Fear Factor: The Transformation Of Jarvis Herring

"Fear is an instructor of great sagacity, and the herald of all revolutions." --- Ralph Waldo Emerson. BIRMINGHAM --- If Florida football were a reality show on television it would be appropriately named "Fear Factor." There is the fear of God and then there is the fear of Urban Meyer. Jarvis Herring is not sure which one is worse.

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In this very quiet summer in Gainesville, Herring says it is the fear of Urban Meyer that has the Florida Gators taking care of business in the weight room, in the class room and in their personal lives. What drives the fear is that no one wants to be the first player to let the coach down, and because things have been so quiet, everyone can only imagine the consequences of turning a calm summer into a potential raging storm.

"If you got something to do, he expects you to do it," said Herring Wednesday afternoon at Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel, noting that if they don't do things right, "guys are afraid of the consequences … consequences may be one thing, like with the NCAA, but when you're done with Coach Meyer, it's a lot more extensive. No one wants to be the first one to let him down."

Helping to make certain that there is calm and not a raging storm is Herring, a senior safety from Live Oak, whom Meyer projects as an All-SEC safety. Herring used to make the rounds of the downtown hot spots looking for fun and if trouble came his way, he was certainly man enough to hold his ground. Now he's out trying to spot trouble, only if he sees a problem and football players are involved, he's there to whisk players out of what could be a dangerous situation.

This is a role that he accepted with a bit of trepidation but as he has taken on the responsibility, he has grown to enjoy his position of leadership.

      "I had to change. I hate to lose and if I wasn't going to change, some of the younger guys were going to follow my ways and that wouldn't be good. So I was forced to change." -- Jarvis Herring

"At first it wasn't fun at all," he said. "When Coach first got here it wasn't fun at all because it seemed that he was asking you to do more than you can do. As time went on I guess we worked things out like how to plan your day around what you have to do … like how to take care of these young guys. You have to make sure none of them are getting in trouble.

"As a mentor, as a senior, you have to make sure that these guys are going to class and all kinds of things. It's a lot easier now. Actually, it is fun now."

Being a leader is fun these days. Last year at this time his idea of fun was far different. He was a good football player on the field, but off the field, the only thing he led was the charge to the nearest hot spot. Under Coach Ron Zook, there was a laissez-faire attitude when it came to off the field discipline.

"I know that guys weren't as disciplined," said Herring. "There wasn't too much respect for yourself so you really didn't care [what you did off the field]," he said.

* * *

The transformation of Jarvis Herring from off the field slacker to team leader wasn't by choice. He liked to play football, loved the status of being a football player on the Florida campus, enjoyed having fun and didn't mind firing down one brew after another on a hot summer day. On one of those summer days when he lost count of exactly how many adult beverages he had consumed, he ran into enough trouble that he was arrested, an embarrassing moment for sure, but not so much that he was willing to depart the comfort of his personal rut.

"It was not so much for me [embarrassment] than for my family," he said. "It was pretty bad at the time and it changed me a lot. At first it didn't because I didn't have to deal with too many consequences."

He played the 2004 season without many consequences, playing well enough on the football field but skating along when the pads were off. That changed when Zook was fired because of a combination of losses and a lack of control off the field. Urban Meyer stepped in as Florida's football coach, coming to Gainesville with a get tough reputation that demanded his players go to class, make decent grades and live their lives right away from football.

Jarvis Herring lays a monster tackle on Caldwell, jarring the ball loose

Upon hearing the new coach give the Ten Commandments of Urban on the day he was hired at Florida back in December, Herring wasn't even sure he was going to see the football field again once the Gators made it through the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. That sobering moment of reality gave way to the sudden impact of this is the way we do it nowadays when Meyer showed back up for good in January.

"At one point I was thinking I wasn't going to play for a whole season," said Herring. "Most football players … their whole life that's all they think about. This is what I dream about --- football."

So he stood at a crossroads of life with two choices: (1) do it his way which would put him at direct odds with Meyer and likely bring an early end to his Florida football career or (2) conform, make a choice to live life the right way and buy completely into the program that Meyer was selling. He chose to buy but admittedly, there was a feeling out process that he would go through since buying in wasn't a voluntary reaction but force fed.

The demands Meyer places on his seniors can seem like the weight of the world to someone who's taken a few opportunities to skate by in the past. The tough part for Herring was learning that he could carry the weight of responsibility on his 22-year-old shoulders. He wondered if he had the kind of emotional strength and mental toughness that Meyer was demanding. He wondered if his teammates, who were well aware that he knew a good time when he saw one, would be willing to follow.

"I had to change," he said. "I hate to lose and if I wasn't going to change, some of the younger guys were going to follow my ways and that wouldn't be good. So I was forced to change."

As he changed, so did the perception of his teammates. No longer was he the slacker, the follower, the good time guy. He was the guy front and center taking charge of his own life and helping the younger players on the team get a strong grip on theirs. By changing his life he was able to turn the negative of the downtown arrest last year into a positive both in the eyes of his young teammates and the Florida coaching staff.

"They [coaches] see the trouble that I went through, the change I've been through and they saw that I was trying to really get myself back on track," he said.

The coaches nodded with approval, but so did his teammates. When he began to speak, Herring noticed that teammates made an effort to hear him out.

"Guys actually listen to me a lot more because they know that anything they could possibly go through besides something that's too bad, I've already been through," he said. "So, guys listen to me now."

* * *

It took some getting used to that Meyer and his coaches were so fully involved in every aspect of the lives of each player. Meyer expects his assistant coaches to know their players class schedules, teachers, classroom assignments, girlfriends, study habits, and who they choose to hang around with away from football.

With the football players, he expects them to know their position coach, the name of their coach's wife, the names of their coach's kids and how to get to their position coach's house. As Meyer has explained in the past, he wants his players to understand that if they are giving less than their best, they are playing around with the lives of a coach who has a family and children.

"Everybody's position coach has been to their apartment or their dorm to check out how you live," said Herring, noting that the first time Coach Doc Holliday announced he was dropping in for a visit he had "my girlfriend, my friends, everybody in there cleaning."

      "It got to the point where you can pick out the people who are going to be there at the end of the game. By the last week or so of spring practice guys had really bought into it because they were watching film and they were seeing guys weren't giving in in certain situations like they did in the past." -- Jarvis Herring

At first, the personal involvement in the lives of the players may have seemed ike an invasion of privacy, but the initial fears gave way to trust. The players have come to expect and appreciate that the coaching staff takes such an interest in their lives.

"They are around a lot more," he said. "They might as well be one of our players. They're sitting with us while we are eating in the dining hall, or if we're not with them in the office, they'll walk through the weight room or while we're in the training room we'll see them in there.

"We actually go and eat at their houses a lot, meet with their families a lot. It's bringing the team closer together. It's happened more now than it did over the last three years."

* * *

The trusting relationships that have been forged off the field were fueled by a coaching staff that pushed the players to the limits during mat drills in February and during spring practice in March and April. In mat drills, the players learned that Meyer has a system of right and wrong that applies even to conditioning. There is a reason for everything and failure to do things exactly the way the coach demands means individual punishment. If individual punishment doesn't result in conformation, then the player's entire unit must face the consequences.

For every action, there is a reaction. If things are done right, the reinforcement is positive. If things are done wrong, the consequences are not fun. If mat drills and spring practice were a college course, they would have been entitled "Accountability 101."

Accountable in Meyer's system means that each player is held accountable to his teammates and to his coaching staff. The truest test of accountability in his system is that there is a winner and a loser in everything from a simple conditioning drill to full contact scrimmages.

"It's more competitive the way his system is run," said Herring. "You hate to lose … you hate to give in to anything."

It is that idea of giving in that Meyer is trying to eliminate. That is precisely why he pushes his players in conditioning, in the weight room, at practice, in the class room and even in the way they live their lives off the field. Meyer believes that a player who easily gives in or gives up will fail when things are most on the line.

Herring said the players began noticing the results of this "don't give in" push by the coaches when they began watching film of practices during the spring.

"It got to the point where you can pick out the people who are going to be there at the end of the game," he said. "By the last week or so of spring practice guys had really bought into it because they were watching film and they were seeing guys weren't giving in in certain situations like they did in the past."

* * *

During an offseason where strength and conditioning coaches have stressed mental toughness, Herring and the fellow members of the Champion's Club have pushed and cajoled those who are not members to clean up their collective acts. Champion's Club members go to class and have no academic issues. They are on time for workouts and they lead both vocally and by example. Off the field there are not troubles with the law that bring embarrassment to the team and to the University of Florida.

As a member of the Champion's Club, Herring gets treated differently. Meyer subscribes to the John Wooden theory that you don't treat players alike, but you reward players who give their best on and off the field. Members of the Champion's Club get privileges and they get as many shirts, shoes, shorts, etc. that the NCAA will allow the Florida football program to give a player.

"The Champion's Club is actually a big thing," he said. "Guys have bought into it. Guys that are in the Champion's Club wear the stuff and boast around when they're in it and it eats at the guys who aren't in it. It's a big difference the stuff we get … like shorts with pockets in them. We never had shorts with pockets before. You never had a place to put your money and your keys. This Champion's Club is something serious."

It has been a long time since Gainesville's police blotter was void of Florida football players. Instead of getting into trouble downtown, they're doing whatever it takes to make Champions Club and they live with that continuous fear of being the first one to let Urban Meyer down. They've bought into the system. They believe that the system is working to transform a team that has lost five games in each of the last three years into a team that can and will contend for championships.

"We have a new life with new breath," he said. "We have a chance to win."

They believe that Urban Meyer can lead them to ten wins or more. They believe they are capable of winning the SEC title. There was a point when each player on the team had to choose to trust Meyer, the man who told them that the path to championships is paved by the least resistance.

"I can't speak for the team as a whole, but for me it was maybe when I could see he [Meyer] wasn't going to change," said Herring. "You can't fake it this long. He's still the same today as he was in the beginning."

Meyer is the same today as he was day one. Jarvis Herring, however, has changed. Nowadays when he looks in the mirror, he likes what he sees, and he likes what teammates see when they look at him. He is a changed man, someone ready to prove on the field what he has proven in the offseason of 2005.

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