Florida Gators: Baby Gators, Baby Steps

Baby Gators, Baby Steps

As a parent you get to enjoy lots of milestones in your childs’ lives; there are first steps, first words, and many other things you cherish as parent.  Seeing potential and growth towards that potential are two of the most satisfying things that having children gifts to you as a parent.

One of the best experiences I am having with my kids right now is youth sports.  My daughter recently played in her first team sport by joining a soccer team.  However, on the first day of practice; no coach showed up to coach the kids.  As I told my daughter that this was a commitment that I would make her see through and I was not going to let her quit; suddenly and unexpectedly, I had to step up and coach her and her team in order to reinforce her commitment.

These kids were both boys and girls between 9 and 10 years old and suddenly they were looking to a middle-aged football fan with zero soccer knowledge to navigate them through a 7-game slate against experienced soccer players.

It was a frightening experience because I never played soccer and I had never coached before.  After a couple of wins, I thought I had this whole coaching thing whipped.  Then we lost a game where one kid tore through my defense and torched us for 4 goals.

However, as bad as that game was, the low point of my season with these kids was 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Blast.  We looked awful that game and lost horribly.  I am sure some of the parents questioned my leadership and decisions, but I knew we had 3 more games to right the ship.  After all, there are expectations for coaches; even at a YMCA recreational league.

After that game, I just always tried to emphasize the positive things these young ladies and gentlemen were doing on the field.  I also tried to emphasize that we were all there to have fun and that we had games left to play.  After all, they were just kids and it was just a game and I had to finish the season.

During the season I watched this group of kids grow from a disorganized mess of kids that wouldn’t listen into a group of players that began to understand what the concept of a team.

We found out that my daughter could be a serviceable goalie instead of simply rotating kids around haphazardly into goal.  In short, we worked hard to fix what went wrong in those terrible losses; they grew and responded to coaching and to how that loss made them feel.  In the final game of the season, we got a rematch against the first team we lost to and my kids responded we ended up winning a close 3-2 game and finishing the season 5-2.  They grew into better players and into a better team.

As a parent and a coach it was rewarding to see all those kids grow after that terrible loss.  They didn’t want to embarrass themselves like that again.  Moreover, I didn’t want to be embarrassed like that again so I had to change what I was doing wrong as a coach; I had to recognize their potential and get them to grow towards it.

So, what does YMCA recreational league soccer have to do with the Gators?  Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to equate YMCA recreational soccer leagues to SEC football.  However, what this experience provided me was some well-needed perspective on growth, parenting, and Gator football.

After a victory pizza party, I went home to enjoy the Vanderbilt/Florida tilt.  All the talk in the week leading up to the game was about how the Gators would win this game if Treon Harris couldn’t show some growth as a passer.  Treon Harris was only starting his second game.  As the game started out the Gators were uneven.  Vandy jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.

While I wasn’t happy as a fan by that Vandy score, I wasn’t concerned that we were behind.  I thought we could get right back on the field and score.  As a fan, if I was feeling it all the way down here in Stuart, Florida; I know that the Gators on the sideline and our coaches felt that confidence.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but upon reflection I didn’t feel the fear and loathing that came with Gators being down over the past few years.

It seemed that once we got behind, we stayed behind and it permeated the sideline and coaches and our fan base.  I didn’t need to panic because we were down a score because I knew we had a chance to get it back.  Anyone that has watched Gator football over the past few years knows exactly what I am talking about, that dread and doubt.

As our offense took the field to match Vandy’s score, I reflected on the amount of youth on the field.  Treon Harris, a true freshman, was leading the team.  He hands the ball off to Kelvin Taylor, a sophomore.  He throws the ball to DeMarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood, both sophomores.  On defense we have freshman and sophomores all over the field.

As Kelvin Taylor shifted his feet, juked a linebacker, and ran towards the end zone to tie the score with Vandy, it felt good to know that the confidence I had in these baby Gators was rewarded.  I was taking a baby step back towards believing in this team and coach and I just feel different about his team now.  This feels like a different Gator team than the one that played at Homecoming.

The young core of this Gator team just looks and feels different when Treon Harris is taking the snaps.  We do have a lot of important upper classmen, but we are playing a ton of youth playing key roles; and they are growing with each game.

Since the Missouri, this team has looked and felt markedly different and it has been a sheer joy to watch.  This offense suddenly looks a lot different from the middling efforts of earlier in the season and previous seasons.  We are finally taking the baby steps forward that so many people in the program and that are fans of the program want us to take.  It hasn’t been as fast as we might have liked, but with each baby step forward real optimism is finally taking root in Gator Country again.

Against Vandy, the Gator offense threw the ball down field; and had success doing it.  The one-dimensional offense everyone was concerned about was growing into a balanced attack.  This core of young and raw talent was being honed and sharpened for bigger tests ahead.

Each game with these baby Gators is a baby step forward and each is a chance to grow towards the potential that this team has.  What the Vandy and Georgia games showed me is that this team with Treon Harris at quarterback has a lot more potential than I thought.  What Vandy showed me was growth towards that potential.  The signature play coming late in the third quarter on 60-yard bomb from Harris to Quinton Dunbar that made Gator fans suddenly remember that vertical passing is still a “thing” that offenses do.

Most fans, including myself, had written off the season.  Apparently, these baby Gators never got the memo.  They have been working hard to prove me and others wrong about this team and their coach.  They are playing football, having fun, and watching the Gators is suddenly fun again.  These baby Gators haven’t been perfect, but they are fun to watch and they are fun to root for.  The fan base is also slowly taking its baby steps back towards Coach Muschamp.

This Saturday, the Godfather of Florida football is coming to town looking to teach these baby Gators a lesson.  As Coach Muschamp said after the Georgia game, we have nothing to be overconfident about; but I know that some of us in Gator Country have been quietly letting hope replace the fear and loathing building up to this game.  Coach Spurrier is fighting through a disappointing season of football and he needs this win.  However, these baby Gators need to get that sixth win and they want to atone for the last game they played in the Swamp.  This is the game that may save Muschamp’s job.

However, I think for these baby Gators it is another chance to go out and have fun playing football in front of the best fans in the country.  It’s a chance to learn and a chance to atone for previous mistakes.  It’s a chance to grow.  It’s another baby step towards larger potential.

For them, it’s not about the past.  It is all about the present and the future.

With these baby Gators, I really like our chances on Saturday and for many Saturdays to come.

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Christopher has followed Gator football since he stepped on campus in January 1994. After getting degrees from the University of Florida in 1997 he attended law school at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and graduated in 2000. He currently owns a construction business with his father and two brothers and practices law in Stuart, Florida. He brings plenty of experience to his writing as an arm chair quarterback and professional second-guesser with the extraordinary ability of hindsight. Christopher enjoys his free time reading, writing, and spending time with friends and family. Follow him on twitter @clscammell.