Ask sophomore receiver Brandon Powell which freshman has caught his eye the most, and there’s no hesitation.
“Antonio Callaway,” Powell said. “Just watch out for him. He’s going to be a big help in the receiving corps. He’s smooth, just one of those south Florida athletes coming in, just got all the potential. You’ll see once camp starts. You’ll hear about him.”
The veterans on the Florida roster have made it a priority to welcome the freshmen to the team. Everyone around the program knows that many freshmen will be counted on to play important snaps this year, so it’s on the seniors to make sure they’re ready to be counted on in games.
The veterans have kept a close eye on the freshmen in the football facility and away from it, trying to mentor them into an important role this fall.
“Just come in and be yourself,” Bullard said of the best way for a freshman to play right away. “Don’t jump on the tail of somebody else and try to fit in. Just be yourself. However you were at home, come in and try to be the same. Work hard. You don’t come to party and all that. Those are the perks of it, but you come here to get on the field. As a freshman, I know my biggest goal was playing right away. You can’t do that when you’re not focused.”
The freshman in Bullard’s position group that will receive the most attention is former five-star recruit CeCe Jefferson. Bullard has known Jefferson for years, putting a lot of effort into making sure the Baker County product would play his college football for the Gators.
Now that Jefferson is on campus, Bullard didn’t want to put immediate expectations on him, but he has seen the work ethic to get Jefferson on the field this fall.
“I had a relationship with him because I was recruiting him,” Bullard said. “I was like the main guy recruiting him. We’ve got a tight relationship. I don’t want to put standards on him just yet because we’ve only been doing drills, but I know he’s a hard worker who wants to be good and play right away.”
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING CHANGES: The Florida players raved about the program new director of strength and conditioning Mike Kent brought to Gainesville.
“Oh, man,” Powell said. “It’s a lot different. We’ve been doing a lot of legs, a lot of heavy lifting. It’s a lot of good stuff to help us, benefit us, get us ready for the season.”
Under previous coach Jeff Dillman, the conditioning portion of the program was focused on distance. The team would run multiple 110-yard sprints to build endurance, but those have gone away under Kent.
Powell said Kent told the team that they wouldn’t run anything over 60 yards now.
“I like (the shorter distances, more reps) a lot more,” Powell said. “That’s what we do every day, we just run a lot of reps. It gets you tired.”
OFFENSIVE LINE QUESTIONS: The offensive staff will have to be creative this fall. With only one returning offensive lineman that has ever started a game for the Gators, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Florida struggled to drop back and throw the football this year. McElwain admitted that the offensive staff will need to go back to its NFL roots and find “seven or eight guys that can swap some spots as we develop those younger guys coming in.”
That number will be forced to include some inexperienced players and probably multiple freshmen.
“We'll have some people to choose from,” McElwain said. “I'm excited about that group. I think we're 15, 16 deep right now. From what the words are, they've been working their tail off and are excited for the opportunity. You talk about taking a mental rep, and I always think about when I walked in the basketball gym with the basketball. I didn't just stare at the hoop. I actually shot it.
“These guys are going to have an opportunity to go take reps. How you learn to play is sometimes by making mistakes, but you've got to get that opportunity to take those reps, and they're going to have a lot of chances.”
When asked if they’ll have to try to trick teams offensively to move the ball, McElwain made it clear that the offense will be built with multiple pre-snap shifts and motions, “trying to create as much confusion” as possible.