Some of the older Florida players have been giving the freshmen a head’s up this week about the noise in Neyland Stadium.
It’s going to be loud Saturday night. Really loud.
“Some of the guys told me that it’s the loudest atmosphere they’ve played in,” true freshman place-kicker Evan McPherson said.
But no matter how loud it gets, when McPherson lines up for a field goal or a PAT or even a kickoff, he’s going to hear only one thing. The sounds of silence.
“It’s weird. When I’m on the field I don’t really hear anything,” McPherson said. “When I get set it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just like I’m in my backyard kicking or out here kicking.
“It’s like a zone. It is. It’s really hard to explain, but it’s really cool because you know all these people are screaming your name or cheering for you but you can’t hear it or see it until the ball goes through the uprights.”
McPherson has been going into the zone since his high school days in Fort Payne, Ala. Back then, his world would go silent when he kicked before 2,000 fans or so.
He’s also found the zone at the next level, at least at home. In front of more than 80,000 in The Swamp the past three Saturdays, silence.
Now, will the zone be there for McPherson in his first college road test before a hostile crowd of more than 100,000?
McPherson says he’ll take the same proven approach he’s taken since the start of preseason camp.
“Just going through practice acting like it’s a game,” he said. “Coach Mullen has those live rushes during practice, so whenever I got into the game I just felt like I was back at practice or in a scrimmage. It didn’t really feel any different. I feel like he’s prepared me well for those situations.”
Mullen’s method is working for McPherson, only further deepening the trust McPherson has in Mullen.
The two have had a good relationship since Mullen first started recruiting McPherson when he was in the eighth grade.
Mullen had a good idea early on McPherson would emerge as an elite kicking prospect, and that’s what happened. In his senior year, he was ranked the nation’s No. 1 place-kicker by Kohl’s Kicking Camp.
Many others recruited him, but he was a Mullen man, committed to the coach and his school (Mississippi State). When Mullen was hired as Florida’s new coach in November, McPherson’s commitment to UF was soon to follow.
“I’ve known Coach Mullen for a long time,” McPherson said. “He’s got a special place in my heart, giving me all the love and showing me he really wanted me to follow him. I just really appreciate everything he’s done for me, just getting me here.”
When McPherson signed with the Gators, the assumption was that he would take over for the popular, and successful, Eddy Pineiro, who left school early and now is with the Oakland Raiders.
He had to work to replace Pineiro, edging out senior Jorge Powell in the camp competition for the starting role.
McPherson is off to a strong start in his UF career. He’s made five of his six field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder in the win over Colorado State this past Saturday. His only miss looked like a make — the attempt against Kentucky that was ruled just wide.
“I always say it’s good, but I let that one go,” McPherson said. “It’s behind me. I’m just moving on to the next kick.”
That’s the kind of composure coaches are looking for in their kicker.
“I’m really pleased with him. I love him,” Mullen said. “During recruiting, we felt there’s a good chance he’d be the guy with his talent level.
“Then you want to see what happens when you roll him out there on the field in front of a packed stadium. Sometimes you react differently. He’s a pretty cool cat out there. Walk up and pop in a 48-yarder, it was nothing for him.”
The noise also will be nothing for him Saturday night in Neyland. No matter how loud it gets, all will be quiet in McPherson’s world when he’s kicking.
“I just block it out and do my job,” he said.