FORT LAUDERDALE — Seniors and draft-eligible underclassmen skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL has been trending in recent years in college football. But it hasn’t had much of an impact on Florida.
Only one player — junior cornerback CJ Henderson — is sitting out the Orange Bowl to ensure that he’s healthy and ready for the draft in the spring.
“Yeah, mostly everybody did (stick with the team),” senior running back Lamical Perine said. “CJ, unfortunately. I wish he would have played, but he has a goal. Everybody has a dream and aspiration of going to the NFL, so I totally understand that.”
One standout Gator senior who never even considered skipping out for the bowl game is wide receiver Van Jefferson, UF’s second-leading receiver. He never even brought up the subject to his father, former star NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson.
“No, I didn’t have a discussion with my dad,” he said. “I was going to play regardless. I know some guys do it for other reasons and that’s them and I wish the best for them, but I came in with these guys, they accepted me, and so I can’t just wait to get out there one last time, man. That’s pretty much it.”
Coach Nuss in touch
Former UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who gave quarterback Kyle Trask the scholarship offer that led him to Florida, obviously has been keeping up with what Trask has been accomplishing this season.
“Yeah, Coach Ness has shot me a couple texts,” Trask said. “I’m very appreciative of him and the opportunity he’s given me to come to a school like Florida. Yeah, he’s shot me a couple texts to just let me know that he’s proud of me and things like that throughout the season.”
Hammond at home
Senior wide receiver Josh Hammond, who is from nearby Hallandale, is cherishing this opportunity to conclude his UF career back where it started.
“Yesterday when I was practicing, my mom and a couple of my family members came to practice,” he said. “It felt good to be back in south Florida for that one last time, getting back used to the heat, and just having fun out here, enjoying every moment, and I’m excited to be with my team in the Orange Bowl.
“Oh, it’s fun. I think a lot of guys have enjoyed the first couple days of being here. Excited to get back practicing. Had a couple days off, and I think we’re just excited to get one last game together and go out there and execute and try to put on a show for all our fans.”
Hammond said he’s secured 10 tickets for family members and friends.
The Gators usually hold their senior tackle day at the conclusion of the final bowl practice at the bowl site. This year, they held it in Gainesville, after the final practice there last week.
“We call it a senior tackle,” Hammond said. “Every senior has to get up and speak and talk about what it meant for them to be a Florida Gator, and you get that one last tackle on the bag before you depart with that last practice in Gainesville.”
Hammond said he kept his remarks brief because everybody, including himself, was eager to head off for the Christmas break.
“I think a lot of guys probably were just ready to go home,” he said. “It kind of went a little faster than it probably should have. But everybody cherishes that moment.
“It’s exciting to finally move on and excited to take that next step and see what the future has for you. I think a lot of guys take advantage of it. I think a lot of people listened to what the seniors had to say. I think we mean a lot to the people on this team, and we’re just excited to do the things we did for this team and come out here and play for each other.”
Fast and physical Cavs
The Florida offense, and the line in particular, is bracing for a physical assault from a Virginia defense that blitzes often, and from all different angles, and is sixth in the nation in sacks.
“Big, fast, physical, aggressive. Going to come and hit you in the mouth,” senior UF center Nick Buchanan said. “They play extremely hard, so we’ve got to come out there ready because they’re going to come out here ready.
“Every week our game plan is kind of take it to the defense. So we put emphasis on whatever they do to make sure that we know what they’re doing. They blitz, I think 90 percent of the time or something like that, so yeah, we’ve definitely been doing a lot of blitz pickup drills and stuff like that.”