Florida football: Seniors played pivotal role in helping turn around Gators

By Michael Phillips
November 29, 2019
Florida football: Seniors played pivotal role in helping turn around Gators

Image Credit: ESPN Images

This is it for the seniors. Saturday will be the last time they suit up inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as the No. 11 Florida Gators welcome the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles. Florida is looking to win 10 games for the second straight season under head coach Dan Mullen, and the Gators are looking to make Senior Day extra special with a win over the ‘Noles in The Swamp for the first time since 2009.

The occasion is not lost on the players.

“Yeah, it is [bittersweet], but you know, like I said, it is what it is,” redshirt senior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “I’m going to miss those guys. I came in, and they accepted me as family as soon as I came in. It’s just been great to be a part of Gator Nation since I’ve been here, so I’ve got one last time to play in The Swamp, man, so I’ll try to do it big.”

Jefferson, along with fellow offensive standouts senior WRs Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain, senior running back Lamical Perine and redshirt senior center Nick Buchanan will be saying goodbye. On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker David Reese, senior defensive back Jeawon Taylor, senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga, graduate transfer DE Jonathan Greenard, graduate transfer defensive tackle Adam Shuler and redshirt senior DT Luke Ancrum will all play their final games. Also on deck for their last home games are redshirt senior specialists in punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper Jacob Tilghman.

“Honestly man, all the seniors, man, they done made a big impact,” Perine said. “Every senior that’s playing right now that got a big impact, every offensive senior and defense. So, I feel like we did that.”

This group has been essential to Mullen’s success as he made the transition to being Florida’s coach. If Mullen was to hit the ground running, he had to get these guys to buy in and figure out how to construct his team around these playmakers. 

He did. In his second season, the Gators are 19-5 in his two season at the helm thanks in large part to these players buying in to the standard Mullen likes to set. 

“It’s just been great, all the buzz around the program,” Buchanan said. “We’re out here doing what we’re supposed to do as Gators, living up to the Gator Standard, winning games, competing for championships, SEC, division titles. That’s what it’s all about. So we’re out here, the program’s headed in a good direction.”

Some guys have in Gainesville their entire careers, while others transferred in to play for Florida. Either way, the players have felt welcomed and accepted by the Gators as they efforted each day to improve the program.

“It means a lot. He accepted me in, he let me become a Gator, so you know I’m grateful and thankful for the opportunity that he gave me,” Jefferson said. “It’s been special. The bonds that I’ve created and the relationships I’ve made will last forever, so it’s been great to be here and uphold that Gator Standard, and I’m going to miss it.”

Now the question becomes whether this success will last under Mullen as he continues to lead the program. If you ask any of the current seniors, their answer would be a resounding, “Yes.” And the biggest reason for that is the attention to detail, work ethic and excitement Mullen brings every day. 

“Well, you can’t ever get comfortable when you’re talking about stuff like that,” Buchanan said. “So the biggest thing is that we know we have to come out here and work every day. That’s the biggest thing that we’ve learned from Coach Mullen. Coming out here, working on the little things, the technique, the fundamentals, come out here with juice and energy and really loving what you do every day.”

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