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Gators grateful to play, yet mindful of remaining cautious

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida tight end Keon Zipperer runs up the sideline after making a catch Saturday against Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

The Gators remain on track for Saturday’s kick-off against Arkansas — not a given in the slightest, considering how 2020 is unfolding.

Tropical Storm Eta’s arrival — coupled with the cancelling of several SEC contests this Saturday due to COVID-19 issues, not to mention Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman’s positive diagnosis — led to a week full of uncertainty once again, and reminded the Gators they still have little leeway for error. 

Although the Gators do not have any available weeks remaining for make-up games, UF coach Dan Mullen said the program hadn’t had discussions with Arkansas regarding possible contingency plans in the event the game was postponed due to an outbreak or weather conditions. 

“You certainly hope for Arkansas they’re able to get through it. That’s kind of how the year is right now. So, hopefully it’s a very isolated deal for them and for their team,” Mullen said. “We went through it. It’s a really hard deal for the team with everything going on. So hopefully, they’re able to get through it. If not, we got to try to jumble some things around. I’m sure they’ll let us know here pretty quickly. We’ll go out and play whoever we have to play.”

Fortunately for both programs, things never regressed to that point, and the preparation aspect continued as planned.

Considering the consistent rainfall throughout the week, practice sessions reminded those within the program of their appreciation for the indoor practice facility, but said gratitude didn’t lead to any semblance of complacency. 

For the Florida program, despite being less than a month removed from its own COVID-19 outbreak, can’t rest easy with impending weather conditions looming and the ongoing public health crisis. 

It may sound like a tired mantra, but it’s the reality of their situation: there are factors in play more daunting than the upcoming match-up with the Razorbacks. No longer can Florida solely focus on the opposition.

“We’ve been going through this COVID thing for quite awhile, since March, April. And it kind of seems like you kind of lax off, because you get a little bit comfortable and maybe you haven’t got it, and you get a little comfortable, and then another wave hits, and so you’ve got to constantly remind yourself that we are still in the pandemic. We need to mask up and wash your hands and make sure you’re staying safe, because it’s your health overall,” UF linebacker James Houston said. “We all took the risk-reward of playing the season, we all thought we had a great chance of winning the national championship this year, so we’ve all got to stay safe and do our part so that we can go accomplish those goals.”

After an early-season outbreak, the Gators aren’t done when it comes to doing their part to stay safe. Although safety and a sense of serenity haven’t necessarily been a given this season either. 

Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter, who missed the first half of UF’s win over Georgia, said he feels safer post-outbreak than he did during the preseason. 

“At the beginning is what I had concerns about, but (not) once I got back into the groove of things and started playing again. Although we had a break-out I still feel like this is a very safe environment,” Carter said. “We handle all our protocols well. Guys feel safe around here so I don’t have any issues.”

Though Carter is feeling the effects of the season, too. With critical contests left on the schedule, Carter had little time to soak in the double-digit win over Georgia, the lone rival he’d yet to defeat since joining the program in 2017.

The win was gratifying, yes, but Carter and the Gators know it’s all for naught if things go sideways before season’s end. 

“It meant the world to me. I’m really a team guy. It wasn’t about me the second half. I was just happy I was able to be out there with my team and we really got that win. It’s been a long four years since I’ve been here. We never got to check that off the list, accomplish that. But it’s far from over because Georgia that’s just one game,” said Carter. “We have way bigger games ahead of us. So we’re onto the next.”

Saturday

Who: Arkansas (3-3) vs. No. 5 Florida (4-1)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850