Take one part rivalry, two parts social media, stir in one outspoken All-American and you have the making for what has been a wildly entertaining offseason between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers.
The Gators and Vols have traded verbal jabs on social media, with Florida being the aggressor in most of the barbs, all offseason. Both Marcus Maye and Jarrad Davis addressed the Tennessee rivalry a week ago at SEC Media Days, while Tennessee linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin avoided the subject, saying that Florida likes to talk, and that isn’t Tennessee’s game.
Florida’s lone preseason All-American Jalen Tabor doesn’t like to talk, he loves it. Tabor is an outspoken, charismatic character with the physical ability to cash any check that his mouth may write, and Tabor’s been throwing those checks around like Jordan Belfort threw around “fun coupons” in the Wolf of Wall Street.
“I mean, I don’t know how many times you have to beat somebody over 10 years-plus in a row for them to just really own up,” Tabor said on Bleacher Report radio on Sirius XM. “It’s just, I mean, I’ve never been beaten 11 years in a row by one team or one person, so I wouldn’t know how that feels.”
As a freshman in 2014, Tabor tallied five tackles and broke up a pass. The freshman made the biggest impact of the game, blitzing from the strong side, sacking and forcing a fumble on Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. Florida scored its first touchdown of the game five plays later and went on to beat Tennessee 10-9. Tabor didn’t get a chance for an encore. He was suspended for the Tennessee game last season, a moment he considers the low-point of his career at Florida.
“That was one of the biggest lessons I learned in life, not being able to play against Tennessee last year,” Tabor said. “That really changed me as a young man and made me grow up a lot.”
Missing the game was an eye-opener for Tabor. He doesn’t like Tennessee, or any of Florida’s rivals for that matter, but he insists that his tweets and trash talk aren’t just about Tennessee. To Tabor, Florida isn’t getting the respect of a team that is the returning SEC East Champion and he doesn’t get it.
“It’s not about them; it’s more about us. It has nothing really to do with how good they are or how bad they are. Regardless of that, I feel like if we do what we have to do, we’ll be fine” he said. “People think I’m just bashing Tennessee. That’s not the case. I just feel like, where’s our respect at?”
The Vols were picked to win the SEC East by the media conglomerate in Hoover last week. Florida, picked second, didn’t even rake in a quarter of the votes that Tennessee did.
In a Facebook Live video run by the Florida Gators, Tabor quipped that he would have two pick sixes in Knoxville and he’s gone as far as guaranteeing that the Gators will extend its winning streak over the Vols to 12 games when they square up in Knoxville this September.
With a first year head coach and no quarterback in Athens, the Gators and Vols are the frontrunners to represent the SEC East in Atlanta this December. They’re on a collision course with a date set for September 24 in Knoxville and the Gators are out to correct the perceived lack of respect they’ve received this offseason.