Spring is in the air

Ahhhh! The sweet smell of spring is upon us once again, and, that means it's time for the Gator Football team to begin practice for 15 scattered days beginning Tuesday, March 16th and ending with the Orange & Blue game on Saturday, April 10th.

Tuesday, at the practice facility, at 3:30pm, will mark the beginning of the 'spring fling' for the Gators.

After a tough start last season, Florida wound-up at 8-5 (6-2 in the SEC). But, ending on a high note, winning the SEC East, can only help Gator Head Coach Ron Zook's young squad.

That's the thing.

But, don't let the lack of experience fool you. This team is very talented, at least on paper.

Sixteen starters from last season are gone. Thirteen starters remain: five on offense, three on defense, and five on the special teams.

"Our players have an attitude of excitement and an attitude of anticipation," said Coach Zook. "There is an attitude (that) we have a chance to be a good football team if we continue with the same work ethic and same intensity that we have had up until this point."

With 16 consecutive winning seasons, the longest in the SEC, the Gators hope to make it 17 straight.

And, the 2004 schedule may be fitting for them to do so.

UF plays five of its first six games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Add to that, the 7-1 SEC road record since Coach Zook came to Gainesville, which is the best of any SEC team.

You could say there's a kind of different 'ray of hope' that seems to be somewhat brighter than the last two seasons going in.

Coach Zook said that his players understand what is expected from them.

"The younger players will continue to improve. You tweak all of your systems --- the offense, the defense, and the special teams --- and, we want all of them to be better."

It's usually spring practice when a majority of players try to earn starting positions for the fall.

"It's the third phase of the year," said Coach Zook, adding that, "we are developing more depth, and the spring season will be a chance for everyone to go out an compete."

On offense, Coach Zook said that he anticipates a good running team.

And, as far as the passing game goes, he said that it'll open up a little bit with the talent and athleticism at the wide receiver positions.

On the defensive side of things, the Gators will have much more experience on the front seven than a year ago, minus the defensive ends, said Coach Zook. "But, I think we have some talented players to fill-in."

A young secondary will have to plug-up the gap as well.

Overall, Coach Zook said that," the stretch of success we had last year was because we became a football team. It is important that we carry that same attitude and motto that we developed last year. We need to continue being a team, and not worrying about who gets credit. We can't ask for a better attitude than the guys have right now."

This week the Gators will practice on Tuesday at 3:30pm, and, on Wednesday, Friday at 4:30pm, and Saturday at 9:30am (mostly at the practice facility west of the Stephen C. O'Connell Center parking lot).

The Orange & Blue game is set for Saturday, April 10 at 1pm on the natural green grass at Florida Field.

Please visit our website, FightinGators.com, on a daily basis, as we'll provide Gator fans with some great stories and photos regarding practice as a whole, and, also, provide some fantastic individual player features.

2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar ---- all for the Gators stand up and hollar!!

Note - Kevin Benjamin is the new FightinGators.com beat writer and will have spring football updates for us over the next month and beyond.

Kevin Benjamin is a 1991 University of Florida graduate from the College of Journalism and Communications. He has written for Fightin' Gators magazine, as well as several other publications, TV stations, and websites, since departing Gainesville. He's been covering all levels of sports since 1988, and, was a sports & news anchor, reporter, and videographer for WTVY-TV (CBS - Dothan, AL) and WWSB-TV (ABC - Sarasota, FL). Since 1998, Kevin has been doing freelance work for print and the broadcast media. He specializes in creating highlight videos for high school student-athltetes for the sole purpose of gaining athletic scholarships. He's also covered several "big-time" events such as: Sugar Bowls, Orange Bowls, Super Bowls, MLB World Series', College World Series', Little League World Series, Final Fours, NBA Finals', and, the NHL Stanley Cup, just to name a few. In 1992, he was an assistant producer for CBS Sports at the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France --- working with some of the best in the business: James Brown, Pat O'Brien, Jim Lampley, and Greg Gumble. Kevin's favorite teams are the Baltimore Orioles, New York Jets, Detroit Red Wings, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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