Notebook: NBA champion coach motivates Gators
Published: Friday, August 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 12:18 a.m.
Three years ago, Florida coach Urban Meyer and his staff came up with an idea to drive home the thought of becoming a champion while at UF.
Alltel Football Fan Day
Florida will hold Alltel Football Fan Day from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday in the O'Connell Center. Admission is free and the doors will open at 12:30 p.m.
Fans will be able to meet and get autographs from their favorite Gator players and coaches. The University Athletic Association will supply the 2008 Gator team posters for player autographs and cannot allow outside items to be brought in to the event due to NCAA compliance issue. Due to the high demand for many of the players' and coaches' autographs, the lines will be monitored and closed to ensure that fans are not waiting for autographs with no chance of reaching the signing table by the event's conclusion.
It began on the flight back from Indianapolis after UF's first men's basketball national championship. After watching men's coach Billy Donovan lead his young and inexperienced group to the ultimate prize, it was time for Meyer's squad to learn what it truly meant to be a champion. So Champion's Day was created.
"I had a group of players that their whole entire football team had never won a bowl game and someone started complaining about if you never won one, never tasted one, you don't really understand the amount of hard work (it takes to win one)," Meyer said after Friday morning's practice. "If you never win a championship, I'm not sure you play football. It's too hard.
"When you look in a champion's eye they look different than a non-champion. Instead of me screaming at them all the time, instead of me yelling at them about (becoming champions), let's see one, let's witness one."
Meyer said the event features a one-minute video of locker room celebrations and of champions speaking. But the truly special part of the Champion's Day is the guest speaker. So far, Donovan and NFL great Cris Carter have been a part of it.
This year, Meyer got yet another big name to speak to his team. Fresh off his NBA championship, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers visited with the Gators on Thursday night and spoke to them about winning by focusing on team chemistry.
"To think, NBA champion Doc Rivers takes time out of his own personal time to come speak to the Florida Gators," Meyer said. "Just think about that for a minute. The video was phenomenal. It was one of the best nights I've witnessed. We had a good practice today."
Meyer said he could see that Rivers' words were making an impact on some of his players just by looking at the reactions on their faces. The vibe from the night was so good that it carried over to practice Friday as Meyer was yet again very pleased with what he saw out of his players on the field.
When choosing speakers for the night, Meyer said the most important thing to his players is credibility. Without it, players are less likely to get the message.
"You have to have that intensity and passion for what you do," Meyer said about the speakers. "(Rivers is) a big believer in chemistry and character. Once again, it's all about credibility. When Trace Armstrong talks to our team, it's Trace Armstrong. When you say he led the NFL in sacks he's played 13 or 14 years in the NFL, all of a sudden you see them sit in their chair a little bit. Last night when Doc Rivers walked in, instant credibility."
Rivers is no stranger to UF. His daughter, Callie, is a sophomore on UF's volleyball team and his second son, Austin, a sophomore guard at Winter Park High, has verbally committed to UF's basketball team.
Percy's mentally ready
Junior receiver Percy Harvin's heel is still giving him problems and could keep him from going 100 percent in practice up until the season opener against Hawaii Aug. 30.
But despite hardly any practice so far, receivers coach Billy Gonzales is confident his star will be ready to go come game time because of the effort he is putting in outside of practices.
"I think he's pretty good," Gonzales said. "He comes around meetings right now. He's staying focused. He comes in and sits in the meetings, I'm asking questions, he's learning. He's been on the field. He's done it, but at the same time, if you miss it and you're not mentally sharp you won't function right. For Percy, he's gotta get healthy and he's gotta stay mentally strong and stay functional in my meetings, which he does. Even if you're training as fast as you can and you're getting back, if you're not getting the mental processes in the meetings you still won't be accurate to play.
Meyer said Harvin spent Friday morning conditioning and did not participate in drills.
Redshirt freshman running back Chris Rainey was one of the fastest Gators last year, but to Meyer, he wasn't ready to see much game time.
Rainey's speed couldn't cancel out the fact that he just wasn't strong enough and that he was suffering from a major shoulder injury.
"He'd tell us stories and he'd (swing his shoulder) and it would come out," Meyer said. "He's such a tough kid. Even at Lakeland High School he'd wait for it to come back in about 45 minutes (swing his shoulder) and go run the ball and you can't do that here."
So, Rainey sat out most of his freshman season and after getting over his shoulder problems, Rainey hit the gym harder than ever. Meyer said he's up to 180 pounds and has finally gotten his body into playing shape.
"He couldn't play here (last season)," he said. "(He was) a non-functional guy and his strength (was lacking). He had two shoulder issues and just (a) non-functional player and now he's very functional."
Meyer on defensive chemistry: "Last year, the offense had chemistry," he said. "Two years ago, the defense had good chemistry and I'm starting to see that. I'm starting to see the enthusiasm – guys kind of pumping each other up. I didn't see that last year."
Gonzales on Brandon James playing in the slot: "He's a guy that can move back and forth, swing from running back, motion him out to be a receiver, visa versa as a receiver and motion him into the backfield and run the ball," he said. "It adds so much more to your offense and adds so much more for the defense to think about how they have to defend a certain offense, how do they defend guys, how do they defend personnel groupings and that's what our offense does."
Gonzales on Carl Moore: "Carl has become a much more physical (player)," he said. "He's playing fast. He's playing strong. He's playing like the player we recruited him as. When he came here in the spring, he was so tentative learning the plays, playing slow. He's fast now."
Meyer said redshirt senior offensive lineman Phil Trautwein (shoulder) practiced Friday after being limited the last few days. ... Meyer says he's worried about freshman defensive tackle Omar Hunter's back. ... receiver Louis Murphy (ankle) returned to practice.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.
Comments are currently unavailable on this article