Verducci out, Davis in as Florida OL coach

When former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left the Florida Gators to take the head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks, it was assumed that offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who worked with Weis at Notre Dame, would soon follow.

Verducci instead stayed put in Gainesville, FL for the time being has now moved on “to pursue other interests,” according to a Florida release, as the Gators announced Monday that the Utah UtesTim Davis will take over for him in 2012.

The Gainesville Sun reports that Verducci was fired after pursuing jobs in the NFL (including one with the Kansas City Chiefs). A source close to the team tells OGGOA that head coach Will Muschamp was not properly informed about the job search.

A veteran coach with more than two decades in the business, Davis has worked on the offensive line with Walla Walla (1988), Idaho State (1989), Utah (1990-96, 2011), USC (2002-04), the Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and Minnesota (2009-10).

He was also a volunteer, student assistant and graduate assistant at Utah, Wisconsin and Arizona for seven years (1981-87) and served double duty as offensive coordinator at Walla Walla and tight ends coach at Utah (1994-96).

Following his time as assistant offensive line coach under Nick Saban at Miami, Davis spent a year as Saban’s director of player personnel with Alabama (2008). He added the role of running game coordinator when he took the Minnesota job in 2009.

Davis and Muschamp are connected through Saban, both having served on the Dolphins’ coaching staff during the 2005 season. Muschamp spent just one year in the NFL before returning to college the following season.

“He was a guy that brought energy and passion to the job every day,” Muschamp said of Davis’s attitude while with Miami. “He is going to bring toughness. I thought he did a great job with our offensive line [with the Dolphins]. Everywhere he has been and he’s coached they have been able to run the football and create the play-actions of it, be able to spread the field, understand the protections and do what you’ve got to do to be able to keep the quarterback upright.

“You look at some of the guys he has worked for and you talk about Barry Alvarez, you talk about Nick Saban, you talk about Pete Carroll. You talk about those guys and what they have accomplished. He knows what it takes to be successful.”

Davis actually pursued the offensive line coach job with Florida when Muschamp took over in 2011, but Weis’s relationship with Verducci obviously took precedent.

“It wasn’t available then,” Davis said. “I told [Muschamp], ‘Well, I’m going to be persistent. I’m going to keep trying.’ I always wanted to work and coach in the SEC, especially with guys I know and have coached with.”

Though Davis has been a part of three BCS bowl teams and two national championships as a member of USC’s coaching staff, he has never coached alongside new Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

He did, however, work on staffs with current Florida running backs coach Brian White and tight ends coach Derek Lewis. Davis spent his four-year tenure at Wisconsin with White, three years of which White also served as offensive coordinator. Lewis, an assistant with Minnesota from 2007-10, worked with Davis for two years.

“It was easy [to make the move] because of Will and Dan and Brian and D-Lew,” he said. “You don’t make a decision like this – leaving your home state and everybody you know – without having somebody you know. That’s one of the things in coaching you can’t do. You have to be able to connect yourself with the guys you work with.

“The SEC is the premiere conference in the country, and you get a chance to work with guys you’ve worked with who are very successful, very motivated, they want to be the best. You’re working in a great environment and a great program like Florida. It’s everything that you dream about.”

Photo Credit: Mike Terry, Deseret News

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C/G Dan Wenger: “I’m so thankful for…Muschamp”

It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.

His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Check out Part One of my interview with Dan Wenger.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Going into the bowl game there appeared to be two main motivations for the team: finishing the season above .500 and sticking it to Urban Meyer. Some guys were a bit vocal about this to the media but for the most part it was kind of it in the background. Which motivation do you think fueled the team more – avoiding the losing season or showing Meyer that Florida was still the better team?
DAN WENGER: “For me that whole Urban Meyer thing wasn’t an issue. I know guys that were upset about the situation and wanted to kind of prove their point – whether it be that they didn’t want Urban to leave or they had something against him for leaving. Whatever the case may be that was never an issue for me. It was one of those things that’s talked about in the locker room but it was a conversation I didn’t get involved in. I had no experience playing under him. He recruited me but at the same time I didn’t spend five years at Florida before Coach Muschamp came in. That was not even a thought in my head. As far as the whole losing season, I’ve been 6-6 going into a bowl game at Notre Dame – once we went to a bowl game and won and the other time we didn’t go to a bowl game. There’s something about going into a bowl game and winning and coming out at that 7-6 and ending with a winning season. That sparks the fire again and the drive and the energy to be better and work harder going into the offseason. When we were 6-6 at Notre Dame in 2009, we didn’t go to a bowl game. Staying stagnant at 6-6, knowing that we couldn’t do anything else about it was terrible. We felt deflated. It was only the second time I had a full winter break. It was something I wasn’t used to and I didn’t know what to do with myself with that time. I was used to watching film and getting ready to prepare and fight that fight one more time. To me, it’s very important and I think that was mostly my motivation going into that game against Ohio State. To come out on top and more than anything I wanted to do whatever I could to help the other guys be ready and prepare them for the game.”

AS: Well I know it wasn’t a motivation for you, but Meyer taking the Ohio State job before that bowl game had to be on the mind of a lot of the other players. Was it something they just brought up here and there or was it a topic that you heard plenty about and thought was a real motivator for the other players?
DW: “You could say there was all of that going on. It was on everyone’s mind. Guys wanted to see if he was going to be there or on the sideline. It was very evident that it was going on in the locker room, all of that talk. A lot of those guys just had a point to prove. That’s fine. Everyone is motivated by different things. Whatever gets you going and gets you ready to give your best effort in a game, by all means use it. It might not be what motivates me, but hell, if it motivates you then let’s go into this game together both highly motivated and play to the best of our abilities.”

Read the rest of Part Two – for FREE – on InsideTheGators.com.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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C/G Dan Wenger: “I loved my time at Florida.”

It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.

Wenger, who suffered a pair of concussions that forced him to miss what would have been his redshirt senior season and was not cleared to play for Notre Dame this past year, was cleared by Florida doctors and joined former coaches Charlie Weis and Frank Verducci on the Gators.

With Florida badly in need of healthy bodies on the offensive line and both Weis and Verducci vouching for him after his concussion tests came back clean, head coach Will Muschamp granted Wenger a spot on the Gators for 2011.

He wound up starting 11 of 13 games for Florida (including 10 at left guard and one at center) while also serving as a mentor and leader for a young unit trying to learn Weis’s complicated pro-style offense.

His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

ADAM SILVERSTIEN: The way you came into the program was unique. Not only did you join a very young unit, but you happened to be the most experienced player based on the years you spent in the system at Notre Dame. As it turned out, your teammates looked to you in many ways as a leader and a teacher even though you were one of the team’s newest players. How strange was that situation for you?
DAN WENGER: “Yeah. It wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but it was something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect the guys would respond so well to me. The reason for that is you see guys transfer most of the time and for a lot of guys it’s a tough transition, whether it be guys on the team worried about this new kid taking their position or just not fitting into the new environment and trying to figure out how everything goes. I kind of thought that’s how it was going to be when I got there. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t; the guys responded well. As we did our player practices in the summer, I definitely saw kind of the lack of knowledge, the lack of understanding of what we were going to do with the new offense. Being my last go-around, I bought into everything and said whatever happens, that’s what my role is going to be. I’m going to do my best, starter or scout team, to help these guys understand this so we’re all on the same page to help us be as good as we possibly can be. Those guys responded great to it. I helped with film in the summer and explaining stuff in practice like some of the drills. I did whatever I could so these guys had a really good comfort level going into the season so we weren’t picking up any slack and actually made progress from where they had left off in the spring. That was my whole goal of trying to come in and teach and be a little bit of a coach to those kids.”

AS: For someone stepping into the program for a relatively short period of time who has worked with other head coaches and “been around the block” so to speak, what did you think of Muschamp’s style, the way he ran things in his first season and what he’s trying to do at Florida?
DW: “In my honest opinion, I couldn’t have been happier to have played for a head coach like Coach Muschamp. He was exactly what I want in a head coach. He’s a blue collar guy. He’s hard-nosed. He expects a lot out of his players, expects us to work hard. There’s a genuine caring for his players. You can tell that. It was just an awesome experience to play for him. In all honesty, I loved my time at Florida. I loved playing for Coach Muschamp and being a part of the Florida Gators. It was probably one of the best things – if not the best thing – that could have happened to me in my college experience.”

Read the rest of this interview – for FREE – on InsideTheGators.com.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Muschamp confident in future of Gators offense

Losing offensive coordinator Charlie Weis – a four-time Super Bowl winner – to a head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks after just one year wearing orange and blue may be a tough pill to swallow for some. Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, however, is confident that his team will not miss a step either in the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 against the Ohio State Buckeyes or going forward next season.

After he confirmed that Weis would be leaving the team at a bowl game press conference Thursday in Jacksonville, FL , Muschamp announced that running backs coach Brian White would take over play calling duties for the contest.

“Brian’s an experienced play caller. He’s a great idea guy. He’s been a coordinator before. He’s had tremendous success as a coordinator before, and he’s a guy I got tremendous confidence in,” he said.

Though White will be a substitute in the interim and may be a candidate for the permanent job, Muschamp does not know who will be taking over long term. He does, however, know the direction the offense is going to be heading.

“We are going to remain a pro-style offense, and I will go hire the best offensive coordinator in the country,” he said. “We need to improve offensively; it’s pretty obvious. We look forward to taking those steps forward.”

He did not express a shred of trepidation when saying that he and the Gators will have no problem finding the right replacement.

“We’re at the University of Florida. We’re going to be able to hire an outstanding football coach that’s going to fit what I want done within our offense and within our systems. That’s what we’re going to do, and I’m going to take my time on it to make sure we hire the right guy and get the right fit,” he said.

Weis is the third staff member to leave Florida since the regular season finale against Florida State. Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti and director of football operations Mark Pantoni both left UF to join former head coach Urban Meyer’s new staff at Ohio State. Offensive line coach Frank Verducci, a close friend of Weis’s, may also follow him to Kansas, though that remains to be seen.

Despite a few defections, Muschamp refused to say the staff has been “raided” and remains confident in the coaching staff staying by his side heading into 2012.

“Our staff hasn’t been raided,” he said. “Our strength coach left with a guy that he’s been friends with for 25 years, and I totally understood that was a possibility when I retained Mickey. But Mickey’s a good strength coach and he did a good job for us. And our offensive coordinator got a head coaching job, a multi-million dollar deal. That’s not getting raided.

“When you’re at the University of Florida, and you hire a really good staff, what a compliment it is to the job you did hiring people that other people want your coaches. You know what? We’re going to hire really good coaches. Next year, we’re going to win, and they’re going to come want to get our coaches again. It’s a great problem to have. You know what? There are a bunch of people calling my cell phone – that is off right now – that want to come to the University of Florida.”

ADDITIONAL NOTES

» Muschamp, when asked if he had guys in mind for the offensive coordinator job, lit up and responded, “Oh yeah.”

» When asked if Jacksonville head coach Kerwin Bell was a possibility, he did not dismiss the notion whatsoever. “I know Kerwin. He’s an outstanding football coach and certainly will be under consideration,” he said.”

» Muschamp said having a prior relationship with his new hire is not the most important thing but “it would help obviously because you know them a little bit better and, when the bullets start flying, you know how they’re going to respond and react.”

» Asked if he would be leaning on any of his coaching friends for advice, Muschamp quipped, “Most of my friends we got to beat, so no.”

» Most of all, Muschamp is interested in having continuity in the staff in the future. “If guys get a promotion and guys get a step up, I think that’s great and I support it. It says a lot about the guys you hire – that they do a good job, are good football coaches, are good men and are good recruiters. I’m very pleased with the continuity of our staff and do not anticipate any changes moving forward,” he said.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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11/22: Florida seniors talk careers, final game

With the Florida Gators hoping to end the 2011 season on a high note with a home victory against the rival Florida State Seminoles, a number of seniors were made available to the media Tuesday to discuss preparations heading into Saturday’s game, which is also Senior Day for a total of 18 players.

DEMPS PLANS TO CONCENTRATE ON FOOTBALL CAREER

Though there were talks that he may not even return this season, senior running back Jeff Demps did just that and has played well on occasion. He may have a long-term future in track, but Demps plans to do whatever he can to succeed as a football player.

He said Tuesday that he is “probably not” going to run track in spring and has not planned on participating in the trials for the 2012 London Olympics. “All my focus is on football,” he said.

Demps hopes to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft and will be working to that end after the regular season is over.

Saturday’s game against Florida State also has a bit of added significance for him because Demps was a Seminoles fan growing up.

“I wanted to go there. For me to finish out my college career against those guys is definitely [special],” he said. “I grew up watching this game and never thought I would be playing in it. For me to come out with a victory against the childhood team that I love would be pretty nice.”

THOMPSON AND BRANTLEY: “FRIENDS FOREVER”

Classmates when they enrolled five years ago, redshirt seniors quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Deonte Thompson have always been close. As their careers have progressed and both have struggled under the high expecatations of Gator Nation, they have only gotten closer.

On Tuesday, Thompson said he and Brantley would be “friends forever” and he only wishes that his buddy could have had more success while wearing the orange and blue.

“I admire him to the utmost respect. He’s a tough guy,” Thompson said. “A lot of people may not know but he’s tough as nails. Especially this year, he proved it playing on a hurt ankle. Things ain’t been falling his way, but he always keeps a smile on his face.

“I think he’ll be remembered as one of the good quarterbacks that came through. He did the best with what he had and is a great leader.”

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN LOOKING FORWARD TO SENIOR DAY

For redshirt senior guard/center Dan Wenger, who transferred to Florida this summer, Saturday will be the third Senior Day he has participated in during his college career. That does not make it any less special.

“It’s pretty emotional for me and my family. This is truly going to be it – last time running out of a collegiate tunnel. It’s a pretty emotional week for me,” he said.

Wenger is thankful for the opportunity the Gators gave him this year – to play one more year of college football instead of being forced to retire.

“It’s been amazing to tell you the truth. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Regardless of the ups and downs we’ve had, obviously I wish it would have turned out better, but I couldn’t’ be more thankful and blessed for the opportunity I had to play here and play a sixth year of college football. I’m just really, really thankful for Coach [Will] Muschamp, Coach [Frank] Verducci and Coach [Charlie] Weis – as well as the rest of the coaching staff – to have this opportunity and this chance. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love playing for Coach Muschamp. It’s been a lot of fun.”

In a similar situation is senior G James Wilson, who has missed more time with knee injuries than he would care to remember. Saturday also marks the likely end of a career.

“It’s definitely going to be emotional. I had a great time and love my teammates. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, the experience,” he said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Demps on Brantley-Thompson not being a better playmaking combo: “They do have some pretty good chemistry, it’s just Deonte is not always the first option. He’s got to look to the other receivers.”

» Demps on how the offense would have functioned if Brantley was healthy all year: “It would have been a different season. As you can see, Brantley was coming around. He was real comfortable in the pocket. He was being Brantley-like, the old days like in high school.”

» Demps on his ankle “It’s pretty good. It’s still not 100 percent, but I can play on it and run on it pretty well.”

» Thompson on if the offense in 2011 was better than 2010: “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

» Wenger said that his ankle is fine, and he will return to practice on Tuesday.

» Wenger on if he will stick around as a graduate assistant: “It hasn’t come up but after the season anything is possible. I would obviously have to work some things out and find out where the next chapter of my life is going to take me.”

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11/15: Weis evaluates players, talks offense

As the Florida Gators prepare for their upcoming home contest against the Furman Paladins on Nov. 19 in The Swamp, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss his team’s upcoming game.

DESPITE SETBACKS, EFFORT REMAINS IMPRESSIVE

The Gators may not be performing up to Weis’s standards on the field but during practice throughout the week they continue to make him smile.

“I just came back from practice and I’m talking to one guy and saying, ‘That’s not a 5-5 team,’” Weis recalled, noting that the team was upbeat and working hard. “As one of my old mentors said, ‘You are what you are.’ We’re 5-5 for a reason, because we’ve been too inconsistent at critical times.”

He was also impressed in the fact that the players showed up 15 minutes early for their weekly meeting on Monday at 6 a.m., explaining that is usually not the mentality of a team with such a record.

“I am not saying I was shocked, but I was pleasantly surprised. I always get here early, and I was surprised that so many of the guys, when you have a 6:00 meeting, were here so early,” he said. “Usually they’re ducking for cover. That’s usually the case. That has not been the case with this team. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it’s definitely a positive not a negative.”

OFFENSE MUST AND WILL EVOLVE IN 2012

Florida’s two speedsters – running backs redshirt senior Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps – have at most three games remaining in the orange and blue. Once they are off the team, the Gators’ offense is going to have to be reshaped, but Weis said Tuesday that he is not overly concerned with their replacements picking everything up.

“What they all know is they all know the system. They all know the verbiage. They all know the terminology. They all know how to get lined up. They all know how to motion. Now that allows you to do just about anything. Most playbooks, especially with guys who have been doing this for a while, are quite expansive. And then you try to find out who you have and direct it in certain directions,” he said.

One player who may play a big role in his junior season is newly positioned RB Trey Burton, someone who has been in at halfback, fullback, quarterback and wide receiver.

“We’re going to get to this offseason and settle him in at one position, give him a chance,” Weis said. “For example, when Rainey and Demps are gone, rather than play him at fullback, play him at halfback and give him the chance to be the guy at halfback. We’ll have to wait and see how that goes. There isn’t one guy who wants to be a jack of all trades and master of none. They want to find a home and be the guy where they have an opportunity to help the team however we see best.”

PLAYER EVALUATIONS

Redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “Jordan’s arrow has been pointed up for over a month now. […] On and off the field, every day Jordan with us has been pointing up. It makes it easier now because now you can coach him harder. I always coach people hard to start off with, but you can squeeze them more because when they have some success they’re willing to take even harder criticism and that makes them better. The harder you get on them without them going in the tank, the better off they play. Jordan has got a very high ceiling that hasn’t even come close to being reached yet.”

Redshirt freshman guard Ian Silberman: “I only worry about the guys that are really out there repping right now. He’s not getting a lot of reps right now. If he were playing well enough, he would be in there. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, that’s very matter-of-fact. Frank [Verducci] does a diligent study on those linemen. If he thought he deserved to be in the first seven-or-eight guys, he’d be in the first seven-or-eight guys.”

Wide receivers: “I’m not happy with the production at a lot of positions, receiver being one of them. It’s tough to be happy with the production. Am I happy with the effort? Am I happy with their blocking? Yeah, but am I happy with the production that we’re getting? No. Join the club.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On his frustrations with the offense: “I’m frustrated on a number of things. It starts off by not scoring enough points. That’s really the bottom line. In a game like South Carolina, you get in the red zone three times and you only come up with one touchdown. That’s just not good enough. They get down there and they score two touchdowns and that’s the difference in the ball game. Sometimes in the Southeastern Conference you’re going to win games in the teens. Not every game is going to be in the 20s, 30s and 40s. That’s the frustrating thing, getting down on the two-yard-line and ending up having to settle for three, getting down on the five-yard-line and ending up having to settle for three. Those types of things are frustrating, yes.”

» On using a cane during the South Carolina game: “What has happened is my knees are great but my left hip is killing me. I can either take a lot of drugs and walk fine – it’s one thing if you take it at 9 at night like a painkiller – but then it affects you during the day. You really can’t do [your job on drugs]. People will probably wonder if I took them anyway.”

» Weis said the pistol set was installed because of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley’s limited mobility due to his ankle but added that it will not disappear from the playbook when he is fully healthy. “I like it,” he said before noting that “there’s things that you lose not being underneath center.” Elements of the pistol have given the Gators an added dimension. “It’s something you don’t throw away,” he continued. “You’re not going to run your whole offense from it but there are elements you can go ahead and utilize.”

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11/9: Watkins steps up, Patchan improving

With the Florida Gators finally earning a victory on Saturday after a difficult four-game losing streak, a number of players were made available to the media Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into Saturday’s game on the road against the No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks.

WATKINS STEPS UP AND EARNS PRAISE

After allowing a touchdown against Georgia, sophomore defensive back Jaylen Watkins worked hard in practice last week on his head turns and ability to play the ball while it is in the air. That paid off Saturday against Vanderbilt as Watkins became a disruptive player who earned praise from head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn this week.

“It was good to see him get some pass breakups in the ballgame. I was real pleased to see him do that,” Quinn said Wednesday evening.

Watkins attributed his improvement to preparation. “All week [Quinn] told me to get the ball off guys in the Georgia game. I was in two good positions and didn’t get the ball off. I think I was in good positions [against Vanderbilt and did my job],” he said. Watkins added that he stayed after practice to work on getting his head around and learning to play the ball better in the air. “Trying not to get a pass interference, timing when the ball is coming and actually getting it down when it’s coming [are the most difficult parts of playing the position,” he added.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Junior linebacker Jon Bostic on redshirt freshman Michael Taylor: “He’s growing up every week. He was asked to step up last week and that is what he did.”

» Bostic on redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard: “Leadership. With him being a senior, him being here the longest out of everyone, he’s seen everything. He’s been here during the good times and the bad times. He’s the one keeping everybody going and everybody up.”

» Bostic on beating a team with a winning record: “It’s important. It doesn’t change from week-to-week. Every week we want to go out and win.”

» Watkins on sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Matt is a leader. When we play teams that do the option and all that, we move him down to nickel to get him on the edge because he’s strong and smart.”

» Redshirt sophomore tackle Matt Patchan on returning and playing better: “I’m not perfect, so I always have to get better. That’s the way I approach every day. Everything I do in practice and in the games is to make improvements and get better.”

» Patchan on offensive line coach Frank Verducci: “Coach is a great coach. He really knows the technique part of it. It’s good that he’s an NFL type guy so he comes in and we get to learn that way. It’s really impressive. I like working with him.”

Redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter on beating South Carolina and/or FSU: “Those are big wins. Any time you can line up against South Carolina or FSU, those are big games. We always want to win those games.”

» Quinn on redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail: “We’re hoping to keep developing him. Right now he hasn’t cracked the two-deep in that way, but he’s out there practicing and working hard at it. […] For us inside it was more just controlling blocks, being productive as a rusher, where he can make some more plays.”

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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

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