Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain has been on campus for almost 16 months, and there is no doubt that the Gators are moving in the right direction. The biggest mark of McElwain’s success as a coach may not be the unexpected trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship, but Friday night’s spring game.
An announced crowd of 46,000 people poured into The Swamp on a beautiful evening, and Coach Mac’s reclamation project was on full display. Four quarterbacks, who were all brought into the program by the new staff, were ready to showcase their first real action on their new home field. With McElwain being known as the “Quarterback Whisperer,” there is no doubt that the most important position on the field is moving in the right direction. The defense looked stout and salty against the second-team offense, and the new-coming freshmen and junior college transfer early enrollees looked to have made big strides in the spring.
The atmosphere Friday night might not have been as electric as a night game in the fall, but when Eddy Pinero hit a 54-yard field goal, the roar of the crowd brought the Gator Nation’s spirit back to life. UF students have expressed their excitement for the spring game all semester, hoping for a glimpse of a positive fall football season ahead. Marketing for the game around campus, and through social media, pumped up students and drove them through the gates Friday night to see what year two could look like under the McElwain regime.
And the mid-year enrollees created quite a buzz. Die-hard Gators anticipated watching the most highly recruited kicker of all time and the five-star junior college load of a running back. Students pay attention to the people who have potential to make their football team great, as could be heard when they chanted, “Eddy, Eddy, Eddy,” as he lined up yet another 50+ yarder in the fourth quarter. Yes, students tend to be the more fickle fans, often arriving late to games and leaving early if things aren’t going right. But let there be no doubt that their passion for the Gator football program is incredibly high. The east side of the stands was well filled Friday night, and The Swamp will be loud again when UMASS rolls into town in September.
Walking out of the stadium, I overheard two female students debating about whether the Gators would go back to Atlanta next year. I casually said, “In Mac you trust” and kept walking. Coach Mac has kept the Orange and Blue faithful and believing in the process he is implanting. He talks a lot about the “infrastructure” of the program and how Florida has a long way to go. But if Friday night was any indication of what the Gators look like with a way to go, I cannot wait to see how they look as they continue to make progress. Year two expectations are high, as they always are at the University of Florida, but be assured that the right man for the job is leading the team.