Durkin says morale is high for Florida Gators

“Seven days.”, he said with a big smile.

The words caught me off guard. My head was elsewhere. Focused on covering Florida’s press conference, my first assignment at Gator Country, I looked blankly at Dylan.

Seven days?

A second later, it hit me: The start of the 2014 Florida Gators football season. The excitement in my friend’s eyes was memorable. He’s a diehard fan who’s waited months for this moment and soon his patience will pay off.

I wondered if the team, its coaches and staff would share this fans’ exuberance.

The offseason can be a rollercoaster of emotions for a team. Initial excitement with the return of practice can wash away as the drills drag on.The defense can’t hit the quarterback, and the days seem to get longer and hotter. Preparing for an opponent is a welcome addition for the players as much as it is for the fans.But defensive coordinator DJ Durkin said he noticed a shift in the team’s excitement with the first game near.

“You saw it in the meetings last night and that was kind of when we were starting to talk about opponents,” he said. “We’ve got guys perked up a little morein their seats. There’s kind of a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Defensive end Alex McCalister, lit up when asked about having a fresh opponent to set their sights — and hits — on after beating each other up during the summer.

“Getting into Idaho, getting into the first game you start seeing stuff starting to condense and slow down,” he said. We’re starting to focus on schemes, what their people do so it’s better just to focus on them not having to worry about not hitting [Jeff] Driskel every play.”

As the Gators get ready for Idaho, the team practiced some of the looks the Vandals will show. In addition to the game prep, Florida’s offense and defense continued to practice against each other. The Vandals face Florida next Saturday at 7 pm, the second night opener for the Gators in five seasons.

The defense may not be allowed to touch their own quarterback, but there is an emphasis getting to others this season as well as staying rested late in games, according to Durkin.

“We kind of hang our hat on how we’re going to finish games and play in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It sure helps when you haven’t played the whole game to play a great fourth quarter. You’ve had some guys spelling you and getting out.”

Throughout the offseason, a big focus for the Gators has been on the offensive side of the ball — namely new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s up-tempo offense. The change in offensive styles is apparent in practice, as safety Nick Washington noted, an improvement in accuracy as well as an increased amount of deep balls thrown.

Driskel has also appeared more fluid in the new scheme, getting the ball out faster and making plays, according to wide receiver Valdez Showers.

“I mean I feel like this offense fits him more,” said Showers. “His skillset, being able to run and being able to throw, he’s definitely made some strides in getting more of a feel for the game and not being as robotic in going through his reads.”

Eight days — the time in which the fans will rejoice in a new season and the players revel in a new challenge, much different from the ones they faced on the practice field. New game plans are to be installed, new opponents are to be scouted for.

It is, indeed, great to be a Florida Gator and even greater to know the team feels the same.

“When you get to camp, it’s kind of like the dog days of summer, but now, as of lately, we’re preparing,” Durkin said. “They love to compete. They love to play in front of our fans in the Swamp. So there’s a little glimmer in their eyes.”

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Ryan Randall
From Melbourne, Florida, Ryan has lived in Florida since he was three, becoming a sports fan around that age. His passion for journalism rivals his love of sports. Shortly out of high school he covered prep and community sports for his hometown paper in Brevard Country, before moving to Gainesville, where he covered the Gators in the pros as well as prep sports for a few publications. A Telecommunications major at UF, Ryan now interns at Gator Country and ecstatic to showcase his talents for the publication. When not working on stories, Ryan enjoys playing basketball, music, as well as art. Follow Ryan at @_RyanRandall_


  1. Both Idaho and Eastern Michigan are among the worst teams in college football. They are as bad, or worse, than Florida on offense and as bad as it gets on defense. Idaho has also had it’s best play maker kicked off the team. UF has had success scheduling cupcakes early, in the past there was normally two lightweights on the schedule before playing Tennessee. This year, Kentucky has been added to the mix of terrible teams to start the season with. But instead of Tennessee, the first good opponent this year is Alabama. The question is whether playing bad teams will be the right prescription for Florida to be ready to beat a good team this year? It’s been a long time since UF has beaten a good team,you have to go back to November of 2012 when UF upset FSU. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer for UF to beat a good team again. I think Alabama is overrated and can be had, will UF be up to the task September 20?

  2. Thanks for commenting, the early part of the schedule for this year could impact the Gators in one of two ways- it builds confidence among a much needed team before they head to Tuscaloosa, or doesn’t fully prepare them for the talent of the Crimson Tide. I side with the former; A young team like this needs to know how to win before they can win big games, and building confidence through a possible three-game winning streak would help them out, especially if they win big each game. Alabama could be had (As much of the SEC’s elite), but it’s still going to be a tough test, especially on the road. That being said, I think the Gators will be ready for the challenge.