The pain of 2013

The Florida players and coaches still hear all about last season. From comments about the 4-8 record to mocking the loss to Georgia Southern, the offseason has been long and frustrating. The focus has now turned to 2014, but in the back of each player’s mind, Will Muschamp wants them to remember last year.

There’s a balance between dwelling on it and remembering it. Dwelling can cause frustration from the players and have them living in the past. But remembering? That’s what can push them.

The players heard about it from coaches on the field and in the weight room during the spring. When the last reps of the weight room got tough, reminders of 4-8 echoed off the walls. When the last wind sprint at practice seemed impossible, a Florida coach reminded them of being embarrassed at home by Georgia Southern.

“To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that's not right,” Will Muschamp said. “You will fool yourself if you believe that.”

So the players heard about it -- a lot. It wasn’t even from coaches. Some players talked about hearing about it from people in their hometown when going home during the offseason or from people around Gainesville. In their minds, it was impossible to completely forget about.

“That should be our motivation,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said. “We shouldn’t need a ‘rah-rah’ speech from any team leader or anything. We were 4-8 at Florida. That’s unacceptable. You look at that and think about what we did last year, it should drive us and push us to get better every day. That’s my motivation. As a team, we don’t need any speeches or anything. If 4-8 doesn’t motivate you, you’re in the wrong spot.”

Three weeks into summer workouts, the team had a meeting. They were ready to stop talking about 2013. The word most players used was “bury” it. They didn’t want to talk about it or think about it anymore. They wanted to continue working toward 2014 and let that be the goal.

They all knew how poor and unacceptable the four-win season was. They didn’t need to keep dwelling on it, holding them back from making progress and improving for the fall of this year. They were ready to be done talking about 2013.

“It was a really emotional meeting,” sophomore defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. “Everybody was talking about how crappy our season was. We put it all on the table, came together as a team and decided to bury it. Of course, we still know the season was there. But now it’s fuel for this season.

“As a team, we buried it. But we also keep it in the back of our heads as something to work past. We remember that we don’t want to be 4-8 again. We’re going to stay quiet and do what we can do.”

The outward conversations about 2013 are over between the players. Back in the winter and even spring, it was common for talks about the 2013 struggles to come up when the players were around each other. A lot of them were dumbfounded about how something that bad could actually happen.

It’s those conversations that had to end. That was the point of the meeting, but even with that, it was impossible to take the memories out of the mind of the returning players. Florida defensive tackle Leon Orr had a unique perspective on it.

“You can’t always forget everything,” Orr said. “You’ve got to remember stuff to make you better and strong so you remember where you don’t want to go back to. I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with me, three sisters and a single mother who grinded every day. I saw her leave at 6 a.m. to put food on the table. That’s not a lifestyle that you would glorify, but that’s not a lifestyle you want to forget.

“We went 4-8, and that’s not something we want to glorify, but we learned a lot as a team. That’s not a place you want to go back to.”

The Gators opened fall camp on Monday morning with the veterans hitting the practice field before the sun came up. The message was focused on the fall and the work ethic needed to get ready for the season with less than one month of practices until the season opener against Idaho.

That summer meeting set the tone, allowing players to have clear minds and optimism while starting fall camp. But don’t think they completely forgot about the past.

“We had to bury that, but you never forget the ones that you bury,” Orr said.

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