Nelson leaning on team for support

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Florida safety Reggie Nelson has been sharing his grief with his teammates and coaches. He's not quite ready for the media to intrude.

Nelson was on the UF schedule to attend interviews at the media hotel Wednesday morning, but decided to back out.

"He didn't want to come answer questions this morning," junior cornerback Ryan Smith said.

Nelson's mother died two weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. Many of Nelson's teammates, including Smith, attended the funeral in Melbourne.

Nelson is practicing with the team and coping with his grief, Smith said.

"He's doing fine," Smith said. "Being on the field is helping him get his mind off of things. He'll be all right. He's doing all right."

Co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he's not sure yet how Nelson will react in Monday night's game.

"Reggie is a tremendous young man," Mattison said. "If you've ever lost someone, how can you ever say when is that time (when you start getting over it). We never know.

"I think the very best thing in the world for him is to be with the guys who love him, and I think that's very evident right now."

Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who recruited Nelson, said it might be very emotional for Nelson as kickoff nears Monday night.

"The hardest part for him is going to be right before the game because that's when he always called his mom," Strong said.

How about some respect

Senior defensive tackle Joe Cohen, a childhood friend of Nelson's, said the Gators have been talking among themselves about the perceived lack of respect UF has been receiving across the nation.

"It's like nobody respects you out there," Cohen said. "Every time you pick up a newspaper, you see Ohio State and then one little page on Florida. We fought to get here, too. We want a little credit that we're here. At least acknowledge we're in the game.

"I guess on Jan. 8 we'll show we're in the game. We're not getting the credit we deserve (nationally). That's life, I guess. We're going to come out and put on a show on Jan. 8."

Cohen said UF has not been disrespected by the Buckeyes, who have been high in their praise of the Gators this week.

"Ohio State watches film like us and that's why we both respect each other," Cohen said.

Real Gator walk

The Gators had to feel a little at home on Tuesday afternoon when a UF fan brought a real live alligator to the team hotel and showed it to players.

"I didn't think you could have an alligator in the desert, but there he was on the cement," Smith said.

Smith said the gator was only a few feet long.

The Saban buzz

Nick Saban's reported $32-million move from the Miami Dolphins to the University of Alabama drew a lot of reaction at interviews. Especially that money figure.

Mattison said coaching isn't (or shouldn't be) about the money.

"This game here (between UF and Ohio State for the national title) is what it's supposed to be about," Mattison said. "Guys like Ray McDonald and Joe Cohen who have done everything they've been asked to do and they've done it and done it and now they're getting a reward.

"I'm old school. If somebody told me 30 years ago you're going to play for a national championship, I would have said pay me a buck a week. That's my feeling. When you grow up as a coach, you dream about being around players like we have."

Saban's sweet financial deal brought up the old debate whether college football players should get paid.

Cohen said he was all for that.

"Because I'm poor right now," he said.

Mattison on Meyer

Mattison had an interesting reply when he was asked if UF coach Urban Meyer had changed since his arrival in Gainesville two years ago.

"He's the most passionate, most intense football coach I've ever been around about getting his job done," Mattison said. "I'd sit out there sometimes and watch and wonder how can he be so up every day, how can he be so intense in doing that with the whole team.

"I've never seen him miss a beat. When the season is over he takes that same approach, and then some, toward recruiting. I haven't seen him change one bit. My only concern is how can he keep going like that because he really, really goes and puts every single thing he has into this program."

Casey limping

Starting tight end Tate Casey did some running for the first time in two weeks and vowed he will play in the national title game.

"I told Coach Meyer he'd have to kill me to keep me out of that game," Casey said.

Casey injured ligaments in his ankle in practice two weeks and has been in a cast.

"I don't want to kill him, so he's going to play," Meyer said after Wednesday's practice. "I love Tate Casey and he's trying as hard as he can. It would be a tough situation if that young person can't play. He did a little bit today. We hope to have him back in that game."

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