No, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp does not have a soft spot for the 1979 chart-topper by Sister Sledge. He just wants to see his team put the group over the individual. That is probably why he was wearing a certain orange wristband with white lettering on Thursday at the Gator Gathering in West Palm Beach, FL and made it a point to explain to the crowd that his team has a new motto for the 2012 season.
This version of the Gators will be all about FAMILY: “Forget About Me. I Love You.”
“At the end of the day, let’s take the personal agendas off the table and let’s get into this team,” Muschamp said to smiling faces at the South Florida Fair’s Expo Center. “I think we’re headed in that direction, I really do. We got some guys right now that understand and comprehend that when the collective unit does well, we all do well.”
But Muschamp wants to do more than “well” in 2012. He believes that Florida has many of the pieces necessary to be a championship football team but must find a way to bring them all together in order to win football games. That is where FAMILY comes into play.
“When you win, everybody benefits from that,” he said. “That’s the constant message you got to deliver in this day and age with young people, [for them] to understand it’s more than about you.
“You’re not a player anymore – it’s ‘University of Florida football player so-and-so.’ And that’s what I’m trying to build our football team to understand – it’s bigger than they are.”
Muschamp has already seen that focus and attention in the classroom, where he said the Gators sport a cumulative team GPA of around a 2.8, “which is close to a 3.0,” he said with a smirk. “I’m going to tell you guys…a 2.7-2.8 cumulative for a football team is really, really good,” he added. “Our academic people do an outstanding job.
“I didn’t come close to a 2.7 when I was in college…and y’all know where I was so that’s not an excuse.”
All joking aside, Muschamp is noticing his players buying into his systems and philosophies in a big way. Juniors safety Matt Elam, defensive lineman Dominique Easley and Buck linebacker Ronald Powell are just a few of the players he singled out for showing increased maturity, putting the team over the individual and doing the right thing when it comes to preparing for the upcoming season.
He also told a story about how Easley’s mentality has shifted this offseason and related it to how the overall team has understood what it takes to be successful in both college football and life in general.
“He’s way ahead of schedule and probably doing too much, knowing him,” Muschamp said of Easley’s recovery from a torn ACL last season. “He’s a guy that you talk about [when you mention] maturity level.
“Last year Dominique was fighting to get home. ‘I want to go see my family and do this. I saw them two months ago.’ [This year] I said, ‘Are you going home to see your family?’ He said, ‘Nah Coach, I’m staying here and training.’
“That’s maturity. They’re starting to understand what it takes to be successful. Same thing with Ronald Powell, Matt Elam. They’re all in Gainesville training right now. They didn’t go home. That’s part of becoming a good football player is that maturity level.”
That increased maturity is exactly what Muschamp has been searching for the last 12 months from the Florida football team. Maybe now his Gators are finally realizing that while their real families are always priority No. 1, the band of brothers they step on the field with in Gainesville is a real family, too.