INDIANAPOLIS — The Pounceys were a dominant force on the University of Florida's offensive line in 2009, helping paving the way for a 13-1 season, en route to a Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati.
However, it took Mike by surprise when identical twin brother Maurkice left for the pros. Suddenly, Mike was the only Pouncey left at Florida, and was also left to fill massive expectations. Mike got off to an inauspicious debut, but has since flashed the talent that some believe will make him every bit the dominant player that his brother is.
After leaving Florida a year early, Maurkice Pouncey set the bar high for Mike. Maurkice was selected by the Steelers with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, then immediately became the leader of Pittsburgh's offensive line and was so good he earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie.
With Maurkice gone, the center position was open for the Gators, and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio thought Mike would be the perfect replacement. Mike had played the previous year at guard, but it seemed natural for one Pouncey to replace another.
"(Maurkice) was a guard, I made him a center because I believe that in our offense the center should be the best player, and the sharpest guy to call everything," said Addazio, who is now the head coach at Temple University. "And so I moved Maurkice there, and then when Maurkice left, I moved Mike there."
Mike's early season games, particularly the season opener against Miami (Ohio), were littered with errant snaps. Some began to question whether it was a prudent move to switch Pouncey from guard to center. Media criticism rained down upon both Pouncey and Addazio.
"I felt like after that (Miami) game I walked away and I let everyone in that stadium down," Pouncey said. "I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, woke up that next morning and was the first one in the building and from then on out, I got it fixed."
However, after going back and reviewing the game tape, Addazio found that Pouncey was not often the culprit in the poorly executed QB-center exchange.
"There were three snaps the whole season that I would call real errant snaps, that's it. So he really wasn't having any trouble," Addazio said. "The guy fielding them was just phenomenal two years ago (Tim Tebow), and sometimes some of those snaps never came into play as being bad. It was just presented that way by the media."
Nonetheless, Pouncey rededicated himself to his craft, motivated to fix this newfound flaw in his game.
"(I) felt like crap, told myself when I left the locker room that I would never play like that again, and since that game I went on to have a great season," Pouncey said.
Addazio noticed an immediate commitment out of Pouncey.
"He wants to be the best at what he does, so he'd stay and snap it a hundred times after practice, everything he could to ensure more stability there," Addazio said.
His teammates saw the same level of dedication.
"Mike is a veteran," said OT Marcus Gilbert, who started the past two years with Pouncey on the O-line. "When you have a great player like that, he knew that he had a weakness and some issues, and he got in the next day and corrected it."
After those first few trying games, Pouncey settled down, became a leader of the Florida offense, and continued to work hard at his snapping technique.
"It's improved the whole year, I'm fluent with it now, just confident with it," Pouncey said. "To this day, I'll never take it for granted again, and just keep practicing at it."
While Pouncey was able to make that adjustment relatively easily, there was another adjustment that proved more difficult: life without Maurkice.
"I think that was legitimate," Addazio said. "I think that was the hardest thing for him. Because they do everything together, they fed off of each other. They're just so close."
The two Pounceys are so similar that fans often mistook Mike for Maurkice while Mike was in North Texas for the Super Bowl. Such a bond was hard to break up.
"It was tough at first," Mike said. "We're best friends, we have spent our whole life together, so it's real tough just getting used to him not being around. But we still, to this day, talk on the phone every chance I get, he's the first person I call. Second person I call is my mom."
One place that Mike could put his mind at ease was on the practice field. Addazio raved about both of the Pounceys' passion for the game.
"Those are two guys when we'd be out on the practice field, they'd come jogging across that field, it was the best part of their day," Addazio said. "Make no mistake."
Now moving on to the next level, Pouncey can turn that burden of living up to standard set by his brother into a selling point for the NFL, emphasizing their similarities. Addazio, for one, sees Mike as having the same potential as Maurkice.
"(Mike) had an unbelievable year; he's the most dominant player, and at times was more dominant than Maurkice was," Addazio said. "Mike is every bit the center that Maurkice is."
Now going through the scouting process, NFL executives have begun to come around to Addazio's point of view.
"Who's to say he's not as good as his brother?" said Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel. "We spent a lot of time on (Maurkice). We had (Mike) up for a visit, and I think he has just as high of a chance to be successful as his brother does the way he played this year."
Mike Pouncey said that, after his initial meetings with teams, some teams told him that they couldn't tell Mike and Maurkice apart on film, with a few saying that Mike actually looked better than his brother on film.
However, before Mike is drafted, he has to go through the grueling evaluation process.
Maurkice told PFW that he did give Mike some advice on what to expect over the next few months before his name is called in the NFL draft.
"I told him, man, it's long. You just got to stick it out," Maurkice said. "Toward the end, once the football comes, that's what you love doing. But you got to go through the Combine, meet with everybody, fly out to teams, work out with teams, your Pro Day … it gets stressful, man, but once that's over it's smooth sailing."
Mike will use this advice as he goes through the draft process, where the possibility exists he could be reunited with Maurkice if he falls to No. 31 and the Steelers. But while Mike might be excited to be back with his brother, one part of that deal wouldn't sit well with him.
"(The Steelers) got the 31st pick, I have to go before 18. I gotta be drafted higher than Maurkice," Pouncey said. "(No.) 18 or better. I would never live to hear the end of it."