Friday, Florida announced the suspension of three players that are expected to start or at least play a big part this season for the Gators. Senior receiver Latroy Pittman, junior defensive end Alex McCalister, and junior safety Marcus Maye all have been suspended for the season opener against New Mexico State for unspecified team rules violations.
On the youngest team in the Southeastern Conference, the Gators need their older players to be leaders. These three have let their teammates down and will be missed in game one. McElwain says the team as a whole is buying into the concept, even the guys that know they messed up.
“I've got to tell you this, these guys have been very receptive,” McElwain said. I'm really proud of this team. I’m proud of the leadership. The way they’ve taken accountability for their own actions and even the guys that are missing that opener, you know it’s a choice and some of strikes might have been against them obviously before we got here and yet at the end of the day we all have those freedoms and those choices and you know for us there will be some guys that will get some valuable playing time obviously losing some guys like that. They’ll be back with us and they’ll serve their suspension and be ready and roll. (I’ve) never been one of those and never will be to worry about who’s not there. (It) gives some guys an opportunity to step up and make some plays and help us down the road.”
With the youngest team in the conference, there are a lot of new bodies on campus and some that still have to learn a bit about being on their own and away from their parents. Over 20,000 new students have been making their way to the Florida campus since midweek for the start of their first semester on campus. McElwain wants his guys to look out for one another and do the right things.
“We’ve talked extensively, throughout the week, and people starting moving in on campus, Wednesday I think is when we started to see a bunch of activity,” he started. “You know, it’s hard, I can’t be there every second to protect them. It’s about making the right choices. And we talked constantly about it, it also is not OK to be a bystander, if someone is acting a fool, get them out of there, right. I mean these guys are still 18 year-olds that are away from home the first time as well. We talk about it a lot obviously and yet, when you go back, it’s really about the team rule, do what’s right and you got a chance of probably being successful in life and yet sometimes guys learn hard lessons, and we handle those accordingly based on their actions."
While he and the program have their rules off the field, one thing McElwain is dead set on is changing the discipline issues on the field as well. Florida has been the number one or two most penalized team in the SEC in 20 of the last 21 years. And while for some that could show a bias toward the Gators from the refereeing community, McElwain hates the yellow flags and is bound and determined to do something about it.
On Friday an unnamed defensive tackle was whistled for a personal foul and McElwain threw him out of the rest of the practice. He missed valuable practice time, but the head coach is trying to get his point across.
“Yeah, we don’t put up with it,” McElwain said of the excessive foul. “There’s no excuse. There’s absolutely zero. To me, it’s one of the most selfish acts somebody can do because it’s them and it’s usually because you’re not going as hard as the other guy so now you’re going to be Mr. Tough Guy or whatever. All right? And then because of your actions, you hurt the team. I just don’t see any place for that. I don’t get it. There’s no place on a football team for a selfish player. It’s that simple. We just don’t put up with it.”
Florida had the most penalized team in the conference when they won national titles in 1996, 2006, and 2008. That doesn’t matter to McElwain who has been around programs like Alabama that win titles and are one of the best at keeping the yellow hankie off the field.
“If they continue to do it, they can continue to do it somewhere else,” McElwain said not worrying if it will slow down the offenders. “I’ve been around some really good coaches, obviously, and that’s something you don’t see by great football teams. That’s not how they act. They play hard between the whistles the way the game’s supposed to be played and they don’t bring attention to themselves. That’s just what we believe in and how we’re going to run the program. We’ve got some behavior that we’ve got to keep working on. What are we? The most penalized team in the last five years, six years, whatever it is? I don’t know where we sit. It’s ridiculous.”
He’s the one that calls the shots on any particular penalty. There may be a time when he feels the player needs to sit for the rest of a game. There may be a time when he feels he should sit for a series. That is up to the head coach.
However, in this practice setting and maybe as his players are still trying to feel out the staff, he isn’t willing to name the culprit that was thrown out. His team took the high road as well, likely instructed to do so.
“Nah,” McElwain said when asked who it was. “He knows who he is, though, and so does the team. So go ask the team, I’m sure they’ll spit it out.”