GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scott Stricklin stood on the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Nov. 12 and soaked in the atmosphere.
He heard the roar of almost 90,000 people that had packed into The Swamp for Senior Day. He watched the bond as fans and players swayed to “We are the Boys” after the third quarter.
And, of course, he absorbed the excitement of watching the Florida football team walk off the field with a 20-7 win over South Carolina to go undefeated at home for the first time since 2012.
It was the first — and only — home football game Stricklin has experienced so far since taking over as athletic director on Nov. 1.
With the 2017 season less than two months away, Stricklin is ready to experience that euphoria once again. He likes the direction the program is going as coach Jim McElwain looks to make it back to the SEC Championship Game for the third straight season.
“I’m not going to speak for [McElwain] as to where the program might be, but I know we all are optimistic based on how many of the young guys got to play last year and the talent that’s coming back,” Stricklin told SEC Country.
Stricklin will have plenty of opportunities to see quality football in The Swamp during his first full football season. The Gators’ home slate is one of the best in recent memory with Florida hosting Tennessee, Texas A&M, LSU and Florida State in addition to Vanderbilt, Northern Colorado and UAB. Florida also opens the season on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas, against Michigan in the Advocare Classic.
What’s more, Florida announced Thursday that the LSU game — which was originally slated to be a road game this year but was flipped due to the Hurricane Matthew fiasco — will be the Gators’ 2017 homecoming game.
It will also be a test to see just how far McElwain has brought the football program. Two years in, McElwain is 19-8 overall and 13-3 in SEC play. He has won back-to-back SEC East titles. The Gators are 11-1 overall at home and a perfect 6-0 in home conference games (7-0 if you include the 16-10 win against LSU in Baton Rouge last season like McElwain does).
“The key to winning the SEC title is getting to the championship game,” Stricklin said. “Eventually, you’re going to win that thing. I know that’s a big goal of his and that’s why our goal every year is ‘Let’s get to Atlanta and see what happens.’ ”
But beyond the wins, trophies and accolades, Stricklin appreciates McElwain’s down-to-earth, blue-collar mentality. He believes that will be one of the deciding factors in how the team performs in 2017.
“I’ve enjoyed being around Mac,” Stricklin said. “He’s got a great personality and really connects with the players. … You can always evaluate a coach by who he surrounds himself with, and I really enjoy being around his staff and what they represent as people and as coaches.
“I think we have great days ahead.”