Dooley: A different feeling at UF


Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp during the second half of the Orange and Blue Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday in Gainesville. Blue defeated the Orange 21-20.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.

It was different. It felt different. It sounded different.

Because it was different.

A year ago, the locker room before Florida's spring football game was like you might expect it to be for a spring football game. It wasn't loud. It wasn't boisterous. There was no juice, no energy.

These were players and coaches still trying to feel each other out. They hadn't lost a tough game together. They'd never really had a game week together. The only thing noisy in that locker room was the music.

Saturday was different.

And it was another step for Will Muschamp, who is trying to get this program back where it belongs and where he wants it to be.

“It's coming,” Muschamp said after the game.

It was my second straight year of being an honorary “coach” for the Orange and Blue Debut. I agreed to do it because, well, the Gator Walk is that intoxicating.

Everything was going about the same as it went a year ago -- a great breakfast of steak and eggs at the Gator training table, great conversations with former stars such as Alex Brown, Chris Leak and Mike Peterson and a prep talk with Muschamp early in the morning.

But then game time began to get closer. The defense huddled in the back of the locker room and the offense in the front. Coaches lectured their position players with gusto and enthusiasm. The perpetually-hoarse offensive line coach Tim Davis was challenging his guys. Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator, told his guys, “I want to make sure that I can't wait to watch you (on film).”

You could feel the electricity in the room. It got better.

Travaris Robinson, the secondary coach, began wandering around the room yelling, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

And he always ended up in front of the wide receivers. He was taunting them.

“Holding up the receivers, bumping them, all that's in play!” Robinson said.

But perhaps the clearest example of how things were different came moments later. Because that's when players began to step forward. Ronald Powell paraded back and forth in front of the defensive linemen. “Play your game! Everything you're going to do you've done before!”

Then it was Sharrif Floyd, pulling the team to the middle of the room and telling them, “Do your job!”

Finally, Muschamp walked in and told his team, “Be fast and physical. Offense, run the ball down their throats!”

And guys were bouncing off the walls. The offense was fired up, the defense challenged. Edward Aschoff, a former Sun employee who now works for ESPN and was another honorary “coach”, and I looked at each other and grinned.

It was on.

Now during the next 90 minutes or so, we didn't see anything that made anyone want to pencil in Florida as a top-10 team. But we did see a team that is more physical and deeper.

“I feel much better standing here today,” Muschamp said. “We've got the right kind of guys.”

In a sport where fans want to use a microwave, Muschamp is using a slow cooker because he knows it takes time to do it the right way. Saturday was another baby step in the right direction. Leaders stepped forward. Players hit like it mattered to them.

You can argue that it takes more than locker-room talk to turn a team around. And you'd be right.

All I'm telling you is that there was something there that was missing a year ago.

Everyone is a year older. Everyone knows a lot more about what to expect. The head coach is a rookie no more. The lines have played together for an extended period.

This is a different team.

At least it was on Saturday.

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