GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New Florida coach Dan Mullen is viewed by many as a bridge to the Gators’ past glory, to his time as the offensive coordinator for the 2006 and 2008 national championship teams.
The same can be said for longtime offensive assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy.
Additionally, Mullen has encouraged his former players to reconnect with the program, and one notable former Gators star in particular has been a familiar sight around the facility.
Versatile offensive standout Percy Harvin, who last played in the NFL in 2016 with the Buffalo Bills, is living in Gainesville and is around the current Gators all the time, according to junior safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
“Every day. Like last year we would probably see a player every now and then, but now it’s like, it’s every day. If it’s [about] life skills, the first person Coach Mullen goes to is Percy because he recruited him. He was telling us every day from high school, school, life skills. If you need it, Coach Percy [is] there,” Gardner-Johnson said.
“He relates to us because he played in the league. He tells you every day the league is not something to play with. So if you [aren’t serious] now, you’re going to [struggle] with it when you get older and you might be gone.”
Harvin, who does not have an official role with the program, was a do-everything star on those great Urban Meyer/Dan Mullen offenses, totaling 1,852 rushing yards, 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 32 total touchdowns from 2006-08.
He was a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and totaled 22 receiving touchdowns, 5 rushing scores and 5 kickoff returns for TDs in his NFL career.
Sophomore cornerback C.J. Henderson, one of the fastest players on Florida’s roster, tweeted earlier this winter that he was planning to race the speedy Harvin.
Gardner-Johnson was asked if that race happened?
“Nah, I don’t think they ever did,” he said. “But I know he came out there and worked out with us a couple times. But it was like more to see where our heart was at because back then, if you didn’t have no heart you couldn’t play on the team. And that’s our motto now. If you don’t give effort, relentless effort, and you got no heart, you like to quit, you’ve got no spot for this team. You can go somewhere else.”
Gardner-Johnson said Mullen’s history at Florida is not just exciting for fans but also for the players because they can look back and see what he did here with those high-scoring Gators teams.
They can see the vision he is pitching for the future because it is reflected in the past.
Gardner-Johnson, who was a supporter of former coach Jim McElwain, was asked if he sees a difference in the excitement around campus and in his interactions with fans.
“Yeah, I mean when we go on Twitter, social media, walk around campus, like when Coach Mac was here, it was more of, ‘OK, we know what you guys can do, when are you guys going to show it?’ But with Coach Mullen, everybody’s like, ‘OK, he’s going to bring the peak out of most people. Everybody’s going to tap into their potential,’ ” he said.
“Even when fans rap with us now it’s more of ‘How do you like it? Are you guys ready for this, are you ready for that?’ Because they know what Coach Mullen brought to the table before. And we see it. You know, with Percy being back helping us, watching coach Vernell [Brown] being around us [as director of player development], talking to us [about] what he [has] done. Lot of guys Coach Mullen brought back to actually contribute to the program to get where [we’re] at now.
“Because like I said, without the guys before us we wouldn’t have the indoor [facility], we wouldn’t have the best strength coach, we wouldn’t have the championships. But I’m just thankful, ready to continue this, ready to start the season.”