GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two days after announcing the suspensions of cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor and tight end C’yontai Lewis, Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain addressed that decision and his expectations for the players moving forward.
The Gators’ star junior cornerback and the promising redshirt-sophomore tight end got into a physical altercation in practice Tuesday and have been suspended from team activities for the time being and from the Sept. 3 season-opener against Massachusetts.
McElwain said Friday he expects both guys to rejoin the team next Thursday and reiterated that this was a teaching moment for two players whom he still holds in high regard.
“I want everybody to understand, first and foremost, these are two really good guys and good teammates and guys that are valuable members of this football team and this family. And you know what, they’re good people,” McElwain said. “And yet as we go on, there’s certain things and level of expectations that we have in everything that we do. When you have moments and things occur, you can read into whatever you want. You can guess at whatever you want. And yet, our responsibility for everybody in the organization is to help them understand behavior and things that can help them later in life when football is well over.
“And that’s part of the educational piece, and we’ll look forward to getting those guys back hopefully on Thursday of next week and move forward and support them in every way we can — and yet not enable.”
This is Tabor’s second suspension after he missed the Tennessee game last year for reportedly refusing to take a drug test.
He nonetheless managed a breakout season in 2015 with four interceptions, 18 passes defended and 40 tackles and carries as high a profile as any player on the Florida roster.
Lewis missed five games last season due to a hand injury and is expected to compete for a larger role at tight end this fall.
McElwain said he felt like the rest of the team has handled the suspensions and other distractions well through camp.
“Our guys have handled that I think very well. It’s amazing,” he said. “What you hope to see happen is you don’t miss a beat. You go forward and you keep working on what you’ve got to do to get better. If yesterday is any proof, I think that’s a good thing.”
McElwain was especially pleased how the team performed in simulating a “Perfect Thursday” practice.
Meanwhile, sophomore defensive tackle CeCe Jefferson offered the players’ perspective when asked how the team feels about the scuffle between Tabor and Lewis and the way McElwain handled it.
“Things like that happen in the family, man. It’s 100 …,” Jefferson said. “It was hot that night. Everybody is just out there competing, man, and it’s just a little family thing, you know what I’m saying? But Coach Mac handled it the way he thought it was the proper way to handle it. We’re fully here, myself and the team are fully here to support those guys. Just can’t wait to have them back.”
As for the bigger message to take from it?
“(It) told us that definitely Coach Mac is serious,” Jefferson said. “You just have to do what’s right. That’s what he preaches every day. That’s the message we got from him.”
The Gators were set to have their second preseason scrimmage Friday evening, and McElwain ran down the list of players who would not take part due to injuries or reasons for precaution.
Aside from the guys out for the season already, McElwain said junior defensive back Duke Dawson will be limited, redshirt-sophomore offensive linemen Andrew Mike and Kavaris Harkless will be held out with hamstring issues, junior wide receiver C.J. Worton remains out with a foot injury, and senior wide receiver Chris Thompson is going to get his leg looked at for “kind of a continuous bother that he’s had.”
“We’ll know more about that once we get results on that. I don’t think it’s anything that’s long-term, but it’s something that we don’t want to go forward with today,” McElwain said.
The other injury of note actually made the coach chuckle as he shared the details.
Redshirt-junior punter Johnny Townsend hurt his thumb catching a ball from the JUGS machine.
“Again, I’m glad he wasn’t catching with his feet. He’s got to punt with that foot, but I don’t know, I find humor in some of this stuff,” McElwain said. “To see him show up, a punter mind you, show up on an injury report with a sprained thumb due to JUGS altercation, I don’t know why I find humor in stupid things, but that to me is a real stupid thing.”
Sharpe trying to trim down
Junior left tackle David Sharpe said the coaches want him to continue to lose some weight, and he’s trying to adjust his diet accordingly.
“I definitely eat better, much better than I used to,” he said, noting he’s opting for grilled chicken instead of fried and trying to eat more salads and wraps.
He said he weighs about 345 pounds after losing around four pounds so far in camp and the coaches want him down to 335.
Sharpe is hoping to form a stout left side of the offensive line with sophomore guard Martez Ivey.
“We’re like Batman and Robin over there, I feel like,” he said. “They always send everything at us in practice, all these type of blitzes and we pick them up, so I feel we can be very good this year.”
The Gators have their fan day scheduled for Saturday and the annual Rally in the Swamp set for Sunday.
Fan day is free and will take part from 2-4 p.m. in the team’s indoor practice facility, where they can get autographs from the players. It’s the first opportunity for fans to check out the facility.
The “Rally in the Swamp” event Sunday is a pep rally for students and starts at 7:30 p.m. The student gates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will open at 6 p.m.
“The students are really what make The Swamp what it is and hard to play when others come here,” McElwain said.
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.