HOOVER, Ala. — Hoards of media descend upon this spacious hotel connected to this massive shopping mall in this pleasant suburb of Birmingham every July, chasing the soundbites that will provide the first official tease of the upcoming college football season.
There are the off-beat questions here and there. Jim McElwain was asked about bears and, yes, sharks on Tuesday during his run through the SEC Media Days gauntlet at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel.
But for the most part, the coaches retreat into the comforts of coach speak and the players search for new ways to answer the same question for the nth time as the day drags on with few surprises.
The topics du jour for the Florida representation on Tuesday was new quarterback Malik Zaire, the message or lack thereof in scheduling LSU as the homecoming game and the now seemingly perennial story line of Florida feeling slighted by the preseason pundits.
We covered Zaire and the quarterbacks at length here and here. Meanwhile, here were the responses from Florida left tackle Martez Ivey, cornerback Duke Dawson and safety Marcell Harris about those other paramount topics and more.
Q: What do you make of the all the preseason hype Georgia is receiving this year, with many picking the Bulldogs as the favorites in the SEC East?
Ivey: “We use it as motivation. We’re the underdog nobody expects nothing from. They put all the pressure on Georgia. They slip up, now we’re next in line [and] they want to talk about us blah blah blah. But we don’t really listen to that. We’re going to go out, we’re going to do our thing.”
Dawson: “I’m not a fan of getting caught up in all the hype. I don’t look at it like that. Once we prepare for that team, that’s when I focus on that team. So right now I can’t look at Florida State, Bama, LSU, Tennessee. It’s just about our team week in and week out.”
Harris: “I haven’t heard it.”
Q: Do you feel the Gators are not getting enough respect after back-to-back SEC East titles?
Dawson: “I figure by now we should have earned our respect. I see we have to keep improving. That’s what it’s telling us and telling all the guys on our team.”
Harris: “We never get enough credit. A lot of guys have been telling me that they have us not picked to win the East again, but at the same time we honestly don’t even — I don’t even hear it. We come out and do what we’ve got to do.”
Q: Where does the LSU rivalry rank now for Florida after everything that transpired last season?
Ivey: “I mean, fan-wise they might even take it No. 1. They might put it up there with FSU. Me? I just see it as another game. I believe all the attention that game got was like from outside sources, not really the players as much. Besides the little scuffle we had before the game last year. That definitely raised the intensity of the game for everybody in the program. In my mind, it will just be another game, but everybody else on the outside they’re making it bigger now.”
Dawson: “I don’t look at it like that. I look at every team as a rival. You can’t take no team lightly. That’s what I’ve always been raised on, my parents always preached to me, coaches. You’ve got to treat every team like it’s the best team in the world. … You have to play. Your performance is what matters. It’s not so much about what you tweet or what you put on Instagram, it’s about your performance. So you have to look at things like that. You can’t get caught up in all the chatting and all the hype.”
Harris: “Our next game is our biggest rival. Whoever is our next game is going to be our biggest team that we’re going to face. We face a lot of good SEC teams.”
Q: Which Florida player who is not receiving a lot of attention is going to make a big impact this fall?
Dawson: “(Receiver) Brandon Powell. He hasn’t had the ball in his hands lately. He’s an electrifying guy. The attention right now is not really on him, but I know he’s going to have a great season.”
Ivey: “I think it’s been said a lot already, (defensive end) Jabari Zuniga. He came a long way and when he was playing last year, you could tell. He came in and was leading in sacks to start the season off with. Just his work ethic, I see him work, I see him grind, I just see how dominant he is at whatever he does.”
Q: Which freshman do you expect to make the biggest immediate impact?
Ivey: “Probably, I’m going to say (defensive tackle) T.J. Slaton. He’s a big boy, he can hold his gap well.”
Harris: “Freshmen are freshmen. They’re just learning the game right now, slowing the game down from high school to college. As long as they just get their mind right … because you can’t tell until the game, or you can’t tell until camp which freshmen are going to be the standout freshmen.”
Dawson: “Right now you can’t say. We’ve only been with them for a week and a half, but those guys are all locked in and know what it takes to be a great athlete.”
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite road stadiums in which to play?
Ivey: “My favorite one had to be, it’s between LSU and Kentucky at night time. Just the atmosphere it gives off. It was just a nice atmosphere and nice weather at the same time so that was a big part of it. And my least favorite, probably Mizzou.”
Harris: “My favorite road stadium playing in or winning in was LSU. The least one to play in is going to be Missouri, obviously, because I hate playing in the cold. But at the same time, every stadium we take it on as our stadium. We look at every game, every field we step on is our home field and that’s how we take it.”
Dawson: “My favorite road stadium is FSU. I just like the atmosphere there. Of course, they were my favorite team (growing up), but I’m past that now. My least favorite team to play on the road is, I’ve got to say Vanderbilt. It’s seemed like a high school, not a high school stadium — no disrespect — but it’s just not something I’m used to.”