leads Floridaâ€™s gifted group of wide receivers
Kestahn Moore, Mary Wise, Buddy Martin book excerpt, Steve Spurrier, Tony Barnhart Q&A
September 2007 — Vol. I, Issue III
Photo by Tim Casey Urban Meyer and the Gator Nation are looking forward to the 2007 season. Gator Country gives a preview and profiles some key players
6. The Best Ever? Season of highlights expected from gifted group of Gator receivers
13. Season Preview GC takes a look at how the Gators’ 2007 foes stack up
25. Words From a Wise Woman Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise sets a high standard for success
29. Do the Right Thing After listening and learning for two seasons, Kestahn Moore assumes a leadership role for Florida’s football team
35. Back Where They Belong: Atlanta An excerpt from “The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation,” the revised Championship Edition
Visit GatorCountry.com for more than 300 original stories posted every month!
39. Walkin’ and Talkin’ with Steve Spurrier Game on: ‘Our goal is to win the SEC’
42. Talkin’ SEC Football with Tony Barnhardt Preseason thoughts from a reporter close to the conference
45. Hollywood Bob’s Five Prospects to Follow 46. Buddy Martin’s Column
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From the Editor You never forget your first Gator game, at least your first one in person. For me, the year was 1972. I was 10 years old, when my father and I made the trip to Tampa Stadium to see my hometown team play.
Raymond Hines III EDITOR
Mike Hodge CONTRIBUTING WRITERS
Franz Beard Buddy Martin Mark McLeod Bob Redman PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR / Layout and Design
The Gators played Southern Methodist University. I don’t remember much about SMU, except that the Mustangs won, 21-14. But I do remember the pleasant surprise. His name was Nat Moore. He was a running back. But no one knew he was. He was not in the media guide. He was not on the roster. He was never mentioned in the Gainesville Sun the week leading up to the game. Back then, I read Jack Hairston’s column as if it were gospel and if Jack wasn’t writing about it, then I figured it wasn’t worth knowing. Nat Moore caught us all off guard. He was a former junior-college basketball star and part-time truck driver from Miami that a friend of coach Doug Dickey had recommended. Good thing Dickey listened. That night in Tampa he caught a 5-yard touchdown pass and along with quarterback David Bowden (who came off the bench to replace Chan Gailey) gave the Gators hope. If you watched Florida in the ‘70s, hope mended all of our broken hearts after every loss to Vince Dooley’s Georgia Bulldogs. Florida ended up 5-5-1 that year, but Moore was more than mediocre. In fact, he broke Florida’s single season rushing record with 845 yards and also led the squad with 25 receptions for 351 yards. Moore finished his Florida football career in 1973 and later went on to a 13year National Football League career as a receiver with the Miami Dolphins. One of his teammates his final UF season was Lee McGriff, whose clutch catches in the closing minutes against Georgia sustained the momentum during a seven-win season while Moore was hobbled with a strained arch.
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Moore and McGriff’s glory days have passed, but Gator Country turned to each of them for their assessment of the 2007 Florida wide receivers, a group of pass catchers that may go down in history as one of the best ever to play at UF.
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We also have two stories from someone who knows the Gators as well as anyone. Buddy Martin provided us an excerpt from the update to his book, The Boys from Old Florida, Inside Gator Nation.
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That, of course, remains to be seen, but it’s an issue GC’s Mark McLeod looked into while assembling the cover story for this month’s magazine.
Anyone who wants to relieve the 2007 national championship victory over Ohio State will not be disappointed. Neither will Steve Spurrier fans. Buddy has a nice feature on the former Florida coach and Heisman Trophy winner, who’s never at a loss for words. Football season’s just around the corner. Enjoy.
GATOR COUNTRY MAGAZINE is printed 10 times a year by Gator Country Multimedia, Inc., 9200 NW 39th Ave, Suite 130, PMB#133, Gainesville, FL 32606. Subscriptions are $49.97 annually. The magazine is included with an online GatorCountry.com subscription which also includes ESPN Magazine and ESPN Insider. Single copy rate is $4.97. SUBSCRIBERS: If the postal service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within two years. POSTMASTER: Please send all change of address forms to Gator Country Multimedia, Inc., 9200 NW 39th Ave, Suite 130, PMB#133, Gainesville, FL 32606. Please allow two to three weeks for a change of address. We make a portion of our mailing list available to reputable companies. If you prefer to be excluded, please email or call us. ©2007 GATOR COUNTRY MULTIMEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR PART WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED.
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The BEST EVER? Season of highlights expected from gifted group of Gator receivers
By Mark McLeod lorida’s football team entered the 2006 season with several question marks, specifically regarding the offensive line and overall depth. The receivers, as a group, had few proven commodities and the Florida coaches were hopeful that their recruiting bonanza would translate into immediate on-field production. Turns out, the plan worked. The Gators culminated the season celebrating the 100th anniversary of Florida football with a national championship in the Arizona desert. Their 41-14 victory over undefeated Ohio State was as dominating a defensive effort as you’ll see. However, the Florida passing game also played a significant role. Quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow completed 26 of 37 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. It was the highest completion percentage against the Buckeyes’ secondary all season. The Florida offense capitalized on numerous opportunities provided by stellar defensive play. This season, they figure to do some dominating of their own — with or without the defense’s help.
Photo by Tim Casey Percy Harvin stiff-arms James Laurinaitis during the BCS Championship game.
The defending national champions return eight starters, including four offensive linemen. The Gators also added much-needed depth to play behind that talented front. Sophomore triggerman Tim Tebow gained valuable experience playing alongside senior Chris Leak. A quarterback well-versed in this offensive style playing behind an experienced and talented front figures to blend well with a group of receivers that are as athletic, fast, and run after the catch as well as any group in Florida football history. Remember these names — Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Jarred Fayson, Louis Murphy and Cornelius Ingram. “(We) return a group of receivers,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer, “(that) if we keep them healthy, we are very, very excited about watching a little bit of depth, athleticism, play-making ability of our receiver position. If we stay healthy, it’s what you want. When you walk into
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an offensive staff room, there’s a lot of communication, a lot of discussion, a lot of Xs and Os. That’s good. When you walk in a staff room, you kind of sit there and look at each other, and say, ‘We got a little problem here. Who touches the ball?’ I don’t want to say where we’re at, but we’re darn close to where we want to be. “In this offense, those positions have to be dynamic if you want to have your quarterback involved in the running game,” Meyer added. “You have to have a threat that someone can take it. I can go through six names right now that are very productive players you want to see touch the ball, which we have not had.” The spread offense pressures defenses by utilizing the entire field, thus creating space and forcing the defense to cover sideline to sideline. Such a scheme exposes what the defense is attempting to accomplish on that play. With Tebow so adept at running the football, the defense must account for his every step. The
GatorCountry.com receivers benefit tremendously when they have the clear advantage in athleticism and speed in those man-on-man situations. If that defender misses — it may very well be six points. “I think that when you look at this group of wide receivers, even though they might not be quite as experienced, they have tremendous athleticism,” said former Florida and Miami Dolphins receiver Nat Moore, who works for SunSports as a color analyst during Florida games. “I look at the different ways the coaches will get the ball into their hands. Those guys they use in the slot, they’re almost like running backs. Besides catching the ball, they can get the inside handoff and do the same things that will allow them to do some really different things. “The one thing this team has prided itself on the last two years is concerning the tempo and the clock,” Moore added. “They have managed the game well. The reason that I would expect them to do that Photo by Tim Casey even more is because they have only two Andre Caldwell stretches for the end zone to score a touchdown during the Gators’ 28-13 returning defensive starters.” win against the University of Alabama last season. Here’s a look at each: His former coach at Jefferson High it a point to provide him with additional School in Tampa, Mike Simmonds, is touches. currently the offensive line coach at the “Probably the week before the Georgia University of South Florida. Simmonds, game,” Caldwell said regarding when he who played in the National Football hit stride following the injury. “I hadn’t League and spent 14 years as a high been hit in like a year, so it took me some school coach in Florida, said Caldwell time to get used to people diving at my leg was definitely one of the best players he and trying to take me out. So, going into had ever seen in high school football and that game I was very confident and coach sympathized with his adversity. (Meyer) could see a different step in my “I’ve talked to some of the Florida game and I’ve proved it ever since.” coaches out on the road (recruiting) and He admitted that his leg was actually they told me that it was a real nasty break 100 percent in the months before the and that they had to do a lot of work to border war along the St. Johns River. The it and that it really took a lot of rehab late October move made by the coaching and effort to try to put it behind him and staff paid huge dividends. move forward,” Simmonds recalled. “That Caldwell hauled in a game-high takes a lot of guts. I had to go through a eight receptions for 88 yards, including tough rehab when I was a player with the a 40-yard touchdown pass from Leak in Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It takes a lot to get the second quarter. He had scored the over the hump and that will make him a game’s first touchdown on a 12-yard run stronger person and better player because on Florida’s first possession and all told you have to reach depths through peaks was responsible for the Gators’ only two and valleys that you never had to reach offensive scores. Photo by Tim Casey before when you fight through an injury This year he will move outside into the It took about 400 days for Andre like that. It has helped shape him into the spot vacated by Dallas Baker. He certainly Caldwell to regain his confidence after player that he is today and will be this year has more speed than Baker and his ability breaking his leg on a kickoff return and in the future.” to run after the catch will be a key for against Tennessee in September of 2005. The Gators had a week off after the defenses to contain. Furthermore, Caldwell Renowned for his playmaking ability, loss to Auburn. It was during that time is a former high school quarterback and Caldwell had very few stellar moments in when Caldwell began to provide the even tossed a touchdown pass in the SEC the first half of the 2006 season. It was all Florida coaches with a preview of the near Championship against Arkansas. Expect too obvious that he wasn’t the player that future. They liked what they saw and made him to secure at least 10 touches per game. he had been before the injury.
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PERCY HARVIN The 2006 Southeastern Conference Freshman of The Year surged onto the scene in the Gators’ season-opening 34-7 victory over Southern Mississippi with three receptions for 33 yards. However, it was his versatility that caught the attention of those gathered at Florida Field. Harvin led Florida with 58 yards rushing and he needed just four carries to do so. In fact, Harvin was the Gators’ rushing leader in five games (USM, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, and Arkansas) last season. His 10.4 yards per carry average was by far the best on the Florida squad. He finished third in team rushing with 428 yards on the year, just 41 yards behind Tebow and was named MVP of the SEC championship game. “I think that he’s only going to get better,” Moore said. “To come in and take the SEC by storm and to think that he only lined up 60 percent of the time because of (the ankle) injury with the numbers that he put up, it just shows you the ability that he has. Now, what you have to hope is that he doesn’t get hit with that sophomore jinx and start reading the paper and forget that he has to work just as hard, if not harder the second time around. He’s not going to surprise people now. They’re aware of his speed and his ability to make people miss. So, it’s all about conditioning himself to try and stay healthy so that he can stay on the field at all times, as well as, making sure that he has the mental outlook of what teams are trying to do to take him away. I think that most teams are going to say, ‘Well, here’s the first down and ten and we know that he can go the distance from anywhere on the field, so, we’ve got to keep him contained at all times,’ which is going to open things up for the other receivers.” There are those who make it look so easy and then there is Harvin. Although many receivers can run a smooth route, haul in the pass and run well with the football, Harvin has demonstrated the ability to do all of that and look pretty natural when lined up in the Florida backfield. And he accomplished that as a true freshman. Don’t expect that to change, either. “Harvin and Caldwell run with the football the best,” former Florida receiver and Gator radio analyst Lee McGriff said. “The coaches will find ways for Harvin
Photo by Tim Casey Percy Harvin runs for a 58-yard touchdown on a pass from Chris Leak during the Gators’ 42-0 win against the University of Central Florida last season.
and Caldwell to get plenty of touches. When you see Percy run, you say, ‘I don’t think that I’ve seen too many run like this
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guy can run.’ He is definitely one of those guys who is flat dangerous after he gets the ball in his hands.”
LOUIS MURPHY Every year there is usually one guy who emerges in the spring. This year it was Louis Murphy, who caught a record eight receptions in the Orange and Blue game and led all receivers with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown. “Louis Murphy earned a spot as a starting wide receiver today,” Meyer said after the spring game. “He had a heck of a day and I’m very proud of him. “He has come a long way since his first year here. Last year, he was OK and this spring he went after it. He might be the best fundamental wide receiver we have here right now. Louis did a lot of good things out there today and is taking football seriously right now.” For two years, Murphy’s opportunities have been limited. He played sparingly in the Gators’ four-wide set in 2005, and did not have a reception. Last season wasn’t much better. He caught two passes. “He gained some confidence this spring,” McGriff said. “Some guys take longer than others to work everything out. Maybe that was the case for Louis? I really don’t know. There are those who are saying that he’s running really well now. I’ll be interested in seeing if that’s the case. Players run faster when they begin to gain confidence. That’s a fact. Louis Murphy is a guy who has to make the most of this opportunity.” Photo by Tim Casey Louis Murphy makes a catch over cornerback Markihe Anderson during the Orange and Blue spring game on April 14.
Photo by Tim Casey Louis Murphy and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales share a laugh during the Gators’ final spring football practice on April 13.
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CORNELIUS INGRAM Cornelius Ingram has been a focal point in the eastern Alachua County community of Hawthorne since he began playing for the local high school in 1999. Through the years, most of the talk has centered around which sport Ingram would play professionally. There were plenty who were steadfast in the fact that he’d be in the NBA. Others surmised that the 6-foot-4, 230-pound athlete would make his mark on the gridiron. Ingram began his collegiate career on the hard court where he played as a reserve for the 2004-05 Florida basketball team. He worked with the scout team in football as a quarterback before moving to tight end in 2005. Now that Ingram has settled on one sport, there yet remains one more question. What position does he really play? He has been a shooting guard, quarterback, and tight end during his Florida career. But, going into the 2007 Photo by Tim Casey season, nobody really knows what to call Cornelius Ingram works out during the Gators’ fourth day of fall practice on August 8. him? We are told that he will line up at tight end, yet he will also be outside more often. Heck, he might even be placed into a position to toss the ball downfield once in awhile. Ingram did not get many opportunities last season. However, he made the most of them when his number was called. He caught 30 passes for 380 yards and scored one touchdown. His longest reception was a 38-yard catch-and-run that electrified the Florida faithful in Knoxville against Tennessee. “I look at how far Cornelius Ingram has come in such a short span,” Moore said. “He’s just a tremendous athlete who might have the best hands on the team. It’s hard to find a receiver that big. He reminds me a lot of Ben Troupe. I think that Cornelius has that kind of talent, maybe more, because he has more speed than Ben. Whether they line him up at tight end, whether they line him up in the slot, or whether they line him up outside, he can make the play. And then he gives you the ability the same as Bubba Caldwell, where you can get him the football and make it look like a quick screen or pass or run and he can drop back and throw the ball down the field. He forces the defense to stay Photo by Tim Casey vanilla at all times.”
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JARRED FAYSON Sophomore Jarred Fayson expected to play a bigger role as a freshman. However, the former Hillsborough High School All-America quarterback found the transition to wide receiver a little difficult. Fayson was much more prepared to challenge for a role in the rotation running the football, but he needed work on becoming a receiver. This spring he worked on all of the various aspects of the game and earned a spot among Florida’s top five pass catchers. “The learning curve took longer than he anticipated,” Hillsborough High School coach Earl Garcia said. “You try to tell those kids that, but they have to live it. As a matter of fact, we were talking last Sunday and I told him that he’s going to have to help teach those young kids coming in about what to expect.” Fayson appeared frustrated last season trying to improve and find his role on the squad. Still, we got a glimpse of what he is expected to bring to the Florida offense. “He can do so many things,” Garcia said. “He’s a hell of an athlete. That’s one of the things that I enjoy about watching Urban’s teams, there are always imaginative ways to get the playmakers the ball. Jarred’s got a chance to do some really special things this year. He says that he wants to remain on special teams and block punts. They’ll line him up at times at running back and they even have some plays for him at quarterback.”
Photo by Tim Casey Jarred Fayson runs for an 11-yard gain during the Gators’ win against UCF on September 9, 2006.
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“Next Year” is HERE!
GC takes a look at how the Gators’ 2007 foes stack up By FRANZ BEARD
he Florida Gators had the toughest schedule in the nation last year in their national championship season. The 2007 schedule features seven home games, four road games and of course, Georgia in Jacksonville. Of the four road games, only LSU figures to be ranked, so this year’s schedule is far more conducive to a young team that will need time to reach its potential. Here is a look at Florida’s schedule, game by game:
photo by Tim Casey UF coach Urban Meyer speaks to reporters the morning after the Gators defeated Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship game.
WESTERN KENTUCKY Sept.1, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium 190, sophomore quarterback). Smith is one of three players battling for the starting quarterback job. He is the only one who threw a pass last year (4-for-5, 62 yards and a touchdown). The strength of the team is its wide receivers; so much depends on Smith playing with poise and throwing the ball accurately. COACH: David Elson (5th season) STRENGTHS: Western Kentucky CAREER RECORD: 30-17 has excellent receivers, led by Hamilton, LAST SEASON: 6-5 in Division I-AA Jake Gaebler (36 catches for 425 yards) OFFENSE: Pro-I and Jesse Quinn (29 catches for 415). All DEFENSE: 3-4 three give the Hilltoppers experience at the RETURNING STARTERS: Six on outside skill positions. There is also talent offense, seven on defense, one on special and experience at tailback where Andrew teams. McCloud (443 yards) and Tyrell Hayden BEST PLAYER: Curtis Hamilton (315) helped the team average 160 rushing (6-2, 195, junior wide receiver). Hamilton yards a game in 2006. Free safety Marion caught 52 passes for 841 yards and 10 Rumph, who led the team in tackles last touchdowns last year. Hamilton has year (87) and linebacker Blake Boyd outstanding speed to stretch defenses and (70 tackles, 2 interceptions) are the best he runs precise patterns. His ability to get players on defense. deep opens up the underneath game for the WEAKNESSES: The Hilltoppers other wide receivers. have a defensive line that averages only X-FACTOR: Brandon Smith (6-0, 250 per man. That will be fine against the
six Division I-AA or Division II opponents on the schedule, but they will get pushed and shoved around by the Division I schools. It will take at least two years for the Hilltoppers to build the roster to 85 scholarship players, too, so they will be undermanned as well as undersized this year. OUTLOOK: This is the first year in Division I for the Hilltoppers, who have been a power in the Division I-AA ranks for years (won the I-AA national championship in 2002). They will play as an independent in Division I for two years before joining the Sun Belt Conference. Meanwhile, they will be playing an upgraded schedule that includes six Division I teams, including the Gators. Thanks to some games against Division I-AA and Division II opponents it isn’t unthinkable that the Hilltoppers could finish the season break-even at 6-6 which would be a huge accomplishment as the transformation to Division I gets going.
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TROY Sept. 8, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
X-FACTOR: Kenny Cattouse (5-10, 207 senior fullback). Cattouse ran for 810 yards (4.8 yard per carry average) and four touchdowns last year. The Trojans need him to come up big in the rushing game to force single coverage on their four outside receivers. STRENGTHS: The Trojans return 14 starters, eight on offense, from a team that was within a couple of plays of upsetting Florida State in Tallahassee. On offense, Haugabrook has experienced wide receivers such as Gary Banks (68 catches last year) and Mykeal Terry (27 catches for 477 yards) and a hard runner at fullback in Cattouse. On defense, the Trojans return three of their four starters on the defensive line, including Kenny Mainor, a small (6-4, 220) defensive end who came up with 6.5 sacks as a sophomore. Linebackers Boris Lee and Marcus Richardson are small but fast. WEAKNESSES: Only Chris Jamison (6-3, 285) returns on the offensive line, and thatâ€™s a big concern. Troy averaged only 319 yards offensively last year and for those numbers to improve, the line has to mesh quickly. On defense, the secondary gave up a lot of big plays last year. Troy gave up 214 passing yards a game, 77th in the nation. Three of four starters return, so that area should be improved, but they have to be better for Troy to have a chance at a good season. OUTLOOK: The season starts with road games at Arkansas and Florida followed by a home game with Oklahoma Photo Courtesy of Troy Sports Information State. Sandwiched in the eight-game Sun Senior quarterback Omar Haugabrook returns for a second season as a starter. Belt Conference schedule is a date with Georgia. If the Trojans can survive those th games physically and do it without a COACH: Larry Blakeney (17 season) offense, eight defense, one on special blown psyche, they should dominate in CAREER RECORD: 127-65-1 teams. the Sun Belt Conference. An 8-4 or 7-5 LAST SEASON: 8-5 (6-1 Sun Belt BEST PLAYER: Omar Haugabrook season would get the Trojans to a minor Conference; beat Rice, 41-17 in New (6-2, 220, senior quarterback) threw for Orleans Bowl). 2,401 yards and 21 touchdowns last year in bowl game and would be considered an accomplishment. To go better than 8-4, OFFENSE: Spread his first season as a starter. Haugabrook is DEFENSE: 4-3 a strong runner who makes good decisions they will have to spring a major upset in one of the four out-of-conference games. RETURNING STARTERS: Six and throws well on the move.
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TENNESSEE Sept. 15, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
COACH: Phil Fulmer (16th season) CAREER RECORD: 137-41 LAST SEASON: 9-4 (5-3 SEC East; lost to Penn State 20-10 in the Outback Bowl) OFFENSE: No huddle, one back, two tight ends DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Six on offense, five on defense, one on special teams BEST PLAYER: Jerod Mayo (6-2, 230 junior linebacker). Mayo was all over the field last year. He had 83 tackles including 12.5 for losses totaling 51 yards. He is big, fast and a sure tackler. He moves to the inside this year where his lateral quickness should help plug the middle. X-FACTOR: Erik Ainge (6-6, 220 senior quarterback). As Ainge goes, so go the Vols. When he’s hot, he’s virtually unstoppable. When he cools, he has a habit of making big mistakes at critical moments. He had offseason knee surgery, but he should be good to go. Ainge made plenty of strides under offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe last year. If he makes as much progress in year two as he did in year one, the Volunteers could have an outstanding offensive team. STRENGTHS: The Vols have gone to a two tight end offensive set to get more protection for Ainge and help the running game. With three starters in the interior and two experienced tight ends, Tennessee should be able to run the ball better than it has since the 2001 season. When Ainge is on, he’s as good as there is in the SEC. Chris Brown caught 31 passes last year, so he’s dependable over the middle from his tight end position. On the defensive side, linebackers Mayo, Ryan Karl and Rico McCoy are an outstanding group. They are all fast, strong and sure tacklers.
Photo by Tim Casey Erik Ainge was completed 17 of 32 passes for 183 yards during the Gators’ 21-20 win in Knoxville last season. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked twice.
Jonathan Heffney is the only standout in the secondary. Punter Britton Colquitt is the best in the SEC and maybe the best in the country. He can affect field position all game long. WEAKNESSES: There are serious questions at the wide receiver slots where the three top receivers have all moved on. Freshmen Ahmad Paige and Gerald Jones and junior-college transfer Kenny O’Neal (formerly of FSU) will have to play early. Defensively, the Vols gave up an average of 150 rushing yards a game last year. It’s time for J.T. Mapu and Demonte Bolden to finally live up to their potential in the middle of the defensive line. If they don���t, it could be a long year. Three of the four starters are gone from the secondary. True freshman Eric Berry is probably going to
have to start at corner from day one. OUTLOOK: The first three games are at Cal, Southern Miss at home and then Florida in Gainesville. If the Vols somehow get through that stretch unscathed, they could win the SEC East. After that opening stretch, the only tough road game is at Alabama in mid October. South Carolina and Georgia must come to Neyland Stadium. Erik Ainge has to have an allconference season for the Vols to contend and the defense has to find answers on the line and in the secondary. As always there is a boatload of talent in Knoxville, but is there enough to fill all the gaps? If the Vols are 3-0 after the first three games, they could be a 10-2 or 11-1 team. If they lose two of three, then they will have problems getting to 8-4 or 9-3.
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OLE MISS Sept. 22, Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss. COACH: Ed Orgeron (3rd season) CAREER RECORD: 7-16 LAST SEASON: 4-8 (2-6 SEC West) OFFENSE: Pro-I DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on offense, six on defense, two on special teams BEST PLAYER: BenJarvus GreenEllis (5-11, 225 senior tailback). GreenEllis gained 1,000 yards last year without the benefit of a decent offensive line. With four starters returning on the line this year, he figures to be much more effective. He may be the best between-the-tackles runner in the SEC. X-FACTOR: Brent Schaeffer (6-2, 205 senior quarterback). Schaeffer never adapted to the offense after arriving from junior college with so much hype. If he doesn’t step it up, then Ole Miss is going to have problems once again scoring points. In 2006, the Rebels were last in the SEC with an average of 15.7 points a game, 108th in the country. STRENGTHS: The offensive line returns four starters, including Michael Oher, who just might be the best tackle in the league. If sophomore Reid Neely can give the Rebels solid play at the left guard position, then look for Ole Miss to try to play ball control to keep the defense off the field. There are plenty of big, agile bodies on a defensive line dominated by freshmen and sophomores. That’s an area coach Ed Orgeron looks for great improvement and it has to be since Ole Miss ranked 94th in the country last year against the run. Ole Miss has speed and playmakers in the secondary, led by strong safety Jamarcus Sanford. WEAKNESSES: The linebackers are new and even if they are fast and talented, they lack experience. Undersized redshirt freshman Alan Walker (6-1, 200) is a big hitter who could make an impact here. The wide receivers are average, at best. Someone has to step it up here or else the passing game will flounder again (Ole Miss ranked 112th nationally in passing offense last year). Junior College transfer A.J. Jackson could be a difference maker if he can pick up the offense quickly.
Quarterback is the biggest weakness on the team. If Schaeffer doesn’t improve, it will be a long year in Oxford. OUTLOOK: The schedule is daunting with national champ Florida, LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama and Auburn. All six of those teams have outstanding defenses and that doesn’t bode well for a team with as many offensive problems as Ole Miss. Schaeffer has to come through. When he was a freshman at Tennessee, he was a run-pass threat. As a junior-college
All-America, he was a record-setter. Last year, he flopped. Behind Schaeffer is Seth Adams, a senior who has slow feet and a weak arm. If Ole Miss can’t break even this year — and breaking even would be a tremendous feat for Orgeron — look for the Rebel faithful to turn up the heat. Orgeron is a great recruiter, but seven wins in two years, and a third year where the outlook borders on bleak are not exactly the stuff that job security is made of.
Photo Courtesy of UM Sports Information Senior running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is one of the best inside runners in the SEC.
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AUBURN Sept. 29, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium COACH: Tommy Tuberville (9th season) CAREER RECORD: 96-49 (71-29 in eight years at Auburn) LAST SEASON: 11-2 (6-2 SEC West; beat Nebraska, 17-14, in the Cotton Bowl) OFFENSE: Pro-I DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Four on offense, six on defense BEST PLAYER: Quentin Groves (6-4, 254 senior defensive end). Groves is a fierce pass rusher, who should make somebody’s All-America team this year. He got to the quarterback 11 times last year. He makes every offensive coordinator in the league designate one of the backs to help the tackle on every single pass play. X-FACTOR: Brad Lester (5-11, 191 junior tailback). After a fine season as the backup tailback (510 yards and nine touchdowns), it’s Lester’s turn to step into the starter’s role. He isn’t very big, so it remains to be seen if he can take the pounding of 20-plus carries a game. If Lester can give the Tigers 1,000 or more yards, then Auburn has a chance to be balanced on offense. STRENGTHS: Auburn’s secondary is the best in the league, headed up by safeties Aairon Savage and Eric Brock. Auburn’s linebackers are the smallest in the SEC, but they are usually the fastest. Even though the starters at linebacker will be new, they all got experience the last two years in backup roles. The Tigers have experience on the defensive line with Groves and fireplug Josh Thompson on the nose. Thompson’s ability to command a double team in the middle of the line allows Auburn’s linebackers to make plays. Brandon Cox is an experienced quarterback, who compensates for a weak arm by making good decisions. With Lester and backup Ben Tate (392 yards last year), the Tigers figure to have a quality ground game. WEAKNESSES: The only starter returning on the offensive line is King Dunlap (6-9, 321), who has been regularly beaten by quick defensive ends. The line is a huge area of concern because the Tigers need a better throwing game if they want
Photo by Tim Casey Brandon Cox passed for just 182 yards against Florida last season in Auburn, completing 18 of 27 passes during the Tigers’ 27-17 win in which he was sacked five times.
to balance out the offense. Wide receivers Rogerious Smith and Prechae Rodriguez have never distinguished themselves as go-to guys, so this is another position of concern. Redshirt freshman Tim Hawthorne needs to be THE man at wideout. Last year, the Tigers had the best kicking game in the league. This year, they’re breaking in newbies. OUTLOOK: The first four games are conducive to a fast start, so the Tigers should be unbeaten and nationally ranked by the time they arrive
in Gainesville at the end of September in what could be a make-or-break game for the rest of Auburn’s schedule, which includes road games at Arkansas and at LSU in mid October and season-ending games at Georgia and Alabama at home. Tommy Tuberville has great athletes on defense, so nobody is really concerned with that side of the ball. On offense, the line has to give Brandon Cox time since he doesn’t have a quick release or a strong arm. If the line develops and Auburn can find a go-to receiver, then the Tigers could have a legitimate shot at winning the SEC West and going to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
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LSU Oct. 6, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La. COACH: Les Miles (3rd year) CAREER RECORD: 50-25 (22-4 in two years at LSU) LAST SEASON: 11-2 (6-2 SEC West; beat Notre Dame, 41-14, in the Sugar Bowl) OFFENSE: Pro multiple DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on offense, eight on defense, one on special teams BEST PLAYER: Glenn Dorsey (6-2, 299 senior defensive tackle): Dorsey is the most feared defensive lineman in the country. He would have been a first-round choice if he had entered the NFL draft. He had 64 tackles and 8.5 sacks last year from his interior line position. He is so quick off the ball that he commands a double team on every play. X-FACTOR: Matt Flynn (6-3, 228 senior quarterback). Everybody was wowed by his performance in the Peach Bowl against Miami a couple of years ago, but that was just one game and he had a month to get ready. Now Flynn has to do it for an entire season. It is in his favor that he’s surrounded by great athletes, so he isn’t required to win games, just not lose them. He has to park the ego at the door for an entire season and let the athletes win games, so that LSU can contend for SEC and national championships. STRENGTHS: LSU will have the best defensive line in the country. Tyson Jackson will have a huge year playing next to Dorsey. He had 8.5 sacks last season. The other tackle, Marlon Favorite, is tough to move. All three starters return at linebacker, where Ali Highsmith figures to be all conference on the weak side. Middle linebacker Daryl Beckwith hits a ton and Luke Sanders is the most athletic of the three. Corner Chevis Jackson can lock down receivers on his side of the ball. On offense, tailbacks Keiland Williams and Charles Scott are power runners. Early
Photo by Tim Casey Matt Flynn completed 12 of 20 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns with one interception as a backup in 2006. Flynn was MVP of the 2005 Peach Bowl.
Doucet finally gets a chance to be the go-to receiver. He has the size and speed to have a breakout year. WEAKNESSES: If Will Arnold isn’t healthy, then there will be holes in the offensive line. Expect Herman Johnson (6-7, 351) to move outside to stabilize the right tackle position, so the guards could be inexperienced. Brandon LaFell has speed and athletic ability, but he will be a first-year starter at wide receiver. He has to emerge to take the heat off Doucet. OUTLOOK: Gary Crowton replaces Jimbo Fisher as the offensive coordinator, and that’s a step up for LSU. Crowton will run a more creative offense and make better use of his personnel. Fisher came
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up with 13 total points in the two games that LSU needed him the most last year. There are no worries on the defensive side of the ball, where nine of the 11 starters are either juniors or seniors. Any team that has Dorsey and Tyson Jackson on the defensive line is going to be ferocious. The schedule sets up favorably for an SEC West title with the only tough road test at Alabama in October. Florida, Auburn, South Carolina and Arkansas all have to visit Baton Rouge. Watch game two when the Tigers face off with Virginia Tech in Baton Rouge. If LSU dominates that game, then you should have a good indicator of things to come in 2007.
KENTUCKY Oct. 20, Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky. Wesley Woodyard back to the outside, which would help the defense immensely. STRENGTHS: Wide receivers Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons are the perfect complement for Woodson. They combined for 127 receptions, 1,858 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Anywhere else, tight end Jacob Tamme (32 catches, 386 yards) would see the ball a whole lot more. Rafael Little was hurt a lot last year, but when he’s healthy, he gives Kentucky a breakaway threat at tailback. He still had 673 yards last year even though he was never completely healthy. Woodyard is about the only bright spot on the defensive unit. WEAKNESSES: The good news is that last year’s defensive coordinator, Mike Archer, is gone, replaced by Steve Brown. The bad news is that Brown was the secondary coach at Kentucky last year and the Wildcats ranked dead last in all of Division I in pass defense (268 passing yards per game). There are eight starters back, so you figure they have to be better with experience. Micah Johnson and Wesley Woodyard have to have great years for there to be significant improvement. The Wildcats have to replace the right side of the offensive line, so that’s a major project. OUTLOOK: Kentucky is going to Photo by Tim Casey score a lot of points this year. Putting André Woodson completed 63 percent of his passes last season, good for an SEC-best points on the board will NOT be a 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns. problem. Getting stops will be the problem and the Wildcats don’t have the personnel th COACH: Rich Brooks (5 year) Woodson into a first-rate quarterback. to get the job done on a routine basis. So, CAREER RECORD: 108-139-4 (17- The numbers speak for themselves — figure a lot of high-scoring shootouts that 30 in four years at Kentucky) 63 percent completions, 3,515 yards should make for very entertaining football. LAST SEASON: 8-5 (4-4 SEC East; and 31 touchdowns against only seven There are three guaranteed wins on the beat Clemson, 28-20, in the Music City interceptions. Woodson is big, strong and Bowl) mobile, a legitimate dual threat that makes schedule with Eastern Kentucky, Kent OFFENSE: Pro multiple the opposing defense accountable for all 11 State and Florida Atlantic. Three more wins from somewhere on the schedule will DEFENSE: 4-3 players. send the Wildcats bowling again. After RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on X-FACTOR: Micah Johnson (6-2, offense, eight on defense, two on special 270 sophomore linebacker/defensive end). the Gators visit Lexington on Oct. 20, the Wildcats get Mississippi State and Vandy teams The Wildcats finished dead last in the BEST PLAYER: André Woodson country among Division I teams in rushing back-to-back. Wins in those two games might seal the deal for a second straight (6-5, 230 senior quarterback). When and total defense, so it is imperative that Johnson plays up to his vast potential after bowl trip, not a bad accomplishment for Randy Sanders arrived on the scene a school that has only been to eight bowl as the quarterback coach, his first job a so-so freshman year. If he can dominate games in its history. was to transform perennial bust Andre in the middle, the Wildcats could move
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GEORGIA Oct. 27, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville
Photo by Tim Casey Matt Stafford ran for a touchdown against the Gators in 2006, but completed only 13 of 33 passes and threw two interceptions.
COACH: Mark Richt (7th year) CAREER RECORD: 61-17 LAST SEASON: 9-4 (4-4 SEC East; beat Virginia Tech, 31-24, in Chick-Fil-A Bowl). OFFENSE: Pro multiple DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on offense, three on defense, one on special teams. BEST PLAYER: Matt Stafford (6-3, 237, sophomore quarterback). Stafford has the big arm and the big reputation. He had moments when he was outstanding last year as a freshman, but he had games to forget about. He has the talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He can make all the throws, but he has to improve his decision making. X-FACTOR: Brandon Miller (6-4, 257, senior linebacker). He arrived with plenty of hype, but he’s had an up-anddown career. He’s moved to the middle this year and he needs to come up big for Georgia’s defense to compensate for the loss of eight starters. Georgia finished
eighth nationally in total defense last year, in large part due to the play of its outstanding linebackers. STRENGTHS: Georgia has great depth at running back with Kregg Lumpkin (798 yards, six touchdowns), redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and scatback Thomas Brown (256 yards). If Sean Bailey is back 100 percent from his knee injury, then the wide receivers will be good, and they’ll have the one player that can stretch a defense. There is strength in the middle of the defensive line with Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and Geno Atkins. Brandon Coutou may be the best place-kicker in the country. WEAKNESSES: Georgia lost both defensive ends, all three linebackers and three of the four in the secondary, so the defense has to be revamped. The new players are talented, but they lack experience. There aren’t any big hitters in the secondary and that’s a huge
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concern. On the offensive line, only center Fernando Velasco is back as a starter. At least four freshmen will either start or occupy prominent backup positions on the offensive line. If Bailey goes down, the only player capable of stretching the defense from the wide receiver slot is Mikey Henderson, who has speed but suspect hands. OUTLOOK: Watch what happens the first two games. Oklahoma State is a defensive coordinator’s nightmare with an experienced defense and Georgia isn’t experienced. South Carolina comes to Athens in game two with a team capable of taking the bus ride back to Columbia with a win. If Georgia starts 0-2, then it could be a long year for the Bulldogs. Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn are on the schedule along with Vandy and Kentucky. Georgia lost to Vandy and Kentucky last year. Georgia must get off to a fast start in the first two games to contend in the SEC East. Stafford has to turn his TD to interception ratio around (Seven TDs, 13 picks last year).
VANDERBILT Nov. 3, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Photo by Tim Casey Chris Nickson completed 27 of 44 passes for 298 yards and two TDs against UF in 2006.
COACH: Bobby Johnson (6th year) CAREER RECORD: 75-79 (15-43 in five years at Vanderbilt) OFFENSE: Pro multiple DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Nine on offense, seven on defense, two on special teams. BEST PLAYER: Earl Bennett (6-1, 202 junior wide receiver). Bennett has 161 catches for 2,022 yards in his career. Against the Gators last year, he had 13 catches for 157 yards. He isn’t the biggest
receiver in the league. He isn’t the fastest. Still, nobody can cover him and he just doesn’t drop the football. X-FACTOR: Brian Stamper (6-5, 295 senior offensive tackle). The big guy from Orlando had back surgery in the offseason. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best pass protectors in the Southeastern Conference. If he’s good to go, Vandy will have all five starters back from last year’s offensive line and they could be one of the SEC’s top units. STRENGTHS: Vandy has the
weapons to light up anybody with its offense. The Commodores have the quarterback in Chris Nickson, the receivers in Bennett and George Smith, a fine running back in Caseen JacksonGarrison and veterans on the offensive line. Nickson threw for 2,094 yards last year (15 touchdowns) and ran for 694. The Commodores have a veteran offensive line equally good blocking for the run or the pass. On defense, Vandy’s strength is its linebacking crew led by hard-hitting Jonathon Goff and steady Marcus Buggs. Goff has NFL written all over him. He’s got size (6-4, 240), strength and great speed. Placekicker Josh Arauco at one point hit 10 straight field goals last year. WEAKNESSES: Start with the front four on defense that allowed 150 rushing yards per game (91st in the country against the run), then look at a secondary that couldn’t make stops in critical situations. Vandy was 10th in the SEC in both yards and points allowed per game. Curtis Gatewood is a stud at defensive end, but the other three guys tend to disappear. Reshard Langford is a head-hunting strong safety, but the other guys in the secondary rarely make plays. The only real weakness on offense is turnovers. Nickson threw almost as many picks as he did touchdown passes last year. That’s got to change if Vandy is to make a bowl game for the first time since 1982. OUTLOOK: The Commodores get a break in that their first four games are at home and two of them are surefire wins (Division I-AA Richmond and Eastern Michigan of the MAC). The road schedule is brutal with games at Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. With eight home games, Vandy needs to win six to have a chance at a bowl and that’s do-able. Bobby Johnson has a balanced offense that can score points on anyone. If the defense will improve against the run and give some semblance of a pass rush, there could be huge improvement there. Vandy can’t and won’t win the SEC East, but the Commodores have a good enough team to have a say in who does win it. A bowl game is entirely possible.
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SOUTH CAROLINA Nov. 10, Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Blake Mitchell could make or break the season for the Gamecocks.
COACH: Steve Spurrier (3rd season) CAREER RECORD: 157-50-2 (1510 in two years at South Carolina) LAST SEASON: 8-5 (3-5 SEC East; beat Houston, 44-36, in the Liberty Bowl) OFFENSE: Pro multiple DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on offense, seven on defense, two on special teams BEST PLAYER: Jasper Brinkley (6-2, 261, senior linebacker). Brinkley is a oneman wrecking crew. He had 107 tackles as a junior, including 14.5 for losses. He’s rarely out of position and once he hits someone, they go down in a heap. Other than Glenn Dorsey of LSU, Brinkley might be the best defensive player in the SEC. X-FACTOR: Blake Mitchell (6-3,
Photo by Tim Casey
211, senior quarterback). This is his third year under Spurrier, so by now he should be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. When he’s played very well, he’s looked really good. When he’s played bad, he’s stunk up the stadium. He has to show serious improvement at reading defenses and he has to quit throwing into double coverage. If he will distribute the ball and avoid turnovers, the Gamecocks could have a great season.
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STRENGTHS: South Carolina has an outstanding defense led by Jasper Brinkley and his twin brother Casper. Jasper Brinkley is a tackling machine, while Casper Brinkley had seven sacks last year as South Carolina’s best pass rusher. South Carolina has three experienced corners and two hard-hitting safeties. Anytime Steve Spurrier is your offensive coordinator, you have to figure to move the ball and score some points. The Gamecocks will have one of the better running games in the league headed up by tailbacks Corey Boyd and Mike Davis. Boyd is the speed guy while Davis is tough to bring down between the tackles. South Carolina averaged a respectable 144.3 yards rushing per game last year and that number should increase. WEAKNESSES: Other than Kenny McKinley (52 catches, 880 yards and five touchdowns), there isn’t much experience at the wideout position, so freshmen are going to have to play early. South Carolina averaged 250 yards per game passing last year. Spurrier wants to see that number reach 300 yards a game. The offensive line looks to be improved and stronger, but it might take awhile for them to gel with three new starters in the middle. Until he proves he can play consistently, you have to consider quarterback Blake Mitchell a team weakness. On defense, South Carolina has to get better against the run. The Gamecocks gave up 144 yards a game on the ground last year and that inability to shut down the run was a factor in some tough fourth quarters last year. OUTLOOK: Watch what happens in game two in Athens. If the Gamecocks can get out of Athens with a win, they might have what it takes to contend the entire year in the SEC East. They have to show they can win tough games on the road if they’re going to have a shot at Atlanta. The Gamecocks play at LSU, at Tennessee and at Arkansas, so the schedule is not favorable. This is the third year for Steve Spurrier at the helm and he is feeling confident that he finally has good enough athletes to compete with the best teams in the league. If the Gamecocks can put quality backups on the field, they will be able to survive the grind of league play. Mitchell has to be consistent.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC Nov. 17, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Photo Courtesy of FAU Sports Information FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger has been part of four collegiate national championships. His 1983 Miami Hurricanes won the school’s first title, defeating Nebraska in the 50th Orange Bowl. He was offensive coordinator for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama when the Crimson Tide won championships in 1961, 1964 and 1965.
COACH: Howard Schnellenberger (7th season) CAREER RECORD: 133-114-3 (3337 in six years at Florida Atlantic) LAST SEASON: 5-7 (4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference) OFFENSE: Pro multiple DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Nine on offense, 10 on defense, two on special teams BEST PLAYER: Cergile Sincere (6-0, 215 senior outside linebacker). Sincere
wasn’t projected as a starter when FAU began drills last year, but he worked his way into the day lineup and then led the team with 12 tackles in that loss to Clemson. He finished the season with a team-high 78. X-FACTOR: Rusty Smith (6-5, 212 sophomore quarterback). Smith had to play as a redshirt freshman last year. His up and down play was indicative of his inexperience, but he still managed to throw for 1,285 yards. He had a 312-yard game against Troy, so the FAU coaches
know what he’s capable of doing. He has to improve his touchdown to interception ration (6 TDs, 8 picks). STRENGTHS: With 10 starters back, including the linebacking corps, defense will be the key for FAU’s success this year. Sincere, Frantz Joseph and Andre Clark are the best group of linebackers in the Sun Belt Conference. They are all fast and experienced. The Owls were 16th nationally last year against the pass. Strong safety Kris Bartels is the playmaker in the secondary. Wideout Frantz Simeon caught 35 passes last year for 590 yards and he’s the one the Owls rely on to stretch defenses. Running back Charles Pierre has quick feet, but FAU’s offensive line has to do a better job of opening up holes. Even with sporadic line play, he still managed to run for 756 yards last year. WEAKNESSES: FAU averaged an anemic 108 yards on the ground last year, so priority number one this year is to upgrade the play of the offensive line. The line also gave up 34 sacks, which meant that Rusty Smith spent a lot of time either on his back or running for his life. If the line is improved, then the offense will improve and that’s a must. FAU averaged just 15.1 points per game last year, 110th in the nation. The Owls were 98th in total offense. OUTLOOK: FAU plays five BCS schools on the road (Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Kentucky, South Florida and Florida), so the chances of anything more than a 6-6 break even season are not good even with all that experience returning on both sides of the football. Playing those paycheck games on the road are a necessity for a team like FAU that’s trying to build its facilities to develop a competitive Division I team. There are better athletes on campus than ever before, but FAU is still two or three years from being competitive. This is one of those take-our-beatings on the road and win-our conference-games type of years.
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FLORIDA STATE Nov. 24, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Photo by Tim Casey Drew Weatherford threw three interceptions against the Gators in 2006. Turnovers have plagued his career and could open the door for Xavier Lee to become the starting QB.
COACH: Bobby Bowden (32nd year) CAREER RECORD: 366-113-4 (293-81-4 at Florida State) LAST SEASON: 7-6 (3-5 in ACC Atlantic Division; beat UCLA, 44-27, in the Emerald Bowl) OFFENSE: Pro I DEFENSE: 4-3 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven on offense, six on defense, two on special teams. BEST PLAYER: Antone Smith (5-9,
188 junior tailback). He is healthy and this is his chance to be THE MAN in the FSU offense. He has moves, toughness and breakaway speed. He hurt his knee last year and missed much of the season, but he still gained 456 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He’s going to see the ball 20 or more times per game this year and it is his chance to lead the offense. X-FACTOR: Drew Weatherford (6-3, 220 junior quarterback). In two seasons Weatherford has thrown for 30 touchdowns and he’s been intercepted 28 times. He has to take care of the ball
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better for the Seminoles to have a chance at winning their division. If he doesn’t find the consistency, the Seminoles need, Xavier Lee will be given a chance to take over. Inconsistent play at quarterback has factored heavily in FSU losing 26 times since 2001, more games than they lost from 1987-00 combined (19). STRENGTHS: With FSU, you can almost always start with the speed at the skill positions and this year is no exception. With speed at wideout and at tailback, the Seminoles are capable of scoring quickly on anyone. Greg Carr (6-5, 220) is the ACC’s most difficult matchup on the outside. He’s caught 25 touchdown passes in 21 games. Three starters return in a good secondary, headed up by cornerback Tony Carter and strong safety Myron Rolle. Carter returned two interceptions and a blocked field goal for touchdowns in 2006. Andre Fluellen is the anchor of a tough defensive line and Geno Hayes is one of the nation’s fastest linebackers. WEAKNESSES: There’s a new offensive line coach in town (Rick Trickett) and it only figures that the Seminoles will get better after two years of under-performing. Trickett has depth to work with and talented young players, but he needs better production from his veterans. This will be one of the most inexperienced FSU defensive lines in recent memory. The linebackers are also fast, but other than Hayes, they lack experience. OUTLOOK: The Seminoles might have a good idea where there season is going by Sept. 20 when they face Alabama in Jacksonville. If FSU is 4-0 after that weekend, the Seminoles could be heading for the ACC championship game. If they get off to a rough start (Clemson in the first game, at Colorado game two, followed by Alabama), it could be another dicey year. Seven of FSU’s 12 games are away from Tallahassee. November looks particularly daunting with Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida all on the road. FSU should be better coached this year, particularly on offense with Trickett on the line and Jimbo Fisher as the coordinator/ QB coach. There is always plenty of talent on hand, but the schedule is brutal and young guys will have to grow up fast for the Seminoles to have a return to glory. If FSU gets good play from the line and from the quarterback spot, the Seminoles have a chance to be formidable.
WORDS FROM A WISE WOMAN
Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise sets a high standard for success
I’m trying to learn from all the successful coaches, including some right here on our own campus. GC: Anybody that you say, ‘I’ve got to call and get their opinion on this right away.’ Anyone along those lines?
Photo by Tim Casey Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise introduces her 2007 team before the Orange & Blue match on August 12.
ixteen seasons. Sixteen Southeastern Conference championships. So much for parity. When it comes to women’s volleyball, Florida’s Mary Wise has dominated her peers. The Gators don’t settle for regional success; they compete for national titles, quite an accomplishment in a sport ruled by West Coast schools. Wise, 48, enters her 17th UF season having participated in seven Final Fours. Her 2003 squad advanced to the national title game, losing to Southern Cal. Four years later, it looks as if the Gators may have a chance to return to collegiate volleyball’s biggest stage. A few weeks before practice started, Gator Country editor Mike Hodge sat down with Wise and chatted about an array of topics, everything from this season’s expectations to her first head coaching job when she was just 21 years old. GC: I was looking at your coaching career, your resume. Was there one person who had a tremendous influence on your career, one mentor you looked toward for guidance?
Truthfully, it would be (UF assistant) Nick Cheronis. We’ve worked together for 15 years. (That’s a long time) to work with the same person. I think that day in and day out he’s the one who we’ve evolved our coaching philosophy together.” GC: Someone who’s worked under you that long, I’m surprised that they haven’t become a head coach? He’s had opportunities. But we have a pretty good thing going here. This job allows Nick to do what he does best and spend his time and efforts at what he does best.”
He was an assistant coach of an NAIA basketball team in Lexington, Kentucky. GC: Looking at your resume, I was floored. I knew you had been successful, but not that successful. Of everything you’ve accomplished professionally, what are you most proud of and why? I’m most proud of the number of former players that have chosen coaching as a profession. One, it has to mean that they enjoyed their college experience. Two, (it means), that they’ve learned in all parts of life that it’s important to give back. We get so much from playing, and coaching’s a way to give back to the sport. GC: A lot of people might respond to that sort of question with ‘It was this team
GC: Your husband (Mark Wise) is a former men’s basketball assistant coach. He’s been around and seen a lot of things. Has he ever given you coaching advice and if so, what’s the best advice he’s ever given you? It would be difficult to say what the best was. No, the best was, ‘Take the job,’ meaning the Florida job. That was when I had been at (the University of) Kentucky five years, but we had a 2-year-old son. I was more hesitant than I needed to be. He was the one, (who was encouraging). GC: What did he see that you didn’t see? I think that because he had worked in this state, because he had worked at the University of South Florida, he was very familiar with Florida and the Gator Nation, which I wasn’t as familiar.
I’d say Carol Dewey, the coach I played for at Purdue. Since my playing days, though, that contact has come and gone. I think that while time has passed, there are a lot of coaches that I’ve watched. GC: What was (Mark) doing at the time?
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Photo by Tim Casey
GatorCountry.com that we beat for the first time’ or refer to another milestone or coaching victory. Why not (celebrate) wins and losses?
are my exact same age…No, fortunately, I had just turned 22 before the first match. So, I had taken the job at 21, but I was 22. Big difference there. (Laughs). All I tried Because I really think that the one to do was emulate the college coaches that match, the one season is a reflection on that I had played for. She had won more games team. I think that the number of players than Red Mackey won, a very successful that have chosen to go into the coaching coach at Purdue. That’s who I was trying to profession has a ripple effect. That has an be. Now I’m just trying to be me. impact on so many more people. GC: I think it was the second season when GC: Do they call you on the phone and you had a losing record. What was that say, ‘Coach, now that I’m coaching, I like, being so young and so unsure in your see what you were saying.’ Sort of like career about everything that was going on? parenthood, when you get older and you get married and you understand what they I was too naïve to know. Now, if I had went through? Any of that? that record now, I’d be crazy and drive everyone else crazy. I was too young and That happens and it’s also sometimes naïve to know how awful that was to be where I tell them, ‘Hey, I hope you go into under .500. coaching and a have a player just like you.’ Then I’m gonna laugh. GC: Since the NCAA started sanctioning women’s volleyball in 1981, I don’t think GC: You were a head coach at 21 (at Iowa there’s been a team from the East that’s State). That blew my mind. What was that won the Division I national title. like? Penn State has. Texas has. Right place, right time. I had no GC: Why so few? Why the Western business coaching Division I. dominance? Do you see that changing at GC: Give me a description of Mary Wise all? at 21 versus Mary Wise of today? How No question the talent level… Not only have you evolved? has the talent level gotten better, but it has I graduated in May, so it’s three increased in numbers. When the NCAA months since I’ve graduated from college, started hosting volleyball for women, there so I’m coaching players, some of whom weren’t that many great players. The ones who were were mainly from Southern California. And as such you have teams dominate. I don’t think that’s any different from other sports. Look at men’s basketball and see how many players there are around the country. Great teams are constantly evolving and changing, because in volleyball, like in basketball, one player can make that big of a difference. One elite player can make that big of a difference. As our talent pool gets bigger, there’s more room for teams to be successful. GC: So you see the talent pool definitely getting bigger? Absolutely. We have more girls playing the sport and more girls who are great athletes playing the sport.
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GC: That brings me to my next question: Title IX was implemented in 1972. You’ve
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Photo by Tim Casey Mary Wise gives instructions to senior setter Angie McGinnis during a match last season. McGinnis was the SEC Player of the Year and an All-American in 2006.
been coaching for most of that. How far have we come How far do we have to go? There isn’t a female in sports who hasn’t benefited from it. But I’m not going to Purdue University on a scholarship without Title IX. I would have been at Illinois, in state, with my other siblings. Who knows if I would have gone into coaching? So, I’ve benefited greatly. How has it changed? It’s changed in so many ways that you can’t even describe. You can see it in every part of our job, the benefits of it. Where we still have to go? It’s not fair for me at the University of Florida to answer that question. GC: Seems like they’ve done a very good job here? And have always (done so). GC: Jeremy (Foley) has done a pretty good job of balancing things… The female athletes on our campus wouldn’t know any different. It is a philosophy that starts with the president and the athletic director and throughout their department and is all that is good for males is good for females. No room to complain here.
GatorCountry.com GC: I saw a charity golf tournament you hosted this summer for (Pace Center for girls). How important do you think it is at this level for head coaches to be involved in some sort of charity or volunteer program. I think for all the community does for our programs, for us to give back is expected. For me personally, there’s so many wonderful charities and programs out there, especially in this community — this is such a giving community — the Pace Center really grabs my heart and I have been involved with it and hope to be for many, many years. Those are girls who didn’t have access to sports. GC: How long do you plan to coach? As that big 5-0 gets closer and closer, I used to dismiss it… GC: Have you thought about retirement? You know that old adage, when you love your job, it’s not work. I still feel like that, like there hasn’t been a day of work here. GC: You have almost everyone back from last year’s team. Have you defined your expectations for this year’s team?
Photo by Tim Casey Mary Wise speaks with senior Kisya Killingsworth last season. Wise coached her USA Volleyball A2 Team at U.S. Open Championships in New Orleans in May.
the incoming freshmen. So there’s some question marks at that position. We’re moving Kisya Killingsworth back to the middle. I love our depth in the middle — to have Kesley Bowers, Kristina Johnson and Kisya in the middle. The other question mark is our health. Both Kristina Johnson and Amber McCray had shoulder surgery. Amber has shown that no one comes back like she does. We feel like with a healthy team that we have a chance to be very successful.
There will be high expectations for this year, but when you look back at the teams we’ve had, some of the most successful ones have been those with a great senior class. I think that’s true of all college sports. Teams are a reflection of their seniors. What our seniors have accomplished at Florida and away from UF, I think this is really measuring up to be GC: Back to something you said earlier a fun year to coach. about not feeling as if you had really worked in this job. What gives you the GC: When you look at a team and assess things — strengths and weaknesses — are most gratification? there any obstacles you need to address? College age, it’s really an exciting age group to work with. But add the We know we have some youth at component of competition and if I got the outside position. With the exception out of coaching, I’m not sure what of Marcie Hampton, who right now is competing in the Pan Am Games. It’s hard would replace that. We work so hard at competing. We put so much emotion into to get much better experience than that. Marcie’s elevated her game such that she’s competing so much so I don’t even like got a chance to be a big-time points’ scorer playing cards because there’s a chance of losing and I hate losing so much that I for us on the outside. With us, it’s the player opposite her and that’s going to be a can’t even go there. What would replace freshman, whether it’s a redshirt freshman, that? That would be the toughest thing. Janine Williams, or whether it’s one of
GC: Do you find that, as a player, you have more control than as a coach? Did you have to learn that as a coach that you can’t? That took a while. I may have had a coaching job at 22, but I hadn’t figured it out at 22. GC: When did you figure it out? Is it something you have to remind yourself of daily? I don’t have to. These players are playing at level I’m not playing at. That part’s easy. Them loving competition is something we try to foster here. GC: I know you have children. What did parenthood teach you about coaching? Anything change about your perspective in coaching? Yes. I think when it really hit home was when (my kids) got involved in athletics. It was an epiphany for me to understand where parents are coming from and understand that you want your child to be successful and happy. I am a much better coach today having been a parent.
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Do the Right Thing After listening and learning for two seasons, Kestahn Moore assumes a leadership role for Florida’s football team
By Mike Hodge t was early one July morning and the sun started to climb the baby blue sky. The first few rays of light splashed off the stands in the south endzone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It was 8 a.m. and Kestahn Moore sat alone and waited for the questions to begin. Around the University of Florida campus, teachers and administrators hustled to their classrooms and offices, but Moore had already put in a few hours. He was up at 5 to prepare for a 6 a.m. workout. After that, he got ready for class and squeezed in a few minutes for a quick interview, which was scheduled for 8, not 8:02, not 8:03, 8 o’clock on the dot. Moore was there waiting, book bag and water bottle in hand ready for the rest of the day. In less than a month, football season will start and after two years of deferring to others, Moore will be asked to lead his peers. Leaders, of course, are never late. They
Photo by Tim Casey Kestahn Moore sings the UF Alma Matre following the Gators’ 26-7 win against the Kentucky Wildcats on September 23, 2006 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
arrive early; they stay late. They work harder; and they work smarter. Others quit; they persevere. At least that’s what a few before him did. Gone from the backfield are Chris Leak, Billy Latsko and DeShawn Wynn, who were seniors last year. Gone is Markus Manson, a junior, who switched to cornerback. Moore is the only upperclassmen left. It’s his turn. “It’s different (this year), because I’m the more experienced back,” he said. “There’s no one I can really look up to. I’m the most experienced. I have to teach the younger guys coming in. So that’s
different. The playing and all that, that’s the same. We’re still having fun. I feel the same as the other two years. I just don’t have anyone to look up to, to ask questions, except the coaches. “I can take that role, because I’ve learned a lot from D.Wynn. When he left, he taught me a lot, and learned a lot from Chris (Leak). I’ve learned a lot on the field, so I’m teaching the younger guys on the field.” Florida will welcome two talented running backs to its national championship squad — Chris Rainey, of Lakeland High; and Bo Williams of South Florida’s Northeast High. Their first lesson will be a
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Photo by Tim Casey Kestahn Moore avoids defensive back Ladarius Watts during the Gators’ 34-7 win against Southern Miss on September 2, 2006.
blur, a maze of plays to be learned and then executed. “It’s a smarter game now,” Moore said. “It’s a lot faster than in high school. Basically, it’s just knowing the playbook. It’s really the same. It’s just a little faster, because everyone has seen the plays. There’s a lot more talent. There’s a lot more speed on the field. You have to think a lot faster.” And climbing that learning curve, Moore says, takes time. “Practice and experience,” he said. “It’s reps in practice and then the game comes and then in the game maybe you make a mistake, but you’re not going to make that mistake again, because you’ve seen it before. That’s the experience part.” It wasn’t too long ago that Moore felt the fear of being a freshman, not just a freshman, but a first-year freshman. He started his first college football game that
he ever played in two years ago when the Gators hosted Wyoming for coach Urban Meyer’s debut. Talk about pressure. “I know first thing I came out on the field,” said Moore, “I looked at the stands and how it was filled up. I was just excited. I had so many butterflies, so many mixed emotions, but then when I got on the field…Even from high school, I always had butterflies…until I get the ball, that first hit, the first block, anything, then I’m good. I just wanted to see how it felt.” Meanwhile a mother watched from afar. Santrece Moore had butterflies, too. Nerves started to fray when UF assistant Stan Drayton told her, a day before the game, that Kestahn was starting. “I was shaking and starting to cry,” Santrece Moore said. “These players are in college and he’s just a baby.” Now the baby has grown up. After six
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starts and appearing in 26 games the past two seasons, the starting running back spot appears to be Moore’s. There’s a difference between being a starter and THE starter. “Kestahn Moore was the best back in the spring, hands down. Not even close,” Meyer said. So it’s official. Heading into fall practice, Moore is first string, but life at the top of the depth chart, Moore cautioned, is never comfy. “After you hear that ‘No. 1,’ people are gunning for you then,” Moore said. “Anytime you’re No.1, someone else always wants to be No. 1, too. I looked at it and thought about it for a little bit. Then I thought about thought that, ‘Hey, I must be something right,’ but I need to keep going and doing what I’m doing to stay at that top position.” Meyer, at times, has been critical of his running backs’ production, particularly
Photo by Tim Casey Kestahn Moore runs for 15 yards before being tackled by LaRon Landry during the Gators’ 23-10 win against LSU on October 7, 2006.
during the spring of 2005 when he referred to the position as “trash.” The past two seasons Florida’s backs responded with substantial improvement, accounting for an average of nearly 1,000 yards from the tailback spot. But a lingering need for a dominant running back persisted. “Maybe there is only one Reggie Bush (the Heisman winner from Southern Cal), but I’d like to have one,” Meyer said last season. “That’s what we all want.” So frustrated was Meyer with the backs’ lack of effort one spring that he moved Latsko, a former walk-on fullback, to tailback to inspire his peers, a move that apparently worked. A year after the ‘trash’ assessment, he referred to the group of primary ballcarriers as “functional.” The search for a star tailback can be traced back well before Meyer arrived in Gainesville. In fact, Florida has not
produced a consensus All-SEC running back since Fred Taylor in 1997. Ciatrick Fason was close in 2004, earning first team Associated Press honors, but only second team consideration from the league’s coaches. It’s an alarming trend that Meyer has mentioned and others have mulled, including Moore. “Coach Meyer is not one to talk behind your behind your back,” Moore said. “He’s going to tell you. We know what he wants. He’ll have a meeting with you. Right now, he’s looking for a guy, because Florida hasn’t had one. “Basically, it’s just motivating to the running backs. It doesn’t hurt me. He’s just telling the truth, because he hasn’t seen anything. It’s all motivation. It makes you want to go harder to prove that he has backs in the backfield that he can count on.”
Which may explain why a backup quarterback (Tim Tebow) and a starting wide receiver and situational running back (Percy Harvin) accounted for more than 900 yards rushing in 2006. In 2007, Florida coaches expect more effort and better results from the running backs in year three under Meyer. “Definitely, we’ll be better,” Drayton said. “We’re better because we’ve got a group of guys who are passionate about playing football. We’ve got leadership in that group for the first time. That’s not to demean people like Billy Latsko, who definitely has some strong leadership qualities, but he was a leader more so by example. Kestahn’s done it by example and vocally. He’s demanding everyone do everything to the best of their ability. From that point alone, we’re going to be a much better group. I’m excited. We’re a different group.”
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GatorCountry.com The same could be said for the have to share carrries. Of course, UF approach. Before, he tried to dodge offense, which returns quality experience coaches may invest more in Moore, if he defenders; now he pounds them. at just about every position after produces more. “The thing about Kesthan is he’s very averaging a pedestrian 24 points a game “I think he’ll be a good, solid reliable physical football player,” Drayton said. in Southeastern Conference play and back that can carry the football whether “Where he got off track last year was he generating only a handful of big running you’re in short-yardage situations or first tried to be a little more finesse than his plays. Only four of those covered 30 yards and 10 or this that and the other,” said ability offered him. If, as a running back, or more. Brady Ackerman, a Central Florida radio you have a demeanor of being a physical None were by ballcarrier, you play to a running back. those strengths, then Harvin accounted that will play to your for three and Leak advantage, because as one, a designed the game wears on, quarterback you pose that threat draw that of being able to break caught Alabama tackles and do those completely flattypes of things. All of footed. a sudden, you get in a Tebow’s one-on-one situation arrival may and that (defender) change the Gators’ becomes a little bit plodding gait. hesitant, then you start The spread option breaking tackles and relies on a dualmaking people miss and threat quarterback then you get yourself to force defenses in space to make a big to commit an play.” extra safety Progress toward a or linebacker more rugged approach to the QB, a started last April. move opponents Moore missed the normally would spring game with hernia not make against a surgery, but impressed Photo by Tim Casey the coaches in practice traditional passing Kestahn Moore runs behind the block of Tim Tebow during the Southern Miss game last squad. with his progress. Leak, though season. The Gators’ offensive strategy uses the quarterback to force defenses to divert “The thing that he’s attention from the running backs. he improved his improved on the most is running ability, he’s tried to impose that was a pure passer that few feared afoot. personality, who was a reserve running threat as a ballcarrier and that’s being a Tebow, though unproven as a passer at back at Florida in the late 1980s and early physical tackle breaker, a ballcarrier that’s the college level, gives the offense more ‘90s. “I think he’ll be very, very solid. If going to get downhill and get vertical flexibility — he can run the option, or he they decide to feature him like they did yards,” Drayton said. “As camp went on can pass or run, versatility that should with DeShawn last year, we might be able he realized, running with that mentality, create opportunity for others. to talk about the improvement. The thing that all of sudden the big plays started to “Not only does (Tebow) help the he’s got to do and get better at is he’s got come.” running back position, (he) helps the whole to be able to make that guy be able to Moore, for one, has never cared offense,” Drayton said. “His ability to the miss. Because in this offense, the way it’s about individual glory. Others are too run the football and throw the football, designed, it’s one-one-one basketball if important. When he was just a tyke, his that dual threat, is a dangerous attribute to you will. I mean, because unless someone mother dropped him off at one of his first have. As a running back, you have people blows an assignment up front, he’s always football practices, but decided to leave for keying your running back, you have them one-on-one with a linebacker. You make refreshments, a decision that left young keying you. You’re keeping them off that guy miss and you’ve got a big play. Kestahn so frantic that he refused to balance. It really allows the running back The great ones make that guy miss and practice until his mother returned. to get the ball from different formations get to the next level. He’s got to be able to “We’ve always had such a great and get the ball in a lot of different ways. make people miss in the open field, if he’s bond,” Santrece Moore said. “He’s my That’s going to allow us to have success as going to be a threat to opposing defenses.” everything.” a running back group. It’s going to be fun Moore evidently envisioned a similar The oldest of two siblings, Moore, at to watch.” scenario during stretches of last season, least early on, grew up as an only child. Versatility comes with a price. There’s which could explain why his production His sister, Hayle, wasn’t born until he was only one football, meaning Moore may dipped, but now he’s taken a different age 7.
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GatorCountry.com Santrece Moore is a single mother, who raised her two kids on sheer will. And whatever she couldn’t do, her brother and sister, helped out. One family took care of another. “I’m always willing to help somebody since I was young,” Moore said of his childhood. “I was close to my cousins. We always helped each other. We always did everything together. We were a team. That always carried over.” Even into high school, where Moore, a potential Texas prep superstar, harnessed his talents for the collective good. “We could have run an offense that featured him better,” Mansfield Summit High coach Kyle Geller said. “To his credit, he wasn’t one of those kids who, if they didn’t get the ball, didn’t block as hard as they could. When you run the flex bone like they do at Air Force, there were games when he just got six carries a game. He never complained and he did his job. To me, that’s says something.” He blocked, he carried out each fake with speed and precision and when Summit High needed touchdowns he scored them. One of his biggest games came in the playoffs. “We were a 28-point underdog to Midland Lee and we beat them,” Geller said. “Kestahn had 200-something yards that game. That’s one I won’t forget.” Geller, in his sixth season at Mansfield, has coached star players before, but none as humble as Moore. Others leave high school and rarely return. Moore stops by his alma mater often. “He’s one of my favorite all-around players,” Geller said. “It has nothing to do with his ability or that he was a star athlete. He practiced hard every day and he’s a pleasant guy all around. He’s the kind of kid who comes back (home) and he’ll call you and have dinner. I enjoy talking to him. He’s a special kid. He really is. “It’s hard to find a star player in high school who’s so down to earth. But he didn’t see himself as a star. His philosophy was, ‘I just want to make the team better.’ Players like that are hard to come by.” This season would seem the perfect opportunity for Moore to make a move toward stardom, to develop into that goto running back missing from Florida’s offense. It’s cliché to say, but Moore’s a family-channel type of guy. His goals are measured one game at a time. “If they need me to catch the ball, I’ll catch the ball,” Moore said. “If I need to
block, I block. If they need me to be that guy at running back, I’ll be that guy that can do anything to help the team out in any way.” His first two seasons, he says, were stymied nagging injuries. His freshman year, it was a bad back. Last season, his groin and shoulder bothered him. Year three offers a fresh slate, an opportunity for more yards and more touchdowns, but Moore declined to lobby for more carries. That’s for others to decide. “Basically, it’s up to the coaches.” said Moore, who has rushed for 559 yards on 102 carries his first two seasons. “I don’t know if I’m the feature back or not. It’s
(Meyer’s) decision and what he wants and what he wants in the game in that situation. Say we play Georgia? What does he want on the field? I can’t say whether he’ll want me on the field. That’s basically up to the coaches, what they want.” No matter how many yards he gets, or how many touchdowns he scores, fans will be waiting after every game for an autograph or handshake. No matter, how tired, no matter how sore, Moore signs. A Boy Scout in shoulder pads has arrived. “It’s scary,” Santrece said. “He really is a good son. I’ve been blessed. He’s always done what’s he’s supposed to do” On and off the field.
Photo by Tim Casey Kestahn Moore takes a break during Gators’ fifth day of fall practice on August 9. Moore has emerged as a leader on and off of the field this season.
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Back Where They Belong: Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from “The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation,” the revised Championship Edition which published by Sports Publishing LLC” and released in 2007.)
By Buddy Martin he football universe was back on its proper axis. Michigan-Ohio State was huge again. Oklahoma and Nebraska were going at it for a Big 12 title. Notre Dame was competitive. Southern Cal was a virtual dynasty. And the Florida Gators were back in Atlanta. More than any team in Southeastern Conference history, Florida was the face of league championship games. However, after a flurry of five SEC titles in six years and six in nine seasons, there had been a bit of a five-year drought in Gainesville. The national championship game wasn’t yet on the radar screen and the likelihood of the Gators leapfrogging USC and Ohio State was virtually non-existent. It appeared as though just the Sugar Bowl berth would be at stake when Florida (11-1) and Arkansas (10-2) teed it up at the Georgia Dome on CBS. This would be the Gators’ eighth appearance out of 15 title games and they were only a slight favorite — about a field goal — in their first shot at conference title since 2000. It fell to Meyer to restore the roar in “The Swamp” and get the Gators back to land of peaches and pecans. In only his second year, the former head coach of Bowling Green and Utah rang up an unbeaten record in the SEC East and at home. Those accomplishments coupled with Meyers’ first-year mark of 9-3 at Florida gave him the best two-year start of any Gator coach history. There was a glimmer of hope that if the Gators could win convincingly over the Razorbacks that they might garner some so-called “style points” in the BCS Standings. It was only a small glimmer, however, as they were currently fourth behind Ohio State, USC and Michigan, trailing the Wolverines by only 51 points. So it was entirely possible that an SEC
Photo by Tim Casey Brandon Siler prepares to tackle Arkansas running back Darren McFadden during the Gators’ 38-28 win against the Razorbacks in the 2006 SEC championship game.
champion with a 12-1 record — a road loss to Auburn on a controversial call by officials — would not play for the national title. The best that Jeremy Foley could hope for would be a Sugar Bowl berth and BCS payoff again who knows — a twoloss Notre Dame? Meanwhile, if reports were to be believed, LSU had nailed down a bid to the Rose Bowl, even though technically the Tigers wouldn’t finish in the league’s top three. The loser in the SEC title game would head to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. A bit of a football miracle was about to unfold, proving Spurrier’s prediction of “The Year of the Gator” to be prophetic. The Florida Gators won the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship, beating Arkansas, 38-28, and discovered after the game that they had gotten help from the UCLA Bruins, who upset Southern Cal. “I’m not too concerned about ‘style points,’” Meyer said. “I’m concerned about 21 seniors playing their hearts out and finding a way to win 12 games with the No. 1 most difficult schedule in the country. Meyer said he would “need
help” in explaining it to his seniors if the Gators didn’t win out over Michigan for a shot at the title. It clearly had been a tough year at the polls for the Gators, who were, at times, virtually written off by commentators at ESPN. Meyer took a little shot at the network that I had nicknamed “The ESPN/ABC Cartel in Bristol, Connecticut.” “ESPN is a powerful, powerful organization and I hope they list all the statistics. I think this is: Put it all out on the table.” They wanted style points? The Gators’ defense made big plays, the special teams came through with a touchdown and the old-fashion razzle-dazzle provided the clincher. In a crazy night on the floor of the Georgia Dome, the Gators used trickeration, guile and guts to roll up 396 of yards of offense, perhaps silencing the critics who said Meyer’s offense was too stuffy. As he said, he took every shot, including a successful fourth-down fake punt in his own territory, which after Urban would jest, “Shelly called that one.” Watching a 17-0 lead melt away and, at a time when everything was falling apart around him, Meyer gambled on fourth and
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Photo by Tim Casey Chris Leak runs for an eight-yard touchdown during the second quarter Southeastern Conference championship game on December 2, 2006 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Tim Casey Wondy Pierre-Louis recovers a muffed punt in the Arkansas end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter, turning the momentum in the Gators’ favor and towards Arizona.
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10 with the handoff by punter Eric Wilbur to Jemalle Cornelius for the first down. Wilbur would take the snap and start to his right as he often did when using an end-over-end rugby kick, but this time he flipped it unexpectedly to Cornelius who was going the opposite way. With a block by fullback Billy Latsko, Cornelius got it down to the Razorback 32, but the Gator offense sputtered, falling back to its own 42. It seemed as though Cornelius ran 50 yards, over to Marietta and back. Ironically, it didn’t produce any points. Until the fake punt, it was beginning to appear that Florida’s dream for a title shot was going to melt away on the artificial turf of the Georgia Dome. Two horrible passes by Leak — one a shovel pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Razorback defensive end Antwain Robinson — started momentum heading down a road to ruin instead of Glendale, Ariz. It looked like a repeat of the second-half fizzle at Auburn earlier in the season. After burning all their timeouts in the same drive — including their last one, which only resulted in a choice to punt — the Gators were about to be gifted with a fumble in the end zone. Spectacular though the fake-punt was, Florida was unable to cash in and had to punt. For just a moment, Meyer contemplated more trickery, but at the behest of his co-defensive coordinator, Mattison, who admonished his boss that “there’s a lot of football left,” the skullduggery wasn’t invoked. This time Wilbur punted it, but there were fireworks on the other end when the Hogs’ Reggie Fish foolishly tried to field the ball near the goal, bobbled it and was out-scrapped by an alert Wondy Pierre-Louis, who pounced on the ball for a touchdown, actually beating Fish and two teammates to it. After the extra point by Chris Hetland, the Gators owned the lead, 24-21. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Percy Harvin streaked 67 yards for a touchdown and now the Florida Gators were knocking on heaven’s door. Just in case the critics wanted more “style points,” a Tim Tebow-to-Andre Caldwell-to-Tate Casey double-pass for a touchdown to cap off an 80-yard drive and tied a ribbon on the 38-28 victory for the school’s seventh SEC championship. It fell to the defense to seal the deal. The brilliant run defense of Mattison and Strong was augmented by stellar play of Chuck Heater’s and Doc Holliday’s secondary. Reggie Nelson and
Jarred Fayson blocks a punt to seemingly put the Gators in control during the second quarter.
Ryan Smith provided exclamation points with a pair of interceptions. A defensive juggernaut may have been born right there. Almost overshadowed was the fact that Leak, who passed for 189 yards and one score, reached the 11,000-yard passing plateau and 89 career touchdowns. Harvin, with 105 yards on six carries, was unanimously voted the game’s Most Valuable Player Award. That MVP award could easily have gone to Siler, who posted nine solo tackles, 12 total. By virtue of UCLA’s upset of No. 2 USC, 13-9, the No. 4 Gators would need help from the BCS computers, USA Today Coaches Poll and Harris Poll to get the points needed to overtake Michigan, advance to the second position and get a crack at No. 1 Ohio State in Glendale, Jan. 8. Florida or Michigan? A Big Ten rematch or the 12-1 SEC champion against Ohio State? Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN and ABC, 37, born in Centerville, Ohio, is the son of a former Buckeye football captain and coach under Woody Hayes — himself a four-year letterman and former co-captain, married to a former Ohio State cheerleader. But he took the side of Michigan at a crucial time when the BCS title game was at stake and some angry members of “The Gator Nation” will never forgive him. Conversely, Danielson of CBS was
early to the rescue for Gator fans and went public with his theory on why Florida deserved to be the team to play Ohio State. Danielson’s comparison between Florida and Michigan and the chart which popped up on the screen with 7 minutes to play in the SEC title game, this may have been the seminal moment and poll momentumswinger. At 9:04, CBS put up the chart without identifying the teams. Then Danielson showed the “ballot” with his own opinions of who should get the edge. Schedule Comparison Edge? Michigan Florida Michigan @ Auburn @ Ohio State Michigan @ Notre Dame Michigan @ Tennessee LSU Wisconsin Florida @ Penn State Florida Arkansas Florida Georgia @ Minnesota Michigan State Push @Florida State Florida South Carolina Iowa Alabama @ Indiana Florida Vanderbilt Push @ Vanderbilt Kentucky Northwestern Florida Southern Miss Central Michigan Push Florida UCF/W. Carolina Ball State Florida 7, Michigan 3, 3 Pushes (CBS gave Michigan two for Ohio State)
“You can see Florida has the tougher schedule,” said Danielson. “That’s style points!” On Dec. 6, a few days after the SEC Championship game and the final BCS poll, on a Detroit radio station, Danielson said this:
Photo by Tim Casey
“My argument was, and continues to be, that you can’t anoint teams. No one knows who the best team is. The Sports Reporters don’t know, Mitch Albom doesn’t know, Kirk Herbstreit doesn’t know, Bob Davie doesn’t know, and I don’t know, and Michigan fans don’t know. You have to go then to a resumé.” Herbstreit made what he now admits was a mistake in reacting to Danielson’s comment and criticized CBS for losing its credibility. Now he wishes he hadn’t reacted that way to what he calls “an ambush.” He told me in this follow-up e-mail after our original interview: that was one of the few times I actually retaliated during this mess …. what wasn’t heard or talked about is that they played me an interview they had with gary moments before i came on the station where he proceeded to completely humiliate me and my colleague chris fowler … he got very personal with his comments which surprised me … i can now admit it was a mistake to get caught up in responding, but i shot back a comment or two about him … it was completely out of character but it was an emotional reaction after hearing him insult me live on the radio and having to react … that was a tough on me because i look up to gary so much (still do) … that was again nothing personal towards florida; they just happen to be the school in the
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GatorCountry.com middle of this adolescent type behavior … i’ve learned from this experience and you will never see me stoop to that level again … even though i was reacting to getting ambushed it is still not an excuse. So it was left to a bunch of coaches, a mixed bag of football types and a bank of computers to determine whether the Florida Gators were going to get a chance to play for the national championship. With USC beaten 13-9 in an upset by UCLA, the backdoor opened again, almost like it did 10 years ago for Florida in its first national championship season. The Wolverines had finished their season by then. Meyer, who had coached the Gators to a 12-1 record and their seventh SEC title since 1991, expressed hope that his team would get a fair chance. “I have great confidence the University of Florida is going to get the chance to play for a national title,” Meyer said. Still, there was this perceived bias by fans against the SEC. When I pointed that out to Herbstreit, he was a little surprised, because he said he always been a big fan of SEC football. “The SEC is the best conference in college football and to be able to get through that conference unscathed is a difficult thing to do for anybody,” Herbstreit said. “That’s the thing that somehow gets lost in the translation: Since I’ve been on the show, I’ve been an SEC advocate. I LOVE the SEC! I can watch Ole Miss and Kentucky play and be in awe of the athletic ability in the trenches and the linebacker position. I don’t have to be sold on the SEC and how difficult the conference is and how rabid the fan base is. I’ve been seeing it up close and personal for 12 years. Somehow that got lost last year in this big debate — that I’m a ‘Big Ten guy’ and I’m against the SEC. Meanwhile, the Big Ten people think I’ve turned my back on the Big Ten and I love the SEC. I guess it just depends on who you talk to.” By the narrowest of margins, the Gators edged Michigan in the final BCS poll after beating Arkansas. Florida’s BCS average was .944, the Wolverines .934. It took the humans to break a tie by the computers. A 26-point margin in the Harris Poll and a 38-point edge in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll were the difference. Meyer didn’t get a vote in the ESPN/
Photo by Tim Casey Jarvis Moss stands up after sacking Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith during the second half of the BCS Championship game in Glendale, Ariz. on January 8. UF won 41-14.
USA Today Coaches Poll because he elected not to accept one. So all he had left was to speak out. He did so because the SEC was being kissed off and the Gators were being excluded as a potential opponent for Ohio State by some of the network “experts.” Michigan’s Lloyd Carr belittled Meyer’s pleas, calling it “campaigning.” Most people felt Meyer had every right to rip the BCS and call out some of the national media. If Meyer had not spoken out and Danielson hadn’t posted his “Tale of the Tape” in the SEC game, it’s doubtful the Gators would have won out over the Wolverines. Of course, Herbstreit would pick Ohio State to beat Florida. Respect would have to be earned in Glendale, Ariz.
A Man Can Change His Mind, Too
Herbstreit wasn’t the only one to pick Ohio State over Florida. In my newspaper column I had done the same thing, except that I later recanted and repented. The reality struck me on game day at 4:15 a.m. Monday, January 8: Florida not only COULD win against Ohio State, but would. This came after previously picking Ohio State four times over the last 30 days. I made three picks in print, four on different radio stations — all Ohio State. My last score I gave was Sunday, 31-28, Ohio State. I had a gut feeling Chris Leak
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would get a chance for total redemption. When I made my final radio prediction on KKFN Denver, the Irv & Joe Show, I reversed the outcome of what they expect, with Florida winning 39-31. I based that on my sudden realization that the Gators’ offense was at least as good as Michigan’s, which had put 39 points on the Buckeyes. I didn’t dream that, because it virtually came true. Buddy Martin is an Ocala-bornand-raised journalist who has won more than 150 awards during his journalism career. “The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation” is his seventh book and third on Florida football. He also co-authored the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes: Terry Bradshaw, “Looking Deep,” and Dan Issel, “Parting Shots.” Martin’s columns appear regularly in OcalaStyle, Charlotte Sun, on GatorCountry.com and his Web site, buddymartin.org. He is a product of the UF Journalism School and the former sports editor of Florida Today, The St. Petersburg Times, New York Daily News and Denver Post. He won an Emmy as an associate producer for “The NFL Today Show” on CBS. He is also co-creator of “The Sports Journalism Summit” at The Poynter Media Institute in St. Petersburg. For information on how to order an autographed copy of the newest updated version of “The Boy’s From Old Florida,” e-mail him at email@example.com.
Walkin’ and Talkin’ with Steve Spurrier predictions. While it must be noted that he only set winning the SEC as a goal and didn’t make it a forecast, he’s got his eye on the prize. Spurrier isn’t the only person who feels the Gamecocks will be crowing. Vegas. com picks them to win the SEC East. The Web site predicts four SEC schools — Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU — will finish with a 10-2 overall record and 6-2 in the SEC. And get this Gator fans — the Vegas guy also says: “I like the Gamecocks to win the Eastern division by virtue of a home win over the Gators.” Pointing out that South Carolina has never won the SEC East or the SEC, never finished in the Top 10 and never played in a major bowl game, Spurrier says, “We’re Photo by Tim Casey Steve Spurrier talks as his wife, Jerri, listen during a gathering for the Silver Sixties group telling them we’ve got a chance to make history.” of former Gators on June 16 at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor. Spurrier re-emphasized that theme brimmed hat with the crown removed. at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., At age 62, Spurrier, indeed, is in when he said with an equal amount of top shape and he preaches the gospel of conviction: “As a coach, I think you have exercise and practices it as well. He is to realistically set your goals. You have to also a pitchman for Gamecocks football look honestly at your team and your talent and isn’t ashamed to admit it. After all, level and give them something they can Spurrier is asking rich South Carolina achieve. Now we believe our talent level is By Buddy Martin alumni and fans for a tidy sum for USC’s close to those top tier teams.” big capital improvement program. This is not good news for Gator fans, n the anonymity of an expansive golf Spurrier is saddling up for a big ride who well remember what happened the last resort where the only people who at South Carolina, one that might take time their team flew into Columbia. The might recognize him were his former him well into his late sixties as coach. Gamecocks knocked them off, 30-22, and college teammates and maybe a few stray Buoyed by a top-10 recruiting class and Urban Meyer was so upset by Florida’s Florida fans, Steve Spurrier stripped a motivated fan base that now believes lack of effort that he commandeered the down to his shorts, sneakers, sunglasses Gamecocks can compete with Southeastern airplane and invited any of his players he and topless hat for yet another morning Conference elite, Spurrier and his staff didn’t want to be on the team to have the workout. have set the bar higher. There is a sense of pilot fly them straight home. (Nobody did.) It was summertime, the livin’ was confidence, yet urgency, in his words. So Nov. 10 is one of those circle games on easy — but it was hot! — and the Head “We’re raising out goals,” Spurrier said Florida’s 2007 schedule. For both sides. Ball Coach was in a talking mood. He of his 2007 expectations. “Our first two If there’s any good news for the Gators had just had a workout on the stationary years we thought winning more than we it’s that by the time they get to Williamsbicycle, now it was time for a “cool-down lost and winning the bowl game would be Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks may have walk” in 90-degree heat. During a break a pretty good year. We won more than we been tenderized — more than 80 percent from the annual reunion of “The Silver lost and won the bowl game this year. But through one of the nation’s toughest Sixties,” he invited a sports writer friend to we lost a lot of close ones this year — four schedules. One expert ranks South bring his walking shoes for a stroll around by seven or less points. But we were in the Carolina’s schedule as the second toughest Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club. ball game with everybody. We didn’t get in the country. Included on that docket are “I’m a spokesman for physical fitness clobbered by anybody. road games at Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and now,” said Spurrier, already lathered up “We raised expectations, so the goal is Tennessee. They finish up with home dates from the heat of the day and wearing to win the SEC.” against Florida and Clemson. what he has dubbed “Spur’s Lid,” an oldOK, there it is. The gauntlet is laid That’s not enough to make Spurrier fashioned, oversize Jack Nicklaus-style down. Spurrier is not a coach given to wild back off, however, because he feels the
Game on: ‘Our goal is to win the SEC’
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GatorCountry.com time has come for change. Heck, he’s even talking about recruiting, which is something he rarely did when he was coaching at Florida. And at one point, he began bragging on his kicker, saying that Ryan Succop might be a more important player than quarterback Blake Mitchell. “Ryan is a good athlete. We tried out a new ball made by Baden. He didn’t like it, but the quarterbacks did. So we didn’t use it. I guess our kicker is more important than our quarterback,” Spurrier said, tailing off with a chuckle as if he’d surprise himself with such logic. A kicker more important than his quarterback! Heresy! This is a man who at Florida disdained going for the field goal when the touchdown was still on the table. Having finally settled on Mitchell, despite his penchant for getting into barroom fights last season, Spurrier now has that same senior quarterback coming off an MVP performance in the 2006 Liberty Bowl win over Houston, 44-36. In the wings, he has Tampa freshman Stephen Garcia, himself already suspended for being arrested twice in one week So if Spurrier can keep his quarterbacks out of jail, the Cock ‘N Fire offense might light up some scoreboards. Garcia, charged with public drunkenness in one arrest and malicious injury to personal property in the second, planned to enroll in a diversion program over the summer that would expunge the two misdemeanor charges from his record.
Photo by Tim Casey Steve Spurrier does “the chomp” during a ceremony to honor the 1996 national championship team on September 2, 2006.
He is also treating an injured knee.
What’s most encouraging for Spurrier is that help is on the way.
“Our recruiting class was ranked fourth by ESPN.com and sixth by Lemming and Rivals,” he said, ticking off those sites like a cyber-savvy youngster. “For our fans to see South Carolina mentioned with Southern Cal, Texas, LSU and Florida — and all those people. They say, ‘Whooo, what’s going on here!?? We’ve got hope now!’ Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but they sure give you hope that you’ve got a chance to finish in the Top 10.” The reason Spurrier took the South Carolina job, anyway, was that he wanted back in the SEC — and it offered a challenge. Once it became clear the job in Gainesville wasn’t really up for grabs — he pulled his name out of contention — Spurrier wasted no time in accepting the job in Columbia. He was savvy enough to realize that success could be realized at a place where it had been a stranger. “South Carolina is a school than has a lot of resources to be successful and they never have,” he said. “I’ve got a job where there’s nowhere to go but up. They’ve not done much in the past. “Coaches are generally always compared to the guys before us. And if we leave, to the guys after us. That’s how you judge what kind of job the coach did. So the guys before me haven’t done very much. Lou (Holtz) won a couple of Outback Bowls, but he has a losing record overall. Hopefully we’re not going to have a losing record. It gives us hope we’re heading in the right direction with our recruiting class this year.” When the subject of the Florida loss last season comes up, there is a little wince on his face, but at the same time a sense of resignation. Basically, he had the Gators beat in “The Swamp” and that would have made it two in a row. Except that a pass completion by Mitchell to Sidney Rice which would have set up a chip-shot field goal was called back by a penalty. And when Succop came on to try the field-goal attempt it was (48 yards) the trajectory was low and Jarvis Moss swatted the ball away. Earlier in the game, Succop had made a 55-yarder. But Moss had also blocked two other of his kicks. “Our left tackle flinched before the snap (on reception to Rice),” Spurrier said. “Earlier, Ryan kicked a 55-yard field goal and they said the clock ran out, so that was
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Photo by Tim Casey Steve Spurrier was inducted into the Florida “Ring of Honor” by athletics director Jeremy Foley on September 30, 2006.
negated.” Florida got away with a big one that night. One moment the Gators were resigned to a defeat that would have eliminated them from the national championship race (they had already clinched the SEC East) and the next moment jubilation set in as the kick was blocked at the gun. Things had looked so grim that co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong admitted he was thinking, “Oh, God, we just lost this game.” Turns out, instead, that it became defeat No. 50 for Spurrier. The only losing year he ever had to endure as a college coach is when he went 5-6 in his first year at Duke. Beating Clemson the following week and winning his bowl game gave Spurrier an 8-5 mark, with all five losses to ranked teams. He wound up his 17th year of college coaching at 157-50-2. His second straight winning season, plus the indications that Miami and Alabama were after him, got Spurrier bumped up to $1.75 million, a healthy $500,000 raise. Spurrier also enjoys several side deals, including a cut-rate deal on a brand new condo near Williams-Brice and now a parry into the hi-tech world as one of several coaches who are going live on the Internet. He has signed on with Champion Communications of Greenville, S.C. which charging fans $10 a month to watch him live on the Spurrier-cam. Florida’s Urban Meyer, Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer and Arkansas’s Houston Nutt are already committed to the same company, with Georgia’s Mark Richt expected to follow. They reportedly think it will be a good recruiting tool.
GatorCountry.com Looking around the league at the competition, Spurrier sees a more balanced SEC. “Nobody’s clobbering anybody,” he said, “the way we (Florida) were fortunate to be able to do way back. It’s going to come down to the team that can win these close games like Florida did this year. It’s not secret how they won — they won every close game they were in except Auburn and that’s how they ran the table.” Spurrier readily admits his team won some games on a fortunate bounce or two in 2005, but not so much in 2006. What he hopes to build on, however, was the Gamecocks’ 31-28 win over Clemson last season. It reminds him of a pivotal game in the program in 1990 when his Gators went to Alabama and beat the Crimson Tide, 17-13. “It was a game that we were behind 10-0 at halftime and came back and won. Whatever black cloud was hovering over Florida was blown away that day. And I’m saying that whatever black cloud hung over South Carolina was blown away that day (against Clemson). Hopefully I’m right — only time will tell.” What Spurrier was right about was predicting early on that the Gators were going to run the table. In the South Carolina interview room after his team’s 17-16 loss, Spurrier turned to a writer friend on his way out and said: “Well, looks like this is the ‘Year of the Gator.’” He was reminded of that comment six months later. “The way they kept winning games, there had to be some reasons,” Spurrier said of the 2006 national champions. “And it just kept going like that. The Georgia game was close. I guess FSU was a close one. Heck, Vandy — they had to block two punts to beat Vandy.” Keep in mind that Spurrier wasn’t casting aspersions on the Gators’ success. He knows that football is like golf — when the putts start dropping, good things start happening. Spurrier’s 2005 Gamecock squad enjoyed similar breaks and experienced the same kind of momentum. Probably the most surprising revelation of the 2007 version of Walkin’ And Talkin’ With The Head Ball Coach was that he doesn’t consider himself a mad scientist when it comes to calling ball plays. In fact, he is given to a little “research” of his own these days and admits to borrowing a few ideas. He’s even gotten a tip or two from Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen’s play book.
Photo by Tim Casey Steve Spurrier celebrates during the fourth quarter of the Gators’ 17-16 win against the Gamecocks on November 11, 2006.
“You watch other people,” Spurrier admitted. “That play Florida used to beat Tennessee — that throwback pass — we put in a couple of versions of it. We run it both ways. Everybody watches everybody else now, so there are very few secrets.” So what’s new in college offense? “What’s new is the shotgun, with the quarterback running,” he said. “What Vince Young of Texas did and what (Tim) Tebow is going to do now. That’s been in the last year couple of years. It gives you an extra blocker and an extra runner back there when you’ve got a quarterback who runs.” Offenses, then, are going retro, back to the option days, and maybe back to a form of the old Tennessee single wing of the 1950s. One of the reasons Spurrier chose to play at Florida over Tennessee was that he didn’t want play in the single wing. Were there similarities with the shotgun today and the single wing?
“Aw, I don’t know that much about the single wing,” he said. In this laid back sitting, where Spurrier reacquaints himself with ex-teammates like Allen Trammell, Gene Peek, Wayne McCall, as well as players from other teams in the 1960s, he also finds a certain sense of peace. Since they began these re-unions in 1970, he has only missed one — he can’t remember why — and says he enjoys seeing the children and grandchildren grow up. “It’s neat to come this weekend,” he said. “You just put it on your calendar and go.” The camaraderie and brotherhood are special, but there is just one item missing. “These are great,” Spurrier said. “But they’d be a whole lot more fun if we had some championships to celebrate.” With Steve Spurrier, it’s always about the championships.
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Talkin’ SEC Football with Tony Barnhardt
Preseason thoughts from a reporter close to the conference
South Carolina is their schedule. I don’t know what it is off the top of my head. Look at who they play on the road in the league and you’ll see they play a really tough schedule. They and Auburn have the toughest road schedule in the league. The East is wide open…I think Kentucky’s going to be pretty good by the way.
GC: That’s what I was going to ask you: Would Kentucky possibly be your most improved team in the league?
ne day he’s on television, the next he’s in print. Saturday it could be CBS, Sundays are reserved for the Atlanta Constitution, where’s chronicled college football for nearly 25 years. Autumn weekends, of course, are usually spent lapping up the pigskin passion of the Southeastern Conference. Tony Barnhart, a native of Union Point, Ga., is at nearly every big game. Name an SEC stadium and he’s been there. One of his best-known books, Southern Fried Football, was released in 2000. An updated edition is set for 2008. Barnhart took a few minutes this summer to chat with Gator Country editor Mike Hodge about what he believes is in store for the Florida Gators and the rest of the SEC.
two years ago. Put it all together and I like LSU. I have no idea in the (SEC) East. I really don’t. The East is as wide open as I’ve ever seen it. Everyone has issues. When all is said and done, it may be Florida. I know the quality of athletes they’ve got. It’s awfully hard to replace nine starters on defense in this league. I may have to wait until I make a pick there.
GC: Obvious question: Your pick in the SEC and why?
GC: It could be Florida, Tennessee… Georgia? Any of those three you think?
To me, it’s LSU. I know they lost four first-round draft choices. Things I look at…A, how many do you have coming back on defense? That will have a lot to do with how consistent you’re going to be. They, I believe, have eight starters coming back. That’s the first thing and B, you look at their schedule. LSU’s schedule is feast or famine when it comes to playing tough games on the road. Last year, if you look at their schedule, they played all their tough games on the road. They played Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. This year, that flips. All of their toughest games, with the exception of Alabama, are at home. That helps a lot. You lose JaMarcus Russell at quarterback. But Matt Flynn was the MVP of the Peach Bowl when they beat Miami
You look at Tennessee. They’ve got to find some parts on defense. They weren’t very good (last year), when they were eighth in every defensive category. They’ve got to improve there. They’ve got to replace their top three receivers. (Quarterback) Erik Ainge will be better. The running backs will be good. The offensive line will be good. Georgia? My goodness where do you start with Georgia? They’ve got to replace two All-America defensive ends. They’ve got to replace the linebackers, their best corner flunked out, Paul Oliver, about a month or so ago. They got a lot of issues. South Carolina, I think, has the fewest issues. They’ve got a lot of starters back on defense, and they’ve got Steve Spurrier running the offense. The problem with
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If they keep playing the way they did last year. Obviously, they’ve got (Andre) Woodson coming back. Woodson led the league in passing yardage per game. You can win a lot of bar bets asking that question. They’ve got really good receivers. They’ve got Rafael Little, who led the league in all-purpose yards in 2005. He was hurt a lot last year. They’ve got to improve their defense. Their defense wasn’t very good last year. They’ve got a new defensive coordinator in. I think Kentucky’s definitely a better team. With their schedule, I think Vanderbilt has a chance to go to a bowl this year. The SEC (East) is WIDE open. GC: When you take a look at Florida, do you agree that they’re the type of team that’s a year or two away from being dominant again? Obviously, they’ve got talent. Talent will not be the issue. They just have guys who haven’t played. In this league, that really shows up on defense. I think (defensive coordinators) Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong have some work to do, but they’ve got some good players to do it with. I think the offense will be good. I’d like to see a running back step up and be an every-down back. I don’t think you can keep giving it to Tebow on third and one, third and two. I think that catches up with you over the course of time. I love the receivers. I absolutely love the receivers. Florida’s like a lot of clubs. The offense has to play well to let the defense grow up.
GatorCountry.com He doesn’t get the attention because it’s Vanderbilt, and they don’t play national games, but a guy I like is Earl Bennett. You’re talking about a receiver in the league who’s been around for two years and all he needs is 48 catches and he’ll be over a thousand receiving yards and he’ll be the all-time (SEC) leader in both categories. To me, that’s remarkable. GC: How do you think Steve Spurrier will do in year three at South Carolina? If the schedule were flipped around… I’m not sure what four he’s playing on the road. Florida’s at home. Auburn’s a road game. At Tennessee. At Arkansas. At LSU. If the schedule were flipped this year and they were playing a few of those in Columbia, I’d say they’d win the East. They’re going to be very good on defense Photo by Travis Bell/ ESPN this year. The last time I heard Steve Tony Barnhart speaks on the set of ESPN’s College Game Day in 2001 at the Gators’ Spurrier talk about defense this much, it game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. was a Stoops-like defense — and they should have some depth. The offensive line By the time you get to October, they could GC: The program under the most pressure has some work to do. They’ll miss receiver be pretty good. this year and why? Tennessee? Sidney Rice. Blake Mitchell’s been up and down. They can overcome those things (at GC: Some people they look at Tebow, they (Sigh). Tennessee only to this extent, home). Playing those four games on the see Superman; others are more skeptical they win nine games, they go to a bowl. road will be hard to go 3-1, even 2-2. and say he’s a situational player based on They lose to Florida at home by one, the last year. What’s your assessment? national champions. They lose to LSU at GC: You’re top non-conference games to home at the buzzer, which may have been keep an eye on? I don’t think there was any question the second best team in the country. Then that Tim was a situational player last year. they get waxed by Arkansas on the road. Oklahoma State versus Georgia. That was the role they needed him to play That’s a season that could have turned out (Dantrell) Savage from Oklahoma State’s to win last year. That was the package even better, but at the same there’s some a good running back. Georgia’s got a lot they needed and they put it in. Now he pressure to go ahead and take another of issues on defense. They’ll be fine on has to run the entire offense. There’s no step forward. Tennessee hasn’t won a offense. They’ve got (Matthew) Stafford question that Tim’s bright enough and championship since ’98. I’m sure they’d and they’re loaded at running back. I athletic enough to do it. The challenge, like to end that streak. Pressure’s a relative definitely think they’ll better than people I think, is knowing when to use him and thing. Phillip Fulmer’s not in danger of think. They’re just young…The others? I how to use him. I’m convinced after the losing his job. That’s absurd. But from the think Virginia Tech-LSU will be a good spring, at least from everyone that I talked program’s standpoint, they made a good game. I think Florida State-Jacksonville to, is that he can make all the throws. That step forward, but they want to continue will be one to watch. I was there at was the question a lot of us had about to do that and not take a step back. In that Alabama for the spring, me and 92,138 of Tim when he first got there. Yes, he’s big sense, there is pressure. my closest friends. It’s really phenomenal and he’s strong and he’s got a strong arm, to see the level of validation one guy has but can he make all the throws? Can he GC: Is LSU a national-championship given a program. Nick Saban was the throw it over the linebacker’s head into the caliber team, in your mind? guy they had to have. They really made receiver? Now, from everyone I talked to, a statement about coming back this year. he can definitely make those throws. Now I I think so, as long as they don’t slip They’ll be competitive, but there are some think the key is if you’re going to use Tim up and lose a game they’re supposed to holes to fill. If a running back steps up…I in those short-yardage situations, you’ve win and don’t play well, that sort of thing. like the receivers. I like the offensive line. got to be prudent about it. You’ve got to Right now, when you look at it on paper, On the defensive side they’ve got some be smart about it and protect him, because they’re right there. problems. I don’t want to sound like an old they’re very large, fast mean individuals man, which I am, but you don’t win in this that play defense in this league. You’ve got GC: Who’s your most underappreciated league unless you’re good on defense. to protect your quarterback. player in the league?
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Hollywood Bob’s Five Prospects to Follow For 2008 By Bob Redman
In our second installment of this recruiting segment, we capture a glimpse of four more committed Gators as well as the state’s top line prospects
Earl Okine (6-7, 230) Defensive end, Gainesville, (Gator Commitment):
Green will bring his quick, explosive play to the 2008 recruiting class. He has size and quickness to fit in well.
Okine is a beast and dominates the guy across from him. He played a lot tackle as a junior but is a true defensive end with a motor second to none.
Quotable: “When Coach Drayton took me in his office and started teaching me the offense, I just knew I had found the place I should be,” Green said. “At first I thought they were a pass-heavy school and just a finesse offense, like a lot of people think. He showed me how they run the ball and how many times they do it.”
Quotable: “Unlike any other colleges, coach Meyer made time to meet my family and get to know them,” Okine said. “He wanted to know my family first before he offered me a scholarship. It came down with the personal relationships we had with coach Meyer and all my family and friends are Gators.”
Franklin Green, (5-11, 200), Running Back, Savannah (Ga.) Jenkins High (Gator Commitment):
Matt Patchan (6-7, 265), OL/DL, Seffner Armwood High: A menace on the field, Patchan terrorizes the guy opposite him on offense or defense. He wants to play on both lines of scrimmage in college. and he is the first I have seen in a while that could possibly pull it off. Quotable: “We watched a lot of film together,” Patchan said. “Coach (Greg) Mattison (defensive line), Coach (Steve) Addazio (offensive line), and I were able to watch and break down a lot of things. I think I fit in well on their offensive line. They have a need at tackle and I feel like I have the ability to come in and help out; possibly on the defensive side as well.”
Photo by Tim Casey Earl Okine at Friday Night Lights in July.
Chaz Sutton (6-4, 236) Defensive end, Savannah (Ga.) Jenkins High (Gator Commitment): Sutton is Franklin Green’s teammate and a true hybrid guy who can play end and tackle. He is ultra fast for his size and actually plays tailback when Green needs a rest. Quotable: “I loved everything about the program from the facilities to the coaches to the players to the city of Gainesville, everything,” Sutton said. “Gainesville is pretty much like Savannah. It’s not too big, not too small. It’s just right.” Caleb Sturgis (5-11, 180), Kicker, St. Augustine (Gator Commitment): Sturgis has a big-time leg and his commitment to the Gators will help solve the kicking deficiency for the next four years. With kickoffs coming from the 30-yard line now, Sturgis can still put it in the end zone. Quotable: “It’s very exciting. I’m going to play at the school I’d wanted to attend all along,” Sturgis said. “Everybody was getting to work (at Friday Night Lights) and they didn’t have a goal post up, so there really wasn’t anything for me to do. I went up and asked coach Meyer what he wanted me to do, and he said that they had already seen me kick and I was a Gator. I told him then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Gator Country Magazine
It’s time to make the early, early forecast By Buddy Martin
nybody can make a prediction like this once the season starts, so let me go ahead and make a fool of myself in late summer, when we barely know which players will be on the field. Here are some things the Florida Gators must do: 1. Develop Leadership Who will show them the way? Tim Tebow may develop on offense but is young, so that role may fall to people like senior center Drew Miller and senior receiver Andre Caldwell. On defense, Tony Joiner appears to be the guy, but Derrick Harvey is very quiet. Joiner and Harvey are the only two returning defensive starters. 2. Keep Key Players Healthy Especially speedy sophomore Percy Harvin, the biggest impact player on the team. 3. Survive This Rugged Stretch Last year, the pundits ruled Florida out of the national title race in preseason because of a killer schedule with a “Murderer’s Row.” This year it will be almost as bad, with Tennessee, @ Ole Miss, Auburn, @ LSU, followed by Georgia in Jacksonville and a visit to The Ol’ Ball Coach’s place in Columbia, S.C. 4. Keep Players Out Trouble And In Class This was not an especially good offseason for Meyer, with the loss of promising offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson due to a gun incident, and violations by seven other players, including Brandon James. 5. Exploit the defenses with use of both quarterbacks in the lineup Not many running backs I know are 6-3, 229 pounds even in the National
Football League, so Tebow is both fast and big. And right behind him is Cameron Newton, 6-4, 252 pounds, who came on so strong in the spring that he’s going to get some playing time. Newton and Tebow in the same backfield is a frightening thought for opponents. 6. Win Close Games — And Be Lucky The 2006 Gators wouldn’t have made it out of the SEC East and to Atlanta were in not for their comebacks. If it hadn’t been for a blocked kick by Jarvis Moss in the final seconds, Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina team would have beaten the Gators at home. 7. Develop A Defense, Fast With all but Harvey and Joiner as newbies, co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong are going to need to find some players in a hurry. But over the spring, several emerged, including linebackers Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes, plus defensive ends Lawrence Marsh and Jermaine Cunningham. 8. Chuck Heater Needs Another Miracle Each year, secondary coach Chuck Heater and safeties coach Doc Holliday have come up with stellar players. Last year it was All-America free safety Reggie Nelson and All-SEC cornerback Ryan Smith, who wasn’t even on the roster the year before. Who will it be this year? 9. Find A Sleeping Star On offense, I see those as being Jarred Fayson, the receiver-tailback who had an outstanding spring, and receiver Cornelius Ingram, who was converted from quarterback to tight end. Fayson
Gator Country Magazine
was on his way to a big year in the spring but had to undergo offseason surgery. If Fayson comes back fit, I see him as a force in the backfield and at wide receiver. Ingram should be named “Vacuum Cleaner,” because he mops up everything in his way. On defense, I am going to be watching linebackers Dustin Doe, Brandon Spikes and A.J. Jones. 10. Keep Those Surprises Coming There was no bigger post-season play than in the SEC title game against Arkansas when Urban Meyer called a fake punt on fourth and long. Though it didn’t produce a touchdown, the message was clear: Meyer will pull out all stops if it means he’s got a better chance of winning. OK, now for the moment of truth: I see a 10-2 season for Meyer, with losses at LSU and South Carolina. The good news is that the Gators get back to Atlanta as the SEC East winner, unless they stumble against the Georgia Bulldogs. After all, they can’t own every state in the union forever, and they already have Ohio. Get back to me later on the bowl game.
(Buddy Martin’s revised edition of The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation can be pre-ordered by sending your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. The books will be available in bookstores in late summer.)
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