Momentum is a powerful thing. But it can also be fickle. That’s why it doesn’t come with an expiration date, because no one has any idea how long it’s going to last.
The 2017 Florida Gators know all about momentum, and how quickly it can be lost.
And now it appears the 2019 Gators are starting to find out as well.
Just a few short weeks ago, everything about coach Dan Mullen’s football program seemed positive. The Gators were in full feel-good mode and riding a tidal wave of momentum.
It was momentum that started to kick in late last season, and only surged from there over the following months.
The Gators closed out the 2018 season with back-to-back blowout wins against arch-rival Florida State and Michigan that led to a 10-win season and a place in the final top 10 (No. 6).
Then in February, Mullen and his staff put together a consensus top-10 recruiting class, led by highly rated cornerback and early enrollee Chris Steele out of California, and quickly started putting together an impressive class for 2020.
Then on April 13, the Gators put on a highly entertaining and energizing spring game in The Swamp, with the two teams putting on an offensive show, combining for 95 points, 920 yards and all kinds of explosive plays. And there were dozens of top recruits in attendance to take it all in.
Even more momentum.
At that point, it looked like the Gators were going to be riding their great momentum into preseason camp and all the way to the start of the season.
It appeared there was no stopping it.
Then, a few signs popped up that it might be slowing up just a little bit.
Junior defensive end Antonneous Clayton and redshirt freshman defensive end/tackle Malik Langham, one of the highest-rated members of the 2018 recruiting class, entered the NCAA transfer portal, a hit to the depth on the defensive line.
A little later in April, another negative: assistant director of player personnel Otis Yelverton was arrested for cyberstalking. He remains on leave from the athletic association.
Those were the first signs of the momentum slowing.
Now, the brakes appear to be on after what’s occurred the past two weeks.
Two weeks ago, true freshman quarterback Jalon Jones stunned Gator Nation by entering the transfer portal. A day later, the reason came out: he had been accused by two female students of sexual battery on April 6 in his dorm room.
The victims declined to press charges and the case was closed. Jones’ two roommates — Steele and fellow true freshman cornerback Jaydon Hill — were mentioned in the report but not involved in the assaults in any way, according to two UPD incident reports.
Now, last week, the Gators have been rocked by a triple dose of negativity.
Cornerback Brian Edwards was arrested last Monday for simple battery/date violence for a heated confrontation he had with his girlfriend of two years. According to the arrest report, the woman had marks on her neck and a scratch on her shoulder.
On Thursday came even more stunning news: Steele, the highest-rated prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, entered the transfer portal.
A source told The Sun that his decision to leave stems from a request he made to the coaching staff in January to be moved out of the dorm room with Jones because he was uncomfortable around Jones.
According to the source, the staff told Steele he would have to wait until summer to move to another dorm, which upset Steele and his parents.
Mullen flew to California to apologize to Steele and discuss the possibility of his return. But that seems unlikely.
Later in the day Thursday, five-star Ocala Vanguard defensive end Bryce Langston, the highest-rated member of the 2021 recruiting class, announced on Twitter that he has decommitted from UF and has opened up his recruitment.
UF’s 2021 class took another big hit Friday with the decommitment of Eau Gallie four-star athlete Dink Jackson and four-star Ocala Vanguard wide receiver Trevonte Rucker.
Put it all together — the departures, the decommitments, the accusations, the arrests — and it’s momentum gone for the Gators.
The big question now is can they somehow get it back between now and the start of the 2019 season? (There are rumblings that more negative stuff is imminent).
The last Florida team in a similar situation never did.
Two years ago at this time, who would have thought Jim McElwain would not make it through the 2017 season. The Gators had won the SEC East the previous season and were coming off a 30-3 domination of Iowa in the Outback Bowl that gave UF a nine-win season.
So, the Gators carried great momentum into the offseason and everyone was fired up about the upcoming season.
But that momentum vanished over the course of the summer, and UF never got it back.
Nine players, including starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway and starting running back Jordan Scarlett, were suspended before the start of the season because of their involvement in a credit card scam that took place earlier in the summer.
Boom. Just like that, momentum was lost. And it set the tone for what would turn out to be a miserable season, with McElwain losing his job after the eighth game and the Gators sinking to 4-7.
The current Gators certainly seem capable of overcoming their loss of momentum. They have time and opportunity. But, as the Gators have seen in the recent past, it’s tough to get fickle momentum back once it’s lost.