Football 101

When they are working together on a trauma case at the Shands emergency room, Dr. Preeti Jois-Bilowich and Physician Assistant Nancy Thayer know that seconds matter and any little glitch that throws off the teamwork and precision can be costly. There is no time for second-guessing or indecision and any little letdown in intensity and focus can prove costly.

Unlike what they do for a living at Shands, football isn’t exactly a life and death matter although Bear Bryant once said it’s much more important than that, a thought numerous Gator fans would echo. But football played at the championship level does require an extraordinary level of focus, intensity, teamwork and precision to produce wins.

“It’s exactly parallel to the intensity that you see among physicians and PA’s and nurses, especially in a critical situation,” Thayer said Saturday afternoon after finishing up a day at the 8th Annual Women’s Football Clinic at the University of Florida football complex. A former Gator gymnast who has run the Boston Marathon four times, Thayer was at her first women’s clinic. She’s been a diehard Gator all her life, but she wanted to understand more about the game and what goes into putting a winning team on the field.

Dr. Jois-Bilowich is one of the best emergency room heart surgeons in the country and a serious runner. A Florida graduate with medical credentials to work at any heart clinic in the world, she chooses to live in Gainesville because it feeds her Gator addiction. She paints her face orange and blue on Saturdays in the fall and admits that she “goes totally nuts for the Gators.” In Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game back in December, she had the face painted and wore her lucky #15 Tim Tebow jersey. When the Alabama fans got obnoxious late in the game when the Crimson Tide was running away with the game, she refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

“I didn’t shed a tear even with all the Alabama fans booing and taunting because I know we’ll always come back,” she said. “We’re Gators and I’m always proud to be a Florida Gator.”

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Thayer says you “can’t be more Gator than I am … I was born and raised in it and was a gymnast here and I have two degrees from the University of Florida” so attending the women’s clinic wasn’t about tapping into her inner Gator. She and Jois-Bilowich both wanted to get a better idea of what goes into the day to day operation of Florida football, how the coaches interact and what goes on behind the scenes to prepare the players to take the field on Saturdays in the fall.

They came to this one-day peek at the Florida program hoping to feel a deeper connection with the coaches and the players. One of the first surprises was to discover that all the coaches — and that includes Urban Meyer — participate.

“You learn why we have the best football program in the country because we have these coaches and they are dedicated, talented men who passionately care about their players and this school and they understand completely what it means to defend The Swamp,” Jois-Bilowich said. “If they can be this intense and this enthused on a Saturday in June just imagine what they’re like when they’re getting ready to play a game.”

Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti took them on a tour of the weight and training facilities, put them through the paces of stretching and warming up and gave them an idea of the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to get in the weight room every day to build the strength and toughness it takes to compete for championships.

“I think if you can survive Mickey Marotti’s strength and conditioning program you can probably survive and succeed in anything in life,” Jois-Bilowich said.

The assistant coaches took them through a number of drills and showed them the proper way to throw, catch and carry the football. They learned a few things about strategy and how the Gators prepare leading up to game day.

All this was a lesson in how the Florida football coaching staff works together with teamwork and precision.

“I love their intensity,” Thayer said. “You can tell they really love their jobs and love working here. The esprit de corps among the staff is just awesome and that’s why the program works so well. Everybody is on the same page and everybody works together for the same goal.”

Both Thayer and Jois-Bilowich came away with a real appreciation for all the assistant coaches but both of them admitted a real fondness for Steve Addazio, the offensive coordinator who has been the coaching face of Florida football for much of the spring while Meyer has taken some time away with the job.

“The highlight of my day today was the pushup contest where Steve Addazio was standing over me, telling me ‘c’mon, you’re a contender, you can do this’ so I muscled my way to do 10 more pushups to finish with 63 … 98 was the winner,” Jois-Bilowich said. “Addazio pushing me was the highlight of my day. I’m coming back to win it [the pushup contest] next year.”

Addazio, whose nickname among players and other coaches is “Vitamin A” because of his constant flow of energy and enthusiasm, is the poster child for intensity according to Thayer.

“He’s going to push people,” Thayer said. “He’s intense but it’s the kind of intensity that draws people to him, not the kind that can push you away. He was not patronizing us. When he asked questions, he expected answers and when he didn’t get the answers he wanted, he was clearly irritated. I like that he expected us to listen and focus enough that we could answer questions and I really like that he had high expectations even for a bunch of women on a Saturday afternoon. He is a tough guy.”

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It wasn’t all about football Saturday. All the proceeds from the $80 participation fee were donated to breast cancer research. Gracie Arnold, the little girl who inspired the entire Florida coaching staff and football team with her courageous battle to beat cancer, told her story as did breast cancer survivor Jo Anne Bunting.

“That brought tears to my eyes,” Thayer said. “That brought tears to everybody’s eyes.”

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One of the big surprises Saturday was that Urban Meyer attended along with wife Shelley and the kids, but also that Meyer took the time to speak to the group. Thayer felt an instant magnetism and began to understand why high school football players want to be Gators.

“He’s a very inspiring man,” she said. “I could play for him and would be inspired to do a good job. He’s genuine. He’s sincere. He’s the real deal. You can see why the kids are inspired by him. He cares. He cares about the team and he’s not a self-promoter at all and you can see that he has such a big heart and he’s so compassionate.”

Asked then why some writers and radio talk show hosts seem to have an anti-Urban agenda, Thayer responded, “It’s envy in its purest form.”

Dr. Jois-Bilowicz, analyzing Meyer and the entire clinic experience, said, “I always had an appreciation for these guys but now I have a much greater appreciation for them because they go out there and make it look so easy to throw and catch a ball and tear through all those people into the end zone and it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of skill and so much practice and training and the coaches that lead the players have to really care about them. If I were a guy and I had those basic skills I would want to come here because it’s easy to see how the coaches and the staff all work together to make you the best you can be.”

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It would be impossible for Jois-Bilowich and Thayer to be more Gator than they already are, but the Women’s Clinic gave them a feeling that they are connected to the football program. There is something about knowing and understanding what it takes to build a team and sustain a program that changes perspectives and gives a sense of appreciation for everything that goes into the process.

“I bleed orange and blue,” Jois-Bilowich said. “I’m a Gator until I die, but after seeing what goes on today, I’ll come back again next year. This clinic helps you feel there is a connection to the program. It helps you understand all the hard work and dedication of the players and coaches. It’s really amazing. I’m really glad I came here today.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.