Florida Gators: Omar Hunter

Gator Breakdown: Damien Jacobs 

May, 27, 2013
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During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 4 Damien Jacobs
Senior nose tackle

Signing day primer: Florida 

January, 23, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are just a couple of short weeks remaining until national signing day, and the Florida Gators have met a majority of their recruiting needs. With graduation, transfers and players leaving for the NFL draft, there are a few areas Florida head coach Will Muschamp would still like to shore up.

Key holes to fill

The Gators lost key personnel along the offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, running back and secondary and are hoping to replenish their talent with junior college transfers and incoming freshmen.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The one constant in Florida’s 2012 season -- until the Allstate Sugar Bowl, anyway -- was the Gators’ defense.

The unit was one of the nation’s best, ranking in the top five nationally in rushing, pass efficiency, and scoring, and it kept the Gators in games while the offense struggled.

Heading into the 2013 season, however, the defense has become as big an uncertainty as the offense in the wake of the departure of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the inexperience of replacement D.J. Durkin, and the loss of seven starters.

There were already significant questions about the unit because of the loss of those starters, which include All-American S Matt Elam, potential first-round NFL draft pick DT Sharrif Floyd, and a pair of players who played the best football of their careers during 2012 (NT Omar Hunter and S Josh Evans). Also gone is MLB Jon Bostic, who started 32 games in his career, including every game in 2011 and 2012.

But Quinn’s departure on Thursday to become the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks muddies things even more. Quinn’s defenses ranked among the top 10 nationally in his two seasons at Florida. The Gators were fifth nationally in scoring (15.4 ppg), second in pass efficiency defense, and fourth in rush defense (94.9 ypg), and gave up only seven passing touchdowns, which was second only to Boise State (four), in 2012. In 2011, the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense, seventh nationally in passing defense, and second nationally in third-down defense.

His replacement, Durkin, has been UF’s linebackers coach and special teams coordinator since 2010. He has never been a coordinator before. Quinn had only been one for one year (Hofstra in 2000), but he had spent the previous 10 seasons in the NFL before joining Muschamp’s inaugural staff. However, Durkin has done a good job coordinating UF’s special teams (the Gators rank 11th or better in three statistical categories) and after watching him for two seasons, Muschamp quickly promoted him to succeed Quinn.

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Florida commits look to get early start 

December, 24, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators could have as many eight players enroll early and be eligible for for spring football. Three players -- Tyler Moore (Clearwater, Fla./Countryside), Darious Cummings (Titusville, Fla./East Mississippi Community College) and Trenton Brown (Albany, Ga./Georgia Military College) -- have already signed their letters of intent with Florida.

After losing offensive linemen James Wilson and Xavier Nixon to graduation, Florida will get immediate help from Brown and Moore. Brown is expected to compete with D.J. Humphries for playing time at left tackle, while Moore is likely to start off competing with right tackle Chaz Green for playing time.

Defensive tackle Omar Hunter graduates, and Florida could potentially lose Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley to the NFL draft in April. Cummings will likely work his way in to Florida's defensive tackle rotation early on next season. He'll battle with Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Quinteze Williams and Florida verbal commit Caleb Brantley for playing time next season.

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GatorNation position breakdown: DT 

December, 20, 2012
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Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday through Jan. 31, GatorNation will break down each position. We’ll look at 2013, of course, but also try and give you a peek beyond next season, too. Today is defensive tackle. We will profile outside linebacker on Tuesday.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Two-deep: Redshirt senior Omar Hunter (39 tackles) is the starter at nose tackle and junior Sharrif Floyd (41 tackles, six QB hurries) is the starter at defensive tackle. Redshirt sophomore Leon Orr (13 tackles) backs up Hunter, while junior Damien Jacobs (nine tackles) backs up Floyd. In addition to losing Hunter to graduation, the Gators likely won’t have Floyd next season. He’s considering leaving early for the NFL.

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Tagging the Gators: NT Omar Hunter

December, 20, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at NT Omar Hunter.

NT Omar Hunter
Redshirt senior
39 tackles, 4 pass breakups

[+] EnlargeOmar Hunter
Kim Klement/US PresswireOmar Hunter has had a significant impact on Florida's resurgence this season.
Role in 2012: Hunter started every game this season in the middle of UF’s defensive line and anchored a rush defense that gave up just 97 yards per game.

The good: Hunter flourished under defensive line coach Bryant Young and played his best football this season. He attributed that in part to being in the best shape of his career but it was also because he stayed healthy, which is something he didn’t do in his first several seasons. The 6-foot, 313-pound Hunter plugged the middle and occupied double-teams, and he also used his hands well to get off blocks and set a career-high in tackles. He showed a knack for knocking down passes, too.

The bad: The staff would have liked to have seen a bit more of a pass-rush presence out of Hunter. Not necessarily recording sacks, but pushing the middle of the pocket back into the quarterback’s face. But he was in the game as a run-plugger and he did his job well and allowed the linebackers to make plays. He’s not especially quick and although he has made strides in the weight room, he can still get stronger.

Crystal ball: Spending two seasons under Young and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who spent 10 years as an NFL coach before coming to Florida, has been a huge benefit for Hunter in terms of getting ready to play at the next level -- especially Young, who was recently nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hunter has a history of back issues, which is a concern and part of the reason why he projects as a late-round pick.

Top 5 moments: Jarred loose

December, 12, 2012
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Editor’s note: GatorNation is counting down the top five moments of Florida’s 2012 season this week. They could be plays, drives, quarters or decisions, but regardless of what they are, they are the significant moments that shaped the season.

We continue with No. 3: Jarred loose

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All it took was one hit to erase a disastrous third quarter and send Florida to a huge victory over rival Florida State. And it only happened because starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins was out of the game with a foot injury.

"Man down, man up," UF coach Will Muschamp said after the Gators’ 37-26 victory in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 24. "It happened for us again. A guy goes in and makes a play. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, we tell our guys it really doesn’t matter. We don’t use excuses. We did enough of that last year. So when a guy gets hurt and the next guy comes in, he needs to play well."

The guy on this particular Saturday was freshman LB Antonio Morrison. He was the one who hammered FSU QB EJ Manuel and knocked the ball loose at the Seminoles’ 42-yard line with about 11 minutes remaining in the game. DE Dominique Easley recovered the fumble and returned it to the FSU 37.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDominique Easley's fumble recovery helped turn the tide and give Florida its first victory over Florida State since 2009.
One play later, RB Mike Gillislee scored the go-ahead touchdown, and the Gators tacked on two others to snap a two-game losing streak in the series.

That erased a third quarter in which FSU scored 17 points to take a 20-13 lead. Caleb Sturgis’ 32-yard field goal with 13:31 to play had cut the Seminoles’ lead to 20-16 before Morrison made one of the season’s most critical plays.

The freshman from Bolingbrook, Ill., is undersized for an SEC linebacker -- he’s 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds -- but he hits like a 250-pounder. He drove his left shoulder into Manuel’s right shoulder while LB Lerentee McCray was dragging Manuel to the ground and jarred the ball loose.

The 6-5, 240-pound Manuel went down hard and went to the sidelines woozy. The Seminoles soon followed.

"He is physical," NT Omar Hunter said of Morrison, who has 31 tackles and played in every game this season. "I don’t know if he knows anything else, but he is physical."

That play is essentially the reason the Gators are playing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. UF’s victory over FSU ensured the Gators a spot in the top four in the BCS standings, which results in an automatic berth in a BCS bowl.
No. 4 Florida (10-1) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
ABC


Gators to watch

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel, Mike Gillislee
Kevin Liles/US PRESSWIREMike Gillislee is nearing the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
RB Mike Gillislee: The senior needs just 36 yards to become the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. He’ll certainly get his chance. The Gators are going to try and pound the football, similar to the way they did against LSU. The running game might not gain much early, but the hope is that the OL eventually wears down FSU’s DL and Gillislee will have more success in the fourth quarter. Gillislee hasn’t rushed for more than 100 yards against an FBS school since he had 146 against LSU on Oct. 6. He had a career-high 34 carries in that game and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get at least 25 against FSU.

NT Omar Hunter: FSU is averaging about 100 yards more per game rushing this season than during 2011 and the Noles have run for at least 237 yards in two of their last three games (they had minus-15 vs. Virginia Tech). Stopping the running game starts with stopping up the middle of the line, and that’s Hunter’s job. The fifth-year senior is having his best season (36 tackles) and is a big part of the Gators’ success against the rush (95.2 yards per game, sixth nationally).

CB Marcus Roberson: Roberson has a tough job on Saturday because FSU’s top three receivers are a handful. They’re big, physical players -- especially Rodney Smith (6-foot-6, 219 pounds) and Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 242) -- and Roberson is not exactly the most physical corner. UF plays almost exclusively man coverage so he’ll match up with each of them and the Gators need him to keep them from making big plays down the field. Plus, he’ll likely return punts again this week. He did a good job last week of running up and making a fair catch in traffic to save the Gators yardage. He needs to do that against the Noles.

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Gators and Noles back on national stage

November, 21, 2012
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You really have to dig deep to find the last time Florida-Florida State really meant something in the grand scheme of college football.

People were using MSN Messenger and thought Fred Durst was actually cool. TRL and trucker hats were all the craze.

It was the year 2000 and college football fans were probably carrying around a Ja Rule CD in their cars. (It’s OK. We all have our faults.)

It was also the last time Florida and Florida State met as top-10 BCS opponents.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp
AP Photo/John RaouxIf Jimbo Fisher's or Will Muschamp's team loses on Saturday, it will be eliminated from consideration for the BCS title game.
This was one of college football’s true gems. Thanks to Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden, from 1990 to 2000 these two teams met 13 times when both were ranked in the top 10, including the 1996 Sugar Bowl for the national championship. These two programs were mammoths and are Nos. 1 and 2 nationally when it comes to consecutive bowl streaks. Florida State is No. 1 (30) and Florida is second (21).

The rivalry took a bit of a nosedive when Bowden and his Noles teams fell off during the 2000s and Urban Meyer arrived at Florida. Under Meyer, the Gators won five straight, as they stayed nationally relevant, while FSU flirted with mediocrity until Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.

But this rivalry is back, as No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) heads to Tallahassee to face No. 10 Florida State (10-1) in a game that has major BCS implications on the line.

If Florida wins, the Gators are likely BCS-bound. With some help from USC, they could back their way into the national championship game. Florida State is very much on the outside when it comes to the BCS title game, but a win and a ton of help could move the Noles closer to Miami.

The magnitude of Saturday's matchup hit the Gators well before they returned to the locker room after beating Jacksonville State.

“As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldn’t help but think about Florida State,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "If you’re a Gator, you grow up not liking Florida State. I’m sure it’s the same way with them. That’s just what you’re taught. When you go to Florida State, you’re anti-Gators. That’s just what it is.”

Outside of the BCS implications, major pride is on the line for both teams. There’s real bad blood here. Players on both sides know each other, but they refuse to talk during the regular season and usually hurl barbs at each other when they do speak during the offseason.

The hatred is still there, even if the success isn't.

The Gators are also hurting after back-to-back losses to the Noles. After winning six straight over FSU, Florida dropped the last two, getting outscored 52-14. Florida enters this weekend with an offense going backward, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is hobbled. He sprained his ankle two weeks ago.

That’s not good when you consider how good the Noles have been on defense, even without star defensive end Brandon Jenkins for basically the entire season. FSU ranks first nationally in total defense (236.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (70.6). The Noles are allowing 2.3 yards per rush and 3.7 yards per play.

In the past five games -- two of them against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State -- Florida has averaged just 278.4 yards. The Gators are near the bottom of the SEC in total offense (332.9) and are last in passing (143.4).

That doesn’t bode well for Florida, but as coach Will Muschamp continues to point out, it's all about wins, and somehow the Gators have 10 of those.

“Like I said Saturday, understand who you are and where you are, and it may not be where you want to be at times and it's frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what it takes to win football games and that's what we're judged on at the end of that,” Muschamp said.

While the offense has sputtered, the defense has been terrific, ranking near the top with the Noles. It can be irritating to see the offense fail, but Florida’s defenders love putting the game in their hands.

“That’s how you go into every day if you’re a great defense,” Hunter said. “You want to put everything on your shoulders. You don’t want to go into the game relying on the offense to score. You want to score on the defense. That’s what we’re taught here at Florida and that’s what we try to win by -- defense and special teams.”

Offensive issues aside, a lot is riding on Saturday. The BCS might be at the forefront of the conversation, but as far as the Gators are concerned, the only letters they’re focused on are F-S-U.

“It’s Florida-Florida State. It’s more than what’s just going on in the BCS,” Hunter said. “It’s bragging rights for the state of Florida. It’s going to be a very big game and it’s one of my favorite games to play in.”

Florida 10: Week 12 rankings 

November, 19, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Which Florida players are making the biggest contributions on the field?

GatorNation will tell you every week. It’s not just a list of MVP candidates, but a compilation of the players who are making the biggest difference each week.

Here’s this week’s top 10 (last week’s rankings in parentheses):

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Florida redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter has seen it all with the Gators.

He was a part of a national championship squad during his freshman season back in 2008. He went to the Sugar Bowl in 2009. And he's a win away from seeing another 10-win season in Gainesville.

But he's also seen dark times, like 2010 and 2011, where the Gators won just 13 games combined and dropped into the category of mediocre. He also saw the coach who recruited him, Urban Meyer, retire, come back and retire again before taking a new job.

He was there for Will Muschamp's hiring and has now had three different defensive coordinators coaching him. He's been a real trooper for the Gators, and with 53 games under his belt, 103 tackles (10 for loss) and a blocked field goal to his name, Hunter and the rest of Florida's seniors will say goodbye to the Swamp Saturday against Jacksonville State.

The old man took some time from bingo to talk to ESPN.com about his career at Florida:

[+] EnlargeOmar Hunter
Kim Klement/US PresswireOmar Hunter has had a significant impact on Florida's resurgence this season.
You've been at Florida for probably 35 head coaches now, and with this being your last game in the Swamp, how does it feel to know this will be the last time you run onto Florida Field with your uniform on?

Omar Hunter: Honestly, it hasn't even hit me yet, but it's been a long time coming, man. It's been an honor to play for the Florida Gators and be a part of this program. I've enjoyed every moment of it and I'm looking forward to my senior day.

Now Chris Rainey did a back flip during his senior day moment. Any chance we'll see that out of you?

OH: I honestly don't know what I'm going to do, but I promise you I won't do a back flip. No back flips will be done by me, but I'll probably just run out and take the whole moment in. It's been a great few years that I've been here and I've enjoyed it. When senior day comes I'm sure I'll be very emotional and I'm just looking forward to it.

You've seen the highs and the lows during your time at Florida. What's it been like for you over these four-plus years?

OH: It's been incredible -- to come in and win a national championship my freshman year and then make it to the Sugar Bowl after that. Then, the program kind of fell off for a little bit, but coming back with Coach Muschamp, he's really brought it back from the bottom. I've been happy to be a part of this process and get Florida back on top, back to the BCS level that it should always stay at. It's been an honor to be on this team. Just knowing that I had an affect on some of these guys' careers here at Florida has been an honor. That's just as good as winning a championship, being able to say I affected somebody else's life or helped this person who has done so much more for me.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 6 Florida plays host to FCS opponent Jacksonville State on Saturday. It’s the final home game of the season and the last chance for a tuneup before playing Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 24.

Here's five storylines for the game:

1. It’s the Jacoby Brissett show: Starting QB Jeff Driskel is out with a sprained right ankle, so Brissett will make his second start of the season (he also started the opener). He’s not the runner that Driskel is, so expect the offense to change a bit. More wildcat with Trey Burton, for instance, to run the read-option plays that Driskel has had so much success with. Brissett has thrown just 13 passes this season, but he started two games in 2011 in place of the injured John Brantley. He has likes to throw the ball deep more than Driskel, so expect a few of those early.

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Big 3: Gators have overcome injuries

November, 14, 2012
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GAINESVILE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp took to the SEC's weekly teleconference on Wednesday morning to talk about the Gators’ game home game against Jacksonville State on Saturday. In addition to talking about QB Jeff Driskel being out with an ankle injury, Muschamp talked about how the Gators have overcome injuries.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFlorida's starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered an ankle injury against Louisiana-Lafayette and was unable to return.
1. Man down, man up

Florida has been banged up in the second half of the season, especially along the offensive line. Yet the Gators (with one exception) keep winning because they’ve been able to overcome those injuries. They’ve completely adopted Muschamp’s “Man down, man up” mantra.

"I think what you emphasize is what's important to them. I've emphasized all along knowing how our season went a year ago, and we had injuries [and] I felt like at times we used that as an excuse. I went into this season with the mentality of our football team that is not going to be an excuse, and injuries are a part of the game. And in the SEC, as physical of a league as it is, you are going to have injuries. That's part of the game. When a guy goes down the other guy has to step up and play at a high level, and we're not going to use that as an excuse to say we had an injury. That's part of the game and you have to move on. It's something I came up with. Just said, ‘Man down, man up.’ You need to man up in this league and when you have an injury somebody else needs to step forward and play well for you."

2. Steady improvement

Freshman DE Dante Fowler has come on in the second half of the season (12 of his 23 tackles and two sacks in last four games) and Muschamp has been impressed with the way he has handled himself.

"Dante is a guy that is a very talented guy, that's blessed with a lot of ability. But he came in here a very humble young man. He came in here and he's worked, he's put the time in, he's done an outstanding job for us academically, he's done an outstanding job for us socially. He's been a guy that's been a very, very productive player. He learns well and he works at it. He's always up in the office. He's always in [defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s] office trying to learn, trying to watch more film and a guy that listens. That's a talent. A lot of young guys have a hard time listening to someone else tell them, whether it's a coach or an older player. That's the one thing that Dante really has a strong talent for is listening to what other people [say], taking the input and understanding and learning from each experience."

2. Senior leadership

Seniors Jon Bostic and Omar Hunter have been instrumental on the field in this season’s turnaround from 7-6 in 2011 to 9-1. But they also were invaluable during the transition from Urban Meyer’s staff to Will Muschamp and the current staff.

"They were outstanding. … Understanding the expectation, understanding philosophically what I believe and what this program stands for. Omar and Jon are two that you said. A lot of them have done a great job, but those two jump out as well that have been exactly what we wanted in this program as far as the type of player they are, they type of young man student-athlete and certainly it helped my transition here. Those guys are guys I count on as far as their input with our football team, how our locker room is doing, and I think they have done an outstanding job."

3 Up, 3 Down: Florida 27, La.-Lafayette 20 

November, 11, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida avoided one of the worst losses in school history by making a huge play on special teams in the closing seconds. The Gators’ offense -- as usual -- struggled but came through late with a game-tying touchdown drive.

Here are the good and bad from the 27-20 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette:

[+] EnlargeJelani Jenkins
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIJelani Jenkins saved what would have been a brutal loss for Florida.
THREE UP

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Success can be a tricky thing to handle.

Too much, and arrogance can set in. Too little, and depression follows.

For Florida’s football team, success has seemingly come and gone like the tide the past few years. From 2008 to 2009, the Gators stood with the giants of college football with a 26-2 record, a national championship and an SEC title. Then, Florida dabbled in mediocrity for two years with a 15-11 record.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
John Sommers II/Getty ImagesCoach Will Muschamp has Florida back in the top five of the national rankings.
Now, that wave of success has touched land in Gainesville again with the Gators undefeated and No. 2 in the BCS standings. A win against Georgia on Saturday, and Florida claims the SEC Eastern Division for the first time since 2009.

Florida’s rise back to relevancy has been a pleasant surprise, but so much success so quickly can be crippling, especially when players aren’t used to it.

Unlike the weeks -- and years, really -- prior, now all the pressure is on Florida. Win, and the Gators are headed to Atlanta. Lose, and the East is all but lost to one of its biggest rivals. All the work, the road comebacks and the top-10 victories will drift away.

That can be a lot for a team to digest, but senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, one of the few Gators who has seen this sort of success before at the college level, doesn’t see a change in approach. The same demeanor that got Florida to 7-0 hasn’t disappeared before the season’s biggest game.

“This team is pretty mature compared to where we were last year,” Hunter said. “For the most part, those guys have been pretty focused on what we have to get done and not let stuff get to them.”

What Florida has to do is win, but it faces a team that was expected to be in Florida’s spot. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs (6-1) are almost limping into Saturday’s showdown. They were routed by South Carolina this month and are having an internal war of words on defense.

For a team that had BCS aspirations before the season, the Bulldogs will quietly bus into Jacksonville with a lot to prove. And unlike the Gators, this is familiar territory for the Dawgs.

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