SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Urban Meyer didn’t get the crisp, sharp practice that he was hoping to get out of the Florida Gators Wednesday afternoon as they began earnest preparations for the Tostitos National Championship Game against Ohio State (January 8, Fox TV). The Florida coach is hoping the Gators will be back to normal when they hit the practice field Thursday.
Meyer put the Gators through a lot of game situations Wednesday with players running on and off the field. He termed the effort sluggish and said part of the difficulty could be attributed to adjusting to the two-hour time change.
“We’re just getting acclimated to everything out here,” he said, “but those are all excuses. We have to come out and practice a little better tomorrow. We’ve been a good practice team all year and good practice teams usually play well.”
The practice plan for Thursday includes the normal amount of hitting that the Gators would go through during a typical game week and that, Meyer hopes, will get them back on track.
“Tomorrow is like a regular Tuesday for us so we can get right back on schedule,” he said.
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With the Gators going through so much to prepare to play a football game, Meyer admitted that certain aspects of the recruiting process are suffering. The Gators are getting plenty of media publicity due to the fact that this is the national championship game and there is a record number of media outlets covering the game but Meyer and his staff haven’t been able to devote as much time to recruiting as they normally do at this time of the year.
“Every time you flip on TV we’re getting a little bit of recruiting pub and then also playing in this game is great recruiting publicity,” said Meyer, who said Florida’s focus is on prepping for the Ohio State game and not on recruiting.
Florida has the bulk of its recruiting class already committed and as many as 10 of those recruits will start school Monday morning in Gainesville as early entrees. The Gators figure to sign 27 or 28 players and there are perhaps only five available slots remaining.
While the Gators may not be as visible on the recruiting trail as they would have been if they had played in a New Year’s Day bowl, it balances out somewhat with the media exposure.
“We’re certainly behind on on-the-road recruiting but I think we’re far ahead as the publicity we’re getting because we had a good season,” said Meyer, who added that “our focus is on taking care of what we have to take care of.”
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Meyer confirmed reports that former cornerback Avery Atkins is trying to get back in school at the University of Florida. Atkins, who would have been a sophomore starter this year, was given his release from the team during the summer after a domestic violence incident that involved the mother of his child. Atkins enrolled at Bethune-Cookman in his home town of Daytona Beach in August but after going through a few practices, he left the team.
Meyer said that Atkins will not be a part of the football team nor will he be on a football scholarship if he’s able to get back into the University of Florida.
“Are we trying to help Avery Atkins?” Meyer asked. “Absolutely we’re trying to help Avery Atkins. He’s been dismissed from the team. He won’t be part of the team.”
Meyer said that if Atkins got everything in order academically and with his life, there is always the possibility that he could return to the football team in the future, but he qualified that by adding, “There’s so much that he’s got to do but he’s not on scholarship even if he does come back. He’s just trying to get his life in order and we’re trying to help him do that.”
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Ohio State’s defensive staff spent some time with the Florida staff back in the spring of 2006. While Meyer doesn’t think the Buckeye coaches discovered anything that would help them prepare for the Gators, he did say there was a certain amount of irony.
“I remember joking around and saying ‘see you in the big one’ and I was just worrying about beating Southern Miss,” said Meyer.
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Tight end Tate Casey, who’s been out with a high ankle sprain the last couple of weeks, was out of the boot and able to go through limited drills in practice Wednesday. Casey walked with a bit of a limp but said that he’ll be able to do much more by the time the game arrives on Monday.
When told that Casey had said Meyer would have to kill him to keep him out of the game Monday, Meyer laughed and said, “I don’t want to kill him so he’s going to play.”
Meyer said that he hopes to have Casey available in a limited role Monday night.
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Meyer said that he’s never had a team which had so many freshman contributors. Florida’s second and third leading rushers — quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin — are freshmen. Linebackers Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes had critical contributions on defense and on special teams, Riley Cooper, Wondy Pierre-Louis and Jarred Fayson all had significant contributions.
When the Gators beat Arkansas to win the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta, freshmen had a big say in the outcome.
“Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson blocked a punt and Wondy got the touchdown that put us ahead,” said Meyer.
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The friendship between Meyer and Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to go strong. Meyer said he leans on Donovan for advice and said their families are very close.
Wherever he’s been, Meyer has had a good relationship with the basketball coach.
“To this date the basketball coach at Bowling Green (Dan Dakich) is one of my best friends if not my best friend,” said Meyer. “Coach (Rick) Majerus at Utah … I think I was the only guy that got along with him.”