Throughout the week, Florida interim head football coach Randy Shannon has been watching for signs, tell-tale signs.
Signs of apathy, indifference, defeat, surrender.
Signs of quitting.
He hasn’t seen any.
“They don’t quit,” Shannon said of the 3-6 Gators. “A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of good things going on. Very competitive. Like anything, a team can shut it down.
“They’re on time with everything. They’re doing the things they’re supposed to get done. That’s all you can ask for. Now, if the team was coming out 15, 20 minutes late, you’re going to have problems. These guys are coming out two, three minutes early, been on time about everything they’re going through. That’s been a real positive.”
There certainly would be some understandable reasons for giving up at this point. This is a team that’s been decimated by injuries and suspensions, rocked by a coaching change and beaten down by a five-game losing streak that has eliminated the Gators from bowl eligibility.
What’s left to play for?
“Play for yourself, play for your pride, play for the name on your back, play for the name on the front of the jersey,” senior running back Mark Thompson said. “We came here to play football, so just because our season isn’t going the way we thought it would go doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to play hard.”
The Gators have vowed to play on, and play hard. If there’s quit in anybody, it hasn’t shown up yet.
“You’ve just got to grind,” junior defensive tackle Taven Bryan said. “This really shows who you are as a person and as a player. If you quit, you’re a quitter. Once you’re a quitter you’re always a quitter. You’ve just got to keep grinding and go in there and get the work done.”
Many of the incentives may be gone, but there is still work to be done, things to be accomplished, over the final two weeks.
The Gators are approaching this as two-game season — UAB today and Florida State next Saturday. The goal is to go undefeated and write a positive ending to what will go down as a losing season.
Over the next two weeks, the Gators will be playing for the seniors, for their coaches, for themselves and for their fans.
“At this point, guys are not thinking about we cannot go to the bowl,” Shannon said. “The only thing they’re thinking about is coming back to The Swamp, two home games that they can go and play for their fans and friends and their family. Those are the things that they’ve been talking about and what we’ve been addressing.”
Shannon said UF has had a good week of preparation for today’s game. The players have been upbeat, the energy level has been high on the practice field. There have been no signs that anybody has given up and planning to mail in these final two games.
“Obviously, the season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to,” senior linebacker Cristian Garcia said. “But we’re not letting it affect the way we prepare. There’s a lot of juice out here. Coach Shannon has done a lot of things to help us bring the juice. Regardless of what’s happened, we’re still going to try and win these next two games. Because it means a lot to us and it means a lot to our fans.”
The players say that one of the biggest goals in this two-game season is to make sure the seniors have a successful conclusion to their college careers.
Due to injuries and early departures to the NFL, there are only a handful of seniors left on the active roster. The Gators are down to only two senior starters — slot receiver Brandon Powell and cornerback Duke Dawson.
“I’m just worried about sending these seniors out the right way,” redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “They work so hard and they don’t deserve to go out there and get two losses. We’ve got to go out there and we’re going to fight. They deserve to go out the right way.
“A big part of it is having our fans out there supporting us. It’s always great when they support us and they’re not head banging us and all that kind of stuff. So it’s really great when they’re supportive and send these seniors out the right way, man. That’s what we’re playing for these last two games.
“With a room full of great leaders like we’ve got, we’re going to be just fine. We’re going to go out there and be 2-0 in The Swamp.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.