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Offensive line coaches talk all the time about how chemistry and cohesion are just as important, if not more important, than physical abilities.
After all, knowing who to block is just as important as actually performing the block. The linemen have to be able to communicate with each other, sometimes non-verbally, and trust that the guy next to him is going to do his job.
“It’s hard for you to lineup next to a guy that you don’t hang out with outside the facility,” right tackle Jean Delance said. “You’ve got to have trust in him. ‘Oh man, I’m sliding into the C-gap.’ I’ve got to know if this guy comes across my face in the B-gap, and he got me. It’s hard for you to have that connection if you don’t talk to that guy outside the facility.”
The Gators’ offensive linemen bonded over the summer through some rather interesting pool activities.
Guards Brett Heggie and Christopher Bleich share a house with quarterback Feleipe Franks, tight end Lucas Krull and long-snapper Brett DioGuardi. They battled each other over the summer in a sport Bleich referred to as “pool fighting.”
The rules are simple. Two guys get in the pool, and they wrestle each other. Whoever’s head goes under water in the deep end of the pool first loses.
“Just two big guys ‘sumoing’ it out,” Bleich said. “It’s not a pretty sight to see, but, I mean, we lose a few pounds in the pool every night.”
Bleich said Heggie is the best at pool fighting, though Bleich beat him for the first time in about 30 tries about a week ago. He ranked Franks second, DioGuardi third, himself fourth and Krull last.
Despite being a quarterback, Franks is good at wrestling because he’s tenacious, long and plays with good leverage, Heggie said.
Krull, perhaps wisely, doesn’t participate much.
“He’s usually chilling, making fun of two fat kids wrestling,” Bleich said.
Bleich said they do it WWE-style sometimes with introductions, cannonballs, belly-flops and walk-up music. His go-to song is “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
He said he and his brother used to watch WWE, and he saw it in-person at an arena near his home in Pennsylvania. He joked that becoming a professional wrestler is his Plan B.
Meanwhile, all of the linemen gathered at coach John Hevesy’s house a few weeks before fall camp for a night of fun. You’ve probably seen the video on Twitter of the linemen cannon-balling into the pool, with Hevesy looking concerned and a bit disgusted.
Heggie said his cannonball form needs some work, but he is the best lineman at doing a belly-flop. He said he won’t put video of it on Twitter because of the backlash he got for his cannonball. Fans don’t want ’t him to risk getting injured again.
“I don’t know if I can put anything on Twitter anymore because people want me in bubble wrap,” he said.
After the cannonballs, they played some physical games of pool basketball.
“I try to stay from the deep end because that’s when they start – there are no fouls in pool basketball, you know what I mean?” center Nick Buchanan said. “So, grabbing and dunking, [I] try to stay away from all of that. I try to stay in the shallow area where I belong.
“I’m out there running the show like Magic Johnson at point guard. I wasn’t trying to get too into the deep end too much because we have some tall guys on the O-Line, and I’m one of the shorter guys. So, I stay in the shallow [end] and dish and pass the ball, throw alley-oops, stuff like that.”
Fortunately, there have been no reports of pool-related injuries. Well, anything significant anyway.
“You’ve seen Bleich bust his nose and was bleeding, but it’s all fun,” Delance said. “We’re competitive guys, so we’re having fun, but that just brings us a whole lot closer in terms of having trust within each other as a unit.”
Delance said he took part in pool fighting a few times, and he agrees that Heggie is the champion.
“Heggie is a tough guy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what he’s got going on. He could have three different injuries on his body, but he’s still going to find a way to get it done. Fighting, tussling or arm wrestling, he’s going to find a way.”
He has a dream matchup he would like to see some day.
“I like big guys, so I’m going to try [Tederrell] Slaton and Bleich and see who comes out because they’re both competitive, and Bleich, he has so much more in him that he don’t even know,” he said. “So, when you see him do it, you know, it shocks you. And Slaton’s a guy who’s big and he’s athletic. Like, you can pretty much tell him to do anything, and he can do it.”
It wasn’t all games and nonsense over the summer. Buchanan said they stayed about 10-15 minutes after every workout and put in some extra work. They watched film together and attacked everything with intensity. He described it as “one of the hardest-working off-seasons of any of the units.”
The linemen said the pool hangouts and the extra time they put in after workouts built more chemistry and friendship and will have a positive impact on the group’s performance this season.
“It has helped a lot because we are not really nervous about messing up, screwing up because we know what we are doing,” left tackle Stone Forsythe said. “We can just go out there and have some fun and just get better.”
Buchanan said pool basketball was a fun way for guys to get to know each other outside of who they are as football players.
“Anytime you’re going out there, just having fun with the guys, it’s a bonding moment,” he said. “You get to learn more about people. You get to have fun with kids. Switch up the teams and we do older guys versus younger guys, people from South Florida versus everywhere else. It’s just a different way to learn about guys, talk to them and have fun with them.”
Some fans probably view the pool antics as childish fun with a risk of serious injury, but UF’s offensive linemen believe it is a necessary step in building a dominant unit.
“We get close as a group, it makes you want to go out there on Saturdays and play harder for the guy to the left and the guy to the right,” Heggie said. “I think it’s really important to grow that bond.”