Florida Gators balancing fun and football in Atlanta

Andretti Indoor Karting, arcade games, shooting hoops and awful karaoke singing—these activities sound like the makings of a great family vacation. Actually, these are just a few of the things the Florida Gators have been up to in Atlanta this week with the Peach Bowl only days away.

There is even more planned for the coming days, but not to worry, this family getaway isn’t all fun and games. The goal the Gators came into the week with has not changed: beat Michigan.

“He [Dan Mullen] don’t want us to be all happy just because we made it,” said junior defensive end Jachai Polite. “He wants us to win. He said that’s the fun part. And it is, like, winning the football game is fun, not getting there.”

While winning is the main priority, there has to be a balance.

It is the week of Christmas. A week most people spend at home enjoying time with their loved ones. Florida’s players and coaches gave that up to get ready for a football game and spend it in a hotel.

Missing out on Christmas traditions could easily become a distraction, especially considering many of them are experiencing it for the first time.

Since Mullen and his staff couldn’t bring the Gators home for the holiday, they did their best to bring home to Atlanta. The team and their families had a big celebration in the hotel with lots of food, presents and even a Santa Clause who looked remarkably similar to Nick Savage.

It is things like that the Gators have been doing all season that R.J. Raymond thinks has made a big difference for this team. Along with the amped up training and more intense practices, the new coaches have created a family atmosphere and brought the players closer to one another.

“As a football team, being together as a family is just going to make you that much better,” said the redshirt senior tight end. “You can trust everybody. You have a brother just behind you and you come together and have each other’s back. It really makes you a better football team, and that’s why I believe we have been a better football team this year compared to last year and years before, because of how close we have become as a team and as a family.”

Florida got back after it at practice following the holiday festivities, and again on Wednesday after visiting a local children’s hospital and before a tour of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Players said the time on the football field has still been very competitive and focused despite the other various activities they’ve gotten to enjoy. That is exactly what Mullen wants from them and what they need to do to have success against a tough Michigan team on Saturday.

“When you win the game, it’s an unbelievable bowl experience,” Mullen said. “When you lose the game, it’s not quite as good of a bowl experience. It just changes the whole narrative of the week. So, we talk to our players a lot about splitting the day in eights. They need to get at least eight hours of sleep to get ready for the game, spend eight hours a day worrying about football and then eight hours a day of social, fun time … There’s an awful lot of social, fun time as well to enjoy, but when it’s football time, make sure you’re completely locked down on football.”

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Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.