UF football: What crosses the line on social media? Valentino explains

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

Antonio Valentino isn’t ignorant to unrealistic expectations. 

“Look, I understand, you’re going to be criticized regardless," he said. "That’s the name of the game. People watch and people expect you to do things. People expect the offense to go out and score 100 points, and people expect the defense to go out and give up zero yards, zero first downs, zero points, but that’s not football.”

Valentino, 24, arrived at UF having already played 40 collegiate games with Penn State, a consistent top-10 ranked program. 

He’s seen more than his fair share of praise after impressive victories and criticism following disappointing losses. 

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Valentino’s very appreciative of the adoration, that much is clear. 

“I love fans, man. I got down here and wasn’t, like, very well-known, I wasn’t like some All-American transfer from Penn State that came in, but I was embraced with open arms,” he said. “So, of course I’m not going to go back and forth with people and kind of be rude or bite the hand that’s been feeding me this entire time. The fans have been nothing but good to me.”

But there’s a line in his eyes, and when it’s crossed Valentino will speak his mind, often on his Twitter account. 

Following UF’s 49-42 loss at LSU, emotions ran high and criticism naturally ended up directed Valentino’s way. He attempted to be understanding. 

“I responded to somebody and was like, people are just very passionate. And when things don’t necessarily go how they expect them to or how they want them to, that leads to confusion, and that confusion leads to frustration, which is completely understandable,” Valentino explained. “Of course you expect the Florida Gators to play a certain way, we’re the Florida Gators.”

It would be fair to call Valentino’s approach a mature one after considering he’s part of the contingent that hours earlier suffered its third loss in five games. 

He admits he wasn’t always this way. 

Prior to arriving in Gainesville, Valentino would hear it from the fans of the Nittany Lions.

Rather than attempt to take the high road and ignore the pointed criticism from those not privy to the team’s game plan or his assignment, Valentino would subject himself to conversations with fans who were often angry and unwilling to hear what he had to say. 

“I used to fall victim to this, and I used to get very upset. I used to take everything as a personal attack and I would go back-and-forth with people," he said. "Then I kinda realized that it’s really not beneficial. Because, let’s say, we’re running a certain blitz and I have to go to this gap, and the gap where I originally lined up, that’s where the ball hits. It looks bad on film or on TV, and people would go, ‘He’s terrible, blah-blah-blah!’ and I would just take it personally.

"Or, when I was at Penn State, people would go, ‘Penn State’s defense is awful.’ I used to get so mad about that, because I didn’t understand, ‘Who are these people?’ Like, what do you know? You weren’t in there with us all (during) winter workouts doing mat drills, and you weren’t with us all summer running hills and dying in the heat and putting in all this work to go out there and earn the right to play the game. As I grew older, I understood that these people, for the most part, don’t know football on the level that we do. They haven’t spent the time breaking down film, they haven't put in a game plan and practiced against it.”

Obviously there are some exceptions – former players have chimed in at times, with both praise and criticism – but for the most part, Valentino’s right: the vast majority of social media users haven’t played Power Five football. 

Nor have they served as administrators in an athletic program, so criticism – or calls for the mid-season firing of coordinators – about the team’s coaching staff is typically worthless. 

Here’s where Valentino is torn – he doesn’t want to debate endlessly with the unqualified, but he won’t tolerate slander, especially when it’s being directed his way. 

He usually attempts to correct the record and leave it be. 

“Once I see it in my mentions and I get notifications on my phone, that’s when I start to have a problem with it. It’s like what do you want me to do — agree with you? Like ‘Yeah our coaches are awful?’ Well, no, they’re not. I wouldn’t have come to the University of Florida if I didn’t believe this defense wasn’t a good defense,” Valentino said. “I watched all the games last year while I was in the transfer portal — I wasn’t just sitting home doing nothing.

“Personally, I don’t like it when people come at the coaches, because this is not an easy job whatsoever. I can’t tell an astronaut how to do his job, because I’m not an astronaut.”

Or he’ll sarcastically respond, like he did Tuesday morning. 

Valentino’s opinion about the Florida-Georgia series was a divisive one after the comments made their way to social media, and a nameless and faceless Twitter account retorted “yeah, listen to the transfer who has virtually had no impact all year. We’ll evaluate it” late Monday night.

Valentino responded nine hours later, saying “I know right, I’m super trash”, followed by a laughing emoji. 

Several minutes later, a Penn State fan would tell Valentino he missed him in Happy Valley, thus epitomizing social media.