Anonymous Player Q&A: Thoughts on the 2020 season, Dan Mullen and much more

Jan 5, 2021 | 1 comment


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Here are 25 ITG Must See features FREE for all to read. From some of our Anonymous Player Q&A sessions to our Behind-the-Scenes look at Florida football. All FREE!

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This marks the tenth off-season in which Inside the Gators has interviewed an anonymous departing player in order for him to share his thoughts on an array of topics regarding Florida Gators football.

In the past we have conducted these far-reaching interviews in late summer, however, last year we began them in the spring. That set-up seemed to work best, so that's how we'll begin in 2021.

Over the next couple of weeks, and then months, we'll be conducting shorter interviews with a couple of anonymous players in order to give our readers a better understanding of what happened last season, what is currently going on, and some players they should be on the lookout for this spring.

Today we start off with a general overview of the season.

As an aside, allowing a player to comment anonymously obviously has its benefits and downside. The goal of this feature is to give our readers an honest and freely expressive look at the Florida football team, but we also acknowledge the nature of anonymous comments and the stigma that can come with them.

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Obviously, this past season was like none we have ever experienced before. Talk about what it was like to forego the normal off-season schedule, including time with Nick Savage and staff, and how you think that impacted the season.

To start off I thought our off-season experience was great because I really believe we were having the best off-season workouts that we've had under Coach [Dan] Mullen. The energy was there and everyone was putting in the work every day. I was in the best shape of my life and I thought the team was in very good shape overall.

We went all the way through spring workouts the same as we always do and they ended literally two days before we were about to start spring ball. That was when the rug was pulled out from under us and we didn't have any more team workouts for like three or four months. We started back in June. That really sucked for most of us because all the gyms were also closed, so we worked out with whatever we had around the house.

They just gave us exercises to do while we were at home. They gave us a daily routine if we had weights at our house or if we didn’t have weights at our house. They gave us a dietary plan also. We had Zoom meetings three times a week. One would be a team meeting and the other two would be position meetings.

I think our staff did the best they could, but when we came back it was almost like all of the work we put in during the winter was put to waste. I personally think having workouts cut off definitely had its impact because some players that I saw who were grinding in the winter workouts came back like they didn't do anything while we were off. That isn't all their fault. We all went back to different atmospheres. Some didn't have the equipment or weren't eating right or didn't have the same drive to do it on their own.

The whole year was so messed up and different from anything any of us have ever been through that I don't count anything that happened in 2020. Nothing. Everything was off-center.

Dan Mullen seemed a bit different this year – especially in some of his post-game comments – did anything seem different from him this year?

Everything was different from everyone (laughing). Nothing was the same. From Coach Mullen, the way he approached us, how do I say this, I still love him, but he seemed to get on us about petty things this year that he didn't the first two years. Just some small things. Some of the things he said were questionable, especially at halftime during the Cotton Bowl, but everything was different. But yeah he seemed nonchalant in some of the stuff he said, not just to the press, but to us as well.

You have to remember, he is one of the like three percent of the population who caught the disease. I think anyone who caught it, and I know a couple of other players and people who had it, it probably changed them too. You catch this sickness because you are around people playing a game and you get it in your mind, did I turn around and give this to anyone in my family or my friends? Think about Coach Mullen, he had to be roped off from everyone while he is worrying about whether he gave it to his wife and kids. You don't think that is going to affect you mentally?

Now, we have to know, what did he say at halftime of the bowl game?

If you know Coach Mullen, he is the most upbeat person there is. When things are going bad he preaches that no matter what the score is, you give maximum effort on every play, you hold the rope. How many times have we been down 10 points or more and come back to win? That isn't because of us players, that is 100-percent because of him. When you get down that much you are already thinking it is over, but he won't let you. That's his personality. But at halftime of the Cotton Bowl, he basically said our team doesn’t know how to win and that he honestly didn’t expect us to win that game. That's so unlike him. He has never been like that. We've been down at halftime before and it fires him up, so to hear him talk like that we were very discouraged in the second half.

Like I already said, nothing was normal last year. That isn't who he is and I don't hold anything against him or anyone for what they did last year.

Mullen is taking some heat from a certain segment of the fanbase – have your feelings of him as a coach changed at all over the last three years?

No, not at all. They haven’t changed because at the end of the day, he gave me an opportunity to live a dream. The times I've communicated with him went really well and he has been the most approachable coach I have ever played for. It doesn't matter who you are on the team, he has a good relationship with you. I was never afraid to ask him questions or talk to him on a personal level. I think he is probably the most open head coach you will find. And I’ll always be thankful for that and none of us should ever take for granted the way he is with us as players, or really I should say as family.

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As we roll out the first Anonymous Player Q&A session of the offseason, click  RIGHT HERE for the newsfeed to all of our past Q&A sessions. Several of them are free for anyone to read. 

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The defense struggled all season. What do you believe the main reason was for that? 

Yeah, the way the defense played really surprised me all season, but if you are being fair, look at how bad defenses were across college football. Look at how many points teams scored against Alabama this year. Average teams were scoring 30, 40, 50 points in a game because defenses were behind because we missed practices and when we did practice the practices weren't as physical. Like I keep saying, everything was off in 2020. And you have to realize how much of an impact not having Kyree [Campbell] had on our line at the start of the season and in the bowl. The world could see it. When he came back, we gained a little bit of our identity back on defense. I know [Todd] Grantham takes heat, and I can see why a lot of people may or may not want him out, but defenses were down everywhere, not only with the Gators.

Florida finally got the Georgia monkey off of its back this season. What was the mindset of the team entering that game and what was it like to finally win one against one of the Gators biggest rivals?

I felt like every year since Coach Mullen has been here we have always felt confident going into that game, but this year we really felt like it was our year. Practices that whole week were as intense as I think it's ever been during my time here. We kept saying that whole week we were gonna beat them and to finally do it, it was awesome no doubt.

The three-game losing streak to end the season. What was the feeling like during that time?

I could honestly tell from the way we going through drills in practice after the LSU game that we lost our mojo at first but Coach Mullen got us ready and we came for a fight with Alabama. After that game, we really weren’t sure if we were still going to play in the bowl game or not to be honest. Players were already opting out and then for the first practice Ventrell [Miller] had on a boot and Kyree [Campbell] had something wrong with his arm or shoulder. We had so many players dropping off, and other teams were dropping out of their bowl games that it felt like we weren't going to play and I think that got in our head. 

I know people think that is like making excuses, but we had two or three games this year when we really didn't know if we were going to be playing right up until the day of the game. That has a way of messing with your mind. Are you getting ready to go out and battle or go back home because it's called off?

We had the same feelings about the bowl game.

We had the opt-outs and then we see the injuries at the first practice and then two more players [Kadarius Toney and Jacob Copeland] say they are sitting out. 

It all adds up. I think all of the drama and all of the uncertainty wore on all of us this year.

What are your thoughts and your take on the feeling around the team over the Cotton Bowl opt-outs?

I know a lot of guys, including myself were a little upset that some of the guys opted out but then again, it's their careers, their choices so all we can really do is respect their decision. Ventrell [Miller], Kyree [Campbell], and Jacob Copeland didn’t opt-out, they couldn't play. Copeland practiced that week until he found out [he had Covid-19] the day we were leaving for Dallas.

We all understand why Kyle [Pitts] didn't play. He was already hurting, so there was no reason for him to risk it. Some of the other players like Trevon [Grimes] and [Kadarius] Toney, some of us thought should play, but that’s their choice, not ours. Toney was going to play until he found out about Grimes, Ventrell, and Kyree not playing. 

I could tell though after they all opted out that Mullen's attitude had changed and he was kind of in “screw it” mode – which was a bad way to think.

Kyle Trask had one of the better seasons in college football history. What was it like to be part of that?

I never doubted him whatsoever. To see him break records people thought would never be broken and the way he used his weapons was amazing to see. He was cool with everyone on the team and what I’m going to remember about him is that he is as great of a human being as he is a football player.

The three five-star transfers, Brenton Cox, Justin Shorter, and Lorenzo Lingard, were all highly ranked, but none of them really produced at a five-star level this season.

What people have to realize is this, they missed all of the regular summer workouts, especially the player run workouts and we had a limited camp. We have a very complex offense that takes some time and I think that was what held Lingard back. But I know for a fact that all three of these guys will have a major impact on the team next season.

Lingard is the real deal. He has as much talent as anyone on the team.

Justin [Shorter] has the size and knows how to use it and plus he doesn’t take crap. Most receivers talk a little talk, but they don’t mix it up with the defensive backs. Shorter got into a fight a day. He had fights with [Marco] Wilson, [Donovan] Stiner, and [Shawn] Davis that I remember. I wish he was here when Chauncey [Gardner-Johnson] was here. He would have shut him up.

Which player surprised you the most? Which player disappointed you the most?

Grimes surprised me, honestly. Because sometimes he lets things get to his head which causes him to be all out of focus, but after that Missouri game, he turned it up to another level. If he was on a team without Kyle [Pitts] and Kadarius [Toney], he would be an All American. 

Toney surprised and disappointed me. I knew once he became a full-time starter he would play like the All-American he was because he has always had talent. It disappoints me that he has so much talent but waited until the end to get serious about football. If he treated football like he does music he would have been an All American every year.

I would say Marco [Wilson] disappointed me the most. He has had to battle injuries, but he is talented. I think things got in his head and he got down on himself so he had a rough patch this year and I don’t know if he fought through it hard enough. But I don’t think it will hold him back from going to the NFL and having a good career.

We've seen several underclassmen declare already, do you think any more, such as Brenton Cox or Ventrell Miller, will make the move?

No, they’re both staying. I think Stew [Stewart Reese] and Jean [Delance] might come back. The only one I’ve heard whispers about maybe leaving is [Trey] Dean – but he is waiting to see what kind of feedback he gets.

We can’t talk about the 2020 season without bringing up the shoe-throwing incident. How did the players deal with that behind-the-scenes?

I don’t know what anyone said to him in private, I just know that there were players like [Ventrell] Miller, [Tederrall] Slaton, and [Kyree] Campbell who were so upset that they were crying after the game. Honestly, Marco [Wilson] didn’t really show much emotion, if any, but he knew he messed up.

Looking ahead, pick out a player on offense and defense that hasn't played a lot to this point, but the Gator Nation should be aware of for next season?

 Ja’Markis Weston and Derek Wingo. You wouldn't think it but Wingo is a hard-hitter for his size and really since camp started way back in June you could see how talented he is. No one got better this season more than Weston. He started out on the scout team, but was doing so great that they moved him up to the travel squad. He really stepped up the last couple of weeks of the season.

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Check back with Inside the Gators over the next several weeks and months as we continue our in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the Florida football squad.

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