Some coaches just seem like natural fits. Ja’Juan Seider is one of those. A Florida guy from birth, Seider played high school ball at Glades Central H.S. in Belle Glade where he quarterbacked the team and threw the ball to Gator Great Reidel Anthony and handed the ball off to Gator Great Fred Taylor.
Recruited by Florida, Seider found himself playing football at a more natural fit for his position in West Virginia. But after his college days, Seider wound up back in Belle Glade and coaching at his high school.
Eventually he got back into college as a graduate assistant and then an assistant coach staying in the state of West Virginia at both Marshall and WVU. All along he continued to recruit his old stomping ground in south Florida. And he made a name for himself as both a coach and a recruiter.
That is why McElwain had him as a primary target from day one when he arrived in December of 2014.
“Ja’Juan Seider, who I’m finally glad to get here… tried to hire him the first time and finally got back and got him where he belongs,” McElwain said Thursday at a press conference used to introduce Another guy that obviously has a lot of ties with former Gators. His knowledge of the game and what he can bring to the running back position is something that is well thought of throughout the country. And again, another guy that cares about the players, and I've seen so far the interaction that they've had with our team, our coaching staff and the people in the building.”
Seider had to decline the overtures in 2015 because of his son Jaden’s illness would be too much on the young man and the family to pick up and move away. McElwain was more than understanding.
“It is family first,” the head Gator said. “That's how we run this program, so I totally understood that that first time around more than most people do, having gone through something with my own son. So I know as I told him when we got that next opportunity, 'I'm not going to stop calling you.' And I'm glad he chose to come."
Seider was in between a rock and a hard place, in this instance, his rock won the battle.
“When you learn your son is diagnosed with cancer, I'd never been around it. You hear about it, but when you actually have somebody that's close to you get affected, it changes. So my priority was being a dad, and nothing is mattered at that time. He understood that. They didn't stop trying. They waited a week and were like, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' I'm like, 'Yes coach.' I'm telling you, it made it hard to say no the first time, but I had two little girls I had to think about too. So you can't just uproot your family even though this hospital may be better here than there. At the time I made the decision and I think Mac understood that. If he didn't, I wouldn't be standing here right now.”
When the chance arose for Seider the second time, and when things were better with his son, the change was an easy one to make.
“I had a situation with my son that was more important at the time,” he said of the first time around. “I was at a great spot too, so it had to be right. It gave me a chance over these last couple years to get to know Mac and his staff and what the expectation was and the plan going forward for me to make this leap of faith. And then the thing that made it OK to come is the way they kept after me. They kept recruiting me with the guys on the staff and I felt like the time was right to come now and be part of this great university."
He also understands the value of being a coach at Florida.
"It feels surreal,” he said. “I've been fortunate in my career to climb as fast as I have.”
"First of all with Florida, this is one of those universities that you don't get these opportunities in life. To have an opportunity to work for Florida, that's the standard and the prestige of this university. So saying no at that time was tough, but my son was the most important thing in my life at that time.”
His son, who is Cancer free, may be just as excited to get to Gainesville as he is.
"He's great, He's excited to get down here. He's ready to move right now. For the first time he's getting to practice spring ball. He got to see me coaching in high school when he was a little kid but now being of an age, he's come to Florida and will go through spring ball that's something he's excited about."
Seider will inherit a talented and productive group of running backs. Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine, and Mark Thompson all return with plenty of experience. Just a couple of weeks on the job, Seider is getting a feel for what his guys can do.
“I’ve been watching and going through cutups,” he said. “We talk just about every other day because I need them to trust me as well as I trust them.
“I kind of have an idea about these kids, but until you actually coach them and get around them... I’m a firm believer in forming my own opinion on kids. I watch film and Skipper may do some things different than I may do, but at the end of the day it’s about not effecting those kids and slowing it down and let them push their development forward.”
Trust is the key component, if his guys are going to do what they want to instead of trusting their coach in telling them the right thing to do, they won’t get the maximum result they are seeking.
“The first thing is trust,” he said about the message he has relayed to his guys. “You’ve got to trust me, I’ve got to trust you. That’s on the field and off the field. Trust as a staff, we’re going to put you in the best position possible to be successful.
“We’re talking about some things already as they’re watching. If we can press them a little bit better on this play, it might be the difference between – I told Jordan – it may be the difference of you having 1,000 yards instead of 800-something yards. Just things like that where you come in and they understand what you’re saying from the beginning that makes sense.”
He has a little understanding of the two prospects that the gators signed in February as well. Adarius Lemons and Malik Davis are expected on campus in June and he likes the change up that they should provide at the position.
“Those two kids who I had interactions with on the recruiting trail, I kind of got a good idea about them. I think they’re both tremendous football players. I think they’re going to be ready to help us. They bring an element to this team that I think they can hit the home run. They’re probably different structure-wise than some of the guys we’ve got right now, which ain’t all bad. I’m always a firm believer as a coach, and I tell them all the time, ‘you can run the ball for 3 yards. I want that guy who can get the ball and go 80 and make me look like a good coach’.”
One thing is for certain. When Seider coaches up his players, he is going to do it as someone that they can lea on and come to for anything. He got the same feeling from McElwain who was persistent and understanding with his situation, and that is what he plans on instilling with his new unit under his watch.
“I tell my players past and my players present, the game is only going to be played for four quarters and in four years it's over with but that relationship's got to carry on beyond that if it's done right. I believe that ... when you have a strong family bond because it ain't just my kids, it's the kids that are affected that I'm coaching.”