Donnie Young: Time Right For Meyer

EUSTIS --- The big guy at the end of the autograph line waited quietly, holding a couple of helmets that he wanted Urban Meyer to sign. He chatted with a couple of folks but he really didn't make a big deal out of who he is. If he had, he would have been promptly escorted to the front of the line.

When it came his turn, he introduced himself to Meyer as he asked the NBC to sign a couple of helmets from Gainesville's Gator Shop, which is owned by his wife. Meyer's eyebrows raised. He stood up and firmly shook Young's hand and thanked him for what he meant to Gator football back in the mid-1990s when Young was an All-SEC tackle during the greatest four-year run ever for a Florida football team. Meyer is learning his Gator history and he's well aware that the players who were on those four consecutive Southeastern Conference championship teams, the ones who played in the national championship game one year before winning it the next (1996), are very special.

Young got his autographs and then went back to The Gator Shop booth that was selling all sorts of Gator paraphernalia. Young owns Apartment Hunters in Gainesville while his wife owns The Gator Shop. A few minutes later, when Meyer had signed his last autograph, he was escorted to The Gator Shop booth where he continued his conversation with Young. When it came time to speak to the overflow crowd of 850 that packed the Lake County Fairgrounds, the fourth straight sellout by Meyer on the spring tour of Gator Clubs, the coach immediately made sure the crowd recognized Young.

"Obviously some decisions had to be made on December second, third or fourth … whenever it was, but my family and I had to make some career decisions and we made one to come to Florida because of people like that, because of the way they played," said Meyer. "So once again I say to Donnie Young and all the former Gators out there, we appreciate you."

There are a couple of common themes of the Meyer Love-In Tour of 2005. The first and most obvious theme is unity. The overflow crowds are a testament that Meyer is reuniting a Gator nation that was so divided during the past three years. Wednesday's Lake County gathering was more than double last year's crowd when the Former Ball Coach (FBC) spoke.

The second theme is welcoming the old Gators back into the fold. Last week in Lakeland Meyer spoke appreciatively of the contributions to Florida football made by ex-Gators in the audience such as David Bowden, Buford Long and Larry Libertore. In Orlando, he spoke in revered tones about Jack Youngblood and said that when Jack Youngblood returns to the University of Florida campus, he should be treated with the kind of respect and admiration you give to heroes.

Wednesday night, he honored Young who thinks the NBC is just what the doctor ordered for a Florida football program that has not only lost 15 games in the past three years, but has lost the fear and respect of the rest of the nation.

"The last couple of years couldn't have been fun for anybody," said Young, who believes it is time for the Gators to get that confidence and cockiness back. "We need to get back to the basics and that's what he (Coach Meyer) is all about. Before (in the 1990s) we would walk on the field and there was kind of an aura about the Gators. When we walked on the field everybody knew they were in for a dogfight. Coach Spurrier called us 'the mighty Gators' and I think that's the way people thought of us. But we backed it up.

"I don't think everybody realizes that anymore. No one thinks of Florida as 'the mighty Gators' anymore. It's time to bring the fight back to the game. It's time to bust people in the mouth again and say bring it on. It's time to let them know that Gator football is back and it's here to stay."

Earlier in the spring, Young got the letter from Coach Meyer that all the ex-Gators got, inviting him to come back to UF, letting him know that he was once again welcome. He attended only one practice and he didn't take the time to introduce himself to the NBC.

"It might have been the first or maybe the second practice," Young said. "I just stood around with Mike Spiegler (assistant athletic director) and just kind of watched what Coach Meyer was doing. I didn't go over and introduce myself. He's got plenty to do without worrying about me. I would rather him focus on the task ahead. There will be time for us to get to know him but right now the one thing he can know for sure is that all us old Gators will be around to help him anyway we can."

The past three years were painful for Young who admits that he liked the FBC, Ron Zook. Zook was the defensive coordinator during Young's first two years at UF, the secondary and special teams coach in 1995 when the Gators made it to the national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska. He very much wanted Zook to succeed.

"I liked Coach Zook a lot," he said. "He was coaching at Florida when I played and he's one hecukva people person. You can't help but like him, but you know, not all the good coaches you play for are people you particularly like.

"I kept hearing the last three years how the players really loved Coach Zook, but you know, if you really love your coach you play hard enough for him to win ball games. Something was missing. That's pretty obvious. It's one thing to be a people person, but the bottom line is you better be a person who commands the respect of the players. It's not enough just to work hard."

As he has observed Meyer, he likes the disciplined approach that the NBC is taking with the Florida football players. He believes that Meyer is the right coach at the right time at Florida.

"It's time for these guys to step up, play good football and prove themselves all over again because nobody is going to give them anything," he said. "The program is built on the sweat of a lot of players over a lot of years. It should really mean something to be a Gator. I think Coach Meyer will not let the guys forget about all the players who gave all they had all those years to make Florida football what it is. I think he's the right guy to bring us back."

(Photo copyright Getty Images)

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