Q & A with Gator football coach Urban Meyer


Published: Friday, May 23, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 12:10 a.m.

Florida football coach Urban Meyer's early summer was altered this year by the new NCAA rule that prohibits head coaches from going on the road to recruit. But Meyer is staying busy and keeping tabs on his players, mostly through strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti. Veteran Sun football beat writer Robbie Andreu had a chance to catch up to Meyer on Thursday night before a Gator Gathering in Tampa. Meyer shared his thoughts on several topics:

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Florida football coach Urban Meyer.

Sun file photo

Q:What's your mind-set where the program is coming out of spring ball and going into next season?

A:I'm excited. There are a couple of areas of concern, which I think everyone in the country knows what they are. We have a chance to be a real good football team. The offensive line just excites me when I think about those players. I talk to them a lot. It all starts there. Then if we get a little better on the D-line, I think we have a chance to be really good.

Q:With some of the off-the-field problems, the most recent being the arrest of safety Jamar Hornsby, do you worry a little bit about perception versus reality?

A:No, I don't care about perception at all. I care about young peoples' lives and our football program and doing things the right way.

Q:What has strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti been telling you about the offseason program?

A:We're well ahead of where we were a year ago. All the extras. That's the amazing thing, to think the NCAA mandates that 20 hours a week and eight hours in the offseason, you can't play football. That's just the reality. I agree with the rule because coaches would go overboard. I also coached a bunch of first-round draft picks. I've also coached a Heisman Trophy winner and coached a bunch of guys that were good enough to lead the SEC in offense and win a national championship. You can't play football unless you devote yourself to academics and football. And our kids right now, from what I'm hearing, that's what they're doing.

Q:What is the early word on freshman defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who is enrolled in the Summer A semester?

A:They're using that F word down in the weight room a little bit. Freak. Pound for pound, Mickey said (he's one of the strongest on the team). He's about six-foot tall, and a very strong football player. Now it's a matter of having a great summer. Because he's a great kid. I've had a lot of people say why did you put so much pressure on him (calling Hunter the Tim Tebow of this recruiting class)? Because I love great players. What I love better are great players that are great people, and he falls in that category. It was real critical to get him in (for Summer A), so he can get acclimated. He is without question (going to play). If he can play the game, which from what I saw on film he can, he's going to be very involved in this team. So will T.J. Pridemore (Hunter's high school teammate, who also is already enrolled). I'm not sure yet (whether he's going to play fullback or linebacker). He's going to play though. I'm hoping he's going to play. He's got a great family and falls into that great family, great person (category). For sure he'll been involved on special teams. The guy in charge of the punt team loves him, and that's me, so he's going to be on the punt team.

Q:What's your general feeling about guns and athletes?

A:I don't think there's any place for it. I've actually had some conversations with parents who have bought their children a gun. And I said that's not acceptable here. Get rid of the gun or he won't play. That's one of our core values. You're off scholarship immediately and you won't play. We had a guy do it (former offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson) and he didn't play. The University of Florida. ... We don't allow guns.

Q:How is team chemistry coming along?

A:We had our team dinner over at our house on Sunday and it was great. We're going to have a good football team.

Q:Has tailback Chris Rainey gotten bigger and stronger?

A:He actually lost a couple of pounds going to the SEC track meet (and running the 100 meters).

Q:Tim Tebow comes back this season with the Heisman Trophy on his mantle. Do you have any kind of template for managing his time and how he approaches this season?

A:He's the first Heisman winner we've coached. Danny (offensive coordinator Dan Mullen) and him are very close, as well as I am. We're very close to his family. We're just going to watch it because people are pulling at him in every direction. It's now football time. When he spends his spring break on a mission (to the Philippines) and then he comes back on his week break between the end of spring and Summer A, and he goes on another trip to Croatia for what he does, that concerns you. But what are you going to say? My goodness, that's what it's all about. I just worry about people pulling him in too many directions. Steve (sports information director Steve McClain) is helping, Dan is helping and I'm helping.

Q:Will Tebow be going on another mission this summer?

A:I don't think so. I know his father goes to the Philippines for over a month. But I think Tim is finished.

Q:Word is Tebow has been trying to get you to go on a mission with him. Is that going to happen?

A:I'm going on one, but not with him. I'm going on one this summer to the Dominican Republic with my family. We're going to be feeding the poor. We're going with a church group out of Orlando and with a good friend of mine. I'm looking forward to it. We'll be gone for five days. I've already talked to Tim about it. As it gets closer, I'm going to sit down with him. That's the impact he's had on me. He's something.

Q:Are you getting a feel for the 2008 team yet?

A:Yeah, I'm getting a lot of positive vibes right now. It's coming from our strength coach and coming from calling four or five players every night just to see how it's going.

Q:Are you getting some positive feelings on the defense getting better?

A:Yeah, I like (middle linebacker) Brandon Spikes' attitude. It all starts with that position. (Brandon) Siler kind of ran that defense (on the 2006 national championship team). Spikes was a sophomore (last season) and didn't run the defense very well. He played well, but didn't run it very well. (Safety) Major Wright was a true freshman. When we had Brandon Siler and (All-America safety) Reggie Nelson. ... it's like the baseball axiom, that you've got to be strong up the middle. Absolutely, you have to be. When we had Reggie Nelson and Brandon Siler, was there any better? Then you go to a sophomore and a true freshman and you're kind of giving up plays. Those two players (Spikes and Wright) have to be a lot better for us to be good.

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