9/14: Evans, Bostic and Thompson speak

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparing for their first Southeastern Conference opponent of the 2011 season, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in The Swamp.


The Gators registered two sacks against Florida Atlantic but not a single one against a UAB team with an offence predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. Junior linebacker Jon Bostic said the defense’s front seven is working hard this week to figure out how to improve their pass rush in any situation. “It’s no different from any other game. We got to get to the quarterback,” he said. “Last game they were getting the ball out quick, but we still got to figure out a way to get back there. The D-line still wants to get after it – they want to get their sacks.”

Hopefully helping Florida succeed in that task is sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd, who will be returning to the field after a two-game suspension. Bostic is confident that he will be able assist in the effort. “He’s going to help out a lot because he’s one of those big, strong guys that can change the line of scrimmage in still get to the quarterback,” he said.

Some might think Floyd will have extra motivation to play hard on Saturday, but Bostic says it has been business as usual for him this week. “He’s taking it the same way. He’s going out to practice, still working hard. He’s the same old Sharrif,” he said. “He comes out every day. You never have to tell him to go hard, run off the field, run on the field. He’s one of those guys who is always going to do what he need to do.”


Though Tennessee has been lauded for its outstanding passing attack over the first two games of the season, Bostic said Wednesday that the Gators’ primary job will be stopping the run and forcing the Volunteers to be one-dimensional. Passing game for UT: “Even though they threw for a lot of yards last game, they like to run the ball. You can see it with that big offensive line. We saw it on film – they’re big guys who like to get after it,” he said. “Our main objective is to stop the run first and then we’ll react to the pass.”

In order to do that, Florida will key in on Tauren Poole, who has 45 carries for 199 yards with a touchdown over the first two games. Bostic described him as a “good back, physical, gets downhill, he’s real good between the tackles, so we got to contain him this week.” He said Tennessee’s offense is “old school” and “they’re going to run the ball and control the clock.”


The Gators hope to be the first team to limit the Volunteers’ passing attack this season. Junior safety Josh Evans realizes Tennessee’s talented wideouts will present a challenge for Florida but thinks putting pressure on them from the get-go could do the trick. “We’re going to attack them early in the game and let them know that we’re confident in our DBs and they can play them man-to-man,” he said. “By actually getting after them, not letting them get anything on us – deep balls or any big plays during the game.”

That may be tough for a very young secondary that Evans admits has not been tested in game action yet. However, he believes covering his team’s receivers in practice has prepared them just fine. “Honestly these last couple days as far as practices went, we’re going against our guys and stuff, so that’s kind of been a test, going against them while getting ready for this game,” he said.

Going into the game, Evans thinks vision and personnel recognition are the two keys to the Gators’ succeeding. He also believes being conscious about the down and distance will help Florida know who to key-in on from a coverage standpoint and putting constant pressure on QB Tyler Bray will help as well.

Though the secondary may be the defensive unit that everyone is concentrating on heading into the contest, Evans does not feel that makes them any more important than the rest of the defense.

“I don’t feel like the pressure is on us. We’ve been playing pretty good as a unit. I feel like we’ve all been playing as good as a whole defense,” he said. “It’s up to everybody to do their jobs so we don’t put pressure on just the secondary. Everybody’s coming together as a team, even the D-line is going to give us the push up front to help the secondary.”


Evans spent some time Wednesday discussing how his teammates in the seconday have been performing both in practice and in game action this season.

» Freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson: “[His athleticism] can help him pretty good because he’s got good size and he also can jump. That’s one thing that helps him with taller receivers. He’s an athletic young guy and I think that he’s ready to D-up any receiver in the SEC.”

» Sophomore S Matt Elam: “The communication has been great lately. We’ve been communicating and helping out the linebackers and corners and putting them in the right spots. We took steps and steps as far as learning a whole new defense and everything. It was a big adjustment for us but now we’re starting to get the key vitals of it.”

» Sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “He’s a fast guy – a real fast guy. We know that they’re probably going to want to take shots due to his height, but I think he covers up pretty good. He’s a real aggressive guy. He’ll get hands on you and he likes to pres guys a little bit.”


» Evans on if he works more with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn or head coach Will Muschamp during the game: “it’s kind of equal, but Muschanmp kind of looks at the secondary as far as the safeties and stuff like that – so he gives us the adjustments. “

» Evans on if he prefers an intense or relaxed atmosphere before the game: “I think being able to relax is pretty good, but before the game everyone likes to pick up the tempo a little bit. By seeing the coaches relax a little bit, it makes you relax and makes it seem that while you’re getting ready for the game nobody is too tight. I say being relaxed and then up-tempo before the game, picking it up a little bit. [Muschamp]’s pretty high-tempo but that’s just him being enthused and being in the game and being a head coach, coaching the DBs and everything.”

» Bostic on how redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey has changed: “He definitely matured a lot, as a player, as a person, everything. As a player he’s still doing the same moves. We laugh at it on the sideline – one of the moves he put on the safety last week – because Matt gets the same move every time and bites it every time. We were laughing about that on the sideline. I’m glad he’s happy; he’s getting the ball like he wants to get it. I’ve gotten the same move, too. Sometimes when he puts that move, you act like he didn’t even get you and you just keep running up the field.”

» Thompson said he had his bell rung and did lose consciousness in the FAU game but did not suffer a concussion. He returned to practice a few days after the game and competed against UAB last week.

» Thompson on how Rainey is different this year: “Just all-around. He’s taken his game up to another level. From offseason all the way to now, he feels like he’s in high school again. He’s confident; he walks around confident and knows he can do it.”

» Thompson on if he expects to stretch the field against Tennessee: “No doubt. It’s SEC play. They feel like they got just as good as players as us, so they’ll come up jam us and challenge us to make the deep ball.”

» Thompson’s thoughts on freshmen Roberson and S De’Ante Saunders: “They’re both going to be a hell of a player. They’re good players. Roberson kind of reminds me of Janoris [Jenkins] his freshman year, when he first came in. Pop is great, got good ball skills. Both of those guys they’re good, great athletes.”

» Thompson on how Roberson is like Jenkins: “He’s good at the line of scrimmage. He’s a good jammer just like Janoris was.”

» Thompson on if he noticed New England’s offense was like Florida’s on Monday Night Football: “It is. Very interesting. I’m like, ‘Man, I know what they’re doing!’”

9/14: Will Muschamp’s SEC teleconference

With the Florida Gators just days away from their third game of the season under head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against the Tennessee Volunteers, he spoke with the media during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference to provide some insight about where his team is at going into into week three action.


The availability of a few players has been on fans’ collective minds throughout the week, and Muschamp on Wednesday discussed how they are progressing.

About redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely, who was arrested and charged with a pair of misdemeanors for driving a scooter with a suspended license and resisting arrest without violence, Muschamp was dismissive and refused to provide any details. “Yeah, I’m handling that. We’ll work through that. That’s where we are,” he said.

As far as sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd, Muschamp confirmed that he is set to return from a NCAA-mandated two-game suspension. He also said that Floyd’s plan in regard to paying back the $2,700 the NCAA deemed he owed to charity has been put into motion. The only thing he did not know was which charity Floyd would be donating the money to. “I have no idea. It’ll be a good one though,” he said.

Muschamp also had the opportunity to speak about Floyd’s character and what he brings to the team from multiple standpoints. “He’s a really good player. He’s a guy that is probably the most respected player in our locker room as far as how he handles himself on- and off-the-field,” he said. “He’s just a great young man and a guy that brings a lot of passion and a lot of energy to the locker room, to our football team. On top of all that, he’s a really good football player. God has blessed him. He’s very talented, hard-working – he’s as hard-working a kid as we have on this football team.”

Though Muschamp was not asked about the status of redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed’s hamstring (he said on Monday that Reed should play on Saturday), he was questioned about senior running back Jeff Demps’s shoulder. “He’s fine. He’s going to be fine. He’s practicing,” Muschamp stated.


A member of the same coaching staff as Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley when the two were at LSU some years ago under Nick Saban, Muschamp is well aware what the Volunteers will be bringing to the table on Saturday.

“We’ve got Tennessee coming to The Swamp this weekend, and I’m looking forward to that opportunity,” he said as part of his opening statement. “They’re very explosive team offensively with [Justin] Hunter and [Da’Rick] Rogers outside. [Tyler] Bray is playing very well at quarterback. [They] run the ball well and do play-actions off of that. Defensively the guys are playing hard with a lot of multiple looks. They’re doing a nice job and, of course, Derek does a great job with special teams – he and Eric Russell. A lot of respect for those guys and we’re looking forward to playing them Saturday.”

Bray, who has completed 78 percent of his passes through the first two games of the season, is of primary concern for a Florida defense that will feature a young secondary at the start of Saturday’s contest. “He’s been very accurate with the ball – not just in the intermediate but also with the vertical passing game,” Muschamp said. “He’s got two explosive guys outside, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

He also took some time to complement Dooley for his ability to coach up his team each week. “Derek is a smart guy, extremely hard-working, very detail-oriented in his approach to everything that we do,” he said. “[He] did a great job with our special teams, but a guy that sees the big picture. [He’s] very detail-oriented coach and that obviously shows on tape with this football team.”


Having outscored the team’s first two opponents a combined 80-3, Muschamp was asked if his team was holding anything back from a schematic standpoint during the first two contests. He scoffed at the notion though he did admit that the lopsided scores dictated that they could go away from their game plan in the latter portions of the game.

“We game plan every week to win the game. We’re going to do what we got to do to win the game,” he said. “Obviously as the game changes, you change your play calling offensively and defensively and even in special teams from the standpoint of what you’re doing based on the score. Obviously in our first two games we got up early and played very good there at times. We may have not done some things we had planned for in the game, but we don’t go into a game holding stuff for another opponent. I guess some people do that. I don’t. We prepare to win the game and we prepare to take the things we’ve got to do to win the game. Now whether or not we call them depends on the situation in the game.”


» Opening statement on Florida: “This will be certainly our biggest challenge because it’s on the road and it’s against a team that’s dominated this league in the last decade. And it’s a team that we haven’t played very well against in a while. It’ll be a good measuring stick of where we are and we’ll see how we do.”

» On what part of the Gators’ defense and offense concerns him: “The first thing you notice on defense is probably the most talented defensive line in the country –extremely big, athletic and disruptive and almost impossible to block. If your five can’t block their four, it doesn’t matter what plays you have, it’s going to be a long day. Schematically, they were able to be very vanilla just because of the nature of the two football games that they played. I don’t think we’ve seen near what we might see on Saturday and that’s to be expected. Ultimately it’s going to come down whether we can handle up front. On the other side of the ball, of course, what you see is they do a great job of getting their ball to their playmakers and creating air for them. When they create a little air for their fast guys, they’re hard to catch and hard to bring down.”

» On his team’s third-down efficiency: “Jim [Chaney]’s done a good job with a play calling, but the Jimmys and Joes tend to make third down a lot easier for the coaches. Tyler’s done a great job of placing the ball where it needs to be. The receivers have done a good job of running fast routes and being where they’re supposed to be. So far we’ve been pretty good, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ll find out how we handle it against a quality defense this week.”

» On his young offensive line: “They’re young but we think they’re talented, too. They’re starting to get experience. Now this will be about their seventh or eighth game. Hopefully as each game goes on they play a little bit better and a little bit more confident.”

» On dealing with Florida redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey: “It’s not just his first two games. Watching his body of work over time, he just has an incredible way to impact a game. Whether it’s at runner, whether it’s at returner, whether it’s blocking punts, whether it’s returning blocked punts for touchdowns, you always see the guy in critical moments making big plays. Players like that are very hard to stop or contain. It’s just a combination of tremendous speed and athleticism but also competitive character.”

» On if he has memories of coaching against Muschamp in LSU practice: “Yeah, I have a lot of memories. Six years of them. He’s got his team and he’s in charge of everything now, not just the defense. I know this – his team is going to be well-prepared. They’re going to be very well-coached. They’re going to prepare fast and hard and fundamentally sound and tough, and it’s going to be a big challenge because he’s a good football coach.”

» On his team’s young defenders: “We’re glad we have A.J. [Johnson] and Curt [Maggitt]; we’d be in a real bind if we didn’t. That doesn’t mean they’re playing great, but it means they have the potential to be really good players for us over the long haul. They’ve done a real good job for true freshmen over the first two games, but this is going to be a big test for them because they’re going to be playing a lot and going against guys that are more athletic, bigger that are blocking them than they’re used to, and they’re going to be chasing down guys who are faster than they’ve ever seen.”

Charlie Weis in a great situation at Florida

When he made the tough decision to leave the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 2010 season and transition back into college football as offensive coordinator of the Florida Gators, Charlie Weis was questioned by everyone as to the reasons why he ultimately decided to rejoin the collegiate ranks rather than continue working in the NFL.

At the time, Weis explained that it was a fantastic opportunity for his family. His son would be a student assistant with the Gators, his wife would be pleased with a 10.5-acre estate in Reddick, FL with plenty of horses, and his special needs daughter could get the assistance she needed with her condition.

During a media availability on Tuesday, Weis expressed that college football is also a better family environment than the NFL, something he appreciates as a family man.

“The one biggest difference between college football and pro football is college football is way more family friendly. Pro football is way more of a business. I’m not saying they’re not both a business, but that’s reality,” he said. “Our families are on the field after the game’s over. I’ve never, other than the Super Bowl, I’ve never seen families on the field in a pro game. You might have the head coach’s kids there but that’s about it. If you’re a family guy, which I obviously am, it’s kind of refreshing.”

There was another factor that drove him back to college – he enjoys the game.

“My approach has always been that I’m a teacher; that’s what I am. I’ve never wavered from that. That’s what I think I do the best,” Weis explained. “Everyone has their personalities and probably the biggest difference is I’m in a different role. Because I’m in a different role, there’s a whole set of problems that I don’t have to deal with. That’s why Coach [Will] Muschamp’s the head coach. There’s a whole slew of issues that you don’t deal with [as a coordinator].

“As far as the kids go, I loved the kids [at Notre Dame], and I love the kids here. I love being around kids that age. My kid is 18-years-old; I’ve been around him and his friends for quite some time. Probably one of the most rewarding things is watching one of these kids come in as an 18-year-old and then leaving as a 22- or 23-year-old young man and watching how they evolved and matured and all that stuff. It’s really kind of fun to see.”

Weis is comfortable in his role with the Gators – rejuvenating an offense that had its share of troubles just one year ago. Even though he’s back to being a college coordinator after leading the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for four years as a head coach (2005-09), he said moving on to that top job is not on his mind whatsoever right now.

“I’m just trying to beat Tennessee. Really, that’s the only thing. The only thing on my mind is trying to beat Tennessee. And if you ask me next week, I’ll be talking about trying to beat Kentucky,” Weis said. “That’s the way I was brought up – the way I was groomed. I was groomed [to believe that] you never worry about what’s happening down the road. Alls you worry about is your next game, and Tennessee is the one that’s up.”

Should anyone think money is an issue for him going forward, Weis joked that it is not at all in his mind. In actuality, his three-year, $2.625 million contract should suffice. However, if money was a serious consideration, he said he could be paid better elsewhere.

“Look it, I can make a lot more money in the pros than I can in college. If you’re making your decision just based off of money [there is no comparison],” he said with a smile. “A lot of guys have talked to me about going to the pros. I said, ‘Heck yeah, you’ll make more money, and then you can be miserable.’ There’s some give-and-take in that now. Money in college is going up a whole bunch from where it was a decade ago right there. Although I wouldn’t call it exactly competitive, it’s a way better situation than it was 10 years ago.”

With his family by his side, a job he is excited about, players that are enthusiastic about learning his offense and a fan base that is excited to see what he brings to the table, Weis’s situation is pretty good right now by any number of standards.

Photo Credit: Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post

9/13: Weis evaluates players, whole offense, Brantley’s progress and pro-style system

As the Florida Gators prepare for their first Southeastern Conference game on Sept. 17 vs. Tennessee, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s 39-0 victory over UAB as well as the upcoming contest.


Suffice to say, Weis has been pleased with the production of the Gators offense up to this point. However, rather than look at how many touchdowns were scored or how many yards were put up, Weis was more concerned with exposing holes that he can close before the team enters SEC play.

“Stats a lot of times are misleading. We’ve matched up with two teams that we should have had good numbers against that we did. It still comes down to, I think when you start off with games like that, you want to make sure you’re very critical of the areas that would get you beat against a team that is at the same level or a little bit better than you,” he said. “It’s really important that, in those critical areas, you don’t falter. For example, last week when the first guys were in there, they had five first down situations. They ended up going 3/5 on third down when the first guys were in there. And the two times they didn’t convert were communication errors not really mental errors. So instead of potentially being 5/5 on third-down conversions, you end up going 3-5. In a big game, those are the types of things that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

Weis said the team is certainly taking a close look at the team’s mistakes in the red zone (any red zone possession that does not result in a touchdown is considered a failure). He would not go into detail but explained that all were correctable issues. “They were just things that, if we did the right thing or something better, they would’ve been all touchdowns instead of settling for three field goals.”

He also discussed how proud he was that, when he changed the game plan at halftime due to some minor injuries (from up-tempo to grind-it-out running), the team succeeded with flying colors. “I told them that I wanted to just get in there and pound them for the rest of the game. I said it’ll pay dividends down the road when you just want to be able to get to the line of scrimmage and say, ‘We’re running it, you know we’re running it, but we’re running it anyway,’” Weis explained. “We threw two passes in the second half, and I thought that it was good on our part to do it that way. When we went in, we were going to go huddle, we’re not going to up the tempo and we’re just going to come out there and run it, run it and run it again. That will definitely pay dividends.”


If it was not already obvious that Weis’s mottos, sayings and philosophies have rubbed off on redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, comments the offensive coordinator made on Tuesday highlighted that fact even further. Brantley has often discussed two particulars about his game recently – taking what the defense gives him from a passing standpoint and forgetting about bad plays and focusing on the next one no matter the situation. Weis touched on both topics and provided some background as to why Brantley is performing the way he has been recently.

“I’ll give you analogy, OK? You probably watched the Patriots and that quarterback [Tom Brady]. Did you notice that Ochocinco only had one ball thrown to him? Because the philosophy of the offense is that you throw to what the coverage dictates you throw it to,” he explained. “We never believed that you take one guy and say, ‘We’re going to throw it to him 15 times in a game.’ Sometimes the way they play and what you’re calling, that’s what ends up happening, but you don’t go into a game saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to throw it to him this many times.’ We’ll play that first game and they’re playing a soft cover four and [Brady’s] looking down the field for reads and their [coverage] says, ‘Go ahead, throw it to Randy [Moss] in the flat,’ so we threw it to Randy in the flat. That’s a better sign than anything else anyone can say. All quarterbacks want to throw the ball down the field, but to have the patience to not throw it down the field when the defense is saying, ‘Go ahead, we’ll give you this but we won’t give you that,’ that’s a very strong positive.”

He also touched on Brantley’s progress in concentrating on the next play and not worrying about anything else that happened previously. “He’s night and day. I don’t have all the answers now. Let me not say that his progress is solely based off of me,” Weis said. “Philosophy and mentally and psychologically, if you can just say, ‘OK, here’s what happened on that play.’ I coach him harder during the week than I do on game days now. On game days I’m very, very, very calm. During the week when they make mistakes, I let nothing go. I let nothing go. I don’t let it go on the field and I don’t let it go when we watch tape. But as the week goes on, my feeling is, they’re not paying money to come watch the coach. They’re paying money to go watch the players. When you realize that as a coach, that game days are supposed to be for the players, you’re supposed to have done your job already and then you just kind of help orchestrate it, I think that’s a proper approach.”


Weis is quite pleased that his offensive players are buying into the Gators’ new pro-style system. However, he wanted to make it quite apparent on Tuesday that the excitement from Florida’s student-athletes is not because of negativity about the spread offense but rather positivity about what his system can do for them going forward.

“Let’s not slight all of the good things that happened here offensively in the past. It wasn’t like they had a bunch of garbage they had done here. The last time I checked, they won a couple of national championships,” he said emphatically. “I think all these guys want an opportunity to play on Sunday, and they see this offense as an offense that, once you learn the offense, it’s not easy when you’re first learning it, but once you learn it, it becomes pretty simple.

“They sat there and watched the game [Monday] night and they’re hearing the same calls. The quarterback’s sitting there watching the game and listening to Tommy saying the same thing they’re saying. They kinda like that. And there’s a bunch of other teams doing it too. I think that they just see…change is always something where everyone gets a new chance to go ahead and make their mark. This is what a lot of them are doing. For a lot of them, it’s working. So far so good.”


» Freshman fullback Hunter Joyer: “He’s really done a nice job. His first game, those eyes were wide open. They haven’t closed too much yet now. The good news for everyone is he hasn’t really let it loose yet. He’s going from being tentative to now he’s fitting on everyone. And because he’s so strong, it just looks like he’s dominating them, where if you realize he really hasn’t played to his full strength yet. When he lowers the boom, it’s pretty vicious. This kid…he’s got a lot of ability. He’s going to help us. He’s one of the stronger kids on the team probably as a freshman. I’d say he’s way up there.”

» Sophomore running back Trey Burton: “A lot of years I’ve gone in and out of personnel groups. I’ve gone from what we call 11 to 12 to 21 to 10 to 20 to go in and out of personnel groups to try to disguise running the same plays over and over. What Trey allows you to do is, a lot of those formations that you get into with those multiple wide receivers, now you can get into with him. To take on personnel group and be able to adjust it with multiple formations puts a lot of pressure on the defense and usually gives you a good tip for what they’re going to end up doing.”

» Redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger: “If he couldn’t play a down, he would’ve still helped us tremendously because he knows the offense better than all the rest of them. When you’re in the offense for multiple years – starting at center and started I believe at both guards – he’s got very high football IQ. Even if he physically couldn’t hold up, what he was going to bring. His intangibles are through the roof.”

» Junior RB Mike Gillislee: “Michael has always been able to run it with power. [It’s not that we] don’t like Michael as a runner, it’s just that when you have 1 and you have 28, there’s not very many carries left over the way those guys run. That’s no slight on Michael. The best thing for Michael was, he wasn’t expecting as many carries as he got, and when he got that many carries, it was as if he was not only prepared but he was chomping at the bit. That was a good thing to see.”

» Redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey: “I think talking to him this is as happy as he’s ever been. He loves being part of the team. He’s about ready to graduate. Things are going well in football. I wasn’t here for the whole Chris Rainey Show, I just know what I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I love being around the kid.”

» On Burton’s future in the NFL: “Let’s worry about Tennessee right now. He’s a second-year player. Position flexibility and versatility are always things that intrigue people at the next level, but I think that he’ll have plenty of time to get things on tape that – whether it be catching the ball or running the ball or blocking – he’ll have plenty of time over the next bunch of years to sell his wares. I think now let’s be a little more short-sighted than that.”

» On what type of defense Tennessee will be presenting: “They’re playing multiple fronts and multiple coverages. They don’t just line up and play. They’ve obviously been very energetic in the first two games, but they’ll play over, they’ll play under, they’ll play odd, they’ll play diamond and then they’ll throw a slew of different blitzes and coverages at you. They really try to not only just line up to play against you, they try to confuse you, too. We’re going to have to be not only physically at the top of our game, but we’re going to have to be mentally on top of our game or else we’ll have some problems.”

» In light of Bobby Bowden announcing he hid his prostate cancer diagnosis in 2007, if he is comfortable sharing personal information while recruiting players: “When I talk to players, I can just go upon my frame of mind, I tell them anything and everything they want to know – football or family. I let them know about my wife, my kids. I let them know about everything. There are very few things that I would ever hold back from anyone. Honesty – put it like this – if people don’t like something you say and what you told them was the truth, then so be it. I’ve had that happen a few times in my life, in case you’re wondering. I’d rather do it that way. I’d rather just tell the truth and deal with the consequences.”

Wenger’s assimilation with Gators now complete

It’s never easy to move to a new school, but imagine being a senior in college spending his final season of eligibility in a different state with teammates he has never met.

Doing that this year with the Florida Gators is redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger, who stepped onto the practice fields this spring as the most experienced offensive lineman on the team after spending four years under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Suffering a concussion during spring practice two seasons ago, Wenger was unable to recover and took a redshirt. Notre Dame would not clear him to play in 2011 and provided him with an out so he could seek an opportunity elsewhere.

“It was extremely tough,” Wenger said of being injured and not welcomed back to the team. “It’s one of those things where I’ve been working for this since I was a freshman in high school. Whenever that was, I’m too old to remember. It was heartbreaking. It was devastating to get that news. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was in between training for a pro day and looking for another place to play, and then when this opportunity got brought up, it was a no-brainer to come down here and give it one last go.”

As it turns out, Wenger could not have made a better choice.

“With everything I’ve dealt with in the past, and especially the situation that I had last year, being able to be a part of Florida and the Gator family has just been amazing,” he said. “I can’t be happier to be a part of such a great team with great coaches and great teammates.”

Since joining the Gators, Wenger has been much more worried about fitting in than he was about his concussion problem. He said he started getting over the mental aspect of it during two-a-days when the players began hitting each other with pads on.

“It’s one of those things that’s been in the past and once I’ve kind of proved to myself that I am able to play and withstand the hits, it’s just…it’ll always be there, that memory of when it happened and last year, but when it’s out there on the field, it’s strictly football,” he said.

As for meeting a bunch of new teammates and acclimating himself quickly, that was a completely different hurdle he had to overcome. Luckily for him, he was accepted with open arms – and his experience in what was a brand new system to the team’s current players certainly did not hurt.

“It was tough at first. Initially, in my mind, I thought it was going to be really tough,” Wenger said. “Surprisingly enough I came in and they were very welcoming to letting me in and having me be a part of the unit. A lot of the guys [were] really taking my advice from being in this offense for four years prior to this. They took a lot of the advice I gave them – little tips and different things like that – so we got a better understanding of the offense together as a unit, making it easier for us going into camp.”

Wenger even set up a special midnight weightlifting session to help build camaraderie among the offensive linemen. He instructed everyone to dress up like WWE wrestlers and get in the weight room for some fun.

“That was kind of my idea to have everyone dress up as wrestlers. We had a lot of fun with that,” he recalled. “I think that was one major point in the summer where we all kind of came together since basically everyone participate in it and really went all out for it.”

For their part, the team’s current players did not take Wenger’s addition to the roster as a threat to their playing time but rather an opportunity to improve and learn the offense.

“It’s actually really helpful, really reassuring that we have him on the O-line,” redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said. “He has a lot of experience. It’s just going to help us out because most of us are younger.”

Classmate and starting right guard Jon Halapio said the team did not expect Wenger to be a starter but were aware that he would see the field. Since being named the starting left guard and winning the team’s Scrap Iron Award for outstanding effort following the first two contests Wenger has been even more impressive.

“He’s real good. He’s played in this offense for a while, so for him to go and ball out like that gives us confidence,” Halapio said. “It’s real good to have him out there doing what he does on the field.”

With Southeastern Conference games beginning on Saturday, Wenger is excited to play what he deems as a true conference seeing as the Fighting Irish are an independent team. Though he said every game at Notre Dame mattered, he is “psyched up” to fully embrace the rivalries that come with the territory at Florida.

Equally enthusiastic are his teammates, who now only have to look just left of the center for a little advice or protection suggestions during the game.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

9/13: Wenger, Dunbar, Halapio, Harrison speak

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparing for their first Southeastern Conference opponent of the 2011 season, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in The Swamp.


A redshirt senior transfer from Notre Dame, starting left guard Dan Wenger said the talent of his teammates and future opponents he has watched on film have really opened his eyes as to how the Southeastern Conference is truly on a different level. “If you understand football and you know football, you can tell the caliber of athletes the SEC has,” he said. “With our guys alone, it’s a lot different than the guys we had at Notre Dame. Speed, quickness, all that strength adds up. I can only imagine that every school across the SEC is going to be the same way.”

Wenger’s impressions were forever changed the moment he stepped onto the Florida practice field and got a chance to take a look at his new teammates. “The athletes that our line has, it’s just unbelievable. When I came down and saw it first-hand, the first thought in my mind was, ‘These guys are freaks.’ You know, in a good way,” he said. “They do some things I haven’t seen before and just have a lot of athletic ability that I never got a chance to play with. It’s been amazing to be a part of this group of linemen. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play with on the O-line.”


Florida’s wide receivers have not been too heavily involved in the offense up to this point, but redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar is not worried. In fact, all he cares about is the final score. “As long as the team is winning, I’m fine,” he said. “I’m happy.”

Nevertheless, he is confident that the passing game will pick up at least in part due to redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley continued improvement throwing the ball over the middle. “John’s been playing extremely well,” he said. “He’s been playing his game. He’s very confident and I believe he’s been playing good.”

Dunbar also opened up about how the wide receivers are being coached different this year, noting that the routes are much more precise. “It’s a totally different offense from last year,” he said. “All the offense is about timing and being in a certain spot, so if you don’t run a route right in a certain spot, you’re going to hang yourself out to dry and get hit.”


The Gators offensive line has yet to allow a sack in the team’s first two games, a statistic not lost on the unit’s starters. Due to strong personal relationships, great coaching and terrific performances, the players believe they can be the strength of the offense and will only get better as the season goes on. “I feel like we’ve played a lot better these past two games,” redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio said. “It shows on the field. We haven’t given up a sack and our goal is to not give up a sack this year. We’re trying to be the best offensive line this year.”

He credits that statistic mostly to offensive line coach Frank Verducci. “He’s just teaching us technique and the plays and we’ve been working hard ever since camp,” he said.

More than anything else, the unit’s chemistry may be the biggest factor in its early season success. Redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said his teammates have learned how to get through to each other. “We know how to work with each other,” Harrison said. “We know if someone’s getting down on themselves, how to handle each person individually. Some people don’t accept yelling as well – maybe positive reinforcement [is better for them].”


» Halapio on Tennessee week: “Everything’s more intense this week. We feel like the preseason is over and we’re just getting ready for Tennessee, a big game.”

» Halapio on the team not singling Tennessee out: “Coach [Will] Muschamp preaches that every week. Nameless and faceless opponents. We’re just going to prepare every week the same and treat everybody the same.”

» Halapio on holding blocks longer for the playmakers: “Coach [Charlie] Weis was coaching us yesterday a lot about it. When [Chris] Rainey and [Jeff] Demps have the ball, play to the whistle because you never know what them two may do with the ball – hold your blocks as long as you can.”

» Halapio on the holding that negated Rainey’s touchdown: “I didn’t see a holding call at all and [the coaches] didn’t see a holding call at all. I had two penalties – the first one I don’t believe that I was holding – and the second one, yeah I blocked him in the back.”

» Halapio on if Brantley does stuff for the offensive line: “Yeah, he’s talked about it a lot but he’s been real busy. Over the summer Johnny B would bring some snacks and some Gummy Bears or some candy for the offensive line. I’m pretty sure that he’ll be doing that pretty soon.”

» Halapio on what he heard Tim Tebow did: “I think he would take them out to like McDonald’s or something.”

» Halapio on Rainey’s love for football: “Chris Rainey loves football. In practice he has a lot of juice and a lot of energy and he’s just bringing everybody up. Having him out there doing what he does helps us a lot have fun. He just loves the game and he loves to practice and he loves football.”

» Halapio on if Rainey loves football more than others: “I feel like it’s real important to everybody, I feel like he shows it – it’s really more important to him than others. It’s easier to see that through Chris Rainey because he’s a real joyful guy out there on the field. Never has a down day and just loves to come to work every day.”

» Harrison on how the team is reacting to SEC play: “The intensity of practice just increases a little bit. Besides that, we just worry about one game at a time and are hoping to have a good game this weekend.”

» Harrison on how the return of sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd can help the team: “He is a great athlete, real strong guy, real powerful. Real modest also for how exceptional of an athlete he is. We’re glad to have him coming back this weekend. He’s an amazing pass rusher. Real good, real versatile on the line. His power and his quickness [make him an effective pass rusher] – he’s still pretty quick for a big guy.”

» Harrison on sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley’s dancing:: “He’s a firm believer in playing with what he calls swag. He just feels that if he can play how he likes to play – of course he’s still going to listen to coaches with technique and stuff – but the little dancing, that little energy is his way of playing. He’s just a real lively person, always energetic, that brings the whole team up so we appreciate that.”

» Harrison on if Easley’s dancing would piss him off as an opposing lineman: “It would and maybe that’s one of his techniques to getting into the offense’s head.”

TWO Basketball BITS: Larson’s trial, uniforms

1 » Just days after junior forward Erik Murphy was fully reinstated by head basketball coach Billy Donovan, Florida Gators redshirt freshman F Cody Larson had part of his recent legal issue settled. According to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, Larson accepted deferred prosecution for his misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges and will perform 200 hours of community service as his primary form of punishment. Like Murphy, Larson has already completed a substance abuse course and paid restitution to the victims, Brockway reports. Still to be determined is how the conclusion of this case affects Larson’s standing in his home state of South Dakota, where he is still on probation for an incident that occurred while in high school and before he committed to Florida. Donovan has yet to reinstate Larson as a member of the Gators.

2 » Athletes care about their uniform numbers, and now that Florida basketball is beginning preparations for the 2011-12 season, it was time for the team’s newest members to officially receive theirs. The freshman roster is as follows:

» No. 23 – Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO), five-star guard, 6’3″ 207 lbs.
» No. 35 – Walter Pitchford V (Grand Rapids, MI), three-star forward, 6’10” 221 lbs.

Also stepping on the court for the first time this year is a redshirt junior transfer from Rutgers who picked his number last year:

» No. 3 – Mike Rosario (Jersey City, NJ), four-star guard, 6’3″ 191 lbs.

Video: Maurkice and Mike Pouncey’s family story

In a special video segment produced for ESPN, columnist Rick Reilly looks into the family story of former Florida Gators centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey and, more specifically, their relationship with step-father Rob Webster.

The Pounceys explain that one of the reasons Maurkice turned pro was to help the family out financially and get them out of debt after their step-father’s accident.

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