I remember when I first started covering the Gator football team back in 1988. Galen Hall was the head coach at that time. He had some outstanding running backs, such as Emmitt Smith and Neal Anderson. Add to them, from the Steve Spurrier era, the likes of Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor, who continued to run the opposition over and over.
Put Earnest Graham in that mix, too and, you have a ‘running tradition’ at UF, which has hidden itself pretty well under college football’s radar screen. Even college football guru Beano Cook has always been clueless about Florida’s running backs.
Seriously, did anyone think Emmitt Smith would become the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher?? Did anyone realize that Neal Anderson learned from, and, then took over for Hall of Famer Walter Payton in Chicago?? Neal Anderson, at Florida, was the precursor to Emmitt. He then turned pro, and, was cast in the shadow of ‘Sweetness’.
OK, that’s enough of my 15-year history lesson. Let’s get back to 2004. Specifically, spring time, and, the present running back situation, with junior Ciatric Fason, sophomore DeShawn Wynn, and sophomore RB Skyler Thornton, who has his work cut out for him for playing time next season.
“Now, I know the speed of the game. So, I can just come out there, and, do the best I can do,” said Thornton. “I think everybody (the running backs) have the same role. It’s like a ‘3-headed monster’, me, Ciatric, and DeShawn ------ three different running styles and three different kinds of backs. So, I think, defenses will have some trouble with us.”
Coach Zook said that Thornton did a nice job on Wednesday. “He’s a tough kid. I felt like that last year, and, that’s why we played him. I thought he had a chance to be a good football player for us.”
Thornton said he’s intent on being an important part of the backfield, splitting carries with Wynn and Fason.
“DeShawn is like a power back, but, he also has speed. He’s good with short yardage. I think Ciatric is good as soon as he gets through the line. He’s good in the open field, and, making people miss. I think I can do a little bit of both (running styles). I’m kind of low to the ground. That’s how I run. I’m used to being a power back from my high school, and, a north-south runner,” said Thornton. “I think I’m in pretty good. I know my plays. As long as I know my plays, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
This reporter noticed that when Thornton carried the ball on Wednesday, that, even though he was being tackled, he continued to move his feet, which is something you really can’t teach. It’s innate…you’re just born to do that.
“When you make contact,” Thornton said, “you should never stop your feet. You have to stay up and keep going. That’s the main point.”
Thornton said he likes the running styles of Miami’s Ricky Williams and Tennessee’s Eddie George. “They’re big and strong…and, can do anything. It’s kind of hard to stop them one-on-one.”
Come fall, the competition better watch out for the Gators ‘3-headed monster’ --- chomp, chomp, chomp!!!
***Coach Zook said that Wednesday’s practice had a good tempo. “I thought the first group (of the defense) did well, particularly on short yardage, and, on the goal line. The offense is the same thing.” He added that, those are areas which he’ll really stress, in the spring, and, in the fall. But, after six spring practices, he said that, “it’s not very much, but, that they’re doing well.”
***Junior DE Jeremy Mincey on his transfer from Butler County (GA) C.C.: “Everything is a lot faster…the pace. I’m working hard learning the plays, and, studying more. I’m at a little loss right now. But, after I get the plays down, the defensive schemes, and learn what’s going on, my work ethic will take care of the rest.” Coach Zook said that Mincey plays hard, gets after it, and flies around. “I just don’t think you can have enough of those kinds of guys. He’s a strong guy who loves to play the game, and, is always in a good mood. That enthusiasm is, I think, is contagious.”
***Like Mincey, Junior TE Markell Thompson, who transferred from SW Mississippi C.C., is also at somewhat of a loss. Add to that, he had been playing defensive end and not tight end at SWMCC. “I’m going through it with Coach Dixon. I’m meeting with Chris Leak and some of the other players. I’m trying to get help from everyone on the team. I’m trying to get ‘it’ as quickly as possible as I can. The (TE) spot’s open, and, I’m competing. You have got to compete for it. I’m glad I have the chance to compete for it. (Thompson hasn’t played TE since his senior year at Statesboro H.S. in Georgia). He added that the biggest adjustment for him is to learn the new offense, and, remembering his assignments. He said that, “here, every play counts…not like in JUCO.”
***Assistant Head & Inside Receivers Coach Dwayne Dixon said that he has his work cut out for him to make his receivers play well. “Without a doubt, I would hate to start the fall today, and, try to have them ready. I do see some good things. Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that you can see flashes of guys understanding the dedication and the fight that you have to have to compete on the field. I think they understand that, and, I’ll continue to emphasize that. They’re getting it.”
***Freshman DE Julian Riley practiced at the tackle position today. Coach Zook said that he plans on using him there. “Julian is getting bigger and stronger…and, the same with Freshman DL Brandon Daniel. We talked about Brandon being a DE. Then, he comes in pushing 300 (pounds). He probably has got a better chance, right now, helping us inside.”
***Coach Zook said that, Senior LB Travis Harris always has a great attitude. “He always works his tail off. He’s a leader on the defense, along with Sophomore LB Channing Crowder. He said that it’s not like Travis hasn’t played LB,” which is where he played prior to switching to DE before spring of 2003.
**Senior OG Mo Mitchell spent his second consecutive practice without having pads on. He’s trying to heal a hurt leg. He did, however, do some mild running on Wednesday.
***Sophomore WR O.J. Small put on pads for the first time this spring. He hasn’t seen any action, and, is still nursing a hurt hand. Though, holding a clip-board on the sidelines, hopefully with his good hand, you can just tell that he wants to be practicing more than anything.
***Junior DE Kenny Parker had an MRI done on his back. “They just wanted to see where the progress is on his back,” said Coach Zook.