COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Florida Gators know this season hasn’t been what fans expected.
Jim McElwain proudly told fans during an intermission at a basketball game in 2017 that the football team would “knock the door down” in its upcoming season. Instead it’s the football team that’s been knocked down.
Florida’s 28-20 loss Saturday to South Carolina was its fifth straight loss. The players have had a hard season. They lost their two best offensive players after they were discovered to have stolen and fraudulently used credit cards. They’ve watched almost 20 players go down with injury and learned that their head coach was fired on social media.
Nobody is as disappointed in how the season has turned out as the players are. They’re the ones that put in the time, blood, sweat and tears.
Players have seen and reacted to criticism and ugly tweets from fans. They’ve even gone back and forth. The team has generally taken on an “us against the world mentality” but the tune changes on Saturday. They know the fans aren’t happy with the product their watch, but they want the fan base to stick with them.
“We still want Gator Nation to support us and have our back even though we’re going through this rough time,” sophomore linebacker David Reese said. “I feel like our future is still bright.”
The Gators don’t have a lot to play for. They’re out of the SEC East race; they finished with a sub .500 conference record for the third time since 2011. They’re probably not going to a bowl game and will finish the season with a losing record even if they win out.
They’re now playing for pride. Playing for their family, their teammates and for their future. That’s where 2017 has taken them on this long, tiring road that has been the season.
“It’s been a bumpy path. But we just have to step up and do what’s right for the program and stuff like that. We just got to be Gators,” said Reese. “Our coach talked to us about what a Florida Gator is – having swag, having confidence, doing what’s right and try to lead by example. We need to do those things and really implement those things in this program.”
It’s been over a month since the Gators have played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. They lost their last two contests there, to LSU and Texas A&M, but still had hope in the SEC. they return now playing their final two games with just pride to play for. They hope the fans continue to show up and support them these last two weeks.
“A big part of it is having our fans out there supporting us,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “It’s always great when they support us and they’re not head banging us and all that kind of stuff. So it’s really great when they’re supportive and send these seniors out the right way, man. That’s what I think we’re playing for these last two games.”