Gators healthy, responsible in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, La. – While preparation began outside for the crowds anticipated because of New Years Eve and the Sugar Bowl in the city, Florida head coach Will Muschamp spent Monday's practice preaching to his team about having blinders to their surroundings. Monday's practice followed the script of a Thursday practice during a normal game week, and that's how he wants the Gators to think about it.

It's not a holiday – at least to the Florida football team. It's business as usual as preparations for Louisville begin to come to an end.

"It was a normal Thursday practice for us today," Will Muschamp said. "It's not New Years Eve. It's Thursday practice. It's a normal game week. We're ready to go."

It also means no holiday plans for the Gators. The Florida coaches and players haven't revealed the team's curfew this week, but don't expect to see any Florida players on Bourbon Street to ring in the new years late Monday evening.

"We will not. We will be asleep," Muschamp said when asked if the team planned to celebrate.

The setup in New Orleans makes it easy for players to get caught up in the nightlife of Bourbon Street and Jackson Square. The downtown area allows for people to walk just about anywhere. Team hotels are within walking distance of the nightlife.

It's the job of the players to be responsible and stay focused on Wednesday's game. Muschamp said his team has handled it "very well" so far this week.

"We've been on time for everything," Muschamp said. "Everyone has been at everything they're supposed to be at. We're pleased with them. They've acted like a mature football team, which is what they are."

The team has handled itself off the field this year, so it isn't any surprise to Muschamp that they're acting responsibly in a city like New Orleans. It's part of the mindset he wanted to build into his program.

To end the 2009 season, the Sugar Bowl served as an ending of an era as quarterback Tim Tebow played his final collegiate game. Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer also announced his resignation for the first time in two years, and the Gators fell to an 8-5 record in 2010.

While that Sugar Bowl was the start of a decline in the Florida program, Wednesday's game could be the start of an upswing. Muschamp downplayed any of the talk of it, but it's an important reward for the Florida players for putting together an 11-1 season.

"I don't know that anything is a jump-start for anything in the bowl season," Muschamp said. "It's a culmination for a lot of hard work that our staff, players and program have put in. I was talking to the Sugar Bowl people the other night. Growing up in the Southeastern Conference, this is where you wanted to be. You want to play in the Sugar Bowl, and if you do that, you've had a special season. We have.

"We've fallen short of some things that are important to me and our program, but this is a culmination of a lot of hard work our players and staff have put in.

HAMDAN MOVING ON: When Aubrey Hill resigned as Florida wide receivers coach the day before the Gators started fall camp, Muschamp promoted graduate assistant Bush Hamdan to the position for the season. The 26-year-old held the job for the regular season before the Gators hired Joker Phillips in December.

On Monday, Hamdan took the position of wide receivers coach at Arkansas State under first-year head coach Brian Harsin. Hamdan played his college football at Boise State and came to Gainesville with offensive coordinator Brent Pease. Harsin was also on the Boise State staff and knew Hamdan from his time there.

Hamdan will stay on the Florida staff through the Sugar Bowl before moving to start his new job.

"Really excited for him," Muschamp said. "We appreciate Brian (Harsin) understanding him coaching the bowl game for us. I'm really pleased that he's got that opportunity. It says a lot about what he did for us this year."

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