Kan Li / Scout

Jim McElwain thankful for Florida Gators’ seniors

To begin his turnaround of the Florida program, Jim McElwain had to first win over the seniors.

There weren’t any private meetings between the coaching staff and the seniors. McElwain and his staff don’t believe in that. They met with the entire team and spoke in front of the group about how important the seniors would be to this year’s success.

Transition is always awkward. The seniors on this year’s team committed to Florida to play for Will Muschamp. When he was fired, they’d be playing their final season for a new head coach. McElwain understood that awkwardness and made sure he worked hard to build relationships and win the trust of the team’s seniors.

Before an emotional rivalry game with Florida State on Saturday, the seniors will be recognized on the home field of the program they’ve helped turn around.

“There’s some unbelievable seniors here who have been through a lot,” McElwain said. “What was really exciting to see is what they’ve done to commit to their senior year and help this program move forward. I know as a player that last time you play your college game, and some of these guys will obviously go on to play, but there’s something special about playing in The Swamp and playing for the University of Florida. The commitment these guys have made from the day we walked in the door has been fantastic.”

The seniors that will be honored on Saturday are Jonathan Bullard, Bair Diamond, Roger Dixon, Josh Grady, Mason Halter, Anthony Harrell, Jake McGee, Antonio Morrison, Latroy Pittman, Brian Poole, LeAndre Rembert, Evan Schroeder, Valdez Showers, Dallas Stubbs, Trip Thurman and Dakota Wilson.

There are a lot of different backgrounds in that group. Bullard, Morrison, Pittman, Poole, Showers and Thurman are scholarship players that thought they’d play their entire careers for Will Muschamp. McGee was a post-graduate transfer from Virginia who will actually experience his third Senior Day on Saturday. Grady is a post-graduate transfer from Vanderbilt and Halter came from FCS Fordham in the offseason.

Every senior’s story is different, but McElwain said they’ve all played an important role in the program’s resurgence.

“It’s different when there’s a change,” McElwain said. “For whatever reason in life, changes happen. The one thing we made sure of was that we truly embraced these guys and understood that our opportunity to move forward is really on their leadership. To see the smile on these guys’ face and how hard they’re attacking what they’re doing and how they’re affecting people around them, it has been fun to see. They’re guys that we’ve become really close with, and we’re going to miss them a lot. The strength of the leadership from that class has been fantastic.”

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