The Florida Gators are sitting with four losses for only the second time under Urban Meyer in a season where so much more was expected. The issues abound on this team that has shown few flashes of brilliance on what most consider a very talented squad.
Senior linebacker Brandon Hicks is about to play in his senior day this Saturday when the Gators take on Appalachian State. Hicks believes it was something that held this team back a bit.
“We are a very talented team on both sides of the ball,” Hicks told the media Monday. “I wish the camaraderie would have come earlier and before the season started. Getting a feel for the new coaches very fast and for the young guys, we understood it would take time, but we didn’t know as much time would pass for us to do so.”
Hicks said the growing pains should pay off dividends for the younger guys and the mistakes of this past year in terms of attitude toward each other should not happen in the future.
“It is one thing I am glad we actually went through, because the young guys won’t have a problem knowing how this coach is going to be or about this player or that player,” Hicks said. “Now they can just take care of business like we were supposed to.”
One of the reasons for the separation of classes was the new faces on the Gator coaching staff and the older guys jockeying for their own time in front of that staff. Head coach Urban Meyer hired four new assistant coaches in the off-season and the older players had a lot to deal with in that transition as well.
“Coming in, people had a lot of things to worry about…new coaches and players,” Hicks said. “Usually when a freshman comes in, you see what they are like. We had a lot of older guys that were trying to get in with this new coach and (we felt like) the young guys would have their time next year.”
Hicks knows he could have done more and regrets not reaching out to the younger guys. The Gators top ranked recruiting class had talent at every position and some of that could have been helpful in making this a better season. He wishes he would have been a little more aggressive in including the younger guys.
“I would say more hands on things,” Hicks responded when asked what he would have done different. “Take them with us, if I go home, take them with us. We didn’t have much time to do so, but we could have always done better. Everyone makes mistakes and I feel that was our mistake.”
A lot of the wounds were healed as the season progressed and the big win over Georgia was a big cleansing moment for this squad. Still, the Gators suffered a fourth loss on Saturday and in a fashion that set back any thoughts of this team looking better.
Hick understands this is a time for the older guys to step up and help out the promising future of the program. After the loss Saturday, the older guys took it upon themselves to keep the attitudes high and spoke out about it.
“Basically, more like sticking together,” Hicks said about the general feeling coming out of the locker room after the game. “I know it feels like and sounds like it’s too late for that, but once the team breaks down, then you have nothing. We can’t let the young guys know that, ‘Oh, we’re not winning. What are we supposed to do?’ We can’t have that type of turmoil. We must stick together, keep their heads straight as a team, and help us go out as seniors on Senior Day on a great note. We’re trying to instill as much as possible in them while they have the time left with us.
The Gators got down early in the game and the offense could never amount to anything during the game. Still, the score remained pretty close until very late in the fourth quarter. The team never quit in the game.
“All you can do is keep your spirits high and show them that no matter what goes on anything can happen…at the drop of a dime they can fumble and we can score…anything can happen,” Hicks said. “They are young and have next year, we didn’t want them to have that mentality going into the fourth quarter and into the next game.”
Overall, Hicks saw a lot of growth out of this freshman class. On offense Trey Burton has played exceptionally well along with Robert Clark and a few others that have matured late in the season. On defense, Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, Cody Riggs, Matt Elam and a few more have played a lot and showed up in big time moments during the season. Hicks said taking those guys in, could have led to even faster development.
“Everyone says the first year is used to get adjusted to college and the speed and everything…We needed it to happen very fast for the younger guys,” Hicks said. “Ronald Powell is coming along fast, but we needed more guys to step up and play. It was challenging. It didn’t happen as fast as we wanted to, but it did happen.”
Despite the season, senior day will be special for Hicks.
“It means a whole lot because it’s the last time you get to spend your last game with your band of brothers and your family gets to be there,” he said. “Basically, it’s just a special moment, no matter what kind of season anybody is having. Senior Day is always going to be a special moment because you never know what can happen, and you’ve got to take that last game and take that last time for what it is. I guarantee you that everybody who is a senior is going to play their heart out no matter what. The circumstances may be (different), but it’s a special time not just for me but I know for the rest of my fellow teammates who are seniors.”
One guy that should get a special sendoff is senior safety Ahmad Black. Black leads the team in tackles (78) and is 31.5 tackles ahead of the Jelani Jenkins, who is second on the team. He also leads the team in tackles for loss (9), interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (3). Black is 5-9 and weighs 190 pounds. He plays much bigger and stronger and is an inspiration to his teammates.
“Ahmad has been doing that ever since we got here,” Hicks said. “Our defense is blessed to have guy who isn’t the biggest guy around, but with the biggest heart I have ever seen. It doesn’t matter how big you are, he is going to try and knock you out. If you try and out jump him, then he is going to try to out jump you.
“He is a guy that goes out on each and every play…it is a blessing to the defense and to the team period. He doesn’t care about what anyone says about him, he is going to go out there and play every play like it’s his last. Hopefully you see him on Sundays, but he is just a guy that I am glad to be around and actually know. He is a great person on the field and off the field.”