It’s hard to believe but SEC Media Days are just around the corner and the Florida Gators are less than 60 days away from taking on Michigan to kick off the 2017 football season.
It may just be “talking season” to Steve Spurrier but the week that the SEC schools descend upon Hoover, Alabama for Media Days is sort of the official, unofficial start of the college football season. Every word, glance, stare, answer or non-answer will be scrutinized and picked apart during the week. In recent years it’s even become a fashion show, and not just with the players, coaches, namely Bret Bielema and Dan Mullen’s shoes have drawn reviews. No way Mullen knows what “Yeezy’s” are, but the kids he’s recruiting sure do, and they like them.
Shoe and sock game aside, it’s a big event for each team in the conference and the show starts even before the teams roll into the hotel. It starts with who Jim McElwain will pick to represent the Gators with him at SEC Media Days.
There’s a lot that must go into the decision. First off, it’s not a typical post-practice beat crowd that the players are used to. There are thousands of reporters, most of which they’ve never seen or been asked questions by. Everyone is looking for a sound bite, a slip up that could be construed and turned into a headline. Coaches don’t want to have their players giving bulletin board material in early July, so getting picked to attend shows a vote of confidence in the player and a level of trust.
The trip also entails a private jet that will take the Gators from Gainesville Regional airport to Hoover. That’s quite a rewarding experience for anyone, let alone a college student-athlete. Many coaches reward seniors, McElwain did this with Jonathan Bullard (2015) as well as Jarrad Davis (2016) and Marcus Maye (2016). The other players that have joined were two juniors — Vernon Hargreaves (2015) and David Sharpe (2016) — that were both expected to leave school early barring injury. The other was Brandon Powell, who went as a sophomore in 2015.
Who will join McElwain this season for the media circus?
Let’s go ahead and eliminate players. Florida doesn’t make freshmen available to the media and the incoming freshmen haven’t played a down yet. They’re not coming. Take those 23 players off the board.
Next off the board, quarterbacks. All of them.
Bringing a quarterback to Hoover is basically naming a starter. McElwain isn’t going to do that. So Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire are unlikely to make the trip.
With the obvious names off the board, let’s take a look at some obvious contenders to make the trip.
Starting with seniors.
S – Marcell Harris – led the Gators in tackles (73) last season.
S – Nick Washington – third highest tackles returning on defense (45)
CB – Duke Dawson – returned for his senior season, led the Gators with 7 PBU in 2016
WR – Brandon Powell – he’s handled the event before
TE – DeAndre Goolsby – In line to be a big target for the offense
CB – Joseph Putu – Has a great story that could get national attention by attending
DL – Jordan Sherit – fifth most tackles of returning starters
RB – Mark Thompson – finished his first season with Florida with 299 yards and two scores
P – Johnny Townsend – Ranked first in net-punting average in the nation last year
Of that only one player really had the decision to leave school early and return, à la Marcus Maye in 2016. That’s Duke Dawson. He would be a good choice for Jim McElwain. Dawson has handled media for three years at Florida and will likely be the face of a defense that has to replace a lot of talent in 2017. Marcell Harris and Nick Washington are two other candidates. Neither did a lot of media prior to last season but Washington has been funny, affable and, most importantly to McElwain and Florida, he doesn’t say anything that could be taken out of context.
Punters may not move the needle but Townsend has been a pivotal player for the Gators during his time in Gainesville. He contemplated leaving school early, has been great with the media in Gainesville and isn’t going to say something that causes a Florida UAA public relations scramble. Plus, what better way to show people that punters are people too?
If you’re going the special teams route, Eddy Pineiro has been exceptional with the local media and his YouTube stardom could play well for some easy, fluff stories coming out of Hoover.
It would be hard to think that Florida wouldn’t bring two of the named already listed above, presumably both on defense or special teams. You need someone there to represent the offense. We already eliminated quarterbacks, we’ll cross off Brandon Powell, too, on account that he’s been there before and hasn’t really factored into the offense too much.
Scrolling through the rest of the list Martez Ivey, Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett all stand out on offense. With Florida being under a Federal Title IX investigation (according to the Tampa Bay Times) for its handling of a sexual assault accusation involving Callaway, we can cross him off the list.
That leaves Ivey and Scarlett to represent the offense. The duo has been very similar with the media in Gainesville. Both are soft spoken, confident and not likely to cause a stir. Both are also likely to leave after this season.
We’ll find out this week who McElwain chose to attend SEC Media Days with him. Which three players would you bring with you and why?