The Florida players know they could be playing for new position coaches next season. The distractions outside the program are tough to ignore, with Jim McElwain building his new staff and some of the current assistant coaches might not be around next year.
The players continue to prepare and want to send the seniors out on the right note, but that isn’t the only motivation. One look to the sideline in practice can be all the Gators need to practice hard. That’s where McElwain has spent his time during bowl practice, watching what the players do on the field and how they’re handling bowl practices.
“That’s a great opportunity for a coach to evaluate guys and see how they work and start making decisions in his mind where guys are going to fit in what he wants to do,” D.J. Durkin said. “They know that (McElwain is) watching and I’m sure that makes a little difference, too. You want to make sure your first impression is a good one."
Durkin knew motivation could be a challenge for this team preparing for the bowl. With his first meeting around the team as the interim coach, Durkin addressed it and challenged them to find their motivation one way or the other. For some players, that motivation comes from playing for the guy next to them. For others, it’s sending the seniors out in the right. Having McElwain at practice and watching the actual bowl game can also make players be locked in on the field.
The way they’re motivated isn’t important. They just have to find a way to be motivated and prepared when they take on the field on January 3.
“Everyone has a little different motivation,” Durkin said. “But as long as you have motivation, we're alright. There’s a million different motivations. That’s fine. Just be motivated. Be a guy that’s motivated at practice and motivated to play. Our guys will do that. We have good leadership and a good group of guys. I know things didn’t go right all the time, but no one can see we didn’t complete and play hard. Our guys responded, they’re resilient. It’s nothing different with this game.”
The players have heard the message. Multiple players admitted that it could be difficult to block out the distractions away from the field, simply because there are so many out there. Even a senior like Chaz Green, who said he has been impressed with McElwain in their limited conversations, knows this can be a tough time for the group to stay focused.
“There’s a lot of outside distractions right now, but we just got to come together and just focus on the task at hand, which is winning this ball game,” Green said. “That’s the mindset, and I feel we’re ready to do that.”
There are multiple players that have announced their intentions to head to the NFL after the season. Reports have surfaced about Dante Fowler, D.J. Humphries, Matt Jones and Tyler Moore leaving early. Others players like Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison and Brian Poole are still awaiting a decision.
For players who know they’re going to the NFL, motivation can be tough. This game can mean little to them, but Durkin believes they’ll play hard and try to pull out a win in their last game at Florida.
“At the end of the day, it’s the players,” Durkin said. “It’s their team. Our guys, they understand that. They have a sense of team. We’ve played that way this year and they understand that. At the end of the day, that’s who you’re playing for. You’re going to give your all for the guy next to you because he matters to you.”
INJURY REPORT: Florida defensive end Bryan Cox will miss the bowl game after having hip surgery. Durkin said it was an injury that was deteriorating over time and it needed to be done.
Durkin said there is no update on any players that might miss the bowl game because of academics.