When Florida announced that Will Muschamp decided to bring Dante Fowler and Vernon Hargreaves along with Jeff Driskel to SEC Media Days I was surprised.
In 2013, Muschamp broke a trend by bringing a junior (Jeff Driskel) to media days but I brushed it off thinking it was just a sign that the team had been turned over to the new starting quarterback.
You see, SEC Media Days is an animal like no other press event in college football. Players are run through an exhaustive wringer of interviews with the same questions over and over, every word dissected and broadcasted to the entire college football world.
It’s a lot of pressure.
That’s why most coaches choose to bring seniors. These are players who have spent multiple years in the system, they know the message the university wants to put out and they’ll stay on that message. They usually don’t have to worry about a senior slipping up, giving opponents bulletin board material or creating headlines that don’t represent the university in the best light.
For Driskel, this was old hat. He’d been here before and he knew the drill but the same can’t be said for his teammates.
The best way to describe Fowler is a little kid trapped inside the body of a NFL defensive end. Fans see the nasty playmaker sacking quarterbacks on Saturday but off the field Fowler is a playful kid. He stole Dominique Easley’s Chucky doll and carries it to the stadium before games. He speaks from the heart and jokes around. The local media gets it because since they deal with him on a regular basis but it’s easy for someone who doesn’t cover him regularly to take something he said the wrong way.
That’s why Muschamp took a chance bringing him.
Then there’s Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves is no stranger to the media. He grew up with a father who coached college ball and made the rounds as an award winning high school player in the media spotlight but this is a completely different animal.
Muschamp took a chance on him, as well.
He didn’t bring any seniors either, but by bringing in new faces, Muschamp swung for the fences and it looks like he hit a homer.
It started as the players exited the bus at the hotel. Fowler led the way in a three-piece suit, complete with bow tie. Fowler’s slimmed down and transformed his body. I asked if the brand new suit would have fit the freshman version of himself. Fowler laughed, “This suit? No way, I would have burst through the seams in it back then.”
Hargreaves followed him in a black suit and a new high top fade that rivals his teammates Bryan Cox Jr. and Alvin Bailey. The slick hair added anther two inches or so to a bulked up frame.
The walked through the rotating door, smiled at Gator fans that had gathered in the lobby to greet them and went straight to the elevators. This was a business trip.
Their first stop was a small, private meeting with the local media; an icebreaker for what would be a hectic day.
Hargreaves and Fowler both spoke about the loss of leadership the team dealt with after Driskel and Dominique Easley went down with injuries. They refused to make excuses for the 4-8 season a year ago and vowed that they would be part of the solution to make sure Florida would not suffer the same cruel fate in 2014.
Then the real test came. It was time to be unleashed upon 1,000 other members of the media waiting for them. How would they handle it?
To say that Fowler and Hargreaves handled their business like seniors would be an understatement. They handled the day like professionals.
Fowler charmed media members with his big smile while insisting he had never even heard about the college football playoff until someone brought it up today. Hargreaves was less playful but answered questions candidly, embracing the pressure and expectations being heaped on his shoulders.
They made the rounds, going from television interviews with ESPN, CBS and SEC Network to radio spots.
When it was finally done, Fowler’s biggest question was when he would be eating — he worked up a big appetite answering questions. Vernon Hargreaves walked away, showing one of the Florida reps something on Twitter. Both were clearly unfazed by the media onslaught they had just endured.
Both hopped into a private jet (hopefully after a meal for Fowler) and flew back to Gainesville before this story was even published.
They were treated like rock stars today in Hoover but they’re already back in the grind at home to lead their team on early morning workouts so they can live up to their promise that 2013 would not be repeated.