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Hill: Florida football is finally fun again

April 15, 2018
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During Dan Mullen’s introductory press conference back in November, he was asked about bring the fun back to Florida football. And from that moment on he set a precedent.

“Every day is fun,” he said at the time.

“I certainly hope everyone of those guys loves playing ball…we get on that football field every day, that’s what it’s all about. You come out to that practice field, that should be the best two hours of your day, every single day you’re out there playing ball having a good time…if that’s not fun, you’re here for all the wrong reasons.”

While looking for the right reasons—the right way to play ball again—the Florida Gators have begun to find the element of fun.

All spring players have promised that there’s a different energy around the program and that Mullen brings an excitement unmatched by anything they’ve felt in a long while. On Saturday during the annual Orange and Blue Game, that attitude was put on display as the team showcased a liveliness that’s been missing in recent years.

“The last coaching staff, no offense to them, but sometimes they made it too much of a business aspect,” pointed out running back Jordan Scarlett.

“You know it is business sometimes when you’re out here, to them it’s their job. But, they do have to remember that we’re 18-22 [year olds] like you said and a lot of us just want to have fun. Sometimes you can make us have fun while we’re doing it. Some great things can come up out of it.”

The business aspect with the last two coaches could be expected. Both Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain are products of the Nick Saban coaching tree. The Alabama football program is a fine tuned machine that operates like a Fortune 500 business. It works for the program because that’s the type of leader Saban is and the way the program has typically been run no matter the head coach. Both Muschamp and McElwain tried to replicate that, forcing a school like Florida that’s always had a more loose style into a mold that was destined to be uncomfortable.

“The last coaching staff, no offense to them, but sometimes they made it too much of a business aspect."
Jordan Scarlett

Mullen, intent on using his own Jordan wearing style to find common ground with his players, tapped into their desire to play this boys game with panache and the result was telling. Over 50,000 were in attendance for the spring game (and that didn’t count the 10,000+ that were tailgating in midtown) to watch a team let loose.

“A lot of people forget, these are kids,” reminded Mullen.

“They are 18 to 22-year-old kids. They've got to have fun doing it, too. It was great to see their enthusiasm and energy. I wanted to see our players having a lot of fun out there on the field and it looked like they were having fun."

“Those are really fun times. For Mullen to tell us we can have any touchdown celebration we want, and that they were going to take the celebration flags away was really fun. And to have all the Gators back was awesome,” said quarterback Kyle Trask.”

The celebrations were one of the most visual aspects of this teams willingness to embrace the new energy. Defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson gave quarterback Feleipe Franks a piggyback ride off the field during following one touchdown. Running back Jordan Scarlett wanted to do something with his whole team on the field instead of an individual celebration so he orchestrated a game of duck-duck-goose in the endzone. Gardner-Johnson jumped into the stands and conducted the band afterwards.

And Franks, who came out of the 2017 season crippling under the weight of the world on his shoulders, finally did what Mullen asked of him a few weeks ago and loosened up, cracked a smile and blossomed in the process. He threw for one touchdown while going 8-of-12 for 117 yards through the air and rushed for two more touchdowns for a total of 63 yards. The first rushing touchdown—which granted might not have counted in a real game thanks to the non-contact jersey protecting him but was a good confidence boost nonetheless—earned a punt from the passer into the stands. The second really showed off his athleticism as he jumped up and dunked the ball over the goalpost.

“My adrenaline was going on the second [touchdown] and I didn't know what to do so I just did that. First thing that came to my mind…I don't know if I would have made it in an actual basketball goal, but I made it one there."

The mood was set with Gator Walk as players interacted with fans and felt a support unlike anything during their time here thus far.

Explained Mullen, “when our players got finished the Gator Walk, there was a different look in there. They were coming to me and saying 'Coach, that's different.' And that's a spring game. I said, 'that's what we expect. We want to get it back that way. That's what we expect.' That's a great spring game Gator Walk. We hit the season it's going to be 10 times bigger and crazier and more intense.”

It’s all pieces of the puzzle Dan Mullen and this team is trying to put together, promoting a brand they hope fans can be proud of and adapting an identity that is uniquely Florida. When it’s all said and done Mullen wants one word to surround what plans to be a winning team: fun.

“I want to have fun. I mean life’s too short. We’re going to have fun. Now I’m competitive and I want to win but we’re going to have fun doing this. We’re going to make sure we have a team that, you know what’s fun? Playing as hard as you possibly can, setting a goal for yourself and giving everything you have to go and achieve that goal. That’s fun.”

Hill: Florida football is finally fun again

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