BRADENTON -- Despite being one of the most highly touted college prospects during his senior year at Southeast High, Brian Poole could hear the voices.
"A lot of guys from Manatee County who went to Florida didn't do well, and a lot of people said I wouldn't either. They doubted me, but that kept me going," said Poole, who will finish his junior year at Florida on Saturday against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
One of the best defensive backs among a storied list who played at Southeast, Poole never wavered from Florida and has no regrets.
"The hardest thing was to wait for my turn. I felt I could play at this level, but the first-team guys I was behind my freshman year were pretty good," Poole said. "Everybody I played behind my freshmen year are in the NFL, guys like Matt Elam and Jaylen Watkins. I learned a lot from those guys. The main thing for me was trusting the process and waiting for my turn."
A hybrid defensive back, Poole started his sophomore year at nickel, and this season has been a starter at cornerback. He also can play safety and hopes his versatility will increase his NFL value.
The 5-foot-10, 206-pounder said he is not sure about entering the NFL Draft or returning to Florida for his senior season, though coming back appears to be his likely move.
"It's been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, which is why I decided to play defensive back in college. For me, that was the easier path," Poole said.
Poole played some of his best football against the best teams, including Florida State and Alabama, both of which
qualified for the college football playoffs.
He had two interceptions and four solo tackles against FSU and recorded a season-high eight tackles, including six solos, against 'Bama. He also had seven tackles and a key interception he returned 30 yards in the Gators' triple-overtime win against Kentucky.
"I guess you could say FSU was my best game. I almost had a third interception, but unfortunately we couldn't capitalize on our opportunities," Poole said. "I am a better player now because I have become a student of the game in how I watch film and practice. I learned you have to go real hard every day in practice."
It was a disappointing season for the Gators, who finished 6-6 and saw Will Muschamp fired as head coach. Poole was recruited by Muschamp, so it was personal for him, but he has a relationship with the Gators' new head coach, Jim McElwain.
"He recruited me for Alabama when I was a senior and said he remembered me well," Poole said.
Poole admits the reasons to return to Florida outweigh the reasons to leave.
At the top of the list is that he could be part of one of the best secondaries in the country, which would help his draft status in 2016.
The Gators are expecting to return the bulk of their secondary with Poole and Vernon Hargreaves at cornerback along with safety Kenau May and other talented defensive backs.
"I feel like we will have the best secondary in the country and the most experienced," Poole said. "Vernon will be there, and I consider him a lifetime friend. Playing in the SEC is great preparation for the NFL, and I get to play in The Swamp, which is awesome. There is not a better facility in the world."
Poole will sit down and talk with his family after the bowl game and explore his options. He also talks regularly with Jon Dowling, his former teammate at Southeast now with the Oakland Raiders, and retired NFL cornerback Fabian Washington, who played at Bayshore.
"In the NFL I feel I can play cornerback, nickel or safety, whatever they want me to do," Poole said.