GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Twice already this week, Florida coach Jim McElwain has heaped unprompted praise upon Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham.
Considerable praise, that is.
“That linebacker Cunningham, I think, is the most underrated guy in the league as far as on either side of the ball,” McElwain said Monday. “This guy plays the game the way it should be.”
He repeated the “most underrated” line again Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference, while making clear that the 6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt-junior linebacker has stood out on film as No. 23 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) prepares for its visit to Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday.
“This guy just makes a lot of plays and he always shows up. He’s around the ball,” McElwain said.
Cunningham ranks second in the SEC with 38 total tackles through four games and ranks tied for sixth nationally with 7 tackles for loss already.
He may be somewhat under-appreciated nationally while playing for the Commodores, but he’s not exactly off the radar.
He was voted first-team All-SEC by the conference’s coaches last season, when he racked up 16.5 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries. He was also tabbed a preseason All-SEC pick by the media this year and was selected to the preseason watch lists for multiple prestigious awards.
And certainly, he’ll have the Gators’ attention Saturday.