Florida's contest with USF a rare homecoming for several key Gators

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida running back Malik Davis escapes a Florida Atlantic defender Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida’s contest Saturday at Raymond James Stadium with the University of South Florida will give seven Gators on the 2021 football roster a chance to once again play in the city that raised them. 

Three of the Tampa natives –– defensive lineman Zachary Carter, running back Malik Davis and offensive lineman Richard Gouraige — on the team fill essential roles for the Gators this season, meaning they’re set for significant action when the Gators and Bulls meet at 1 p.m.

“I’m definitely excited,” Davis said in the aftermath of Florida’s win against Florida Atlantic. “I haven’t played back in Tampa in four years, so it’ll definitely be fun.” 

Most fans have been eyeing the Sept. 18 matchup with Alabama while assuming the game with USF will be business as usual, if not a shutout in Florida’s favor. 

Though when the 2021 schedule came out, the Gators from Tampa circled the weekend prior on their calendars, understanding the enormity of it. 

The University of Florida first played a regular-season game in Tampa back in 1912, though it’s the program’s first regular-season contest in the 813 area code since the 1989 season when the Gators defeated Mississippi State at Tampa Stadium, which opened in 1967 and was demolished April 11, 1999.

Homecomings like this are few and far between. 

“Man, I've been waiting for this game, honestly, ‘cause I haven't played a game back home in like five years,” Carter said. “So I'm excited to get out there.”

When the schedule was finalized, Carter’s family didn’t just save the date. The Carters started making a list of who needed tickets. It didn’t take long for the tally to exceed double-digits.

Soon, Carter was asking his Florida teammates if he could have any available tickets, the ones typically reserved for friends and family of the players. 

“Teammates think I’m crazy, asking for so many tickets. My Mom sent me a list of 30, so I’ll tell you that (is how many are coming) off the bat,” Carter said. “That’s not including the people that asked me. So if I can get 40, I’ll take it.” 

Considering the amount of playmakers on Florida’s roster who hail from Tampa, some of Carter’s invitees may not make the cut. 

At first, Gouraige didn’t have a sizable list. It was just going to be his immediate family. 

Then came game week, and his phone began to light up. 

“Recently I’ve been getting a lot of calls and texts and stuff like that from a lot of people asking for tickets to come out and basically support the team,” Gouraige said. “Because since this is home for me, everybody wants to come out and support.”

Gouraige enters Saturday’s game having just made his first start at the left tackle spot for UF, and from a statistical standpoint it was a success. The Gators didn’t allow a sack or a quarterback hurry while registering 400 rushing yards against the Owls. 

Like his quarterback, redshirt junior Emory Jones, Gouraige admitted he initially felt some of the traditional first-game jitters before composing himself.

“Yeah, I was kind of nervous at first,” Gouraige said, “but in the game, I just settled down and played my game really, and everything just happened naturally.”

Now set to make his second start protecting Jones’ blindside, Gouraige expects those nerves to dissipate when he takes the field in his hometown in front of his support system. 

“That’s pretty huge that my family can come down and watch us play,” he said. “It’s going to be a good battle."