ATLANTA — They aren’t supposed to be here.
OK, maybe they could have ended up in Atlanta on Tuesday as members of the Falcons, watching SEC Media Days on TV.
But not here, representing the University of Florida and answering questions about despair and resolve.
Cece Jefferson should be in the NFL. So should Martez Ivey. Based on their five-star, can’t-miss ratings coming out of high school, a fourth year of college seemed about as likely as a rain-free July in Gainesville.
“You definitely have that thought in your head when you come out of high school with the recognition I did,” Jefferson said.
But life sometimes gets in the way.
“Sometimes you have to face reality that it doesn’t happen that way,” said Ivey. “I’ve faced that reality.”
They both did. The starkness of that reality was a blow to the egos of two proud men. They asked the NFL what the league thought about their draft possibilities. The league told them to stay in school.
Suddenly, all five of their stars were worthless.
They had talked to their new coach and Dan Mullen had shared what he knew. He also shared this:
“We’d love to have you back and we want to help you make a sound decision. But this is how this program is going to be in the future.”
Really, they already knew.
Film doesn’t lie and 4-7 is a loud record. Florida’s miserable season in 2017 wasn’t helped by two guys who were supposed to be two of their better players.
They weren’t bad. But they weren’t great.
“Obviously,” Jefferson said, “the fourth year was something I needed.”
Because they kind of knew they’d be back all along.
Ivey knew in the first quarter of the blowout loss to Georgia.
“21-0, I knew that for a fact,” said the senior tackle of the score after one quarter. “I couldn’t go out that way. We gotta flip the script.
“I get a chance to leave a different legacy than what we left last year.
That was definitely a part of it. I couldn’t leave on 4-7.”
Jefferson felt the same way a week later when the Gators were embarrassed by Missouri. Don’t forget, the head coach who recruited them both had been fired in between those gems.
“After that Missouri game, that’s when I kind of realized, ‘Cece you ain’t ready,’ ” Jefferson said. “You need to come back, give this another year. You need to develop more and learn more about football.”
Learn how to be a leader.
“They were looking at me as a leader and I didn’t know what to do myself,” Jefferson said. “I was kind of stuck. I don’t want to feel like that again.”
Same for Ivey.
Two seniors who shouldn’t be at UF now need to really BE at UF. When Mullen told these players about 100-percent commitment, the leadership element was a part of it.
“They both have played a lot of football,” Mullen said. “They’ve been through a lot and a lot of guys on the team look up to them. They need to set the bar, set the standard for the team.”
He didn’t want them to come back and wonder if they should have taken the leap and hoped for the best.
“If you make a decision be all in one way or the other,” Mullen said. “If you want to stay, be all in. One good thing with both of them, I don’t think I have seen one day where they weren’t all in.”
Jefferson, rehabbing his shoulder after surgery in the spring game. Ivey, in the best shape of his life.
Here in Atlanta, talking about the fire that burns within them to make Florida great again.
Last year hurt. They can still feel the pain.
And they can do something about it. If Florida is going to turn it around quickly, Ivey can’t be the player he has been for three years. He has to be better. When he’s healthy, Jefferson should be a perfect fit for coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense.
He has to be.
And both guys — two of the more popular players on the team — have to be more than buddies to their teammates,
Maybe it has already started. Because they saw what happened last year, how the disaster of the offseason turned into a disaster of a season.
“We’ve just been around each other more often,” Jefferson said. “It’s more of a family feel. I’ve told guys, ‘If you need anything, man, let me know. You don’t need to do anything to jeopardize your future.’ ”
The new togetherness came from a day after a workout when the players started talking about the misery of 2017.
“Everybody one day just got fed up,” Jefferson said. “That’s not the way that season was supposed to be.”
It’s a good sign that there seems to be a new resolve with the players we have talked to all summer. It seems to have been translated into summer workouts and behavior.
But it still has to translate to the field on 12 Saturdays.
After all, Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson were here Tuesday for a reason.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.