Something happened last year. The Florida Gators were not a team. You saw the product of that on the field but behind closed doors players were not hanging out with each other and cliques started to develop among the team.
As loses piled up and they carried a weight with them. That weight wore on the tempers of players. The offensive struggles led to finger-pointing and small groups of players forming cliques and segregating themselves. By the end of the season the players were just ready to get the season over with and for some time away from it all.
But they needed to come back together.
With around 100 players in the locker room, not everybody will be best friends but bringing the team together was something team leader Max Garcia made a priority this off season.
The team began hanging out off the field. Players like Garcia helped teammates move. Garcia estimates that he’s spent more than a month of weekends helping his teammates move furniture from apartment to apartment. The team went paint balling in the spring and having dinners and barbecues with each other is becoming the norm. It’s something Hunter Joyer thought would be instant when he arrived in Gainesville but didn’t find until this season.
“To be honest, I think it’s the best it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” Joyer said of the team chemistry. “A bunch of guys are close, there’s really no gap or separations between people. It actually feels like what I thought it would feel like when I got to college.”
The team has bonded around each other. D.J. Humphries told a story about one day after a morning workout. The team was gathered in the swamp to run 110’s. This is where the players run 110-yards and each position group has a prescribed time that they need to complete the exercise in (only two players failed to pass the final test).
It was the wee hours of he morning. The sun had not even crested over the walls that rise above Florida Field but it was still hot and humid. The players finished their workout and walked into the locker room exhausted.
“Everyone was so ready to get out of the stadium,” said Humphries. “But once we got in the locker room we all sat in there for like two hours playing around, cracking jokes. I sat back and said, ‘Dang, we would have never done this before.’ That just showed me how far we’ve come along in a year as a team. We’re a really close team.”
Last year, the majority of the holdovers from Urban Meyer’s last recruiting classes all had NFL aspirations on their mind. Some players had a me-first attitude and were more focused on taking the next step in their career rather than taking their final season and the team into consideration. Garcia and the veterans on the team have eliminated that attitude in the locker room as it became toxic in 2013.
“I just feel like people care more. Care about each other, care about the success of the team as a whole. Not just individually,” Garcia said. “Some of that is something that we saw last year, but it’s something that we have tried to move from this year.”
The Gators have called the team a family in the past but it now appears that those were just words. They were not living the life with each other; they were just talking about it. Now, rallied around each other after a 4-8 season, they have formed the bonds that they spoke about in the past. The team is gelling off the field and that attitude is spilling over on the field.
It may only be the beginning of August, but this Florida team is much different than the one you last saw on the field against Florida State.
They’re young, they’re talented and they’re confident.
“We have done a good job of just focus everything on the team. Guys are pulling for each other, just being your brother’s keeper,” Garcia said. “It’s something that a lot of guys have really humbled themselves and each other.”
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