Dan Mullen’s first game as head coach of the Gators drew a contingent of fans — 53,015 to be exact. But there were more than just fans in attendance for Saturday’s spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
One hundred seventy former UF players replied to Florida’s invitation to return to The Swamp, including Louis Murphy and Chris Rainey, offensive standouts who were part of Mullen’s tenure as Florida’s offensive coordinator. And Mullen put two players from the 1990s — Travis McGriff and Lawrence Wright — on full display by having each catch a touchdown.
“To get those guys involved in the excitement. You talk about those people in the Gator Nation that come back, I want them to see, those are all household names,” Mullen said. “To make sure they see those guys come back and they have some fun and for all of our fans to sit out there.”
The initial plan was for former UF quarterback Doug Johnson to rocket the touchdown pass to McGriff, but it didn’t work out as planned, due to a miscommunication with quarterback Feleipe Franks. The planned tribute would have been cool for young fans to see, but Mullen implied it was intended to invoke nostalgia for the well-seasoned demographic.
“You know there will be some dad sitting out there and say ‘Hey, I watched Doug throw touchdown passes to Travis when I was young, and now they got to see a little of it’,” Mullen said, “and pass on family traditions that way and just enjoy what it is to be apart of the Gator Nation.”
The return of Jordan Scarlett
Saturday’s game doesn’t count, but it surely meant a lot for Gators running back Jordan Scarlett. The senior, who missed the 2017 season due to his role in the credit card fraud scandal that rocked the program, returned to the field for the first time in a year.
“It felt great being out there, getting back in the swing of things. Getting a couple carries and getting positive yards,” Scarlett said. “Overall, I feel like I had a pretty good performance. But it’s all about the team and all about us getting better as an offense.”
Scarlett, expected to be the lead back heading into fall camp, said he understands he still has his work cut out for him if UF hopes to have a formidable offense next season. It will take a team-wide effort for Florida to ensure the progress made under Mullen doesn’t fall by the wayside.
“I think we have a lot to prove coming from last year. We didn’t really have the season that we wanted to. We had some guys come out, including me, and it just didn’t turn out as a good season, like we planned it to be,” Scarlett said. “A lot of guys are eager to get back out there and prove themselves.”
Better things ahead for UF’s linebackers
It’s no secret Florida’s defense lacked depth at linebacker last season. However, it wasn’t from a lack of recruiting.
Three of the freshmen linebackers signed by Florida in 2017 — James Houston, Ventrell Miller and Nick Smith — missed last season, while Lacedrick Brunson redshirted. UF’s linebacker corps struggled at times in their absence, making coaches and fans alike wonder what could have been.
But after seeing Miller, Houston and Smith contribute Saturday, with Miller being the bright spot amongst the trio, it’s clear to at least one seasoned UF linebacker that the groups’ best days are ahead.
“I feel like they all have done a great job. Ventrell Miller had some big plays today, had a lot of tackles, you know he did well in coverage, so you know he’s a linebacker who’s coming up quick,” Gators linebacker David Reese said. “James Houston and Nick Smith they’re both on the edge, great pass-rushers, you know they did that in high school also, so, they can drop back also.”
Despite being away from the program last fall, Reese said the three freshmen stayed focused on their football knowledge and preparation while away from the field.
“We’re always working on off-the-field stuff, watching film together and just competing at practice every day,” Reese said.