Gators hungry for more titles


University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer, center, gets his players rowdy during the Gators first football practice on Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 5:27 p.m.

The last time they were in this position, coming off a national championship and soaring with great expectations, the Florida Gators flopped.

Was it complacency that shot them down?

A false sense of entitlement?

Some of both, for sure, but it was much more than that.

In hindsight, maybe we should have seen the slide coming in 2007. Urban Meyer has since said that he did.

The ingredients were there for a fall: a glaring absence of seniors (and leadership), the loss of nine defensive starters, and a lack of competition at many positions.

It added up to a disappointing 9-4 season - a rather lame title defense.

The Gators say it will be different this time.

“Going into the 2007 season, there wasn’t very much competition. A lot of guys were handed positions,” senior linebacker Dustin Doe said. “We were there by default. A direct result of that is we didn’t compete on the field going against other people.

“Now, we come out here and compete every day in practice. When we go against other people, it’s second nature. We know how to compete. I think it’s making us a better team. There’s more leadership now. We’ve got a team full of veterans, and I feel like the sky is the limit.”

The 2009 team seems to have all the things the 2007 team was missing.

Lots of senior leadership, led by quarterback Tim Tebow and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Intense competition at every position, a result of Meyer’s successful recruiting.

All 11 starters return on defense and most of the team’s impact players are back (with the exception of wide receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy).

“I think the leadership is different (than in 2007),” senior wide receiver David Nelson said. “And we’ve got a lot of guys who are still hungry, who still want more.

“We have seniors like Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes who came back for one reason: to get back to the SEC Championship Game and hopefully the national championship game. Ultimately, we’re not complacent. We’re hungry for more.”

Nelson said there was a noticeable difference in the approach to the winter workouts compared to 2007.

“Definitely more intensity,” he said. “That starts with our strength coach. Mickey (Marotti) did a great job making sure we tested our toughness.

“He emphasized a lot of stuff we were weak on two years ago. He made it a point this offseason that we’re not going to do that again.”

So, no chance of complacency?

“No chance? Big chance,” Meyer said. “It’s our job not to let that happen.

“The only way I really know how to do it is just make it the hardest summer they’ve gone through in their lives, just make it real hard so no one will have time to be complacent.”

Given the toughness and work ethic of this team’s two biggest senior leaders, Tebow and Spikes, it seems improbable that complacency will be a problem.

“The way you handle that is with great leadership,” Tebow said. “By coming our here and working and getting better every day. Being complacent is taking things for granted and not coming out here and pushing yourself to the best of your ability. That’s not going to happen when you have great leadership.”

Spikes said the 2008 national championship is in the rear view mirror now. UF’s energy and focus are solely on the 2009 season now.

“We got a national championship, we enjoyed it and we celebrated it,” Spikes said. “Then we just came back to work. Now, we’re trying to get another one.

“I have to motivate the guys. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to keep everyone hungry.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 374-5053 or at andreur@gvillesun.com.

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