Florida has gone through the two leanest years in terms of wins and losses in quite some time in 2010 and 2011. It has been tough on a team full of players that were either used to winning big at this level or came to Florida expecting to win big and did so at the high school level. Omar Hunter says the older players have learned from the tough times.
“It is more the experience,” Hunter said when asked why this team will be different. “I just feel like everyone on the team is more together. After practice guys are staying and helping each other out with different things the guys are working on.”
It is the cohesion of the team and what seems to be a genuine fondness for each other that is coming out when they talk to the media. Hunter believes they are just creating a family atmosphere and always seem to be there for each other.
“I think from hanging out more outside of football,” he said again of what is making this team stronger. “Coaches didn’t force us to do that, guys did it more on their own. I think the older guys matured and guys like myself and Lerentee McCray getting things together.
“I think the hard times from last year brought us together. It was a bad feeling and no one on this team wants to feel that again.”
There seems to be a focus on the school itself. The love for playing for the Gators and representing the University of Florida has come to the forefront for a lot of the guys.
“We have great coaches and all love one another,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt this team in anyway and we all love Florida. When we all go out and do things we all think about this team.”
A season ago Florida was outscored by almost 50 points in the fourth quarter in SEC play. It is something that hit head coach Will Muschamp hard at the end of the year as he called his team ‘soft’. It was something he vowed wouldn’t happen again and so they have been working hard to keep that from happening.
Muschamp brought in strength coach Jeff Dillman who has devised his own ways of making improvements.
“It has been huge with Coach Dillman and his training,” Hunter said of the 4th quarter collapses. “It was harder toward the end of the workouts so we will be prepared for the fourth quarter and it has continued in camp.”
Hunter also believes the Gators will better up front and especially in providing heat on the quarterback.
“I feel like it has been really good,” he says of the pass rush so far this fall. “Guys like me, Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, and Lerentee McCray have stepped up. The young guys have done some good work too. The guys have been working hard and getting better every day.”
Hunter is ready for a big year personally.
“I have just really put in a lot of work this offseason,” he said. “This is my last year and I am trying to improve on everything I am doing. My pad level is better than any time that I have been here, I have just been working.”
He also likes the look of the top backups on the interior line, junior college transfer Damien Jacobs and sophomore Leon Orr.
“Those guys are working hard,” Hunter said. “Damien is a really good pass rusher and has improved from when he got here. Leon’s run stopping has really improved and both have really worked hard. I think Damien is more flexible now turning his hips to the line of scrimmage. He has that ‘old man’ strength. You might be able to bench more than him but on the football field he just has crazy strength.”
Hunter and Jacobs will play together some this year.
Hunter says so far the practice time has been pretty even between starters and backups on the defensive line.
“The reps are split pretty evenly,” Hunter said. “I wouldn’t say there is a starter or a backup. I think guys are rotating pretty evenly right now.”
Hunter joked when asked about playing next to Sharrif Floyd who has moved to more of an inside presence instead of playing end most of last season.
“He’s still ugly but very good inside,” he quipped. “It is fun playing next to him.”
He also says not to discount an earlier return than expected from the injured starter at the BICK position, Ronald Powell.
“If you tell Ronald he isn’t going to do something, he will go out and work harder to do it,” Hunter said. “He is working extremely hard and I know he will be back this season. I just want him to be back to 100%.”
There is no doubt that the return of Powell from his injury will booster the defense, but according to Hunter, the play of the offense up front and in the running game is helping them as well.
“They are doing really good,” he said of the offensive line play so far. “I have been seeing holes in the defense. Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown and the running backs have been torching our defense sometimes. The offensive line is really stronger this year and I really feel it.