Last year, after a loss to Missouri, Dan Mullen shed some light about what kind of competitor he is.
“I don’t care what we’re doing. You want to thumb wrestle me right now? I’m going to kick your ass,” Mullen said to the assembled media. “Know what I mean? If you want to come on up, I gotcha. Want to go run stadiums? I’ll kick your ass. If you’re going to keep score and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, I want to beat your ass.”
That competitive nature was needed for a team that had fallen on hard times prior to his arrival. That competitiveness that Mullen has is permeating his team, even if it shows in unconventional ways.
How unconventional? We’re talking pool wrasslin’. Not WWE wrestling, but 1970s era wrasslin’.
It all started with a new house and a pool. Brett Heggie, Chris Bleich, Feleipe Franks, Lucas Krull and Brett DioGuardi moved into a house together and they have a pool. Naturally, boys being boys, this competitive nature and a new toy in the form of a pool turned into a sport.
“A little ‘wrassling’,” Bleich said. Wrasslin’ in the pool.”
It’s that simple, really. There are no rules, certainly no weight classes with Bleich and Heggie both being listed at 330 pounds going up against Franks and DioGuardi who weigh 227 and 226 respectively. There are no rules but there is good, competitive fun and Franks is surprisingly holding his own in the water.
“He has leverage. He’s a long kid,” Heggie said of Franks. “I still go him beat. He’s got some work to do to get to my level.”
Bleich and Heggie couldn’t come to an agreement on where the roommates stack up in this side sport — other than Heggie is the best — but they are clear on one thing. It’s just another way that the offensive line and that the team is bonding.
It may sound like a broken record but there are big question marks surrounding the offensive line heading into the season. The Gators lost four starters from the 2018 unit that was stout and surpassed expectations. Only Nick Buchanan returns to the group this year and that is another issue. More than any other group the offensive line needs to play together.
“If all five of us go the wrong way, someone else is going the wrong way, we’re all right. And that’s usually what’s going to work. But if one guy is going the other way, for us offensive line, four guys could have the greatest blocks in the world, if one screws up, we’re all goats,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “We have to be communicating and work on the same page.”
It’s not just backyard wrasslin’ either. The offensive line knows what they’re up against this year. The Gators are entering the season as a top-10 team and the line knows that they are being questioned and under a microscope. That was enough to get them going on their own.
I think we worked really hard this offseason. We did a lot of extra work on our own as a unit. Me, Stone and Nick ran practices basically for us to go through fundamentals and things like that so we can get ahead of the game so we can perform as one unit up front and get comfortable with working with each other. I think that really helped us,” Heggie said. “It’s important. You gotta be one up front. You gotta be able to communicate and I think the biggest thing is repetition. In the offseason to do extra work and get those extra reps in is important. I think it’s going to help us in the season.”
That extra work on the field and the bonding over wrasslin and the offensive line’s love of Krispy Kreme doughnuts has helped forge a bond in the offseason. It’s the SEC and it’s a line of scrimmage league. Feleipe Franks can’t be Feleipe Franks without an offensive line. Lamical Perine can’t do the things he does without an offensive line.
The competitiveness comes from the top down but the offensive line has taken that and used it, uniquely, to form bonds that they believe will benefit them in the season.