Florida will look to finally conclude the Will Muschamp era Saturday. As part of his buyout deal in 2014, Muschamp will collect his final $792,000 check this month from the University Athletic Association.
He’s landed on his feet well, to say the least. A defensive coordinator job at Auburn quickly led to the South Carolina coaching gig, and the rest is current history. While some undoubtedly don’t have the fondest of memories when it comes to Muschamp’s up-and-down tenure at Florida, it’s readily apparent his impact still exists in Gainesville.
When Florida takes the field Saturday at 12 p.m., the six Gators remaining from the Muschamp era — Khairi Clark, Kavaris Harkless, C’yontai Lewis, R.J. Raymond, Jorge Powell and Moral Stephens — will play their penultimate game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. And if the reunion with the coach who brought them to town is similar to the previous iterations, the six will embrace Muschamp after the game. Aside from the freshmen and transfers, every player on Florida’s roster has gone through a coaching transition. But six have gone through two.
“It’s going to be a fun weekend, especially with all the guys that we’ve played here for. Coach (Mark) Campbell, strength staff guy. Mike P (Peterson), he’s with the linebackers over there, (former UF director of football operations) George Wynn,” Raymond, a former walk-on for Muschamp, said. “Coach ‘Champ’s got a bunch of people that were here with me. So it’s going to be fun seeing all those guys for the last time playing against them.”
Much has been made of Muschamp’s intense defensive preparation and rightfully so. Raymond, who converted to tight end from linebacker and is now on scholarship, had a front row seat in 2014 as Muschamp prepared UF’s defense for what would be his final ride here. Suffice to say, a freshman Raymond was slightly overwhelmed at first when it came to those defensive meetings with Muschamp and Co.
“They’re intense. They got a lot of stuff and they got a lot of schemes, they disguise it real well,” Raymond said. “When I first got here, it was all super-fast paced, and they run their defense like an NFL defense. So we got to be prepared to see all different type of looks.”
The adjustment to the collegiate level is undoubtedly tough for all incoming freshmen, but it can be an even more significant challenge for a prospect such as Raymond. While his time with Muschamp didn’t last long, Raymond stressed redshirt season under his tutelage was undoubtedly beneficial in regard to his immediate and long-term development. In between positions and only able to contribute on scout team, Raymond needed to find a way to stand out in the interim if he hoped to eventually make a mark on the program.
“It definitely helped me a lot. That was the biggest learning curve for me when I got here, I guess — the speed of play and my football I.Q. — but with them it increased immensely,” Raymond said. “I’m ready to show up, put it to the test.”
Now, facing the coach who helped turn his dream into a reality, Raymond will show Muschamp his appreciation with his play. Any pleasantries will have to come after the final whistle.
“We’re preparing to win a game against a very good South Carolina team. It means that much more to us, the six guys that are still left, to go out there and get a win, but it’s going to be fun seeing him. Coach Muschamp’s a great guy. He’s always shown us love and waited for us after the games we’ve played at South Carolina, and mentioned to tell us how much he, you know, loves us and stuff like that,” Raymond said. “’m very excited to go back and see him one last time.”