GAINESVILLE, Fla. — During his first game week in 2015, former Florida coach Jim McElwain criticized his team after its season opener for showing up late to a team meeting and not having their ankles taped.
That wasn’t an issue for first-year coach Dan Mullen on Friday. The Gators held their first practice of the spring and the players were anxious to get to work.
“The biggest thing that jumped out to me was today we were starting meetings at about 2:30 and at 2:25 everybody was in the meetings and ready to go,” Mullen said after practice. “That just shows me those are guys that are hungry, that love football and that really jumped out at me.
“Five minutes before a meeting — and I don’t mean guys kind of walking into a meeting. I’m standing around and I’m the only one in the hallway. I looked in the door and everyone was in all the meetings and I was like, ‘OK, I guess we can start all the meetings then.’ That excitement to be out on the field, I love.”
Quarterback Feleipe Franks, wide receivers Van Jefferson and Kadarius Toney, safety Amari Burney, cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson were some of the top performers Friday, but Florida only had a couple periods of skeleton passing drills and 11-on-11 work.
Fundamentals were a big emphasis on Day 1 as the coaches look to install their schemes on offense and defense.
“That’s what spring is about. At the end of spring we’re 0-0. We don’t have to prepare for a game. There’s no game-planning,” Mullen said. “It’s not so much to me about the scheme as much as it is really learning what to do. Then we’ll learn how to do it. Then finally we’ll learn why we’re doing it within that progression.
“But to me it’s constantly working our fundamentals every single day, if we can do that. Because every day I’ve got to be a little bit better of a fundamental football player, so we’ll spend a lot of time on that. And eventually through repetition they’ll pick up the scheme. But what I want to make sure is when we do understand the scheme we have great technique and fundamentals to execute it.”
Starting linebacker David Reese is one of eight players on Florida’s leadership council and met with reporters after practice. When asked what the new staff has done to win over the players, Reese said it didn’t take much convincing.
“We want to win and they want to win also. So when you’ve got that thing in common, it’s easy to buy in,” Reese said. “I feel like everyone knows this is our time to come back, time to wake that sleeping giant. So I’m excited about that.
“I just feel like after a disappointing season like that, you’ve got to get back. We know what we’re capable of. … So we learned from our mistakes and we’re ready to give it our best shot this coming season.”
More than 400 fans were on hand Friday and the Gators should have an even bigger crowd for Saturday’s open practice, which runs from 12:20-2:50 p.m. Having spent four years at Florida (2005-08) as the offensive coordinator, Mullen had some déjà vu during his official return to the Sanders Practice Fields.
“Walking out to practice, it does kind of bring it back a little bit of being out here,” Mullen said. “It’s a little different. That used to be turf, and that used to be grass, and all the fans used to be on a hill over there. It’s great to see, too, all the people come out. To see the Gator Nation, to see their excitement and energy for the team and the program.
“We open up practice, we don’t know what to expect. To see all these people showing up here – that’s why we do it, for them. They do so much supporting us. That’s why we’re doing it again tomorrow so they can come out, maybe have some fun and watch the team.”