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Saturday, November 29, 2014

SEC Media Days: Gators healthy, excited

Florida is healthy again, and looking to rebound.

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Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel talks to members of the media on Monday, July 14, 2014, at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

Aaron Reiss/Staff Photographer

July 14, 2014

HOOVER, Alabama — Florida was awful last season. Gators coach Will Muschamp acknowledged as much Monday during his time in front of the media at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

“I really draw from within,” Muschamp said of how to learn from a 4-8 season that included a loss to FCS Georgia Southern.

But with a new offensive and a healthy starting quarterback in junior Jeff Driskel, Muschamp and his players are looking at greener pastures.

“Completely different”

Driskel said he is feeling “100 percent” after a fracture in his leg cut his last season to just three games.

And sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said if he hadn’t known Driskel was injured, he wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at the quarterback in practice.

“From spring, it didn’t even look like he was hurt,” Hargreaves III said.

The return of Driskel is accompanied by a new offensive system for Florida. Kurt Roper came from Duke to be the Gators’ new offensive coordinator — Muschamp’s third in three years. The new offense is based out of the shotgun, different from the pro style system the Gators used last season. Driskel said the offense is “completely different,” never huddling up.

“Offense, I feel like everybody is comfortable,” junior defensive end Dante Fowler said. “Everybody’s comfortable, everybody’s happy. That’s just what we need.”

Learning from losing

The Gators said last year’s losing season wasn’t all for naught.

“With the injuries and guys having to step up as leaders, it kind of betters you as a player,” Fowler said. “Even though you’re having a bad season, it teaches you some things. Going into the season, we’re going to know some things, just because of what happened last year. Everything that happened last year has made us stronger.”

Decimated by injuries that Driskel called “heartbreaking,” many more Florida players saw action, including Hargreaves III, who was then a freshman.

“We don’t want to look at that season and think about all of the negatives,” Hargreaves III said. “We want to look at that season and think about how far people have came. A lot of the guys on the team have grown up. They understood that they need to play, and they need to be ready to play from what the circumstances are.”

But the Gators have no interest in repeating last season. While none of them said the idea of Muschamp’s job hanging in the balance weighed on them, Fowler did call his coach “a second dad.” And Muschamp acknowledges his lack of job security.

“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business,” he said. “That’s part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we’re going to do.”

The sentiment echoed among all three players was that a new offense and healthy team can make last season seem distant.

“You talk to the students and they say things like, ‘We want to have a better season than last year,’ which we’re going to do,” Fowler said.

Other Gator Bites

Hargreaves ranked former Missouri wideout Dorial Green-Beckham among the top three players who were hardest to cover last year, along with former Louisiana State receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

Driskel voiced his thoughts on student-athletes as amateur, and possible NCAA reform: “When you talk about a scholarship, you think everything is going to be covered. That’s not the case. You still have to bring your wallet to school … I do think things are going to change, but I’m not starved.”

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