Florida football preview: 54 facts, stats and tidbits

In an attempt to preview the 108th season of Florida Gators football, OnlyGators.com decided to find 108 interesting facts, important statistics and relevant historical tidbits about the team. The process proved to be more daunting than initially expected.

Below you will find 54 different notes to prime you for the 2014 campaign, which kicks off against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30 live from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, at 7 p.m.

1. Florida finished 2013 with a 4-8 record, putting together its first losing season since it went winless (0-10-1) in 1979. UF rebounded to finish 8-4 in 1980, setting an NCAA record for best turnaround in major college football history at the time. The Gators were also the first team ever to play in a bowl game after failing to win a game the season prior.

2. Will Muschamp (43) is the second-youngest coach in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen (42).

3. Muschamp’s 22-16 record through three seasons (2011-13) is the worst for a Florida head coach in that span since Charley Pell went 15-19-1 from 1979-81.

4. Kurt Roper is Muschamp’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons and UF’s fifth in the last seven years, while Mike Summers is Muschamp’s third offensive line coach in four seasons.

5…starters played in all 12 games for Florida in 2013.

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Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season

About a dozen Florida Gators players met with the media over the last couple weeks to discuss fall practice and how the team is coming together ahead of the season. With less than a week until the start of the 2014 campaign, OnlyGators.com is cleaning out its notebook and present you with a bunch of their thoughts.

TWO SECONDARY STARTERS

When head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday afternoon unveils the team’s first depth chart since last November, one position group that will draw some of the most attention in the secondary. A unit full of talented starters that was ravaged by defections (graduations, early departures, a transfer), the secondary currently only has two players that have locked down roles at this time – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal.

Hargreaves, after a stellar freshman campaign, is already a known quantity. Neal, on the other hand, earned his job during training camp after impressing with some big hits during the 2013 season.

“Just my effort [has improved],” he explained. “This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better.”

Muschamp singled out Neal early in fall camp as the best safety on the roster, locking him into a starting role early and never backing off from that stance. Suffice to say, the player was flattered.

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Florida Gators WR coach Joker Phillips resigns; Chris Leak to coach wide receivers

Updated on Thursday at 5:15 p.m.

After just one year on the job, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips has resigned from his position with the Florida Gators.

Graduate assistant Chris Leak, a four-year starter at quarterback and national championship-winning signal caller for the Gators in 2006, will take over coaching the position as a full-time staff member.

The second African-American head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, Phillips spent most of his 26-year coaching career with Kentucky before he was fired by the program during the 2012 season, his third as the Wildcats’ head coach.

He joined Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s staff that December, signing a two-year contract that was supposed to keep him at Florida through the 2014 campaign.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons,” he said in a school release.

Neither Phillips nor UF provided any specific reason for his departure, though ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy, citing a source, noted Phillips “resigned because of possible recruiting violations.” McMurphy retracted prior assertions that Phillips was forced to resign whether by Muschamp or someone else at the school.

FootballScoop.com‘s Scott Roussel cited a separate source which said “the issue at hand is a ‘bump’ [with] a [high school] junior” and that Phillips was “turned in by another program in Florida.” A “bump” in college recruiting is when a coach converses with a high school recruit outside of the allowable time periods at a “chance encounter,” whether the interaction was intended by the coach or not.

A source close to the program confirmed to OnlyGators.com that Phillips was indeed turned into the NCAA for a “bump” violation by a representative of Miami but could not say whether that incident led to his resignation.

Thursday update: Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports report that Phillips’s resignation came on the heels of the NCAA receiving “a photo of the coach sitting in a restaurant with a high school recruit during a mandated dead period in recruiting.” Citing three sources, the duo further reports that “the photo was turned over to the NCAA by an individual with ties to the Miami Hurricanes athletics program. Should the NCAA determine Phillips improperly recruited during a mandated dead period, it could be considered a major NCAA violation.”

Read the rest of the original story…after the break!
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Gators add CB/ATH Jalen Julius to 2015 class

The Florida Gators on Wednesday added their third defensive back pledge of the 2015 recruiting cycle, gaining a verbal commitment from a fast-rising local product in speedy athlete Jalen Julius (Orlando, Florida).

Unranked and unrated by Rivals.com, Julius was offered by the Gators on March 23 and took just over one month to come to his decision, telling recruiting analyst Blake Alderman that he chose UF over Auburn, Ohio State and Tennessee after he and his family came to a unanimous decision.

“Florida has a great environment. My aunt knows Coach T-Rob [Travaris Robinson] on the staff and my mom likes Florida and then I like Florida,” he told Alderman at InsidetheGators.com ($). “I think the team has good chemistry and the coaches are easy going. It’s a good place for me because my connections with them.”

Primarily an offensive player during his first three years of high school, Julius (5-foot-11, 173 pounds) is considered an athlete and committed to the Gators as a cornerback. He is also a likely candidate for kick and punt returner. [Highlights]

Former Florida CB Keiwan Ratliff is Julius’s 7-on-7 coach and has been training him on the defensive side of the ball.

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Florida adds four-star CB Marcus Lewis

The Florida Gators have landed yet another highly-touted recruit to their extremely talented secondary, gaining a verbal commitment Thursday from four-star 2015 cornerback Marcus Lewis (Washington, D.C.).

Ranked No. 76 nationally and rated as the second-best player in his area by Rivals, Lewis (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) had committed to Virginia Tech in November 2013 but decommitted days later after initially making the decision without enough research or knowledge of his potential opportunities.

Lewis, who will be transferring from Gonzaga High School to IMG Sports Academy (Bradenton, FL) in June, boasts an impressive offer list with Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among others, showing considerable interest in his services.

Florida came on strong for Lewis in April and did not take long to land the top-tier prospect. The Gators – specifically head coach Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, the team’s top recruiters – used playing time, opportunity and talent development as their pitch.

“IM 100 %COMMITTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA!!!!!!!!!!!!! #GatorNation!!!! #FloridaFamily!!!!” he tweeted.

Lewis’s commitment was first reported by Rivals.com‘s Adam Friedman.

UF may start a freshman cornerback for its second-straight season and has a history of developing talent in the defensive backfield. Three Florida cornerbacks will be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, likely within the first two days of the event.

Lewis joins three-star safety Deontai Williams (Jacksonville, FL), the Gators’ other secondary commitment, as part of the 2015 class. He is the sixth overall pledge.

If he follows through with his commitment, Lewis will be the 19th Rivals 250 defensive back to join Florida over the last six recruiting cycles.

The Gators added four-star CB Jalen Tabor out of the nation’s capital in 2014.

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Jaylen Watkins: Path to the NFL Draft: Pro Day

Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.

Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.

His eighth entry was submitted shortly after his participation in Pro Day in Gainesville, FL. Watkins also began private meetings and workouts.

Heading into Pro Day, I was hoping to be 100 percent recovered from my Achillles injury. I felt good that day, good enough to do the broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle drills and on-field work, which I did not anticipate doing all of those heading into the day. I ended up aggravating it doing those activities, and it definitely started bothering me, but I got some good notes back on how I performed.

The weather played a factor, too. It was nasty last year but dried up before the guys got out on the field. We didn’t know what to expect. The earlier part of the day, looking outside, it was pouring and we didn’t expect to go outside at all. I know it was rough for Marcus [Roberson] and Loucheiz [Purifoy] and the rest of the guys having to run on the indoor track and having things off-schedule. “Out of all the days, it had to rain this day.” You know? It was warm the day before, right after it cleared up as well. But just for it to happen like that was a stroke of bad luck for all of us.

Before Pro Day even began, the night before, I had my first meeting since the combine and linked up with the Indianapolis Colts at the Florida football facility. It was very similar to all of my other meetings. We went over film, got to know each other and they picked my brain on some things over about 20-30 minutes.

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4/8: Muschamp pleased with Driskel, special teams & scrimmage, but lines, secondary need work

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday, four days before the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game to provide updates on individual players and how the team as a whole is progressing heading into its final practices.

HE LOVES LONG KICKS, THAT (WAS) A PUNTING PROBLEM

Just one season after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and being a finalist for the Ray Guy award, punter Kyle Christy fell off in a major way. He was only able to average 39.6 yards on 21 attempts before losing his job to freshman Johnny Townsend, who was supposed to take a redshirt and not play during his first season.

Now a senior entering his last season with the Gators, Christy appears to have turned things around and was praised accordingly by Muschamp on Tuesday for his performance in the team’s last scrimmage. “Kyle Christy punted the ball extremely well, really hit the ball well,” he said.

With Townsend (wrist surgery) out for the remainder of spring and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Christy has every possible opportunity to win his job back entering summer workouts and fall camp. He seems to be making the most of it.

“I think he’s had a good spring, I really do,” Muschamp added. “I think he’s punted well. He’s done some nice things, absolutely.”

Special teams as a whole was abhorrent for Florida last season, especially when it came to the kicking game. Muschamp also praised UF’s kickers for the work they did Saturday, combining to go 14-for-17 on field goal attempts.

Austin [Hardin] was 7-of-9 field goal-wise; he missed from 47 and 41. Frankie [Velez] was 7-of-8 and missed from 46,” he noted. “So, I thought we’ve made some improvement as far as being more accurate in kicking the football.”

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Durkin: New Florida offense is improving defense

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this offseason and had an opportunity to provide some insight now that the team is two-thirds of the way through spring practice.

OFFENSE HELPING DEFENSE

Florida’s offensive shakeup is certainly a welcome sight for fans, but it is also benefiting the Gators own defense as it is giving the team the opportunity to practice against a more explosive spread set as opposed to the pro-style unit they have been working with for the last three seasons.

“It’s been great for us that way. That’s been good; we’re seeing it every day. In the past it’s been you get to game week, alright, we’re kind of changing the way we practice. We’re talking about tempo. We’re doing different things. Where now it’s really kind of becoming the norm,” explained Durkin.

“Now it’s going to be the flipside. We’re going to have to formulate how we’re going to practice against some two-back teams and power running game because we’re still going to face that, too. You got that handful of games every year where you’re going to face that. It’s kind of flipped that way, but in terms of spread and all that, it’s been great. Our offense is doing a great job, and I feel like they’re preparing us for things we’re going to see.”

For their part, Florida’s offensive playmakers are enjoying themselves.

“I like it man. It’s a great offense. We get to play in more space. It’s fast, very explosive,” said sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor. Added sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson: “I feel like is more my style because I’m able to use my speed and we’re spreading the ball around.”

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