In Palm Beach County, where giant mansions, old money, Rolls Royces and a certain attitude that some think of as snooty takes center stage, the Gators turned the Marriott ballroom into a miniature Swamp. Snooty gave way to loud cheers for a Gator fan who had Meyer autograph his new tattoo of a Gator on his left arm. When the Gator Gathering ended, the fan was rumored to have departed for a date with his friendly tattoo artist who would turn the autograph into permanent body art.
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As always, there were a number of ex-Gators in the house, but perhaps the proudest of all was Glenn Cameron, the former All-SEC linebacker who spent more than 10 yeas in the National Football League as a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. Life is good these days for Cameron, a very successful lawyer in Palm Beach County. He has a two reasons to be a happy Gator.
First of all, his daughter Lindsey, was selected All-SEC for a second time for the Florida softball team which opens play in the NCAA Regional Tournament at the Florida softball stadium against Bethune-Cookman at 3:30 Thursday afternoon. Lindsey leads the Gators with 13 home runs and before her Gator career is over, she will probably be Florida's all-time leader in home runs.
Secondly, Cameron feels that he's been welcomed back to the Florida football family by Meyer.
"It is such a thrill for us and it is a thrill for me to see her (Lindsey) playing for the Gators," said Cameron. "She's such a competitor and it is just such a pleasure to see her play for Florida. She loves the school, loves Gainesville and always wanted to go to school there. I'm just so happy that so many things have worked out so well for her."
Glenn played linebacker at more than 225 pounds during his NFL days. Lindsey is 5-6 and perhaps 125. Where does the power come from?
"That's from her mother," Glenn said. "The power, the swing, the coordination … especially her good looks … that's all from her mother!"
Like a lot of former Gator players, Cameron felt distanced from the Florida football program. Meyer changed all that with personalized letters and phone calls to all the former players. The surprise of the invitation to come back gave way to a renewed pride in being a Florida Gator.
"I mentioned it to Jeremy Foley and I told him how that as a former player I appreciated what Coach Meyer had done for us," said Cameron. "It is the very first time that ever happened to me like that and I think if you ask most Gator players they'll tell you it's the first time that ever happened for them, too. It's a nice sentiment and a wonderful gesture for him to take the time out of his busy day to call us and to personally write us notes. I appreciate that and I know that each and every one of those players did the same."
Cameron feels the excitement that is building in the Gator Nation because of the way that Meyer has taken the football program, Gator Nation and the state of Florida by storm.
"I think we needed something like this because of the last couple of years that we've had," he said. "This guy's got so much energy. Coach Meyer brings all that energy to the program and he's taking us in a direction that we need to go. I know that there is a lot of excitement and I hope that he can be as successful as all of us believe he's going to be."
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Asked a two part question about Reggie Nelson, the Gators star recruit from Coffeyville (KS) Community College by way of Melbourne Palm Bay, Meyer said that Nelson has (1) worked very hard to get the last test score he needs to pass a math class which will give him the Associate of Arts (AA) degree that he needs to enter Florida and (2) hinted that Nelson has the ability to play corner instead of safety.
Meyer said that from what he's heard, Nelson had "busted his rear end to be part of the Gators and everybody knows he's got a little work to do" to pass that final math class, adding that "things look good."
As for the position switch, Meyer said, "Corner? See, you guys are smart! From what I've heard, he can cover guys. Reggie Nelson is from Palm Bay and he's a terrific player. From what I've heard, he's not a good player, he's a great player. He has some work to do but potentially, he can get in."
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Meyer alluded to the fact that Florida has not done a good job recruiting talent rich South Florida, which annually produces some of the best high school football players in the nation. Wednesday, Meyer spent the entire day with Holliday, hitting schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Just prior to the Gator Gathering, Meyer told media covering the event that "I think we hit eight schools today. We're grinding it pretty good. One thing about Coach Holliday, food's not really involved in the day. We just now finished [recruiting] before we walked in the door."
Later, speaking to the Gator fans in the ballroom, Meyer conceded the past failures in recruiting the area and said that things were going to change, and part of the reason he expects there will be a change is the presence of Holliday on his staff.
"We have not done a great job," said Meyer. "For the caliber of athletes, the caliber of football players that are located in South Florida, it just doesn't correlate. We've just got to do a better job of recruiting down here. I went coach to coach … a good friend of mine is down at St. Thomas Aquinas. I called up Coach George Smith and without reservation he gave me a name.
"Now I really trust this guy but I hadn't talked to him in a while so I wrote the name down. I started talking to other coaches and the same name kept showing up. Some guy by the name of Doc Holliday. After hearing it about 60 times, I got tired of hearing it so I called up Doc Holliday and without any reservation, Coach Holliday joined our staff."
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Asked prior to the meeting to compare where Leak is as a quarterback running the Meyer offense for the first time with that of Josh Harris (Bowling Green) and Alex Smith (Utah), Meyer said Leak is much further along.
"Alex was a third string QB and Josh Harris was a tailback," Meyer said. "This kid (Leak) has played in the SEC for two years. He's pretty far along. He's never redshirted so he's been through the wars. Just think, he was starting as a true freshman in the SEC and that's a heckuva accomplishment."
Meyer said that while the new offense will require Leak to do some adaptation to his game, he and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen will also tinker with the offense to make it more conducive to Leak's skills.
"We try to do what he [Leak] does well," he said. "The thing with Alex Smith is we had no idea what he did well because he never played. Josh Harris carried the ball well because he was a running back, so we have a good idea what Chris does well. We've asked him to do some things that we need to have in the offense but we have some carryover to some things he's done in the past."
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Meyer singled out Cameron, former All-America linebacker Ralph Ortega, Bob Hewko, Eric Hewko and David McIntosh. He told the crowd that he loves having the former players back in the Gator family and thinks they should feel welcome to be a part of Gator football.
"I want them around," he said. "If you're a great tailback I want you around. Emmitt Smith belongs back in Gainesville! Emmitt Smith … I've talked to him about this … has a job to do. You know what his job is? In great programs, he's gotta get in the grill, grab the facemask of some of our tailbacks and say, 'Listen, this is your job playing tailback at Florida. Play it like I played it.' "
Bob Hewko, a quarterback for the Gators in the 1980s under Charley Pell, said that he sees in Meyer the kind of toughness the Gators had with Pell and the innovation offensively that Florida saw under Steve Spurrier.
"The first thing I see, absolutely, is the Charley Pell toughness," said Hewko. "The drills that they are doing are the kind of things that we did with Charley. That's what got us started winning. Listening to him talk tonight, I heard a lot of the things that Charley said about how to get the team winning.
"On that side (offense), it's totally like Spurrier. What quarterback in the country --- it used to be Spurrier and now it's Urban --- wouldn't want to be a Gator to play in that offense. Chris Leak, Josh Portis … they're going to be great in this offense."
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Meyer told the crowd about his first encounter with the Florida campus and The Swamp. He was recruiting for Notre Dame and was on his way from Central Florida to Lake City. Noticing that he had a couple of hours to kill, he stopped in Gainesville, drove up to the campus and walked in to see The Swamp for the first time.
Walking to midfield, he said he looked around at the stadium, then took his cell phone out and called his wife, Shelley.
"You oughta see this place, I told her," Meyer said. "And she said then why don't you just go work there then. I had to tell her it just doesn't work quite like that!"
That experience, Meyer said, helped make the decision to come to Florida from Utah almost a no-brainer.
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Meyer has said on several of the tour stops that he just doesn't believe in "luck" as a factor in winning football games. He said Wednesday night that it's his experience that the team that wins games is the one that is the better team and has the most invested in winning.
"In 20 years of coaching, if we lost, it's never because the ball bounced the wrong way," he said. "If we lose, then it's because someone was better than us and that means we have to work a little harder and recruit a little better.