Nobody picked Florida to be in the SEC Championship Game following the 2015 season. A new staff, questions at quarterback, huge issues on the offensive line, unknown talents at receiver, question marks at linebacker, and the list goes on. But, they did.
Strangely enough, they got things done in the start of the season where most of the bigger questions should have been bigger issues. After a couple of personnel issues, things went in another direction.
In year two, there are still a lot of those questions for the 2016 squad that we entered Spring drills with. Personnel wise, we feel a lot of those questions have been answered, yet we won’t really know until they strap them up against different competition. That will have to wait until September.
A lot of coaches will tell you the most important stuff for a team happens in the offseason and this is one place where 2016 looks much better than 2015 already… in all aspects of the program
“We’re so much farther along organizationally,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said earlier this week on his speaking tour around the state. “Understanding what we need to do moving forward and the things we need to work on. Our team understanding more than anything how to go about your daily business and what it takes to make sure you understand your responsibility as a player to prepare and to go into a meeting… to prepare to get ready to go into practice… the expectation of the work load in the weight room and other things.
“It has been fun to see how they’ve accepted that challenge and really taken it to heart.”
Spring practice consists of 15 segments every year. In year one, it was a struggle to get through things as coaches, players, and even supporting cast were trying to get organized and in a pattern of doing things the right way and on time. With the culmination of practices last month, McElwain feels they are light years ahead of a team that actually started pretty strong in 2015.
“I really think of those 15 full practices we had there was probably a practice and a half where I thought, ‘I’m not quite sure we got better today’,” he said. “That is a big step from the year before.
One of the new things that McElwain has brought to the program is a mental conditioning component. While we are busy learning more about the program, he says that it is something that he is seeing great dividends… again in this offseason that is so important.
Instead of worrying about his guys buying in to what he’s selling as a program, he wants them to understand that everything they do is part of what makes them better or worse in the long run.
“It really all stems back from each individual investing in themselves, investing in their brand, and wanting to make that the best brand it is,” he said. “When you get that investment, in turn, it affects the people around you in a positive way. I saw that with our team and we’re getting better and better from a lot of those things in just how we go about our daily business. It’s been fun to see the growth and yet we have a long way to go.
“Our mental conditioning program which is something we brought and started… we can see it already paying a lot of dividends.”
He likes what is going on, but knows there is a long way to go.
“I really like our team,” McElwain said. “I think a year ago no one would have thought we’d be playing in Atlanta in December for the SEC Championship. Yet, when we achieved it, I think there were some people that might have been satisfied. What we’ve learned from past experiences is that you can’t ever be satisfied, you have to continue to move forward and that’s something our guys are understanding.
The NCAA limits contact in the sense that you can’t have designed meetings and workouts, etc. But, the staff remains in constant contact with each and every player on the squad. There is plenty of time to coach them through the understanding of what it means to make right and wrong choices.
“We’re in touch with our players every day. Even though it’s limited contact, it’s interesting because we know when they read our texts, so we know they are reading it.
“I really like the guys on this team. No one’s perfect, there are always opportunities. The biggest piece of our mental conditioning piece we brought was the understanding of how to deal with choices. We have freedom of choice, but we don’t have freedom of consequence.
“Teaching how you think, how you deal with situations, understanding it is a choice and we can’t make you do anything… and yet what we can do is help educate the things that can help your brand. We talked about it social media wise, behavioral wise. Anytime you are out interacting with people at any time, you’re actually sending a picture of who you are.
“Those are things guys really start to think about, especially as they have opportunities. Let’s face it; guys coming to the University of Florida should have some goals and ambitions to probably play at the next level. We have a whole chunk of them that will likely get drafted here over the weekend. Rightfully so, it’s awesome.
“That isn’t just what it’s all about. You’re developing your brand for life after football. Those are a lot of things that the mental conditioning piece that we put a lot of resources into that wasn’t there that I think we are starting to see some dividends being paid.”
Ambition is a word that seems to fit with the off-the-field program stuff designed by the staff. Getting the players on the team to reach their goals and understanding the right things they need to do to reach them should make for positive advances both internally and athletically.
It is all about a mindset.
“It’s not just exclusive to Gator football, it’s really for everybody,” McElwain said. “It’s how you wake up every day and how you approach it. Whether you will get better or worse, you will never stay the same. That understanding and mindset has a lot to do with how you enter the building. How are you going to prepare yourself to attack that meeting and understand the concepts, then how are you going to import it to the field.
“You can see the difference. That’s a fun part as a coach. It’s good to see the guys bouncing around from drill to drill and understanding why they are doing that drill.”