Florida looking for leaders

Florida's Trey Burton (top) celebrates with teammates after scoring the first touchdown of the game against Tennessee in Gainesville on Sept. 17.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, October 14, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.

AUBURN, Ala. — Much of what's missing has been obvious to anyone who's watched the Florida Gators stumble through two sad Saturdays in consecutive losses to the nation's top two teams.

The pass rush. The run defense. Coverage in the secondary. The ability to tackle.

Execution. Protection. Discipline. The running game. Touchdowns and points. John Brantley.

All missing.

Here's something else that's been missing that may not be as obvious, but has been perhaps just as detrimental to Florida's effort.

Leadership. On the field and in the locker room. The Gators don't seem to have any.

Name a senior leader? Hard to do.

Name a junior leader? Even harder.

Where have all the leaders gone?

In the wake of back-to-back blowout losses to Alabama and LSU, Florida coach Will Muschamp is calling for some leaders to step forward this week against Auburn.

It's not too late. Even though the Gators are reeling from the two losses, they still control their own fate in the Eastern Division race. If they win out in conference play, they'll advance to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.

To take that first step, they need someone to lead them.

“It doesn't have to be a senior. We don't have many. Anybody,” Muschamp said. “That is something I challenged them about this (week). It's really hard to be a leader. We have a lot of guys that want to be a leader one day, then the next day they want to step off the podium and let someone else do it.

“That's not part of the deal. When you want to be a leader, you step in front and positively affect everybody in the organization. Every day you have to be a productive player. That's how we've outlined it for them.”

Most teams, including the past several at Florida, are led by the senior class. But the Gators have so few seniors — only nine on scholarship — and none, other than tailback Chris Rainey, seem inclined to want to take on the leadership role

On top of that, the Gators also have a relatively small junior class. This is a team dominated by the young — by the sophomores and freshmen.

The lack of leadership was evident in the last two games. When adversity popped up early, the Gators did not respond favorably. Things only grew worse.

In last Saturday's game at LSU, the Gators fell behind 14-0 early in the game and never recovered.

“We have to manage that better as a staff and a team, as far as handling adversity,” Muschamp said. “We just didn't handle the circumstance very well. That's part of growing up as a football team, and it starts with me. We have to become a more mentally tough team. In this league, you're going to have adversity.

“We have to manage those situations better when they arise, because they're going to continue to arise during the season, especially when you play in the league we're playing in.”

Muschamp said he's been encouraged by the way his players have rebounded and remained positive this week on the practice field and in team meetings.

“I feel positive with how we have responded,” he said. “It goes back to mental toughness and handling adversity.

“Adversity causes two things. It causes you to unify, or it causes you to divide. One of the two. We're going to unify and move forward, and move forward with guys that are willing to do it our way.

“We've got a bunch of guys that want to do it our way. We are where we want to be as far as pushing forward after two tough defeats.”

Junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said some leaders are starting to emerge, and they are coming from the talented true sophomore class.

“Definitely,” he said. “We have some leadership in that young group. (Defensive tackle) Dominique Easley is really stepping up. (Defensive end) Sharrif Floyd is stepping up. (Buck linebacker) Ronald Powell has actually stepped up as a leader. We've got a lot of leaders in that young group.”

Outgoing and vocal or introverted and quiet, Hunter said every player has a chance to lead by example.

“When your opportunity comes, you have to embrace it, and make a play,” he said. “That's all part of growing up. Every day you have to take on responsibility. You can't have one off day. You have to be consistent with it.”

It's not too late. A win tonight could get the Gators pointed back in the right direction.

“Everyone has a clear head and everyone is thinking about Auburn,” Hunter said. “This is as big as last week and the week before. We're looking forward to playing in that environment. We're going to enjoy the moment.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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