GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two of the core tenets Dan Mullen leans on in running a football program are accountability and constant competition. He and his staff will provide the structure when needed, but he’d also like the players to apply it to one another.
That’s where the Gators’ new leadership committee comes into play.
The players voted for eight captains, who then drafted the teammates for whom they would be responsible. Those groups have been tracked and judged against each other throughout the offseason, be it during the strength and conditioning program, in the classroom, etc.
Mullen even commented at one point that he awarded points to players who showed up to support Florida’s other athletic teams on campus.
“We’re constantly motivating,” Mullen said Tuesday. “Within our leadership committee we have offseason competition teams. Every couple weeks we see who in that last two-to-three-week period was the first-place team all the way to the last-place team. … First-place teams go out for dinner at a restaurant in town. Last-place teams, I think this morning they went and did some community service at one of the local elementary schools early in the morning. Sometimes it will be a workout, sometimes it will be community service and other things. They get motivated to do that.”
The eight players voted captains by their teammates are redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks, junior safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, junior linebacker David Reese, junior wide receiver Josh Hammond, senior offensive lineman Martez Ivey, senior defensive end CeCe Jefferson, redshirt senior tight end C’yontai Lewis and redshirt senior special teams contributor R.J. Raymond.
“You would love to say everyone has such unbelievable personal drive and motivation to have to be the best they can be every day. I think I have great drive and I still have to motivate myself at times to get going,” Mullen said. “That’s just human nature, so we try every different way possible to do different things to motivate guys to just keep pushing and going hard and achieve their goals.”
Gardner-Johnson said Mullen told the players they knew each other better than the new coaching staff did at that point and he wanted them to take some ownership in the process of getting the program back on track after a 4-7 finish last fall.
That the players had the final say in selecting captains resonated with the team.
“It was explained to us, we’re going to have eight guys leading us this year. That’s from January to January. This team has one shelf life,” Gardner-Johnson said. “… It wasn’t the coaches who picked. It was the players who picked who [they] wanted to lead them. We found out who’s the leaders of the team, we told them what we got to do, we drafted our players, got different teams, we [compete] against each other, but we all know what is expected.”
Mullen’s players on his first Mississippi State teams noted the coaching staff’s intensive attention to detail was key to establishing a new direction for the program.
Former Bulldogs linebacker Jamar Chaney recalled that in addition to the groups being charted and tracked, if any player messed up (whether it was missing a class or being late to a workout), the whole group paid the price.
“If you’ve got 8 a.m. workouts, your team is going to be there at 6 doing extra stuff. You really held people accountable,” Chaney recalled to SEC Country. “It’s with everything. Even if the strength coach wanted you to be a certain weight. If he wants you to be 250 pounds, you better be 250 pounds.”
Hammond, Franks and Gardner-Johnson talked Tuesday about what it meant to them to be voted as leaders.
For Franks, it also was telling of what is expected of him this year.
He acknowledged his first season as Florida’s starting quarterback brought him to an “all-time low” in his football career. He’s determined to show his growth and win the job again as the only quarterback on the roster with any college experience.
And Mullen is big on the notion that the quarterback needs to set the tone.
He praised Franks earlier this offseason, observing how nobody would beat the redshirt sophomore running to team workouts. Mullen seemingly has made a concerted effort to show outward confidence in Franks, though he has yet to coach him or evaluate him in football drills.
He sees the leadership committee vote as a good sign for the young quarterback.
“I think it shows that they have belief in him as a leader,” Mullen said. “We do a lot of different things to get the leadership council vote. We’ll do it by class, by position … that type of deal. It’s position specific. But I think for him, it’s something that just should show that, one, he’s on the right path with his actions and how he carries himself and what he does because the team believed enough to vote him as a leader because he was doing things the right way.
“Hopefully, that is a big push for him football-wise getting out there, that he knows you have the support of your teammates.”
Franks will have a lot of eyes on him this spring as he competes with freshman Emory Jones, redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and redshirt freshman Jake Allen.
The main gist of his comments Tuesday were that he’s not looking back at the struggles of 2017. He was honored to be voted a captain, and he’s hoping to deliver as such.
“It feels good, obviously. You know, I’ve always wanted to lead the team and be that guy that can bring us to a championship. And I know it doesn’t seem that way, you know the way last year went,” Franks said.
“But like I said, we closed that book. I had that little reflection period of what I could have did and things like that, and then you just move forward from it. I think it’s just a fresh start.”