Former Florida Football Player Roundtable II

Former Player Feedback

by Inside the Gators Staff

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

With Florida’s 2023 season opener against No. 14 Utah just days away, Inside the Gators has turned to former Gators football players to get their take on the upcoming season and the state of Florida football.

We will publish the results as they are returned.

Today we have responses from players from two different decades of Florida Football in kicker Zack Brust (2009-12), receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. (2008-12), and defensive tackle Steven Harris (2002-06).

What is your take on what happened during the 6-7 2022 season?

Brust: “It was a rebuild, as simple as that. I know we all saw Swamp Kings – perhaps the most enlightening part is just how difficult a rebuild is: changing the culture, getting buy-in from guys you didn’t recruit, and implementing new systems in all three phases. Couple that with the transfer portal and an always-daunting schedule… and 6-7 is the result. I am not overly concerned with 2022. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t surprising.”

Hammond Jr.: “My take on the 6-7 season – I think it was just that first year in a new system with a new coach and new era where most kids are used to doing things a certain way. Sometimes it happens overnight and you win 10 games in the first season and sometimes it doesn’t and for the Gators as you can see it’ll take some time.”

Harris: “For me, I believe the 2022 football season was a ‘dust settling’ type of season. Especially because of NIL/transfer portal, we had to find out who were the guys that really wanted to be Gators. We lost a lot of talent with people choosing to take their careers to other places, but it also gave a lot of room for young guys to get some experience – the ones that really want to be a part of something special.”

To this point, what is your opinion of Billy Napier?

Brust: “He’s doing all of the right things. Emphasizing recruiting, prioritizing player development, and building a small army of talented support staff. Shout-out Katie Turner. I think he absolutely gets the off-field piece of being a big-time college football coach these days. Now we need to see it on the field. I don’t expect us to contend for championships in the next few years, but seeing consistent improvement (and sprinkling in a marquee win or two) would be stellar.”

Hammond Jr.: “To this point, I love Billy Napier and the direction he is taking the program. Granted, I know as fans we get impatient and want to win now, but I think we’re headed in the right direction and he’s the right coach for the job. He just needs the W’s to back it up.”

Harris: “I really like Coach Napier and the energy he brings to the program I haven’t had a chance to meet him personally yet, I will this year, but coming from other former players, we believe the program is headed in the right direction and he’s the guy for the job.”

Florida faces three opponents – #1 Georgia, #5 LSU, #8 FSU, #12 Tennessee, and #14 Utah – who are ranked inside the top 15 of the AP Preseason Poll. Which game do you believe they are most likely to win?

Brust: “In order:

Utah – They’re missing some key guys, week one is always wacky without preseason, and I think we have more to lose than they do. 27-23 Gators.
FSU – After they fall graciously to LSU, Clemson, and Pitt and realize they aren’t all the way back.. they get to come to The Swamp. 34-20 Gators. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tennessee – I think they’ll be the real deal this year (again). The game in Gainesville helps the cause, but my bet is 33-24 Vols (that hurts to type).
UGA – the machine rolls on. They take a step back this year, which remarkably could still yield a Natty. 27-13 UGA.
LSU – Death Valley with a bunch of youngsters. Yikes. Hopefully, they remember the feeling and make amends in 2025. 31-17 LSU.”

Hammond Jr.: “The only two teams that scare me are LSU and UGA. But FSU, Tennessee, and Utah are just going to have to beat us and show me ’cause I like Florida over those three teams for sure.”

Harris: “Out of those opponents, so I think we will for sure have to beat FSU. Just off principle! If you put FSU on any list, then they are the team we are beating for sure.”

What are your thoughts on where Florida currently stands at your former position?

Brust: “Candidly, I’m not too familiar with the special teams this year – although I’d be remiss not to notice the starting kicker job going to walk-on Adam Mihalek over former top-five national recruit Trey Smack. Competition is a beautiful thing, and kicker may be the only position where performance can be objectively measured – did you make it or not? Any time you start a walk-on over a scholarship guy there is some drama – whoever starts, we’ll need more than the pedestrian 14-for-21 we saw in 2022.”

Hammond Jr.: “I love the wide receiver group we have and they got the right Coach in place with Billy G [Gonzales] to get them right l. I think collectively it’ll be a good year for the wideouts with Ricky Pearsall leading the group.”

Harris: “I believe the interior defensive linemen are ready to play big this year. Some of those young big men are getting older and have a lot more experience and have had a lot more time in the weight room, so I’m expecting big things out of the defensive front this year for sure.”

Is there a player you believe is flying under the radar but will shine this year? Is there a player you believe needs to step up?

Brust:Princely Umanmielen sure looks ready to dominate. Trevor [Etienne] and Montrell [Johnson Jr.] are going to feast. My friend Chris, who now has three kids and trolls message boards like a bear on the side of a salmon-filled spring, thinks Kahleil Jackson is destined for the Gator glory his bloodline produced in decades past. I’ll note that my amigos Harrison and Alex, unfortunately, think Chris is a delusional propagandist who must be stopped. No way around it, Graham [Mertz] needs to step up. I saw he got his cleats painted with Gator scales for the game tomorrow. Lovely…now we need 275, 4 TDs, and 0 turnovers.”

Hammond Jr.: “The current position I’m looking at the most, and I think most of us are, is the quarterback position because it starts with the quarterback. But, overall I think the team as a whole needs to step it up and get into winning football the fans want to see.”

Harris: “I’m currently expecting the most out of Cam Jackson – I believe our defense will only go as far as he takes us in the middle. I am also expecting Desmond Watson to step up big time this year. I also believe Jack Pyburn is underrated and flying under the radar. He’ll be a household name by the end year.”

What is your prediction on Florida’s final 12-game regular season record?

Brust: “8-4. Marked improvement. Consistency. Momentum. Bowl game win that’ll set us up for some lofty 2024 expectations.”

Hammond Jr.: “My season prediction is 9-3.”

Harris: “I like us this year to go 10-2. I know it sounds like a stretch, but I believe.”

Go to discussion...

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  1. The people that know Florida football the best the players who played here like Matthews, Spurrier and these players all think we’ll have a winning season.

    That makes me feel better then I did a couple weeks ago.

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