Last week while the Florida Gators were preparing for their trip to South Carolina, the Florida coaching staff stumbled on a quote from former Florida basketball player Joakim Noah.
He preached unselfishness as the key to the men’s basketball team winning back-to-back national titles during his time in Gainesville.
“One of the great things (Noah) said is that at Florida, the team that won its national championship was so unselfish,” Florida wide receiver coach Billy Gonzales said. “”Nobody worried about who was scoring or getting assists. Everybody went out and did their job, which made everybody successful.”
That’s the lesson the Florida coaches have been sending to their players. Every player has to buy in to make the team successful. It’s not important who gets the carries out of the backfield or who makes the receptions. The message from the coaching staff is all about whether they can put another check in the win column when the game is over.
Part of that unselfishness is found on special teams. If a new player wants to get involved on Gonzales’ receiving unit, that’s where he has to start.
Look no further than Omarius Hines. The past few games he has been on the kick coverage units and has made plays. It’s not a coincidence that he has seen an increase in his receiving opportunities recently.
“We’ve talked all along about cutting your teeth in the special teams, and he’s no different than other guys that have come up through it to be successful,” Gonzales said. “He’s having some success right now and feeling good.”
Hines made an impact on the first two games of the season, showing good hands and the ability to make defenders miss after the catch. But then he disappeared as the Gators went into SEC play.
Head coach Urban Meyer often referenced the lack of consistency seen in practice from Hines and another young receiver, Frankie Hammond.
The message hit home. Hines has been making plays in practice over the past few weeks, which is what urged the Florida coaches to put him on the field and give him opportunities to show his talent during the games.
“For him, it’s a matter of earning trust,” Gonzales said. “I read all the time about when are they going to earn their trust? Well, winning and losing is fragile. One of the big things is making sure you feel comfortable. He and Frankie are both coming along. The biggest thing is being consistent in practice and they have been. We’ve got to get them more involved in the game plan and not just in blocking situations.”
But it goes even further than making a couple plays in practice. The Florida coaches need to see it every week. That’s why they trust the older receivers in the group because they have been making plays ever week over the years they have been on campus.
“Just because they make a play in practice doesn’t mean they’ll be consistent (in games),” Gonzales said. “There’s a lot of bank in guys like David Nelson and Riley Cooper of running the speed post and having that rhythm with a quarterback. It takes reps over time.”
Cooper may have made headlines when two passes in the end zone went off his finger tips on Saturday in Columbia, but he continues to be praised in meeting rooms for his blocking. It’s so good that Gonzales is saving up the tape of his blocks to show to future wide receivers that will come to Gainesville.
“As far as just a competitor, he may be the toughest,” Gonzales said. “I say that, but I look at (Louis Murphy) Murph and Percy (Harvin), I can show you film on them, too. I just need to get Riley to buckle his (helmet). I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a guy who is physically as tough in stature, just wanting to get it done.”
The Gators now play Florida International with an opportunity for Hines and others to get some playing moments. The rivalry game with Florida State is still on the schedule, but most fans and media are already looking towards the Dec. 5 showdown of Florida-Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
The challenge for the Florida coaches is to make sure their players keep their minds on the task at hand. There will be no mention of Alabama in the Florida locker room until the week of the game, and the coaches will be making sure that is the case.
“We’ve got to continue talking to our team about it,” Gonzales said. “We’ve preached all along that every game is no more than anything else. A couple years ago, I’d think they might have said that. Now our players understand because we’ve got some veteran guys who have been through this before.”