The Florida Gators football players were ready.
For the returning players, it had been 273 days since they had strapped up their chinstraps and played football. The offseason was filled with coaches being fired, teammates transferring to different schools, the school out west hoisting a crystal ball and of course, having to hear all the extraneous noise about their head coach, their leader, fighting for his job.
They went into spring with half of the team learning a new playbook and adjusting to new coaches. Then, in the spring, Joker Phillips resigned — more turbulence in an already rocky offseason.
They pushed on through the dog days of summer, beating up their teammates in camp with a carrot of an actual game pushing them on as a reward for all the hard work in the hot Florida heat.
The week finally arrived. The Gators broke from camp and started to prepare for their first opponent, Idaho. Film sessions went from reviewing what the Florida offense/defense did in practice to an actual opponent. It was finally time for the Gators to put 2013 behind them and show the nation how much improvement they have made in the offseason.
Mother Nature had different plans.
“It’s one of the weirdest feelings I think I’ve ever had with football,” senior transfer Jake McGee said. “You put a whole week of game prep in, do the whole pre-game, do really everything and then the game doesn’t happen. It sort of an empty feeling.”
The Gators went through all of the motions. They came out and stretched, went through the same drills that have become second nature through offseason practices and just when the time was about to come, the time they had spent the past four months preparing for the carrot that had been dangling in front of them was yanked away.
Players were brought back into the locker room with no idea of how long they would be stranded there.
“When it started we didn’t know if it was going to be a 30-minute delay, it ended up being the whole night,” McGee said. “When it first started the weather looked fine but it just kept going so guys got anxious in the locker room not really knowing when to be ready and how long the delay was going to be.”
The team and coaching staff was faced with a balancing act. With more than 1,100 lightning strikes in a five-hour period, they had to remain mentally and physically focused but didn’t want to “stale out” as Will Muschamp said.
The biggest obstacle during the wait might have been hunger — not the metaphorical kind, actual hunger.
“Whatever we can get our hands on,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said when asked what the team had to eat during the wait. “The nutrition staff did a good job of resupplying us. [There are] bout a hundred guys in the locker room. Food goes quick.”
The lightning cleared up for about 45 minutes. It was enough time for what Jabari Gorman called “the lucky 11” to get a taste of
real football. Valdez Showers returned the opening kickoff 64-yards down to the Idaho 14. The offense ran on to the field before an official would bring on the final delay of the night.
Finally, the game was called. Thousands of fans that sat in the rain, cheering, treating bleacher benches like slip and slides and — occasionally — running on to the field were turned away, dejected.
None more so than the players themselves.
That hunger that has been growing for months was just teased on Saturday. The “lucky 11” who got an appetizer are no more appeased at the inadequate amount of football played on Saturday and their hunger grows with each passing day.
“We’re more determined,” senior defensive back Jabari Gorman said. “We’re more hungry to go out there and show our fans and our family that we ready to play for this season.”
“I wish tomorrow was Saturday. You know? We all ready. That’s all we can think of is Saturday.”