That's right, even the NFL's all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith did not start his first game as a Gator. As a matter of fact, he only carried the ball four times against Miami in a thumping at the Orange Bowl. Florida has had four true freshmen start a season opener: Ricky Williams (1981-OL), Mike Williams (1972-OL), Lester Norwood (1998-DB), and Reggie Green (1992-OL). Finally, the most true freshman to play in any opener for UF was 12 on September 2, 2000 against Ball St. Coincidentally, that was the last time the Gators won the SEC Title. Will that record be broken on Saturday versus San Jose St.?
There will be a lot of new faces on the field for UF this coming season. Here are some interesting notes on the new look Florida Gators.
(WR)Dallas Baker: He was coached in high school by former Gator Jerry Odom, who is now the defensive coordinator at East Carolina.
(OL) Lance Butler: His brother Eric plays football at East Carolina for former Gator Defensive Coordinator John Thompson.
(WR) Andre Caldwell: You know about his brother but one of his favorite hobbies is watching golf on television.
(OL) Ryan Carter: He is SCUBA certified and enjoys country music.
(WR) Jemalle Cornelius: He hit .676 and had 42 steals his senior season of high school in baseball.
(WR) Reggie Lewis: His brother Ronald Lewis was a star receiver at FSU and later played in the NFL.
(DL) Tranell Morant: Cousins with former Hoops star Udonis Haslem who is now with the Miami Heat.
(DL) Marcus Thomas: He was born in Japan and wears #44.
(RB) Jimtavis Walker: He is a big Emmitt Smith fan and wears a James Brown T-shirt under his jersey.
(P) Eric Wilbur: He enjoys surfing and was a decathlete in high school.
News and Notes:
This will tie with two others openers for the earliest starting game in Florida History. (1986 and 1997).
UF is 33-1 in last 34 openers in Gainesville.
With the suspensions of Channing Crowder and Taurean Charles it really puts UF in a bind with it's nickel package. Todd McCollough and Matt Farrior will see a lot of work along side Brian Crum, if he's healthy. Crowder took most of the reps in preseason practice at linebacker in nickel. Charles was working with the number one punt protection unit on special teams.
Ron Zook will probably start as many veterans as possible for this game for two reasons: to allow the young players to get into the flow of the game and reward his senior class for accepting the change in philosophy and having a tremendous fall camp.
What players finished with strong camps that may have gone unnoticed? Eric Wilbur has displayed a big-time leg during fall drills. Jimtavis Walker has shown he is a legitimate runner. Kenneth Tookes closed practice the way he did as a true freshman. He almost played a true freshman and now is looking up on the depth chart.
This year's schedule appears to be as difficult as many others for the Gators. They will go on the road five times, which marks the first time since 1979.
I expect Florida will try to begin this week's matchup with a bang. Keep an eye on the opening play. It may be one you will remember for a long time.
Stat of the Week: 13 new Head Coaches in Division I football in 2002. Only Ty Willingham (at Notre Dame), with a 10-3 record, out did Ron Zook at 8-5.