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UF’s top tackler Shemar James has season-ending knee surgery

GAINESVILLE — Florida football’s struggling defense will be without leading tackler Shemar James for the rest of the season after season-ending knee surgery.

Speaking Wednesday as UF (5-3, 3-2 SEC) prepares to Saturday’s visit from Arkansas (2-6, 0-5), Coach Billy Napier said James needed to address an issue involving his left knee dating to high school and injured during last weekend’s Georgia loss.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore aggravated his knee during pregame warmups on a freshly sodded field at Jacksonville’s EverBank Stadium. James applied a brace, tested his knee and ultimately played before leaving the game for good during the fourth quarter after recording five tackles. He ends 2023 with 55 stops — 15 more than the next Florida player, freshman safety Jordan Castell of Orlando.

“He’s done,” Napier said. “I’s much like a shoulder dislocation. It’s a kneecap dislocation. Happened to him in high school. Much like a shoulder comes out, if it comes out again you’ve got to get it fixed.

“Everything went well with the surgery. It won’t be a major factor long-term for him.”

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 09: Nate Glantz #18 of the McNeese State Cowboys is sacked by Shemar James #6 of the Florida Gators during the first half of a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
Florida linebacker Shemar James chases down McNeese quarterback Nate Glantz during the Gators’ 49-7 win Sept. 9, 2023 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Short term, the Gators will miss James during a grueling November stretch.

“His practice habits, his character, he’s developed a voice,” Napier said. “He really was getting comfortable from a leadership standpoint. That’s the unfortunate part.”

Arkansas, a 6.5-point underdog, is the last relative breather on the schedule. The Razorbacks’ attack ranks last in the 14-team SEC in yards (295.4 per game) and are tied for 12th in average points (22.3).

The Gators, though, have struggled in recent weeks, allowing 468 yards to Georgia, 494 in a 41-39 win at South Carolina and even 276 passing yards to Vanderbilt. UF ranks 11th in the league in yards allowed per play (5.97).

Besides James, Florida could be without starting defensive linemen Cam Jackson and Tyreak Sapp, each listed as questionable with upper body injuries.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at moc.lenitnesodnalro@nospmohtge

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