McCullough playing with no pain for first time

Football has become fun again for Todd McCullough. He's injury free for the first time since he's been at the University of Florida and each practice he's discovering the joy of playing football free of the nagging pains that have dogged him throughout his career.

Playing without pain has allowed McCullough to prove himself, first in the spring and now again as fall practice has begun. He's gone from what Urban Meyer called "a nice guy" --- the coach's term for someone who's actually very nice but just injured all the time --- to a player who is being depended upon to be a key link in what should be a very good defense.

"I've been doing a lot of praying and God's been doing a lot of healing," said McCullough after Thursday's practice. "We've been blessed with this great staff. This new staff we have from the strength staff all the way down to the trainers have been a big improvement as far as taking care of us and getting us ready to play."

McCullough has had chronic shoulder and knee problems since he came to Florida. The shoulder required surgery a couple of years ago. Then there were other nagging injuries that he says were "extremely frustrating and a real test of my faith." He went all the way through the spring without a single missed day due to injury, the first time that's happened.

In the summer, he dedicated himself to getting stronger and overcoming the injuries to the point that he can go full speed without worrying about the pain. Now that he's playing pain free the expectations for the upcoming season have risen considerably.

"I definitely expect a lot better out of myself than the production level I've had the last two years," he said. "I'm expecting great things this year."

Todd McCollough at today's practice

With McCullough in the starting lineup, the Gators can put three experienced linebackers on the field and Meyer says that McCullough's good health is "critical" since this is not a position of depth. Meyer said he admires the way that McCullough has fought through the injuries.

"He's battled, he's battled, he's battled," said Meyer. "He's earned a starting spot and he's earned a starting spot on hopefully one of the better defenses in the conference."

Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who doubles as McCullough's position coach is happy to have the 6-5, 235-pounder healthy and ready to play.

"It's critical just because at the linebacker position we don't have much depth," said Strong. "With Todd, with Earl (Everett) and (Brandon) Siler then you know you have three dependable players at the linebacker position. He's gotten a lot bigger and stronger so he should stay healthy."

The expectations for Florida's defense have risen considerably since the spring. Meyer is known for the brilliant spread option offense, but his defenses have been extremely aggressive. More than schemes, the players on both sides of the football have adapted a totally different attitude and it's showing on the field. McCullough says the changes in attitude all begin with Urban Meyer.

"You hear all about the shovel pass and the offense, but to me Coach Meyer is just an extremely gifted leader," McCullough said. "I've not been around one quite like him. He has some unusual tactics sometime but very effective ways of motivating people. He gets you believing.

"It's more of a whole system of belief than it is just the shovel pass. It's more of a whole system of belief than it is just the shovel pass … believe in your abilities, believe in what God's giving you and going out as a team and a family … really having a family atmosphere and trust in one another."

On defense, the scheme utilizes blitz packages more freely. The emphasis is on total disruption of the opposing offense. In the previous three years, the defensive approach was far more conservative. McCullough attributes the change to a matter of trust.

"I think it's extremely more aggressive," he said. "They're able to turn us loose this year. Coach Meyer says it all goes back to trust. He has trust in us blitzing and getting home. If we can't do that then they don't trust us and they can't call it. I think we're establishing that right now."

Trust has been a critical element of changing attitudes from the first day of the Meyer regime. Meyer has made the players earn his trust and they have responded by making every effort to prove themselves to the new coach. The trust element also caused players to look back on the past three years introspectively to pinpoint what was missing.

"Just to see the way he's brought this team together … I can't think of a summer since I've been here without getting into any trouble," said McCullough. "To have 100-something guys to go through an entire summer dedicating themselves strictly to football and school is really impressive.

"I like the coaches we had last year. I was good friends with them and I still say in touch with some of them. We had good players last year. I don't think that's been the problem either. It's the trust and belief in one another. We've become a tigher unit. It's more than just the shovel pass…we've become a family and we trust in one another."

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