Reese urges Gators to finish strong

Florida linebacker David Reese tackles South Carolina running back A.J. Turner last Saturday in Columbia, S.C. [Sean Rayford/Associated Press]

With much of the attention turned toward Florida’s search for the football program’s next head coach, it’s easy to forget the players are focused on finishing the season on a high note.

And although a losing record is guaranteed, the Gators aren’t ready to mail in the remainder of the season.

Yet before sophomore linebacker David Reese spoke up after Florida’s 45-16 loss to Missouri, it appeared as if the Gators had all but given up on finishing the season on a high note.

Reese didn’t mince words when he attributed the poor showing this season to a lack of effort and fight. The talk has been there — the players hyped the team all summer, with much of the coaching staff doing the same — but the product on the field has yet to even approach the team’s aspirations from preseason camp.

In the end, it seems Florida lost much of its leadership before the season and along the way. Redshirt seniors Marcell Harris, Jordan Sherit and Nick Washington were all lost for the year, forcing a young group to step up before many were ready. It took an underclassmen in Reese to reinvigorate the team prior to Florida’s 28-20 loss to South Carolina, and it exemplified the importance of veteran leadership during a time of uncertainty.

“I feel like this is something that had to be done. I feel like this is something that guys before me had done at my position, things like that. So I feel like it was just time for me to step up,” Reese said. “Just grow up quick, you know, just be able to lead this defense to try and become the best defense we can become.”

For Reese, speaking up isn’t something he does often, and a leadership role is one he’s only comfortable being in when he’s on the football field. It’s something that was instilled in Reese from a young age, and taking the team to task was something that felt like a responsibility to the Farmington, Michigan, native.

“My father, he was a head football coach, things like that. I played quarterback all my life, so, you know, this leadership role is something that’s not new to me. I just had to just step up and just be more vocal with the guys,” Reese said. “Usually I’m a person that leads by example. Usually I’m a quiet person. But in order to do things and get it done, you just lead by example. That’s what Gator football is all about.”

While it didn’t procure a win, Reese said it was evident the effort level had increased last Saturday at South Carolina. As Florida hung around until the final buzzer, Reese saw proof that the team is at its best as a unified group, a lesson that will be critical for this team moving forward.

“We came together, especially as a defense. Nobody quit. They barely scored any points in the second half,” Reese said. “In the first half, it was little things, mental errors, but we kept playing.

“I feel like it’s very important, going through this time we just need someone to keep the guys together. As long as we stay together with the changes, for better or worse, we’ll be fine.”