They’re back on campus and back in the weight room, going through voluntary workouts. The Florida Gators’ have made their first steps toward playing football in the fall.
The next big step — and it’s a huge one — is when the Gators come together as a team, coaches included, for the first time on the practice field this summer. That could be as early as July 24 if the NCAA, as expected, enacts a proposal this week that would give college teams a two-week window for walkthrough practices and extended meetings leading up to the start of preseason camp in August.
The Gators made their summer plan/schedule with the idea that will happen, UF coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday on a Zoom call with the media.
For UF, the walkthrough practices would lead right into preseason practice, which begins Aug. 7.
“It is that period right now that the proposal is out there where we can have expanded meetings and walkthroughs on the field,” Mullen said. “That is really the opportunity for the players to prepare themselves mentally, get out there through walkthroughs to start getting some muscle memory to prepare for the season and start doing movements that will be involved in during the season so that our guys can kind of be prepared rolling into training camp. Training camp is supposed to start on time, August 7th, at this point.”
At this stage, and it is still very early, with two important months coming up, the Gators are on track to start the season on schedule, against Eastern Washington on Sept. 5.
Much could change between now and then, but that’s how the Gators are preparing.
“We’re worrying about what we can control,” Mullen said. “What we know and what we can control. As of right now, we’re planning a training camp as normal. We’re planning a normal regular season because that’s what we can know at this point.
“The variable right now is that July 24 through August 6 proposal. We’ve written up our plans for that. We feel pretty comfortable with what we’re doing getting that time, if that does get officially approved by the NCAA. Then we’ll go to the next part. It’s a waste of energy and time to speculate on all the different things that can happen. What we have to do is be prepared to adjust to whatever does happen.
“As we get knowledge and as we get information and some solid facts, we’ll adjust accordingly. At this point I’m looking at it as once August 7 hits everything is back to normal for us because that’s the information we have right now.”
UF is in its early stages of returning to football. So far, the transition has not suffered any apparent setbacks. Most of the players were back on campus by June 8 for the start of voluntary workouts. They were all tested for COVID-19 before they were allowed to begin workouts and none of the players came back positive.
The Gators, like college football players and other athletes throughout the nation, are dealing with the emotions created by what’s going on in the country in terms of racial and social injustice.
Mullen has addressed his players about it, but as of now, there is no known plan for the UF team to march like some others have, including Florida State and Alabama.
“We’ve had several discussions among the staff and within the team at different times and through different ways, whether it be individually and smaller groups or as a full team,” Mullen said. “It’s been very educational to me. I’ve learned a lot. Learned from our players and learned from our coaches and learned from personal retrospective.”
Before their return to campus, the players were back home and left to work out and train on their own, with the virtual guidance of Nick Savage and the strength and conditioning staff.
Mullen said it’s too early to tell what kind of overall shape his team is in, but he’ll have an idea at some point in the coming weeks.
“Our guys haven’t been back very long on campus with the voluntary workouts,” he said. “We’ve been very slowly building back up. I don’t know if we’ve really pushed anybody just yet. I never want to put anybody in any sort of danger. I think we’ve been slowly building rather testing or pushing guys to see where we’re at, how great of shape we came back in.
“Our guys understand what our program is about. I think our guys, as best they could, were able to stay in shape. I know there were a lot of guys coming from different areas that had to deal with a lot of different limitations in training. I think Nick and his staff are going to do a good job building that back up, getting us ready for the season.”
Mullen seems certain that his two experienced quarterbacks — senior starter Kyle Trask and redshirt sophomore Emory Jones — will be good to go on Sept. 5.
“For a guy like Kyle, everybody saw last year. He’s spent every offseason preparing. He prepared himself to be ready to go,” Mullen said. “Hopefully both he and Emory have done that this year to continue to get prepared and be ready to go for that moment when their number is called to get out on the field.
“Both of those guys have experience in games now. It’s great to have some experience. After that with (true freshman) Anthony (Richardson), he’s the one to me that it’s going to be a little bit of a different curve. But the other two, having that experience, I feel pretty comfortable that they’re going to be prepared for the season and ready to go.”
NOTE: Mullen confirmed Miami transfer and former five-star running back recruit Lorenzo Lingard is eligible to play this season after recently receiving a special waiver from the NCAA. “He’ll be great for the (running back) room because he’s a real positive guy,” Mullen said. “From what I’ve seen, he works hard in our offseason conditioning, got a real positive attitude. I love his personality and I really like who he is as a person. As it pertains to football, I can’t answer any questions until we get on the field, but as a person he’s adding a really positive impact to the team and the program.”