If there is a theme to Florida’s spring football camp it is that there are at least two of them — one, is that everyone knows what he is doing and, two, everyone knows where he wants to go.
There is so much confidence in the air that this team is talking openly about getting to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff because the returning players learned how to win big games last year.
You can see it in the body language of a team that feels sure of itself after a season where it looked at times (early) like a newborn calf.
“I’m able to teach a lot of guys because I move a lot faster than I did last year,” said running back Lamical Perine. “A lot of people last year were nervous. They know what to expect this year.”
And yet, Gator fans don’t know what to expect if they have any sense of history. They can remember the 1992 team that lost its offensive line and started two freshmen at the tackles and Shane Matthews was running for his life on every play.
We’re so far away from knowing if Florida will be able to figure out the offensive line situation we can’t even see the answer with a telescope.
We know Florida’s strengths and weaknesses and have studied the schedule and all that, but one thing that weighs me to the positive on the 2019 team is more intangible than anything.
The Gators have a lot of old souls.
They’ve got a lot of guys who are older than their years. You know, like a dog ages seven years for every human year? I think this group of players might have picked up an extra digit or two in life lessons.
Like receiver Josh Hammond, who came to Florida as a 17-year-old and has seen it all in four years.
“There are adjustments you have to make when you first get here,” he said. “I came here in the spring (as a freshman) and I could see it in other guys the next fall.”
Guys who have been through the dark side of college football, the side where your coach gets fired in the middle of the season and your home fans boo you during a game you end up winning.
You know, like Feleipe Franks. That’s an old soul.
“I try to lead people in the right direction. People can learn from my wrongs,” he said. “We have a lot of guys on the team who are super mature. They’ve been through this process a lot. They know how to prepare for games.”
And they know what is required of them when it comes to mentoring younger players. These old souls like David Reese (the Elder), Freddie Swain, CJ Henderson, Jabari Zuniga and Brett Heggie have seen how bad it can be and how much better it feels when it is not.
They know how to get there.
“Guys who are trying to set the standard, their job is to set the bar high and pull everybody up,’ said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “Much easier to do in year two.
“It certainly helps when your good players do things or trying to do things the right way and have leadership of the team. There is a comfort when you look at guys who have been around, who have paid some dues, are good players, have respect of their teammates and do things the right way.”
He has some of those guys.
“We’re working at it,” Mullen said. “I think a lot more this year than last year.”
Perine is a good example.
The senior from Mobile, Ala., is the lead back in more ways than one. He knows he has to help the young players go through the expectations portal that has gobbled up cocky high school stars and spit them out.
“I try to tell young guys, everybody had that mindset when they come in,” Perine said. “I’m going to play. I’m going to do this and that. You can’t do that until you actually prove yourself that you’re dependable.
“You can’t come in and think you’re going to take somebody’s position.
I was that way when I first got here. I had my days when I’d come in and was lazy, not going full speed. As I matured, you realize you got to work for it. Nobody is going to hand you nothing around here. It’s the SEC.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.