Notebook: Gators being heard on racial injustice
Florida’s football players have a potential powerful voice, and they want to be heard. And they are. It has begun.
First, through social media over the past few months. Then, again, last Friday, when they marched downtown with head coach Dan Mullen and other UF athletes protesting racial injustice. And now, starting Monday night, through the media.
For the first time since the Gators returned to campus in June, the players have been given the green light to start meeting with the media (via Zoom). Two were brought to interviews after Monday’s practice — junior defensive back Marco Wilson and junior linebacker Ventrell Miller — and both expressed their thoughts and feelings about what’s going on around the country with racial injustice.
“As a team, we need to step up and say something to bring awareness to everything that’s happening,” Miller said. “Things are not right. Just speaking out and everyone having their own voice, speak out on your own and as a team as well.
“A lot of the guys have concerns. You’ve got a whole bunch of people that have those concerns and are saying everything we should be doing.”
Miller and Wilson said they’ve had serious conversations with Mullen and his assistants, and their coaches are listening to them and supporting them.
“We just look for the coaches’ support right now,” Wilson said. “That’s all we need from them, because I know some coaches know what we went through, but other coaches might not know. And those coaches — we don’t really expect them to understand that at all, we just want them to be there to support us.
“We also just want our voice heard, because what’s going on in the country is not OK, and it’s obviously something that should be gone by now, but we have to face the facts that racism is still a thing: It’s still going on. And we’ve got to make sure we just continue to educate people.
“I think the main problem in this world right now is a lot of uneducated people, and that leads to them making bad decisions and thinking the wrong things about people when they really should just focus on loving each other and living life.”
Wilson, who has been outspoken on Twitter about racial injustice and how the players are sometimes perceived as athlete’s only — has a message for Gator fans: support us off the field as strongly as you do on the field.
“Basically, if you’re going to support us on the field, I would like the same respect off the field,” he said. “Don’t support us just because we go catch touchdowns, catch interceptions. If you’re going to watch us on the field, have the same respect off the field. We’re not just entertainment for you guys, we’re still people, too. So it just needs to be a mutual respect all around.”
Cox putting in the work
Rush end Brenton Cox, the Georgia transfer and former five-star recruit, is making strides on the field and off, trying to realize his immense potential. That’s the word from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
The thing I like about the guy is he likes to play ball,” Grantham said. “He’s a really hard worker in practice. He’s done a good job and is working to develop some fundamentals that I think we needed to work on for him to be successful. I think as he’s developed those things it will allow him to be the kind of player he wants to be. I’m just pleased with the guy’s work ethic, his demeanor and really glad he’s on our team.”
The fact the coaching staff has given him a No. 1 jersey is a good indication of how they feel about his ability not just on the field but also off.
"There's a lot of things we do within our program,” Grantham said. “It's not always about on the field, it's about how you handle yourself off the field, it's about your grades. I've been really pleased with the guy's attitude in the classroom.
“He takes care of his business and has a really high GPA. He has worked his tail off to be in the position he is now. And, you really pull for guys like that when they put that much into it. Those are the kind of things that allow you to get that kind of number, and he's done a really good job.”
When Grantham was asked if Cox reminded him of any of the great edge rushers he’s coached or been around, he said it’s too early to compare him to others.
“Brenton is his own man,” he said. “He has ability. I’m really excited to watch him play. It’s still early as far as, ‘Hey, let’s go play the (comparison) game.
“He's really worked hard to develop some of the fundamentals that he needed to be the kind of player that you guys are thinking or asking about. The biggest thing that I see with him is his desire to be a good player. And if he continues to work hard and develop that skill set … I'm excited to watch him play. But I'd like to get through a few games before we start ranking him with anybody else."
Offense looking good
Going against quarterback Kyle Trask and the offense has been a daily challenge for the defense, Grantham said.
"You can tell there's a lot of continuity on that side of the ball when you look at the players that are coming back,” he said. “Obviously, Kyle is a guy that had an unbelievable season last year and he's a hard worker, so that's continued to move up.
“You look at our receivers that we're playing with, our tight end. They’ve got weapons over there, so it really helps us in the sense of challenging us every day to make plays and understand these are the kind of players you're going to see in this league.”