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Florida Football

The boys are back in town

April 15, 2018
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The plan was to have quarterback Feleipe Franks take the snap, throw it to former Gator quarterback Doug Johnson who would then launch it downfield to Travis McGriff for the touchdown.

It didn’t go quite that way as instead Franks held on to the ball and completed the 60-yard touchdown pass to the former Gator wide receiver.

"They weren't clear with it, man. But I'll steal the stats, though, so it's OK,” laughed Franks about the mix-up following the conclusion of the 2018 Orange and Blue Game.

Although head coach Dan Mullen said he felt bad that Johnson came from D.C. for the weekend and didn’t get to throw the pass as planned, there was still a jovial atmosphere around the entire day simply because Johnson, along with hordes of former players, were back in town.

The involvement of former Gators has been key for Mullen as he works to teach his players about the “Gator Standard.” He’s had players from his tenure as offensive coordinator from 2005-2008 return as well as others from different generations come speak to the team, watch practice and generally just observe an open door policy. It gives this team something tangible to look up to and motivation to achieve their goal explained Mullen.

“You look on the sidelines, you know, and you are looking at the quality of players. I was telling our players, 'there's an awful lot of championships, lot of lot of SEC championships standing on that sideline, national championships, Super Bowl championships, All-Americans, All-SEC, award winners, guys that have been successful on the field. Tremendous success off the field.’ To have those guys back around and explain for our players here to see that is the Gator standard. Those guys are counting on our team to live up to what it is to be a Florida Gator was huge.”

And even after a few short months, the 2018 team is starting to get the message. There’s always been a message of making former teams proud, of knowing your place in Gator history. Will Muschamp would often preach of looking at the wall in the Gator team meeting room and seeing the years of championships that came before. But looking at the wall could only teach so much and defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said seeing it in person is the difference.

“It was stressed before, but it never really was like, heavy on our minds. We would just cover our guys and guys would get in and get out because that’s what Florida produces.

“This spring has been a learning experience for us. Bringing our guys back, guys that’ve been here, done that. Those championships on the wall, that’s them. So we’ve got a chance to put one on the wall hopefully this year to make them proud...it’s humbling.”

Added Mullen, “Our players, they see their names around campus, but to get to meet who they are as people and understand what the power of this university has. Not just for their futures as a football player, but all the things that the University of Florida can do for them as men in their lives and for their futures. Such a special deal for our players to be able to see that.”

As former players milled in and out on Saturday, showing their role in Gator history became a priority for Mullen. Former safety and Jim Thorpe Award winner Lawrence Wright assured the coach he could catch anything and was given the chance with a 48-yard pass from quarterback Kyle Trask, something Trask didn’t even find out about until the last second.

“It was during the TV timeout and Coach Mullen said, ‘OK, you’re going hit him down the sideline.’ I was like, ‘All right.’ I’m sure the fans loved it…I just tried to throw it up in the air and make sure he could run under it.”

There were plenty of players to choose from though and it was a matter of picking his poison as Mullen looked around those crowded sidelines. There were some choices that were easier to make however, even if it meant choosing a defensive back over an offensive player like former running back Chris Rainey.

“Chris Rainey was there ready to go. I was looking around, and [Louis] Murph[y] and Deonte Thompson were kind of around. But Lawrence was there and pregame he said, ‘hey, I’ve got hands. I will catch everything.’ Actually, it was a heck of a catch to be honest with you. He said, ‘I got it.’ So I’m like, ‘all right, we’ll go and get that set.’ Chris would have done it. I love Chris to death, but he’s still Chris Rainey.”

Mullen’s most well known protégée, at least in Gainesville, is of course Tim Tebow. The former Heisman winner was unable to make the spring game while in the midst of baseball season with the New York Mets farm team the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in southern New York. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyhow joked Mullen since “Feleipe probably would have hogged the ball from him” and with his current career Mullen says Tebow would have to join the baseball team for their alumni series. However, he has full intentions of letting his team become well acquainted with one of the banner carriers for the Florida Gators.

“That’s the boss right here, Mr. Tebow. I’m looking forward and I think it’s always awesome to have him back.

“We shared a special time and we’re going to make sure that he gets back and makes a connection with this team and they understand from him what it is to be a Florida Gator, what that Gator standard is from him like we have with a lot of other players. That’s important to me and I know he does so much but we’ll make that work.”

No matter who comes through the door next, it seems this Gators team is ready to embrace their knowledge and build off their history as the current team works to create their own place in Florida history.

The boys are back in town

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