Florida Gators coaches and players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s season finale against the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles, which is scheduled to kick off at 12 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, and air live on ESPN.
Below are some stories, notes and quotes that either broke towards the end of the week or fell through the cracks and did not make it into one of the five posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).
Monday: Changes ahead for offensive staff | Will Muschamp talks coaching changes, fixing the Gators and more injuries
Tuesday: Brent Pease asked 17 questions about job status, future at Florida
Wednesday: Snell’s Slant: Beat Florida State? It can happen. | Muschamp provides updates on injuries, thoughts about Pease
FINAL GOODBYES FOR GATORS SENIORS
Fifteen Gators football players are guaranteed to step onto Florida Field for the last time as student-athletes on Saturday as they will have used up their eligibility as either true seniors or fifth-year seniors. Below is what many of them had to say about their careers, final home game and last time wearing a Florida uniform.
» Senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins: “It’s going to be very emotional for all of us. We’ve been here four years, some five. We have some who have been here six years. It’s a new chapter for most of us to after football and actually graduating. Some of us are graduating next month. It’s going to be very exciting for both us and our families. … This is our last game we’ll ever play in The Swamp in an orange and blue jersey, so all of the seniors I know are going to go out and give everything they’ve got.”
» Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who will have his parents and fiancée there to support him after running out of the tunnel: “I just hope I don’t cry like everybody else has been saying. It’s going to be very emotional coming out the tunnel one last time. I’m very excited but sad at the same time.”
» Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who transferred from a junior college: “It’s bittersweet. Not even just because of the simple fact that this has been a bad season. Mostly because I’m ready to move on to the next part of my life. So it’s bittersweet that way. … I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty emotional, yeah. It’s the last one. It’s probably not going to hit me until probably after a week later that it was my last one.”
» Senior do-everything Trey Burton, who will have multiple members of his family there as well as his wife and baby daughter: “A lot of mixed emotions. I’m really happy for my time here. I wouldn’t want to take anything back, all the challenges and all that type of stuff has helped me mature as a man. I’m just really happy with how things have gone. … I’m going to try not to cry. My family will be out there so I hope it won’t be too bad. I play and I have a lot of emotions for everything I do, so we’ll see. … I think it’s bittersweet for everybody. You don’t want your last game in college football to come and it’s coming.”
No announcements have been made yet and may not be for a couple of weeks, but a couple members of the junior class could be joining the seniors in departing the program after the season. The two most popular names heading into the year, cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson remain the most likely to leave despite the fact that Roberson missed much of the season due to a variety of injuries.
“I have not spoken to either of those guys about what their plans are or what they’re thinking about doing. Both those guys have the ability to go do that,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin on Tuesday. “I don’t know how you ever say somebody’s ready or not. I think both those guys definitely will one day do that. If they choose to do it now, that’s up to them. They have the ability to go do that, they have the competitiveness to go do that. I think they’ll both have great careers at the next level at some point.”
Others who could leave include redshirt junior nose tackle Leon Orr, redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell though odds are that all – or at least most – of them will stay for one more season in hopes of improving their stock.
Orr has shined at times this season but may be able to boost his stock in a big way with one more season. Dunbar has set a UF school record of 27-straight games with a reception but has yet to truly shine over the course of a full campaign. Injuries have held Powell back from reaching his full potential in college; he may want to leave early and not risk getting hurt again or stick around and try to improve his stock as well.
GIVE A PEASE A CHANCE
Despite consensus being that offensive coordinator Brent Pease will be fired by head coach Will Muschamp at season’s end, a couple of the seniors do not believe that should be the case.
“I think he did what he could do as an offensive coordinator and a coach. I love the guy. Personally, I hope he stays for another year,” said Halapio.
Added Burton: “I’m a big fan of Coach Pease and I always will be. I’m thankful for everything he’s done for me and my family. And the lessons I’ve learned from him, I can’t even put into words how thankful I am.”
Asked how Pease was handling all of the scrutiny and rumors about his dismissal but still doing his job, Durkin chalked it all up to strength of mind. “Our staff – coaches, players – we’re all in a tough situation right now,” he said. “Brent, just like everyone else, we’re trying to teach our guys to respond well when you’re in a tough moment. Tough people do that. Brent’s a tough guy. I think we’re all in this together. It’s not just him or any one person on the staff, it’s everyone. We got to coach better, we got to play better, we got to do a lot of things better, and we will.”
Offensive line coach Tim Davis is one more name on the hot seat, and Halapio made sure to provide some praise for him as well.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. It sucks hearing about your offensive line coach [possibly getting fired], especially because we’ve grown with him so much and I’ve gotten so close to the guy. It hurts me personally to hear that he may lose his job. That’s another guy that I hope he’s able to stick around for another couple of years,” Halapio said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Durkin on Florida State’s offense: “They’re really good. The numbers speak for themselves. They’ve been putting up big points in every game. There really haven’t been many games that have been close. … They’re a balanced attack. Their offensive line is now an experienced offensive line, they’ve been playing for a while together. So that presents the issues right there in terms of protection and line of scrimmage when they’re running the ball.”
» Durkin on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston: “He’ll be our biggest challenge of the year.”
» Durkin on Florida’s chances of winning Saturday: “I got great confidence in our guys. Our guys have great confidence in themselves. I think our guys are gonna come out and play a great game on Saturday. They’re excited about this game like they are every year. Guys on both teams know each other. … There’s obvious motivation and excitement for that. I think our guys are going to come out and play a great game.”
» Halapio on looking back at his career: “I’ll remember it as just having a wonderful opportunity to play at the – still in my opinion – the best school education-wise, and I wouldn’t want to play on any other team. It’s hard to say that with the stuff we’ve been going through, but I still feel the same way, I wouldn’t want to be on any other team. … I never thought that my senior season would go like this, especially with four wins at this point. I’ve just experienced a lot here at this program. It’s just going to make me, as an individual, stronger.”
» Halapio on whether the Gators can win on Saturday: “I think we have a chance. If we go out and play like we’re capable of playing, I think we still have a good chance of winning a good game and possibly beating them. We just got to execute, that’s the big thing that we’ve been not doing all year offensively is execute, score points. We need to score points, drive the ball…like everybody else in the country’s doing.”
» Halapio on if morale has rebounded from being at an all-time low last Saturday: “Yeah, it has. I sensed that a little bit [Monday] during the morning lift we had. We just went out there and practiced yesterday and just everybody was flying around, running around, getting things done on the practice field. I think we got that out of our system.”
» Jacobs on how he stayed focused after the season’s goals were out the window: “I’m a team person, so I always put them first. I know no matter what through our success if we can all achieve our goals it will make it a lot easier. … I feel like there’s always something to play for – you play for pride and respect of not just myself but this school. … It’s a lot of motivation simply because they Florida State. I think I seen we had like a 5 percent chance to win or something like that. It’s going to be a real emotional game. I know we’re going to play hard.”
» Jacobs on if the Gators are as close to being good as Muschamp says: “Yeah, I definitely believe in coach Muschamp and what he got going on. I support him. I just believe in his words and the things he can do. That’s been since day one just like in recruiting. I think this program is a lot closer than a lot of people think. I think they’re gonna be slept on all year, probably talked about bad, but they’re going to be fine.”
» Watkins on whether it is frustrating that the offense cannot get a lead: “It’s a team sport. We stop them from scoring then obviously it would make it easier on the offense. I wouldn’t say it drains the entire team. I would say the defense drains the offense, too.”
» Watkins on whether the offense’s struggles infect the team: “I feel like it shouldn’t be because last year at times, the offense wasn’t able to put points on the board but we did a good job of creating turnovers and creating short fields for them. That’s something we’re not doing right now as a defense.”
» Watkins on beating FSU: “It’s motivating for everybody in that locker room. You want to go win this game and try to duplicate what we did last year, come out with a win and create some short field for the offense. They’re having a really good season, and we can end off on a good year. … It definitely can swing confidence for the future, spring ball and going into next year. It would change the feeling around here by getting a ‘W.’”
» Watkins on whether he believes Muschamp is the man for the job: “We don’t pay attention to [the criticism]. Everybody is fully behind Coach Muschamp. We love Coach Muschamp. We try our hardest not to listen to all that on ESPN and stuff and just ignore it and know that we only have each other through this whole thing.”
» Watkins on why 2013 was so tough compared to struggles in 2010 and 2011: “Just the injuries, just to see my teammates, the ones that are injured on the sideline knowing they can’t help. That’s the toughest thing for me. I’m pretty sure if we had all our guys this season it would be different. I’m not making any excuses, but it’s tough to see everyone else play through that. We’ve got younger guys having to step up, but I’m pretty sure that’ll be good experience for them in the future.”
» Patton on if he thought he could have a big season at the start of the year: “Well, I knew I could just by the offseason. When I was working my butt off in the offseason, I knew that I had a good chance this year to have a big season.”
» Patton on the state of the locker room: “Everybody just trying to finish strong and everybody trying to keep their heads up. You know, it’s definitely been quiet. Obviously, nobody is excited about losing, so, you know, it’s definitely a little bit more quiet.”
» Patton on seeing Florida State jump ahead of Florida: It’s pretty frustrating. That’s our rival, and to see them actually on top right now and doing real good. It’s pretty hard to see that every Saturday after we finish a game, and they play before us or something like that, just to find out that they won is pretty difficult.”