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Florida Football

Gators holding on to the rope, embracing the 'strain'

October 9, 2018
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There are just over 3,000 steps in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The Florida Gators football team has ran up and down every one of them. Their feet have touched every step and they did it holding onto a rope.

“We probably know every step in that stadium,” says running back Lamical Perine.

And they did it three times.

“We ran stadiums for every loss we had in a home game,” reveals receiver Josh Hammond.

“We had three last year, so we had three stadium runs. We don't want to do any more. We want to protect the Swamp and not have any losses in the Swamp. I think that was a big thing as well."

The workout was implemented by head coach Dan Mullen and staff during this past off-season, his first as skipper for the Gators. It’s something he’s done with his teams in the past and a practice he called up on again to deliver this team a message. It’s simple and two-fold.

Protect your house—as Hammond mentioned—and do it as a team.

“We did one with the rope, where you did it with your specific team*,” explains Mullen.

(*The teams refer to the eight groups players are split into and captained by eight players a part of the leadership committee.)

“So you had to do the stadium run and everyone had to hold the rope for the stadium run. You had O-linemen and receivers both on that team and you had to hold that rope. So it's not like a skilled guy can go faster on those…just don't let go of the rope.

“Sometimes, it's, 'I want to go faster, I want to go slower.' But you're as good as your teammates are. And we are as good as we are as a team, not, hey, you see how fast I can run the stadium? That's great, but you left your teammates behind so that does us no good. It's we are as good as our team is."

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After an off-season that saw Strength and Conditioning coach Nick Savage force the team to step up their physicality, guys see the tactics—such as the stadium runs—paying off in games, especially the last two versus Mississippi State and LSU have been won in the 4th quarter.

"It's been a real big factor,” admits safety Donovan Stiner.

“I mean, in the fourth quarter, you want to still be fresh. Not tired or worried about finishing the game, not worried about how tired you are. I think the team that's in the most shape in fights like that, whoever's in the most shape will win."

“You’ll hear Coach Savage say it all the time, strain, strain, strain,” says defensive lineman Kyree Campbell, looking back to the Gators 4th quarter come back to beat then No. 5 LSU 27-19 on Saturday.

“You know after they scored the first time, most teams would have gave up. We just kept straining and hold on, it’s mental.”

Adds quarterback Feleipe Franks, “I think it's been super important. I think you know just the mentality of just straining, you know you play a 60 minute game, LSU's a really good football team. And we knew going in that was gonna be a 60-minute game. And when you get punched in the mouth you just gotta keep on, keep on fighting. That's what our players did and just strain through the fourth quarter. Not giving up, not letting down and think that's one of the best things we could've had happen to us in the offseason, becoming more mentally strong.”

The fourth quarter of the LSU game, as Franks alluded to, was really a snap shot of all that offseason was working towards; becoming mentally tough and not backing down when backed against the wall as they were apt to do in previous seasons. The offense fighting back to take a one point lead and then the defense returning an interception for a pick-six to effectively end the game were all fruits of their labor according to Mullen.

“All of a sudden in that third and fourth quarter that rope starts slipping through your hands and it’s burning. You ever try to hold a rope and it starts ripping out of your hands? It’s burning your hands. Most people, it starts burning your hands, you let go of that rope. We didn’t let go of that rope. Even though it was slipping we held on, and eventually we stopped the slide and we started yanking and pulling it back in. And we were able to win the tug of war there at the end.”

Holding on to that rope has become a rallying cry for the 5-1 No. 14 Florida Gators with Mullen reminding the players of those moments that bonded them together, following a win over No. 5 LSU when they did in fact protect their house.

Off-season motivational practices and company lines can become cliché, losing their luster when the team doesn’t seem to live up to the meaning of the words.  But holding on to the rope and all those other offseason moments, that’s more than a metaphor; it’s a reminder of what they’ve been through already together and what it will take to continue.

“I think those have a lot to do with our success because when you get into those games, you need something to look back on,” says Mullen.

And the fact you can look back on and say, 'hey, I trained so hard and put myself through so much in that offseason training with so much intensity, I did it for this moment, -- not when you're up big -- I did it for when we are down in the fourth quarter and we have to find a way to make a play to win the game. I have that to look back upon and I can take with me moving forward.' And that, really, our offseason program is all about that. A lot of it is about getting bigger, faster, stronger, and getting in great condition but a lot of it is also about mental toughness and how to overcome any type of adversity and take on any challenge that is put in front of you."

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