FOOTBALL: The Losers Were Big Winners Today

When I heard Charlie Strong was coaching the Orange team in the Orange and Blue Football Review, I knew I had to go with the Blue team (that was a joke Coach). Anyway, my boys fought hard to the end of the game, but came up a little short in last week's exhibition of Gator football played in front of 58,500 adoring fans. Today was the price I had to pay for picking the losing team.

It meant waking up early (yes, 9 a.m. is early for me), getting my dander up and heading outside for a little yard work, and pictures.

OK, so maybe I didn't do too much digging --- but I did a little --- and my part in all of this comes with explaining what a good gesture was done today. This is just one in a long line of things revitalizing the Gator nation and helping them accept Urban Meyer and his way of handling the football team; their football team.

Today's venture was something for Coach Meyer to hold over the losing team's head for the Orange and Blue game. The loser would have to help plant some 400 trees along with members of the student body that chose the losing side for the game. The winners, as I found out from the players attending, would have done as I had planned --- slept in until at least 10 or so. Urban Meyer is all about creating the competitive atmosphere and having rewards for accomplishments in everything his players do. He also wants to include the student body so that there is not the gap between athletes and the rest of the student body, something that has existed in the past.

"This was actually Coach Meyer's idea," said Gary Goldberg, an Orange and Blue cabinet director for student government, who headed up the planning part of the event. "He wanted to do some community service activities along with the students. We proposed everything from picking up trash, to going out and working on the roads. He wanted to do something meaningful, something that we could enjoy for years down the road, and this is what we came up with.

"We originally had a meeting with student leaders, members of student council, and (athletic administrators). Then we had several meetings and came up with a plan to sell the orange and blue wrist bands to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network and we did the pep rally. Because the blue team lost, we are out here planting trees."

Originally, the plan called for planting 200 trees, but when the organizers saw the number of people who would be available to help, that number increased radically.

"As we got the original amount in the ground, we decided we had plenty of people out here … the players wanted to do more, and the students wanted to do more," Golberg said. "We called up the physical plant and asked for more. The physical plant here at the University of Florida supplied all the trees and equipment. They have a huge nursery and can call in and get what they want. They have had this project on a timeline for quite sometime, but haven't had the man-power to go out and do it."

So, yeah, we did a good thing today. Well rah-rah. It meant I had to get my big butt out to bed on a sleep-in Saturday to go plant some trees. All because the team I chose didn't win the game. Well, I can honestly say, I had a great time doing it. They say sleep is over-rated, and well, this time it was. Some of the players in attendance agreed.

"I think it is a good thing and fun, also," said wide receiver Kenneth Tookes. "We get a chance to get out here and do something for the school. It is kind of like teamwork. You know everybody out here working together and having fun. It's early morning … nothing to do anyway… we had free time. It just feels real good coming out here helping and doing something.

It's hard to catch Earl Everett without a smile on his face

This was something Tookes never dreamed of having to do when he was recruited to play football for the Gators three years ago.

"I never heard of that," he said. "It is crazy in a way, I never heard of planting trees but it's a good thing.

Defensive end Joe Cohen agreed this is something that wasn't in his scholarship agreement.

"I didn't think that at all," Cohen said with a smile. "Because I go home all the time and work on a farm back home so I wasn't planning on planting trees today."

Safety Jarvis Herring laughed when he answered, "This definitely wasn't part of the deal."

Cohen shares Tookes' sentiments for the gesture made today.

The trees kept coming... and coming...

"I think we shouldn't have lost, Cohen said. "But, it is good doing something around here. I'm just out here relaxing. It isn't killing labor. I think it is great support for the guys and gals on the Blue team to come out here and help everybody out here, because we definitely wouldn't be as far ahead as we are now. I'll just take a little nap when we're done."

The guys and gals that joined the players included about 80 organizers, cleverly named "Tree-Fensive Coordinators." In all there were about 135 who participated including Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, Asst. Athletic Director Greg McGarrity, Compliance Director Jamie McCloskey, strength coaches Matt Balis and Mark Campbell, equipment managers, football support staff, Coach John Hevesy, Coach Chuck Heater, Coach Meyer and Shelley and their son, Nathan. The final tally was 424 Crepe Myrtles, Bald Cypress, Birch, Hickory, Oak, and Swamp Dogwood trees.

The final tally was more than double the original number of trees, more work than anyone bargained for, but no one was complaining… well, they weren't complaining too much.

Even the coaches got involved. Here's Meyer. He brought his lovely family as well.

"It makes it much easier," Tookes said of the number of people participating, "but it also made it bad, because they brought more trees out for us to plant."

Still, everyone had a pretty good time and some people that don't normally get to associate with football players got a chance to discover that the athlete they see on campus is a normal human being. It was good to see the team acting alongside the student body in an organized manner to help the school.

Some players were surprised at the turnout to help them get through their "punishment."

Freshman quarterback Josh Portis offered, "I thought there would be less people that came out. There were a lot."

Herring added, "They are working a lot harder than I thought they would."

Portis said he would have understood if not many students came out. When asked what his teammates would probably be doing right now if they weren't digging holes he responded, "Everybody would be sleeping right now."

Branden Daniel (left), Josh Portis (right), and DuJuan Lawrence

It is good to see I am not the only one who enjoys that late sleep-in on Saturday morning. But, like the Blue team, I enjoyed the morning. Now, it's time for a nap.

Click here for the full photo gallery!

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