Gators’ veterans optimistic about the future

The veterans on the Florida roster came to Gainesville to play for Will Muschamp. After he was fired during the 2014 season, they wish there was more time to stick around and be a part of what Jim McElwain has done with the program.

The change in the coaching staff wasn’t made because of the defense. Florida has been one of the best defenses in the country over the last four years, but that was the only area of the football team that was doing well. Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin were big parts of that defense, and the players liked what they were doing on that side of the ball.

Their departure hasn’t caused any hiccup in the veterans buying into the new coaching staff. Jim McElwain let them know on his first day that there was a plan in place to get the Florida program back among the elites in college football. There were things he wanted to change -- although none of the Florida players would admit what those were -- and that has been his focus since taking over.

“Right now, nobody really fears the Gators and that's what we want again,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said.

It starts in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kent, who followed McElwain from Colorado State. McElwain gets the headlines after taking over as head coach and needing to restart the offense, but many of the players point to Kent as the basis for the team’s changes.

The players point to changes in the weight room for helping their bodies add muscle and get faster.

"It's not even just McElwain. The strength staff, coach Kent,” linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “Man, it's light years better than what we did in the past. Guys actually like lifting. We see our bodies growing, we're putting on weight and guys are getting stronger. We're going into the weight room ready to go.”

Morrison has said in the past that he’s jealous of the younger players in the program who get to be a part of what McElwain is building. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said in the offseason that the indoor practice facility was already in the plans before McElwain came to Gainesville, but the players see his input on the facility and other improvements that will be made in the future.

“The changes he's brought to this program,” Morrison said about what stands out from McElwain’s time in Gainesville. “As you see this new facility right here, we never had that. Before if it would've rained, we'd wait about four or five hours and just be getting out to the field at nine o'clock ready to practice. Having this indoor is great. McElwain, everything going in the right direction man. Florida's going to be back on top soon."

That doesn’t mean this year’s team has to wait to make that happen. The Gators have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and they believe they can start McElwain’s transformation of the program this fall.

"(We’re) very hungry,” Bullard said. “I think we've got a lot to prove. The last few years we haven't been much, so we've got a lot to prove. Really nobody gives us a chance and it's hard to blame them."

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