Gators Send Seniors out in Style

The appropriate sendoff for the Florida senior class came Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. Emotions poured down the face of some players while they ran out of the tunnel for the final time. If it didn't come out on the jog to hug head coach Urban Meyer, the tears came by the time the seniors reached their families.

Urban Meyer did his best to hold himself together. He wouldn't admit to crying as the players jogged out, joking that it sounded "soft." After searching for the right phrase to capture his emotions, Meyer gave in and joked that he "balled his eyes out."

"I'm very thankful for our senior class and the leadership they provide, especially through some ups and downs," Meyer said. "You'll hear a lot from them in the future, even if it's not in football."

Meyer has always encouraged former players to come back for games in the fall. In fact, that's how he judges how close each senior class was. That's the reason he believes players like Maurkice Pouncey, Percy Harvin, Carlos Dunlap, David Nelson and plenty of other recent graduates have been on the sidelines over the course of the last two seasons.

"You can always tell a senior class when they come back," Meyer said. "Some senior classes don't come back, and really, why should they? Other senior classes you see them all the time. '96 Gators are here all the time. The last several years are always showing up. This group will always come back."

Meyer recruited this senior class, so it means a lot for him to see them graduate and move on. The progress in each class serves as a sense of pride for the head coach, but there are always a few players that stick out.

This year, Ahmad Black is that guy.

"I have never been around a football player that has made such progress from day one to four years later (as Black)," Meyer said. "He's the best strong safety. If I had my draft pick at strong safety, I'm taking Ahmad Black."

Mike Pouncey was the final senior to run through the tunnel. After his brother, Mike, left early for the NFL after last season, Saturday served as a dual senior day for the two. Their importance as recruits is hard for Meyer to overstate, as he convinced them to come to Florida over Florida State, the school they rooted for growing up.

"What he and his brother have done for this program… To think there's not going to be a Pouncey playing for this program next year, that's real hard to deal with right now," Meyer said.

INJURY REPORT: Andre Debose was held out after tweaking his ankle in pregame, but Meyer expects him to be fine for next weekend. Dee Finley's shoulder injury should also be cleared next weekend.

Janoris Jenkins suffered a "slight concussion" and was held out in the second half because the coaches "protected him." Jeremy Brown was held out after a hamstring issue suffered in practice.

Earl Okine suffered a concussion on a punt block attempt. Dominique Easley left the field on crutches after spraining an ankle.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said linebacker A.J. Jones is expected back next weekend.

BEEMER'S MOMENT: As he has done for the last two Senior Days against a smaller school, Meyer gave helped a senior get into the endzone. In 2006, he put Tim Higgins into the game to carry the ball against Western Carolina. In 2008, he let Javier Estopinan record a rushing touchdown against The Citadel.

On Saturday, that played was walk-on defensive lineman Gary Beemer.

"Gary Beemer is one of my favorite players on the team," Meyer said. "He's about as unselfish of a guy as you've got. Our players love him because he goes at it every day. He's going to go into the career of coaching."

Beemer earned a spot on the coaching staff next season, either as a graduate assistant or as a strength coach. However, ending his career in The Swamp with a touchdown was a goal he never thought he would accomplish.

"I grabbed him in the third quarter and said, 'If we get close enough, I'd like to hand you the ball.' It's just out of respect for the kid," Meyer said.

FRESHMEN SEE THE FIELD: Ronald Powell started at linebacker with the injury of AJ Jones. Shariff Floyd and Dominique Easley saw extra playing time in the second half. Cody Riggs and Matt Elam saw extended time playing in the secondary.

It was all part of a blowout game, allowing the young players to get into the game.

"If you had to evaluate this freshman class, you wish it would have happened quicker," Meyer said. "A lot of these guys have accelerated their play in the last few weeks. I'm glad it's happening now, because that's our future."

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF HOME FIELD: The win also snapped a three-game home losing streak. When Meyer took the job in 2005, he spoke of taking back The Swamp. From 2005-2009, the Gators only lost at home to Auburn in 2007 and Ole Miss in 2008. This year, they lost three.

Meyer called their ability to protect home field "awful." A win against Appalachian State is a step in the right direction, but the head coach knows that proclaiming home field advantage being back is false.

"We're going to work all offseason to get it back," Meyer said. "You can't go beat Appalachian State and then say you have home field advantage. That's something we're going to beat into them. That's absolutely unacceptable."

REED'S EXPANDED ROLE: Jordan Reed went 2-for-3 throwing the football for 14 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball eleven times for 71 yards and three touchdowns. He continues to be a weapon for the Florida offense.

When reminded that he said Reed wasn't completely sure of the offense, Meyer added, "Getting close, isn't he?"

Reed was injured for "at least 30 days" in training camp, which kept the Gators from completely using his package of plays. Meyer isn't sure what position Reed will be used in during the future, whether he will stay at quarterback or move back to tight end.

"I still don't know if he'll stay at quarterback," Meyer said. "I don't know what's best for our team."

MOVING ON: The team celebration was easily audible from the locker room, as they put their final home game in the books. The importance of a win on Senior Day won't be taken for granted.

"We had a brief celebration and then I encouraged them to get with their families and enjoy it," Meyer said.

However, the focus for the coaching staff immediately turns to Florida State. The Gators will be trying to extend their six-game winning streak over the Seminoles.

"(It's) the biggest rivalry in college football because it's this week," Meyer said.

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