Courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics
New Florida strength coach Nick Savage, who followed Dan Mullen from Mississippi State, debuts his offseason program Tuesday.

Gators officially begin much-hyped offseason strength and conditioning program

Ryan Young

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Florida launches ramped-up offseason program Tuesday

The mounting frustration within the Florida fan base last season had no shortage of targets, as the program bottomed out at 4-7 and dismissed coach Jim McElwain midway through the campaign.

The play calling was uninspiring, the quarterback struggles exasperating, the defense relatively disappointing compared to the Gators’ usual standards.

And then there was the strength and conditioning program.

It wasn’t just fans who thought the players weren’t being pushed hard enough in the offseason — a Sports Illustrated report on what went wrong under McElwain even noted how some Florida players felt the need to pay for additional training away from the program.

That said, it wasn’t a coincidence that new head coach Dan Mullen and Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin both emphasized the importance of the strength and conditioning program in the coach’s introductory news conference back in late November.

“It’s probably going to be something they have never even experienced in their life before, our off-season conditioning program,” Mullen said then. 

RELATED: How Dan Mullen transformed MSU football and what that means now for Florida | The latest Chomp Chat podcast discusses Mullen’s promised emphasis on the offseason program

The Florida players will learn first-hand exactly what that means when they get underway with workouts Tuesday with new director of strength and conditioning Nick Savage, who followed Mullen from Mississippi State.

Meanwhile, here’s a collection of comments others have made about Mullen’s emphasis on the offseason program and what is in store for the Gators.

Florida strength coach Nick Savage (via Chris Harry): “They’re going to learn how to be grown men, not only with how they train and prepare for the season, but how they go about their daily lives inside the building and outside of it.”

More from Savage: “To make sure no one misunderstands, what we’re about to do in this weight room is strictly coming from Coach Mullen. He has his program identity that he’s going to run. It’s my job to implement this room — to promote contenders and expose pretenders — and fit that identity. We will do that.”

Florida AD Scott Stricklin: “There’s always going to be one team that’s throwing punches and there’s going to be another team that’s on their heels in about any competition you go to. You can’t always just do that by mindset, but usually the mindset has a lot to do with it. And the way they ran that offseason program, I think, really led to Mississippi State no longer being on their heels.”

Former Mississippi State QB Tyson Lee: “The mental toughness [Mullen] wants to instill in his players starts in the weight room. If I was going to talk to the University of Florida team, I would apologize in advance for how hard these next three months are going to be.”

More from Lee: “I’m not a quitter, but I told Dan this: I thought about quitting almost every day. I think it wasn’t the physical part; it was the mental part of it as well because you knew every day was to exhaustion and that kind of wears on you. … There were so many times I just wanted to throw it all in and walk out of there.”

Former Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis: “It was easily the toughest thing I’d ever done in my life. Not even close. At the time, of course, you’re going through it and you hate every minute of it, but the older you get and the more that you see, it’s not even just about football — it’s a life thing. His big thing is being a champion is not a sometimes thing; it’s a way of life. It’s how you carry yourself, and how you go about doing anything is how you go about doing everything.”

Florida freshman safety/linebacker Amari Burney: “Coach Mullen told me if I wanted to take it easy I should go to the Marines.”

Whatever happens next season, it seems a safe bet fans won’t be griping about the strength and conditioning program anymore.

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In other Florida football news

Recruiting roundup

  • SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi reports that Florida is “going all in” for 4-star WR Justin Watkins. He writes that the Gators “are the team to beat” heading into Watkins’ planned visit to Gainesville this weekend.
  • Florida is out of the running for 4-star linebacker Quay Walker, who is committed to Alabama and will spend his final official visits with the Crimson Tide, Auburn and Georgia. Walker was supposed to visit the Gators on Feb. 2, but he will visit the Bulldogs instead. So with Walker out of the picture, Abolverdi breaks down the Gators’ top remaining LB targets.
  • Abolverdi also looks at the Gators’ top cornerback targets with a little more than three weeks until National Signing Day.

On the hardwood

  • Florida forward Keith Stone was candid with reporters in revealing he was in “a dark place” earlier this season, struggling with his confidence and listening too much to the social media critics. But something clicked a few weeks ago and he’s been terrific for the Gators of late, averaging 16 points and 6.8 rebounds over the last four games. That included a career-high 23 points Saturday at Ole Miss.
  • With Auburn (16-1, 4-0) winning Monday to stay unbeaten in SEC play, the Gators (12-5, 4-1) are tied for second in the conference standings with Kentucky (14-3, 4-1). They’ll visit the Wildcats later this week, but first they host Arkansas on Wednesday night.

Let’s keep talking

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What they’re saying on Twitter

Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland is setting the bar high for 2018:

Florida center John Egbunu is back doing light drills on the court as he moves closer to his return from a torn ACL:

Former Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway posted a video from his workouts as he prepares for a shot at the next level:

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