Silky smooth Saturday for seniors, UF’s future

20
1313
Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson (96) enjoys Senior Day festivities with his family at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before the start of the Florida-Idaho game Saturday. [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

To truly understand the emotions that go into a Senior Day in The Swamp, there is no better place to be than under the goalposts watching the players as they leave the field they defended for the last time.

There were hugs and kisses for coaches and staff who lugged their children through the opening and into a celebratory locker room. Some seniors stopped and posed for pictures. Some just wanted to get to their families.

Then there was CeCe Jefferson.

In many ways, he has been the poster boy for what Florida football has been through for the last four years. Some of it has been his fault, some of it the circumstance of college football.

And this was it, the last game in The Swamp.

So he stopped there, his arms outstretched like a rock star walking the runway as he looked up at the script “Gators” on the wall above the entrance to the locker room.

And he let out a guttural scream. We all knew what he meant.

Because no matter what happens from here on out, these seniors will always have this day when just about everything went right.

“This day went pretty well for us,” UF coach Dan Mullen said.

From the start of the game — a pick-six by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson six seconds in — to the perfect scenario of letting younger players and walk-ons finish it up in the second half, it was a pretty sweet day for the Gators.

You got the sense that even though Florida was a 40-point favorite, Mullen had gotten through to these guys to be as on point as they were for any SEC game this season.

The first play told you they were focused.

“They were looking for a spark,” Mullen said, “and we killed that spark.”

From there, it was just a matter of naming the score and while there are always complaints any time a team as bad as Idaho is brought to town to play the goat to the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, nobody was really complaining that these guys finished up their Swamp careers with a blowout win.

“It was a great day, dog,” said freshman running back Dameon Pierce. “Sending them out with a win, a dominant performance by everybody on the team.”

Offense hummed like a well-tuned engine. Defense not only suffocated but scored points.

“Defense came to play, offense came to play,” said senior tight end C’yontai Lewis. “But it makes me real sad because you build a lot of relationships. I hate leaving the young guys behind. That’s what hurt me the most.”

That’s the way it is in college sports, where your time is limited by eligibility and your success is often restricted by circumstance. These seniors wanted more than they are going to finish with, but they hardly go away empty-handed.

As much as anything, they can say they were the class that got things headed in the right direction by doubling UF’s win total from 2017 to this season.

So far.

“They did more than people can imagine for this university,” said quarterback Feleipe Franks. “They’ve set the tone.”

There is still more ball to be played, more memories to be made.

But this is one — no matter the opposition — they can carry with them for awhile.

Perfect day.

Near-perfect result.

Oh, there was that one mess up on the punt team when Florida had back-ups running in and out like ants and Mullen got so mad at his assistants he flung his visor to the ground. That’s why he went for a fourth down deep in his own territory later.

“I didn’t want to mess with the punt team,” he said.

And things got a little sloppy in the second half with so many back-ups playing around freshman Emory Jones.

Mere details, my friends.

This was not a day for nit-picking and criticism. It was simply a day to enjoy.

Even for the hands-on, attention-to-detail head coach.

As he was talking about Jones at the podium, he noticed I was watching the closing seconds of the Ohio State-Maryland game on my phone. Mullen stopped in mid-sentence and wanted to know what was going on. Maryland had just recovered its own fumble in the end zone to take the lead.

Mullen smiled.

“I stayed my age today,” he said. “This game can age you.”

Saturday did not, not in The Swamp.

It was wrinkle free.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Fun day today against a team that we should have obviously rolled on. Loved seeing Coach DM still going off on poor execution when we are winning by 50. That’s the sign of a champion. Carrying that mo to roll on FSU would be amazing next week. Emory throws a sharp ball. Rock on, fellas.

  2. this idea was true against ole miss in mac’s first year, and iowa his second year. even champ had us all feeling good when he and dan quinn beat south carolina his second year. im not saying it will or wont be different this time, i just dont know. i think so, but i am prepared for a dropoff next year, or lets just say i havent seen a lot of the ma

  3. i havent seen the magic just yet, sorry. when we do this to better competition i will be more enthused. still i am happy at what progress has been made since we lost against south carolina due to lack of effort last year, a real low point for the program.

      • Joe, I suppose it depends on your definitions of “play hard” and “a while”. I know you don’t like Mac, and he certainly had flaws, to say the least, but I’d say they played hard against Iowa in the bowl two years ago. I’d also say that just because they lost to FSU and Bama in ’15 & ’16 doesn’t mean they weren’t playing hard. They lost those games, and the bowl game to Michigan, playing scrub QB’s, one of which, it turns out, was an FCS WR posing as an SEC QB. They weren’t successful in those games, and Mac has to wear that, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to say they didn’t play hard.

        • They were not fit. And while they Matt have been playing as hard as their fitness level permitted they were not playing as hard as they are now. I was at those losses in Atlanta and to Michigan all had gassed players. Yes the qb was a issue but they were not going s hard as they are now. Last year was different when Mac was released. They had not identity or heart with Mac. They are finding that now.

          • That’s fair, 65. I wasn’t at either of the SEC CG’s, so I didn’t have the same perspective you had. I only had the TV perspective. I do think the new S&C coach and his program have made a big difference, and I do agree that last season after Mac left was a unique situation where the players seemed to lose the will to compete.

    • I think we’re still a couple of seasons away from doing this routinely to better competition, but that of course depends on a lot of “ifs” yet. Right away, it depends on “if” we beat FSU and “if” we beat a good bowl team — and the good recruiting that should follow those two variables. But, there could be some drop off as early as next year based on personnel turnover…..I don’t think so tho. I’m still putting that temporary slippage in the 3rd year, both when it is usually expected (somewhat, anyway), and consistent with your original thoughts. After that, I really do believe Katie should bar the proverbial door in the SEC — it all comes to fruition and we’re going to be hard to handle.

      • 6. The one variable that is bigger in whether or not we step back is if our Jrs make the leap. If the staff can convince a few to come back then well have the depth and experience and won’t step back. Some of these guys may be better served with another year of development. The risk reward with injury is always there but depending on the graduating draft class and team needs in the league. There Srs have had their say and have looked much better than last year. I know Jrs have a lot of decision making to do. Here the season is winding down and already next year is in the mind. I’d expect a step back to be an 8 win season. To potential recruits that are offered by UF look what was done in 11 months. Look at the freshman that have either started or played this year. While you may not play year one if the need arises you will. Look what these guys did as freshman. Can’t wait to see them a starters. Add next years class and we are going to be moving. If I were are recruit with choices I’d be lookin at the coach with proven potential. 4 win season to a 8 win. Top that off with a great location to go to school we should have a boost in recruiting. My opinion wish is really worthless but I’ll own it.

        • Roger copy 65 — Mveal changed up his predictions a bit and seemed to be saying there would be a step back next year, so I thought about it because he doesn’t say stuff he hasn’t thought thru and he didn’t sound like it was a joke. The more I thought about it tho — for many of the same reasons — I decided against it. I do think some slight slippage could happen in the 3rd year, however, when everybody is thinking National Championship season. Spurrier is the best model for that…..but after that 3rd year, look out world, we’re comin’ thru (if you catch my meaning, my jodies are a little rusty).

          • i see some very good players leaving early or graduating, particularly in the defensive front 7. Tennessee and fsu had down years. 2 games won on high risk plays that will be hard to repeat, south carolina choked bigtime, and we still have a hole where ten players that would be upperclassmen are gone due to nonfootball things. i dont think the first year recruits of mullen (or any first year coach) are as good as what is coming. so i see a one year pause, where 5 games could flip at least one or two.
            year 3 i think the flow will be there and tua may go pro, door wide open all the way to the top
            ive been wrong before, i thought the linebacker coach was the wrong guy but thats been proven to be incorrect.

    • I feel ya. That’s a very fair observation, given what we have been through in the last 10 years. I tried to tell one of the “YMCA” Gators that same thing last week, and he called me an 8 year old whining boy. But yet I don’t see him (or her) around anymore. Good stuff, brother..

  4. Just one more thing guys. Salute to Will Grier for laying it all out on the field, even though WVU lost. We still love ya in FL. Don’t hold it against us that shark lover thought he could actually be an effective HBC at the D-1 level. I am sure, with his experience and physique, he is completely teaching Michigan’s outside receivers how to run faster and catch more passes.

  5. If you knew anything about anything, you would know that what Will Grier took is not an illegal drug for the general population, which means that it was up to our compliance staff to determine whether or not he should have been taking that supplement. They failed him in that regard, because they did not provide him the list of all the NCAA “banned” substances, many of them that are laughable. The kid did not take steroids. Nor anything that you or I could not get legally today. Get your facts straight.