With summer nearing, Dan Mullen is getting ready to hand his team over to Nick Savage until fall camp.
A year ago, the Gators didn’t have that luxury.
As COVID-19 raged around the world, players were home and gyms were closed. After ensuring all of the players were in safe environments away from campus, Florida’s staff focused on creating some form of a strength and conditioning program that everyone could participate in with the limited resources available.
After a summer filled with Zoom workouts and uncertainty about the future, the Gators finally reconvened in the fall, and they didn’t miss a beat. Savage credited Mullen for identifying the right guys for the program during the recruiting process in his interview on Gator Talk: Spring Football Edition on Tuesday night.
“We’re blessed with a great team full of individuals that are high-character and love the game of football,” Savage said. “They knew while they were away what to expect when they got back. They did a great job of holding themselves and teammates accountable.”
As the football program and the rest of the country finally attempts to return to some sense of normalcy, things should be a little simpler this time around.
But with so much development taking place during this time (Mullen said that the time from the end of spring practice to the start of fall camp is the most critical for development), it can be difficult for coaches to hand over that responsibility to someone else.
Florida’s staff does not have that problem. Even the new coaches on staff can already see Savage’s expertise making a difference.
“When you have a guy like Coach Savage in the building, and being around him just this small period of time, you’re very grateful and confident that he’s going to grab that torch—and he never really turned it loose—and carry those guys through the summer,” secondary coach Wesley McGriff said on Gator Talk. “In the offseason, your most important coach is your strength coach. I’ve been around a lot of them, and he’s a really good one.”
After all, Savage did train a group of Gators who could set a new Florida record for players drafted in a year in just a couple of weeks. Almost all of them performed even better than expected at pro day, with Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Marco Wilson putting up some rather mind-blowing numbers.
Savage gave his NFL prospects all of the credit for putting in the work over the years.
“They’ve done a really good job throughout their career here at buying in and emptying their tank daily,” he said. “Your results at the end of the day is just a summation of the journey you’ve been on. And so, every day, if you lace those boots up and you come in ready to work and you’ve got the right mindset and you’re all in for the program, typically over your career, I’m going to guess you had a lot of success.”
Savage sees it as his responsibility to make the transition to playing on Sundays as seamless as possible for his players. And for those who plan to play at the next level, the process starts from the day they step on campus.
“A lot of the time when they come in, they don’t fully know what they’ve been created to be,” Savage said. “They don’t really know what’s truly inside of them. I believe part of my job as a coach—all coaches—is to get them to where they want to go.”
As a great group of leaders exits, Savage will use the summer to establish new ones.
Leaders seem to separate themselves during those seemingly never-ending stadium runs with the hot Florida sun beaming down. He said the key is shrinking the gap between the most committed and the least committed during these crucial months.
“I expect those guys to essentially be secondary coaches to the staff,” Savage said. “Because at the end of the day, those are the only guys that go on the field. Us coaches, we stay on the sideline. They need to be able to hold each other accountable on the field, communicate, and ultimately be able to play to the standard Coach Mullen has set for this program to succeed.”