It's going to be real hard to win back-to-back championships," Maurkice said. "We have to stay focused and keep all the bad stuff off the field. We need to just worry about our team."
"It's been unbelievable to be able to come from a small town and has sons with 10 championship rings with two more national championship rings to come," Webster said. "I'm just an ol' country boy with a little influence who was captain of his football and basketball team. We made a pretty good run in high school, but it was nothing like this."
Playing in the offensive line means not a lot of notariety for the Pounceys. Playing with a Heisman Trophy quarterback means even less.
"Any kind of recognition is positive for the whole team," Webster said. "The other players feed off of Tebow. He's a model guy who really has it all together. The boys will never forget playing for somebody with that much love and desire for the game of football. It's great to have a chance to block for a Heisman quarterback. And they most definitely feed off of him."
"Tim is a great leader," Maurkice said. "He is a special player. We follow him and respect him."
And Webster expects his sons to add to their ring collection this season.
"We will have another very good squad," he said. "We didn't lose anything on defense. If that defense shows up each week and with what Tebow brings on offense, I most definitely see us winning another SEC championship. There is no foreseeable loss right off, but we have LSU on the road. It's always tough in Death Valley."
Webster said he believes both of his sons have a chance for pro football.
"It looks promising," he said. "I talk to them all the time about focusing on each day. Football can be a job, but it's fun, If you approach it at the right angle you realize it's easy come easy go. They have to keep their heads together and just enjoy every minute of it. I really believe they will be playing on Sunday some day."
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