The Gator standard: It’s something that has been missing at Florida for nearly a decade, and something Dan Mullen has been working to bring back since he took over back in November.
The Gators probably won’t be heading to the promised land just yet, but Saturday’s 27-19 win over a Top 5 LSU team proved it may not be as far off as it once seemed.
After Florida fell to Kentucky early in the season, a shift started to take place in the program. Players began giving a stronger effort throughout the week, bought into everything Mullen was selling and the difference immediately became evident on the field.
After coming out on top of a tough two-week road test, the Gators needed a strong showing against the Tigers to make a statement not only to the rest of the SEC, but to the nation, that they were a real threat.
Florida played with an edge the entire game that LSU ultimately couldn’t match. And there was no more appropriate time to do it than with the 2008 National Championship team in town.
“When I talk about the Gator standard, those are guys that set that standard,” Mullen said. “When they see how important it is, what it means to be a Florida Gator. Once you’re a Gator, you’re a Gator for life … I think what our guys are understanding. It’s not the pride of just winning and losing. I know that’s really important to them, but the pride of the effort in how hard they go out there and play every single week.”
A part of bringing back the culture and the standard that those players helped set is welcoming them back to the program. So many of Florida’s current players looked up to guys like Tim Tebow when they were young, and to have him and some of the others speak to them before the game gave the team even more of a will to win than it already had coming in.
“It meant a lot for them to come back and actually talk to us,” said junior linebacker Vosean Joseph. “Over the last few years I’ve been here we haven’t really had nobody come back and talk to us like that. For Coach Mullen to bring them back, actually do that, that really meant a lot to us. It showed us that those guys are actually here with us. We’re not here by ourselves playing the football game.”
The Gators even got to pay tribute to a couple of the players from that 2008 team, with Feleipe Franks successfully pulling off the rocker-step touchdown pass to Moral Stephens and Joseph punting the ball into the stands following Brad Stewart’s late pick-six.
Mullen didn’t seem too pleased with the latter of those two, but Joseph had been waiting for his chance to recreate the memorable Brandon Spikes moment all week, and the crowd thoroughly enjoyed it.
While Florida looks to be headed back to its roots under new leadership, the fans just might be as well.
It takes a village to rebuild a program, and that village came out 90,000 strong on Saturday. The Swamp was the loudest and craziest it’s been in a very long time.
In the entire week leading up to the game, the feeling around campus just felt different. The renewed energy for both the fans and the team gives reason to believe there is a promising future ahead in Gainesville.
“I came back to Florida, and there’s a Florida that I know and there’s a Florida that I love and I know the players love,” Mullen said. “And all the former players that are right now celebrating with our guys in that locker room, there’s a certain Gator standard that they expect the team to live up to, but they also expect the Gator Nation to live up to. And it was that way tonight. The Swamp was an intimidating place to come play. It gave us an incredible home field advantage.”