GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Three of the Florida football players suspended last season as part of the Gators’ credit card fraud saga spoke to reporters for the first time Thursday since being reinstated in January.
None spoke to the specifics of the matter, in which nine players in all faced potential third-degree felony charges for using stolen credit card information to make unauthorized purchases. Five of those players were reinstated after receiving pre-trial intervention that essentially amounts to probation, while the other four left the program.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Rick Wells spoke of his greater appreciation for the opportunity to play college football again.
“It was an eye-opening experience. Everything can be taken away from you just like that for the silly mistakes that we make,” he said. “I’m just trying to bounce back and show the world what I can do on the field. It made me love the game more. It made me really put my all into it.”
Redshirt freshmen linebackers Ventrell Miller and James Houston IV also spoke to the local media for the first time, reiterating similar sentiments.
“It feels good. I just thank God for blessing me with the opportunity and the talent to be out here,” Miller said. “I’m really not focused on back then. I’m just trying to get the installs and everything right now. I’m just focused on the now.”
Said Houston: “It was tough, but I’m ready to start a new opportunity. I’m ready to get back into the groove of things.”
Redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett and redshirt junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis were also reinstated, though Davis continues to rehab from a serious scooter accident sustained last fall.
Former star wide receiver Antonio Callaway declared for the NFL draft, while defensive linemen Jordan Smith and Richerd Desir-Jones and offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort left the program over the winter. Callaway and Desir-Jones also received pretrial intervention before making their decisions to move on, while Smith and Telfort reached a plea deal last week.
“It’s just a little learning experience for me. Trying to get better as a player and a person,” Wells said.
Wells, a 3-star recruit in the Class of 2016, has yet to play for the Gators after redshirting in 2016. He was also injured last season, and it’s unclear if he would have been able to play at any point had he not been suspended.
Miller and Houston were both 3-star recruits in the Class of 2017.
Miller has been working at inside linebacker in the Gators’ new 3-4 scheme, while Houston said he’s gotten work both inside and outside.
“I feel like I can do everything. I can play inside, I can play outside. You can put me really all over the field,” Houston said. “Anywhere. Anywhere coach tells me to line up, I’m ready to go.”
Miller said he’s warmed to the 3-4 defense after going through a few spring practices.
“I wasn’t really sure at first, but as I get my reps in, I feel like it’s going to work,” he said.
The credit card fraud saga was a major black eye on Florida’s 2017 season, and it remains to be seen how much stigma fans attach to the reinstated players.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin was involved in the decision to reinstate the five while seeking input from new Gators coach Dan Mullen on whether he thought each individual could be a productive member of his player on and off the field moving forward. Mullen told the players to expect to be held to a higher standard.
Now they’re trying to make the most of a second chance.
“I was smiling the whole practice just to be able to put a helmet on. It don’t matter what we’re doing. As long as I’m out here I’m good,” Wells said. “… It’s time to ball. That’s the only thing that’s going to be on my mind. It’s time to play football and show the world what I can do.”