Speed obsession

Florida football players participate in running drills Thursday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 1:22 a.m.

The Gators have a new greeting now when they pass each other in the hall or on the street.

No, it's not, "Go cure cancer," or "Go write the great American novel."

It's a simple one-word greeting that reflects the theme Florida football has come to embrace.

"I'll walk by a coach now and instead of saying, 'Hi, what's going on,' it's like, 'Speed, speed,' and keep on walking," strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti said.

Ever since UF coach Urban Meyer said 18 months ago that he wants Florida to have America's fastest football team, speed has become an obsession among the players, coaches and strength and conditioning staff.

The way the Gators ran around Ohio State with apparent superior speed in the national championship game last January is only feeding the obsession.

"Our philosophy is the faster teams win," Meyer said. "We want to exaggerate (speed), we want to talk about it, we want to recruit it, we want to develop it. Fast players want to go to fast places. They want to play in fast offenses, they want to play on special teams where they block punts.

"Everything we do - our offseason, our recruiting philosophy, our game planning, our approach to the game of football - is dictated by speed. If you're fast, we'll find you and we'll try to get you here."

The emphasis on speed can be found everywhere - from the tempo at practice, to the offseason conditioning program, to recruiting, to the talk around the water cooler, to the track where four players (Andre Caldwell, Chevon Walker, Percy Harvin and Brandon James) ran sprints this spring for UF track coach Mike Holloway.

"Speed is what football is about and it's all we talk about all the time," Marotti said. "Even our warm-ups, everything is about being able to run faster and play faster. In practice, in games, in the offseason, in recruiting ... it's all about speed."

The Gators certainly looked like one of the nation's fastest teams in their 41-14 conquest of No. 1 Ohio State.

So, are they the fastest?

"I don't know how you can measure that," Marotti said. "But we're going to work to be the fastest team in America. We want to be."

UF is hoping to get there through recruiting, the offseason strength and conditioning program, Holloway and the track team and an overall philosophy that speed wins championships.

"Speed was a big factor in the game (against Ohio State). It helped us win the game," Caldwell said. "For (the coaches) to focus on speed, I love it.

"If you're a fast guy, Coach Meyer wants you here. He has seen what it can do. That's one of the main focuses and all he talks about."

Caldwell said the feeling among the Gators is that speed now outweighs strength in terms of importance.

"It's hard to use your strength if you can't touch them or run along with them," Caldwell said. "Speed is a bigger factor than strength."

UF has improved its speed through recruiting under Meyer, adding burners like Harvin, James, Walker, Riley Cooper, Jarred Fayson, Mon Williams, A.J. Jones and others with the 2006 recruiting class alone. More speed is on the way with the 2007 class, led by wide receiver Deonte Thompson, the state's track athlete of the year.

Marotti's strength and conditioning program also is playing a major role. The entire program is geared toward improving speed and explosion.

"We do everything you could imagine," quarterback Tim Tebow said. "Everything we're doing, it's about speed and explosiveness. Everything they implement in workouts is based on speed and mental toughness.

"I definitely think I'm faster. There's no doubt about it. The linemen have increased their speed dramatically and the guys who came here super fast, like Percy Harvin, have even gotten faster. This is a team that prides itself on speed."

In a recent afternoon workout, Marotti put the players through a series of sprints, finishing with three, 300-yard bursts. Then it was off to the weight room for squats, vertical jumps and leg presses, followed by more sprints up and down the stadium steps. The up-tempo, high-energy session took only about 90 minutes.

"It's all about speed, speed, speed," Marotti said. "Everything around here is about high energy. It's about playing fast and practicing fast. Our workouts are just like our practices - high pace and high energy."

Caldwell said he and others have improved their speed since January, singling out the dramatic gains made by wide receiver Louis Murphy.

"They've got me a lot faster," Caldwell said. "I'm in the 4.2 range now (in the 40-yard dash). I used to be in the 4.3s or low 4.4s.

"The main person right now is Louis Murphy. People didn't think he was a fast guy when he got here. He's one of the fastest guys on the team right now. He's really running fast now."

Caldwell is one of the four players who benefited from time this spring on the track with Holloway, who is considered one of the nation's premier sprints coaches.

"Urban and I have had a lot of talks about speed," Holloway said. "I'm excited (about working with football players). I know if they come out here and do the work and go through the practices, I can make them faster."

Faster, faster.

That's what it's all about now at Florida.

"Every year you analyze the top teams in America and there's one common denominator - the fastest teams win," Meyer said. "When you game plan against a defense, the faster defenses are the hardest ones to prepare for. Our philosophy is the faster teams win.

"Our goal on offense is to have 10.4 and 10.5 (guys in the 100-meter dash) all over the place."

Meyer said the Gators currently have about a dozen players who run the 40 in 4.4 or less. He said he expects the number to grow in the Gators' quest to become America's fastest team.

Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com.

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