We all know this is a new team, these post-mania Florida Gators for 2010. Most of them were around to see what happened last year, that wild and crazy ride on the Farewell Tour for so many great Gator players.
This year, well, is different. And you get the sense that these guys can’t wait to get the season started so they can stop answering questions about last year.
You also get the sense that as cliche as it might seem, this team has a real bond. That last year’s lip-biting games and coach’s health issues and weekly drama toughened their skin and brought them together.
“Everybody’s sweet to each other,” said receiver Chris Rainey, a former Lakeland High School star. “We call each other, talk to each other. I don’t care where you’re at. Playing video tournaments at houses. It’s a lot of fun this year like I’ve never seen before here.”
Sounds good, eh?
What this team lacks in rock stars it wants to make up for in chemistry. There is no caste system on this team.
“The great thing is we did it on our own,” Rainey said. “The coaches didn’t make us do it. Everybody likes each other.”
And then he lowered the boom.
“I guess we got rid of the prima donnas,” Rainey said. “All the selfish cats. That’s probably it right there. Guys who were worried about themselves or worried about trying to get to the NFL.”
Across the country in NFL training camps, a lot of guys felt sharp pains in their backs Thursday afternoon (especially because those guys won 13 of 14 games). Rainey’s comments weren’t directed at anybody specifically, and we may never see him brought to a media opportunity the rest of the season. Outrageous comments tend to result in a deep freeze.
But the players would know better than us if there was a division on last year’s team.
“We’ve bonded more as a team this year,” said center Mike Pouncey, also a former Lakeland star whose twin brother, Maurkice, is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Maybe it’s because this is a team that has to play together. Maybe there was more freelancing last year with the talent Florida had. Maybe there were more egos a year ago. Lord knows they were rock stars.
“No rock stars this year,” Lakeland standout Ahmad Black said.
Or maybe this is the point that has been hammered home to these kids as they prepared for Thursday morning’s first practice, that they had better be close because this isn’t going to be easy. A year ago, the team bore the weight of sometimes-unrealistic expectations. This year’s team is using the “chip on the shoulder” theme. Last year, great things were expected. This year, well, they’ll show you.
“We went through a hard offseason, and we went through it together,” quarterback John Brantley said. “We were always joking outside the weight room. I’ve noticed this team is really closer than years past.”
One thing Brantley, the quarterback who said he can walk through campus without anybody noticing, did to add to that closeness was have all of the linemen over for dinner this summer. It’s part of the theme of summer that will become the mantra of fall.
“We lost a game last year because of accountability issues,” Pouncey said of the Alabama loss in the SEC title game. “We weren’t fully prepared as a team. It was real embarrassing. We figured that would happen because there were a lot of distractions that week. When you think about it after the game, what you could have done, you weren’t fully prepared.”
If you had your druthers, you’d rather have a close team on one page than one that wasn’t. But bonding isn’t always converted into winning. You still have to make plays, still have to execute.
And we never know for sure how much of it is lip service. Kind of like how every team in college football had its best summer workouts ever, these Gators are closer than they can remember ever being.
We’ll see. Adversity is out there, waiting.
So are the rock stars.
Copyright 2010 Lakeland Ledger Publishing Corporation All Rights Reserved