Florida players revved up to start season


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- What's the mindset of the Gators for Saturday's second attempt at a season opener?

Heavyweight boxer Clubber Lang from that great American film "Rocky III" could have summed it up when he said, "Prediction? Pain."

Of all the teams in the country to have Week 1 cancelled, Florida might have felt the most pain.

The Gators spent a long, grueling offseason preparing to erase the painful memory of their 4-8 season in 2013. They listened for months to their coaches, rivals and the media reminding them of exactly what went wrong. They stewed over the seven-game losing streak that still looms.

Last Saturday was their chance to end all of the talk and all of the negativity, but the game was washed out by a merciless thunderstorm.

"That was probably the hardest part of it, participating all offseason and coming from last season and still not being able to play," junior left tackle D.J. Humphries said. "It was a little rough."

A little rough might be understating the way most of the Gators felt.

As he left the stadium close to midnight, junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., one of the team's spiritual leaders, tweeted:

This is a team with some serious pent-up frustration.

All of their pain has to go somewhere, said Michael Taylor, another vocal team leader. That pain, along with a sense of urgency, has to be channelled, and the players know their only outlet is to take it out on Saturday's opponent, Eastern Michigan.

“You don’t want to unleash on your teammates," the senior linebacker said on Wednesday. "It’s just like, when I finally get out there ... pray for them. And that’s how we all feel because we’ve got some stuff we need to let out."

There should be an abundance of energy on the field and in the stands on Saturday.

Last week, Florida and its fans had to deal with nearly three hours of heavy rain and lightning delays. When the players finally ran out on the field the atmposhere in the Swamp reached a fever pitch.

Minutes later, lightning struck again and the game was essentially over.

“We were all ready to get out and show everybody what we’re about," junior wide receiver Latroy Pittman said. "First impressions are everything.

"We just want to get off to a good start and show that we’re ready and we’re going to be competing for something in 2014."

Like Gainesville's native son, Tom Petty, famously sang, the waiting is the hardest part. But wait they must.

Senior tight end Jake McGee said not playing the opener felt like being sent back to preseason training camp, "like you're in a five-, six-week camp."

The reward of playing against someone else was taken away. But some, like quarterback Jeff Driskel, managed to find a silver lining after so many dark clouds have hung over the program.

"I think it's good that guys were let down," he said. "We just have a bunch of competitors on the team that just want to get out and start the year off right."

That chance, finally, will come on Saturday.

"This weekend," Humphries said, "is going to be something special just because of the extra buildup."