TAMPA, Fla. - He was a much sought-after high school player from Philadelphia who went to Florida, a team with veterans who have won a national championship, but Sharrif Floyd has done nothing but earn respect as the Gators' season has progressed.

That respect was revealed even more brilliantly Wednesday when Floyd, a defensive tackle from George Washington High School, said he would be in the starting lineup Saturday when the Gators play Penn State in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Floyd, one of seven true freshmen at Florida to play in all 12 games this season, moved into a starting role after defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders were ruled out for the bowl because of injuries.

"We've got a good defensive line," Floyd said. "Terron and L-Marsh definitely would have contributed in this game, and hopefully they'll get well soon. But we're going to get it done and finish on a good note."

Like Penn State, the Gators finished a disappointing 7-5 in the regular season. But Floyd, the 2009 Inquirer high school player of the year who was ranked as the top recruit at his position by several scouting services, impressed both on and off the field.

Floyd finished with 21 tackles overall in limited playing time that included one start, and his seven tackles for loss tied him for fourth on the team. But his overall demeanor and work ethic impressed his teammates, particularly senior defensive end Duke Lemmens.

"He's got his head screwed on right," Lemmens said. "It's crazy with all the hype and stuff out of high school, how humble he is and how he really wants to get better every day he's out there.

"He's one of the freshmen that shows up, brings his lunch pail, clocks in, and goes to work. You don't see that as much anymore, and it's real refreshing to see a guy like Sharrif. He's a special kid."

Floyd has leaned on advice from trusted friends to help him transition to big-time college football. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, a George Washington graduate, provided some helpful hints on how to adjust to a faster-paced practice.

Floyd said he went to George Washington assistant coach Andre Odom, whom he described as his mentor, for help after he hit the freshman "wall," the time when games, practice, and classes wear down even the most talented first-year player.

"It wasn't because I was not getting playing time," Floyd said. "It's because I was frustrated about what I was doing wrong. I talked to Andre, and he said to go to the coaches, go find out, get in their ear, talk to them to see what you can do. I talked to them and they told me what to do, and I kept pushing trying to get better.

"I'm great now. The main thing is understanding what the coaches want me to do, so I sit down and talk to them."

Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, the new Temple head coach, recruited Floyd for the Gators and called him "a really high-character guy with a great work ethic.

"He obviously has tremendous natural ability, but he's just a wonderful, wonderful kid," Addazio said. "He's going to be a difference-maker here. He's got a future that's really off the charts. I couldn't be more thrilled for him."

Lemmens said it would be "real fun" to watch Floyd compete Saturday.

"It's exciting to see Sharrif get a bigger chance to play," he said. "I've seen some freak athletes come in through here, but he's a combination of a freak athlete and just a great kid. The sky's the limit for that kid."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494