Just like the fans, the media was kept away from the Gators first practice Thursday morning, so there’s nothing to pass along in terms of what was going on and how certain players looked on the field. But UF made about 20 players available to us a few hours after practice, and there was some interesting stuff that came out of the interviews.
Here’s some of it:
* It’s pretty obvious senior center Mike Pouncey has emerged as the leader of this football team. Senior offensive guard Carl Johnson even referred to Pouncey as the Gators’ maximum supreme leader. Pouncey is a leader in the Tim Tebow mold — very inspirational, very emotional, very vocal. And the Gators appear ready to follow him.
Pouncey, who returned for his senior season after considering joining twin brother Maurkice in the NFL Draft last spring, has set some high personal goals for the season. One is to develop into an even higher draft pick thanMaurkice, who was taken by Pittsburgh in the first round with the overall 18th pick. “I didn’t come back for nothing,” he said.
* Speaking of Carl Johnson, he’s in the best shape of his UF career, and looks like a different player (actually, he looks like an NFL offensive lineman). Even though he weighed in at 340 pounds, he looks much trimmer and much more fit than he’s ever been at UF. “I gained six pounds of muscle,” he said. “I’m down to 22 percent body fat. I like it. I’ve got a good beach body.”
Johnson said he’s on schedule to graduate with a degree in sociology and criminology on Dec. 19. “I expect to see you all there,” he said. Johnson said he’s already been offered a job by the FBI that he turned down. “I’m not big on putting my life on the line yet. I’ve got a lot of life to live yet,” he said.
* Tailback Jeff Demps appears to be in unbelievable shape — very strong, very cut. He said he’s gained about six or seven pounds and is now up to 190. Demps said one of his goals is to run in the 2012 Olympics, but he said football is and always has been his priority. “I’m all about team right now,” he said.
* Matt Patchan has made an amazing (and very fast) recovery from major reconstructive knee surgery last fall. He’s back up close to 300 pounds and he’s full go, ready to battle Xavier Nixon for the starting role at left offensive tackle. This could turn out to be THE position battle of preseason camp. The two alternated with the No. 1 offense Thursday. “I want it as bad as anybody who has come to a Division I school and wanted to start,” Nixon said. Nixon said he and Patchan are friends and the competition will be fierce but civil. Patchan was the starter last season before injuring his knee.
* New starting quarterback John Brantley said he has become pretty close friends with former UF quarterback Chris Leak, who led the Gators to the national title in 2006. “He was here for the spring game and I spent some time with him this summer. He’s been through the big games, been through it all. I stay in touch with him,” Brantley said.
* Brantley and several other players said this team has a chip on its shoulder because some are predicting the Gators are going to have a tough time replacing Tebow and so many high-impact starters from a year ago. When asked if the Gators were annoyed, Brantley said, “Absolutely. A lot of people have been doubting our receivers and our defense. We like to be tested like that.”