Florida sophomore linebacker David Reese didn’t know what to expect out of Hurricane Irma.
Reese, who hails from Farmington, Michigan, had seen snow and ice throughout his life, but he’d yet to experience the howling wind and pounding rain that come with a storm of Irma’s magnitude.
Yet the weather in Gainesville, and the cancellation of Florida’s non-conference bout with Northern Colorado last weekend, was the least of Reese’s worries.
He and three fellow Gators – safety Marcell Harris, wide receiver Josh Hammond and offensive lineman Antonio Riles – sought refuge in Reese’s residence hall, where games of “Trouble” helped pass the time until the storm hit. But all Reese could think of was the well-being of those stuck in the storm’s path.
“A tree came down by my complex and got somebody’s house, but they’re safe and that’s good,” Reese said. “I didn’t have any family involved by the hurricane, so I just tried to be there for my teammates and friends who had people down south.”
With 60 teammates focused on the safety and well-being of their family, it was tough for Reese and the Gators to be locked in throughout the week. But with the storm having come and gone, Florida has a short week of preparation before hosting Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, meaning any lingering concerns must be forced to the back of the players’ minds until the final whistle Saturday.
“It’s a sudden change, but we had the opportunity to refocus and show that we could come together as a unit,” Reese said. “It’s a conference game so it affects us getting our goal going back to Atlanta. So this is a big game, huge game.
“You could look at this game as almost like a do-or-die type of game. It’s like a real big point, a fork in the road.”
It may seem unfair for a make-or-break game to come this early in Florida’s season, and in the aftermath of the most powerful storm in modern history, but Saturday’s contest has been circled on the calendars of Gators since Tennessee stunningly overcame a 21-3 halftime deficit in 2016 to down UF for the first time in more than a decade.
As the Gators prepare to host their division rival, Reese said the defense has harped on finishing tackles. In the preparation room, the defense has been made well aware of the fact they’ve missed 78 tackles combined in the previous two games against Tennessee. In the eyes of Florida’s coaching staff, the season will essentially be wrapped up if the Gators defense doesn’t wrap up the Volunteers.
“Seventy-eight is a big number. That’s the breaking point of winning the game or losing the game,” Reese said. “In two games, that’s a lot, but we had 15 NFL players on those two teams. It doesn’t go out to the players. We’ve just gotta come to play. It’s a statement game.”