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Florida Football

Former Player Feedback: Looking at Florida from a Missouri perspective

October 29, 2020

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To preview this weekend's Homecoming match-up against Missouri, Inside the Gators contacted the only two Florida football players in recent memory who actually hail from the Show-Me State for their thoughts on the series in general, this game and particular, and what they think of Dan Mullen’s program.

Coming out of Saint Louis (Mo.) Kirkwood High School, Darrell Lee was one of the most highly sought after prospects in the nation, a five-star in the Class of 2000, who played 45 games in his UF career.

On the other hand, Nick Fleming - from the same high school - arrived at Florida as a walk-on punter who eventually was awarded a scholarship prior to the start of the 2005 season.

Though they took different paths to Gainesville, they have many of the same thoughts on the two programs.

You attended Florida before Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. How much of a factor were the Tigers in your recruiting process and had they been in the SEC back then might have things turned out differently?

Fleming:  Back when I was in high school Larry Smith coached the Tigers.  At least from my perspective, it seemed Mizzou didn't come around to recruit our area as much as their neighbors did like Iowa, Illinois, etc... so I didn't get too much attention from Mizzou.  It would have been nice to be recruited harder by the home state school, but they were not a very good football program at the time so it didn't bother me too much. 

The neighboring state schools like Iowa and Illinois showed a lot more interest so I was favoring those at the time.  If Mizzou was in the SEC it surely would have played a bigger factor in my recruiting.  I definitely would have tried harder to get noticed by Mizzou as playing with and against the best talent was what I was after, even if it meant walking on to a program.  Every kid would play for the home state team if they were always playing at a high level like the SEC does every year, but that wasn't the case for Mizzou in 2000-2001 when I was being recruited.  I doubt overall things would have turned out very different for me if Mizzou was in the SEC when I was being recruited as UF was #1 in the country so it was incredibly appealing as I could play at the highest level, be coached by Coach Steve Spurrier, get a great education, and never have to see snow again.

Lee: Mizzou was the first school to offer me my junior year and that was huge because until then I had not really considered college as an option. I come from a blue-collar family and it was pretty much, graduate high school and find a job and work for the rest of your life. That's all I knew because that's the only thing that I had seen growing up. The Big12 at that time was run-heavy. I think Mizzou was still running the wishbone at that time. So for my skill set I didn't think at 215 lbs that would be my best fit, also I entered my senior year as a five-star recruit, so I got to speak with the best of the best programs and after seeing Mizzou throw a parade for and 8-4 season that ended with the Bowl I knew that wasn't the place for me. I didn't want to be the big fish in a small pond. Looking back on it now it might have served my career better to not have to compete with an All American for playing time and playing linebacker and not having to gain 40-pounds my freshman year would have allowed me to retain my speed. So I guess my answer would be 17 yr old ‘me’ it wouldn't have mattered, but today ‘me’ would have signed there if they were in the SEC.

Despite the disparity in the status of the two programs, Florida is only 4-4 against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC. Does that surprise you?

Fleming: Having a .500 record against Mizzou does surprise me.  Watching Mizzou in the late 80s to the late 90s, they were always a very sub-par team, so to see how they have transformed into a team that can hang with the best SEC teams is impressive.  Granted a lot of those games were during UF's down years so that played a huge role, but it's still impressive that they were able to come out of the gate and win a lot of ball games in their first few years in the SEC.  Now that UF is back on track, I'm hopeful that percentage starts to favor UF again.

Lee: The record is a bit surprising. There were 1-2 years when Mizzou was pretty good and we were switching coaches every couple of years and couldn't find a consistent quarterback so those two years I knew it could be a wash. Then there were a few years where we just blew it. If you were just looking at reputation I’m sure it would be a big shock, but if you were following the programs you knew a few of those games could have gone either way.

The last time Missouri came to Gainesville the Tigers destoryed the Gators 38-17, on Homecoming to boot. Do you remember your thoughts after that game?

Fleming: I remember that game well as I root especially hard for the Gators when we play Mizzou as my buddies back home use a Mizzou victory for bragging rights for years to come.  I am a huge Coach Dan Mullen fan and we just started to get some momentum that year and we fell to Georgia and Mizzou back-to-back.  I was hoping Mullen would not let the lockerroom write the season off since they had three losses already.  As we now know they responded well and came back really strong the rest of the year.

Lee: That game was awful! I was thinking the same as I had been after many of our losses up until this year, man our offense is bad and they're leaving the defense out there too long. Also, why don't they get Kadarius Toney involved more? 

Even though you are a Gator, do you feel some sense of pride in how the Tigers have played UF?

Fleming: I don't really have feelings of pride when the Tigers have beaten Florida.  Although I came from Missouri, UF is my alma-mater so the only pride I have is for my Gators. 

Lee: No, no pride at all. I'm a Gator end of story Mizzou is just another team in the way of our road back to glory. 

What are you expecting to happen this weekend? Score prediction?

Fleming: I think Mizzou is a better team than they get credit for so I think it will be a closer game than anyone wants.  They are coming off two great wins and we are coming off our two-week COVID break, so it will be an interesting game to predict.  I say 48-38 would be my score prediction.

Lee: I expect the Gators to dominate on offense and would like to see the defense make some tackles and defend the pass better. Even in our down years, we have always had a respectable defense, and now that we finally have a high power offense the defense decides to fall apart. 

What are your thoughts on how Dan Mullen is building the program?

Fleming: I had the opportunity to be on the team when Mullen was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and I was a big fan of how Mullen coached.  I really like the way he is currently leading this program, as I see him implementing a lot of the things that he and Coach Meyer did while I was there that had been lost for a few years now.  As I got to play for both Coach Steve Spurrier and Coach Meyer, I like to say he has a great combination of Coach Meyer intensity and has a bit of Coach Spurrier swagger to him.  That's a perfect combination in my book and I'm glad we have him at UF leading our Gators

Lee: Coach Mullen is doing a great job. He and his staff are welcoming to former players - which I think is awesome. I wish I lived closer so that I could be more involved with the team and school. He's put together one of the best receiving groups in the country and has Kyle Trask playing at a top tier level. I can only hope that he continues to improve the program. I'm looking forward to seeing the new facility that we are building and hopefully that is just another sparkling jewel to attract more top players.

Former Player Feedback: Looking at Florida from a Missouri perspective

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