Gators looking forward to packed stadium for first time in 21 months

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen, right, is rebuilding an offense that averaged 510 yards and 40 points a game in 2020.

It’s been 21 months since The Swamp was last packed for a Florida football game. 

The Gators had 89,409 in attendance for their 2019 regular season finale against FSU, but with limited seating last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest home crowd was 16,116. 

UF will return to full capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this fall, starting Saturday against Florida Atlantic at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re really excited. I know the guys are,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “Obviously the first game of the year, you got through 15 spring practices going against each other, you got through 25 fall practices going against each other. You want to go play somebody else.

“But I know especially this year, our guys are fired up for the opportunity to get back in the Swamp and get back to having a crowd and the excitement and the energy and what all that brings. So we’re fired up and can’t wait for Saturday.”

UF cornerback Avery Helm is slated to make his first career start, but will also be playing at home for the first time. He appeared in just one game last season as a true freshman, and that was the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. 

“It’s been a year since the stadium been packed, so I really don't know what to expect,” Helm said this week. “I haven't been on the field and in a packed stadium, ever. So, I’m just going in and ready to soak it all in.”

In addition to Helm, 21 true freshmen will have their first experience in the Swamp along with eight transfers. And for the returning players who were on the 2019 team, they get to be back in front of a full crowd again. 

“It’s been a while since you played, so here’s always that extra excitement to go back out there and feel that rush of adrenaline of the crowd and excitement coming out,” Mullen said. “Now you’re doing it for the first time in almost two years, really. The first full crowd since the Orange Bowl game.

When you look at that and you’re saying, ‘Holy cow.’ I think there’s even that little bit more kind of anticipation, that butterfly excitement feeling that you have, can’t wait to get out there and just feel the energy again. I think it’s going to be really exciting.”

With a reshuffled offensive line and new starters at quarterback and in the receiving corps, Mullen was asked what’s the biggest question on offense heading into the opener. 

“I think the guys just putting it all together. I think we have a good plan and I think the guys understand our plan and the direction we’re headed,” Mullen said. “There are some new faces and new guys. The biggest one to me is seeing how those guys react when the lights come on in The Swamp. I have a lot of confidence in guys. 

“We’ve trained to put them in different situations, but whatever you do, you can’t simulate a Saturday night in the Swamp. You just can’t. I’m hoping guys step up and take a jump forward even when the lights come on. For us, as you continue to kind of develop who our playmakers are and how we want to utilize them all — we have a good idea how we want to do it, but we want to see how they react to that in game time.” 

Season opener

Who: Florida Atlantic vs. No. 11 Florida

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

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

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM, 103.7-FM