Gator head may resurface before opener


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 1:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 1:38 p.m.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's missing gator head could be back soon.

Coach Urban Meyer removed the large replica gator head from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in April and told players they had to earn it back.

Meyer also kicked the Gators out of the locker room and didn't allow them to wear orange and blue or anything with the team logo on it _ a few of the many motivational tactics Meyer uses before and during the season.

They eventually regained access to the locker room and were permitted to wear school colors. But the gator head is still missing.

Meyer said it could return Saturday, when the 10th-ranked Gators open the season against Wyoming.

"I'm anticipating it'll be there," he said.

His players hope it will, too.

"You don't realize how special it is until it's gone," center Mike Degory said.

A Gainesville company cast the fiberglass head from a model of an 11-feet, 6-inch alligator and presented it to coach Steve Spurrier after he led the Gators to their first Southeastern Conference title in 1991.

Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 at Florida, proudly displayed the head in a rotunda outside the locker room in the stadium's south end zone.

Coaches and players began rubbing the head for good luck before entering the stadium _ and it became as sacred a tradition to them as "We Are the Boys" and Mr. Two Bits are to the fans.

"It means you're a true Gator," quarterback Chris Leak said. "That's what coming here is all about. Before you walk out that tunnel, touching that gator, it gives you the confidence that you have and lets you know that all the sacrifices the older guys in the 50s, 60s and 80s made gave you the opportunity to be able to touch that gator."

Meyer won't say where he stored the gator head the last five months, but athletic director Jeremy Foley said it has been completely refurbished. Broken and chipped teeth were replaced. Scraps and scratches were removed. The entire head was polished.

But when will it return?

"That doesn't come out until we show we're ready to be Gators," co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "It's very close right now."

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RB COMPETITION:@ The Gators still don't know who will be the starting running back against Wyoming.

Junior DeShawn Wynn would seem like the logical pick, but he could be suspended for the opener. Junior Skyler Thornton has shown promise, but has not separated himself from freshmen Markus Manson and Kesthan Moore.

Coach Urban Meyer said it would be a game-time decision.

The position battle has been the most competitive during fall practice, with Wynn taking the lead one day, then falling behind Thornton and Manson the next.

"I'm waiting for someone to step up and say, 'I'm the tailback at the University of Florida, give me the ball 25 times and I'll get you a bunch of yards,'" Meyer said. "I have not seen that happen."

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QB TRIO:@ The Gators might use three quarterbacks in the opener, with junior Chris Leak getting the start and junior Gavin Dickey and freshman Josh Portis getting playing time _ maybe even early.

Dickey was the backup last season, but he has taken more repetitions at receiver than he has under center this fall.

Portis could claim the No. 2 spot, but coach Urban Meyer said the lanky signal caller from Woodland Hills, Calif., might be too overwhelmed to be effective early against Wyoming.

"Josh Portis is going to jog out of the tunnel with coach Meyer for the first time in his career. That's just a touch different than Taft High School in L.A," Meyer said. "I want to see his reaction. If his reaction is like I'm worried it might be for the first couple of minutes, he might not take a snap early until I see him settle down."

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EXTRA POINTS:@ CB Dee Webb has returned to full-contact practice after missing more than a week with a separated shoulder. Coach Urban Meyer said he "is good to go." ... LB Earl Everett has been slowed by a sore neck, but Meyer said he will start Saturday. ... Backup DT Javier Estopinan (ankle) is questionable. ... Florida paid Wyoming $600,000 to travel to Gainesville and play this game. ... Meyer has not lost a season opener as a head coach (4-0). ... The Gators haven't lost an opener since 1989, the year before Steve Spurrier took over.

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