Coaches aren’t allowed to spend as much time around their players because of NCAA rules, and there’s generally more free time for the college football players. That can end poorly, as run-ins with the law usually occur more during the summer.
This summer, the Gators have done their best to avoid those headlines. J.C. Jackson was arrested on armed robbery charges in April and isn’t expected to return to the team even if the charges are dropped, but there haven’t been any other issues off the field this summer.
The veterans on the team have made it a point to watch out for everyone on the team.
“That’s big,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said. “With all the problems going on right now (it’s big) for us to not really have any that was too major. Coach just preached, do the right thing. That’s the one team rule we have is do the right thing and that kind of kept everybody in. We’d go place, we’d try to go with a group of us where we know somebody in the group could control the situation if something did happen.”
Most of Bullard’s decision to return had to do with things on the field and the chance to graduate from Florida. However, he also knew he needed to be a better leader. Dante Fowler is gone from the defensive line, and there’s no question that Bullard has taken over the leadership role.
“Being a leader, people tend to listen to you more than others,” Bullard said. “When I’m out or Vernon (Hargreaves is) out or Antonio Morrison, we can take a grasp of the situation if something is getting out hand. They’ll listen to us more than they’ll listen to their little buddy they just got to school with or a local or whoever they’re around at the time.”
The veterans on the team being involved is exactly how McElwain wants things to work with off-field discipline. The coaches can pound it into the heads of their players to have the right mindset off the field and take care of each other, but unless they really buy in, it doesn’t matter much.
It sounds like the Florida players have learned the importance of it.
“Part of it starts with your leadership in your football team,” McElwain said. “We can educate, and that's what we try to do. As coaches, we're teachers. We try to do as much as we can to help these young men be successful, and yet at the end of the day, it's about choices and decisions that you make, and some of those that are spur of the moment. Summertime is really usually the worst because there's a little more free time, and yet at the same time, what you hope is they understand that we do have freedom of choice but we don't have freedom of consequence.
“That's part of growing up and part of learning. I think it's one of those deals each one of us are going to deal with. It's the way it goes. And yet the education piece is what we're all about, and we look forward to trying to keep teaching every single day.”