Gators, Mullen march in protest of racial injustice

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida basketball player Scottie Lewis leads Friday's march.

Usually one of the last things a football coach wants to see is his team’s first preseason scrimmage getting delayed. But in this case, Dan Mullen was OK with it. Actually, he was more than OK. He was all in.

When some University of Florida athletes from different sports decided to get together and hold an impromptu march from campus to downtown early Friday evening to protest racial injustice, Mullen and most of the Gator football players joined in, putting their scheduled scrimmage on hold until later that night.

“I’m supportive of our guys,” Mullen said Saturday. “You hear me talk about education. That’s a challenge for everybody. Try to educate yourself in what goes on in the world and try to educate yourself about other people. I can’t put myself in someone else’s shoes, but I certainly can try to understand and respect where they come from.

“I’m extremely supportive of our players. I care deeply about them. I’m going to support things they think are very important to them. Yesterday’s (march) was really impromptu. I wish we had been more organized in what we did because I think we have a great voice.

“But it was great. I was all in. I think we’ll do some stuff in the future with a little more organization that maybe gives us a bigger voice.”

The players, Mullen and the other athletes from other sports marched downtown, where basketball player Scottie Lewis got up and said a few words. The march then headed back to campus, where the Gators eventually launched their considerably delayed scrimmage.

Mullen said it was definitely worth it because marching alongside his players, trying to learn more about them and their feelings, was a memorable experience.

"I'm trying to be around our guys, I'm trying to listen, I'm trying to see where they're coming from," he said. "I'm trying to see what their thoughts are, what their feelings are and how I can best help them and how I can best help myself. How I can educate myself to be smarter on all the different things we're dealing with in society.

"As the coach, I'm responsible for these young guys. I'm responsible to help develop them as football players to men. But I if I don't understand and I don't educate myself on everything that's going on, and I don't try to better myself every day, how can I help them? And we have this huge voice because we have the opportunity to go out and help other people."

After the march, the Gators had meetings and then eventually did hold their scrimmage under the lights in The Swamp.

Mullen said he wasn't sure what time the Gators got started but that he didn't get home until sometime between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Saturday.

As for the scrimmage itself, it appears to have been a typical first one for a team that hasn't had any game-like situations since the Orange Bowl in late December.

"Ugh. We have a ways to go," Mullen said. "Not a ways to go with our attitude, not a ways to go with understanding the scheme. I think it was a big deal. We haven't played football in a while. We had missed tackles, we had too many balls on the ground fumbling because you're going live football.

"I was pleased with some groups more than others. I thought I saw some efficiency, especially the older guys, with some of the older guys that have been in that situation. I thought we handled situational football well."

Mullen singled out running backs Malik Davis and Nay'Quan Wright and said he was also impressed with the play of some of the young players at different positions.

"Malik Davis looked like the Malik Davis I saw when I got here before I became the head coach," Mullen said. "I haven’t seen that in a couple years. I’m thinking, 'Boy, he’s really back to where he wants to be.' I was really impressed with Nay’Quan Wright running the ball. Young receivers for their first time being in The Swamp stepped up.

"The young safeties came up and really hit. And our young D-linemen, those guys know they’re going to have to play this year. They’re learning, they’re developing, they’re getting opportunities. I was pleased with our freshmen D-linemen. And Jaelin Humphries, who's almost a freshman because of the injury last year. He almost missed the whole year pretty much. He's kind of in that crew." 

NOTES: True freshman defensive back Fenley Graham was the only player injured in the scrimmage, Mullen said. He fractured his forearm and is expected to be out for two weeks. ... Mullen confirmed freshman defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson is enrolled and on campus. The IMG Academy four-star player recommited to Florida in June  and later reclassified as a 2020 recruit after foregoing his final year of high school.