The 2013 season was a difficult one for Florida Gator football fans, for sure. It was even more difficult for the Gator coaches and players who had to go through it on the field.
In a symbolic gesture, the team buried last season. They physically dug a hole and buried the game film. They want to move past last season, while keeping the struggles they had on the field in the back of their mind and use it as motivation.
“I don’t even like thinking about last year anymore,” junior linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “We learned from it and we know what to do this year. Win.”
Morrison had well-documented personal struggles off the field last season. However, it was his production — or lack thereof — on the field that had fans really worried.
It started in the offseason. The coaching staff wanted Morrison to gain weight, so he packed it on, landing around 240 pounds — big enough to handle the grind of a SEC schedule playing middle linebacker, but too big to take advantage of Morrison’s athleticism. He felt slow, not himself.
“ [I] lost a lot of weight so I’m moving a lot better this camp and feel good where I’m at,” he said.
Morrison is down to around 220-225 pounds. He’s noticeably leaner and has flown around the field. His play has given the defense confidence in him, something that, at time, they may have lacked last season.
“A whole lot better because he’s going into this year like he has a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t play as well as he wanted to last year,” senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings said. “And so, just the fact that he hurt himself and the fact of stuff that happened off the field, too, he feels like he has a lot more to prove and it’s rubbing off on us too.”
Morrison’s attitude on the field is rubbing off on the entire defense but the bonds he’s built with Cummings and his fellow linebacker Mike Taylor are probably the most important.
As linebackers, Taylor and Morrison need to be on the same page. They need to act and react as one, all while getting the rest of the defense together and playing as a well-oiled machine. They’re bonding started years ago, when Morrison enrolled early and began living with Taylor. Their relationship has grown ever since.
“He’s a leader, he’s always vocal. He’s always voicing his opinion,” Taylor said of Morrison. “Whether he feels he’s right or wrong, he’s going to voice his opinion. And I agree with that because he gets it out on the table, whereas if there is an issue there’s not going to be no behind closed doors.”
That direct, in your face attitude is something Taylor and the defense appreciate as well. “Me and him have talked about plenty of things. So I feel that is a positive trait, and his leadership is positive and something really good that we have on this team.”
Morrison can accept the fact that he’s a veteran on this team now and that younger players will look up to him. He shies away from calling himself a leader saying it’s a team effort. Morrison was asked if he would take a season where he only contributed 10 tackles but the team won 12 games, “I don’t care, as long as we’re winning,” he said.
That’s his message to the team. It isn’t about one player or one individual. Florida’s goal and Morrison’s goal is the bigger picture.
As the late owner of the Oakland Raiders famously said, just win, baby.
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