Upperclassmen a Huge Part of Rebuilding

For the juniors and seniors that are part of the Florida football program, the 2012 season has been a breath of fresh air and something that they fully expected would be common during their entire career at Florida. An 11-1 season is about to come to a close as they play in the Sugar Bowl on January 2 and a group of difference makers reflected on one of the greatest seasons in Gator history.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp took charge of a program last year that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. After a rough first year and getting things in an order he liked, Muschamp and company made a monumental jump from a 6-6 regular season to the 11-1 season in 2012.

The change was a welcome one for seniors like defensive tackle Omar Hunter.

"When you're young and coming in, all you know is winning because that's what we did when I was younger. It didn't go that way the next few years after that, and we were down a little bit. But Coach Muschamp got in here with his new staff and things really turned around. I'm glad I was a part of that."

In 2011, the gators were young and inexperienced. They had a lot to change which included a new strength coach in Jeff Dillman, who instilled a new tougher mentality that allowed this team to play tougher and longer in games and often times overpower their opponents.

"It was very frustrating," Hunter said of last year. " think the team wasn't together. We're playing in the big league and not as a unit, and we weren't very tough last year, mentally or physically. Going into this offseason, I felt like with Coach Dillman coming in we made a big transition off the field just getting tougher, mentally and physically. Coach Muschamp kept pushing into us every day in practice, 'You have to get more physical, you have to be tougher.' The guys really bought into that."

The Gators had their one setback this season losing to rival Georgia in Jacksonville in late October after the offense coughed up the ball six times. The tough loss hit hard, but the team fought through the adversity to win the rest of their contests.

"It was a tough game, losing to a rival, and it being in the SEC and losing," Hunter said. It cost us in going to the SEC Championship, but it was a learning experience for a lot of the young guys on this team. For a lot of older guys, going forward, it lets you know that you can't get down. You have bigger things ahead of you. Luckily, we were able to get back on track and make it to a BCS game."

"We came a long way even just inside of our program learning to believe and trust in each other and talk to each other," junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "Not just with the good things but with the bad things as well. We did a great job of just coming together and taking care of each other's problems instead of putting it on the coaches."

Senior safety Josh Evans has had an all-conference type of year for the Gators and knows that the Gator defense grew up a lot in year two of the Muschamp era. The defense finished fourth in the country in 3rd down defense conversion rate, a key stat in winning football games.

"Communication… that was something we lacked last year and learning to anticipate certain calls," Evans said. We can't get locked into a certain call and not be ready for certain tricks and formations and that's what we've been improving on this year. We've gotten faster, quicker, and we can move that linebacker outside or tell the corner he's in man or zone and things like that.

"I think we're always pretty confident. We have always had the talent. We were adjusting to a new coaching staff and adapting to a new defense. That was the biggest thing. We have a lot of players that are maturing a lot and have grown up in this program."

The players also pin a lot of the success on the coaching staff that continued to put them in right situation all season.

"You have to first look at the coaching staff," Evans said. "We have guys like Coach Muschamp and a great defensive staff and our players take in their advice and it helps a lot. They are there to help you and you have to take it all in and trust them to put you in a position to play your best."

Elam believes the hiring of Muschamp was absolutely huge for the direction of the defense and the team.

"His knowledge and things like that. I learned a lot of new things from Muschamp, things I didn't know and things I never thought I knew," Elam said. "So, Muschamp came in and it was big."

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