Meyer: Leadership Should Prevail in 2009

If you have listened to Urban Meyer long enough you know that it isn't always about having the best game plan to win games, you have to have the right motivation and motivators. It is easy to see that he has a lot of trust in what he can finally call a veteran football team that he will coach in 2009. For years he has guided a youthful team, now he has experience and faith to play with.

Urban Meyer started recruiting for the Florida Gators in 2005, but that year he got a very late start and has since seen that recruiting class dwindle almost to nothing. Four years later, the fruits of his recruiting have netted two national championships and on the verge of a season where his Gators are ranked number one going in.

The 2006 national title team was a veteran group on defense but young on offense. The 2007 team was young all the way around and extremely young on defense. The 2008 team was somewhat experienced, but still young from an upperclassmen's standpoint. Now, all those sophomores are juniors with several major players that are seniors. Meyer sees a group that has been through a lot and some that will blossom into leaders that he will utilize in 2009.

"There are two ways to believe in something," Meyer said in his philosophical tone. "One is to witness it and one is to believe it will happen. That is the way we live our lives.

"I have witnessed the leadership on this team, I saw it in the fourth quarter against Alabama. What makes me believe that these kids can lead this team? I experienced it at halftime of the national championship game. I have seen behind the scenes leadership. Spikes today at practice was tremendous."

"I also have some faith in some other guys like Justin Trattou. As a freshman and sophomore, it's hard to lead. Once you become a junior...Trattou, Major Wright, and Joe Haden are perfect examples, they will take their leadership to the next level. That is faith if they will do it and the others I have witnessed it. I think the combination of the young juniors coming up, potentially great players and great people, you have the makings of something very special."

One of the true leaders on this team is Brandon Spikes. The Gators middle linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense and brings his head and body into every game every season. Meyer loves Spikes for more than his on the field play, Spikes knows how to make his teammates better.

"Spikes' intangibles are even stronger than his play," Meyer said. "He's a magnet, he has the it factor that all the coaches dream about having. Today we ran something called a pursuit drill. Someone made a mistake and it's a hard drill that they have to run 40-50 yards and then they had to come back and do it again. You start to hear the complaining and whining from all the people without the values that we talked about. It is no different than in a game when you run into the punter against Oklahoma and the defense has to go back out there. I have been in programs where everyone starts to complain.

"Brandon Spikes called the defense together and and said that is what happens during the course of the game. There is liable to be a turnover or a mistake so let's adjust and not concern ourselves about why Coach Meyer called for that blocked punt. If you remember, what happened in Miami, the defense took the field, Coach Bedford, Heater, Strong, and McCarney coached them and I watched Brandon Spikes go out there and lead the defense and hold them to three and out and stop them. There wasn't a whole lot of this going on. I saw that today in practice.

"What is the value? He's a great player and he raises the level of play around him. That is what makes Brandon Spikes so special."

Winning another national title isn't something that Meyer will talk about, what he does recognize are the expectations for a team that returns so many players from a national championship squad. The likeness to Billy Donovan's Gator Basketball squad a few years ago and their back to back titles is starting to creep into the forefront of everyone's mind.

Urban Meyer was way ahead of these thoughts. He wanted to see how the basketball team dealt with the success and any drawbacks way back then so he could one day pontificate on how to duplicate the success to his own team.

"I watched that real closely because first of all Billy is one of my close friends," Meyer said of the two year run by the basketball squad. "I thought the way he managed when they hit the little skid in the middle of the season and the way he pulled that team back together...I'd actually sneak into the locker room and watched his players. I'd sneak in and see how he handled the situation. I learned a lot from one of the best basketball teams of all time and one of the best coaches."

Meyer talked to Donovan a lot this past summer about handling all of the success.

"We spent a lot of time talking this summer and at some point he will address the team," Meyer said. "The word 'repeat' will never come up. It's all about maintaining that edge. That is the way he coaches and the way we will coach them."

The recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football team and most national pundits would tell you that on the East coast, Florida has been the clear cut winner in recruiting circles, much like USC is the king of recruiting on the West coast. For the Gators, the experience of all the old guys is now backed up by talent that is just clawing and scratching to get on the field.

"I can see the depth coming up through the ranks," Meyer said. "There is health, eligibility, discipline, all the things that help maintain that. If they stay healthy and stay right we could have a good football team for the next few years here. You can see the depth we didn't have offensive line and linebacker, and defensive line. Justin Trattou sprained his foot and missed practice and another guy jumps in there and keeps it going. This year you are going to see a little bit of an exodus as we lose some good players. Next year we will find out how deep we are."

Meyer also loves to bring in motivational speakers along with his own speeches that he gives. Lou Holtz is one of his favorites and Holtz loves to talk about using the depth and how the young guys need to be ready when it is their time. Meyer has seen this work first hand and in a championship scenario.

"Lou Holtz was here yesterday," Meyer said about bringing in speakers. "Tony Dungy will come in. Last year Doc Rivers came in and then Billy (Donovan). I have a little circle of guys that if possible I have them speak."

"One of the better speeches (Holtz) ever had was that in every year he coached, someone had to step up if someone isn't playing well, or someone is injured. You look at Ahmad Black or David Nelson and on and on. Something is going to happen, someone has to step up. C.I. went down and Aaron Hernandez stepped up. Percy Harvin went down and David Nelson stepped up. Dorian Munroe went down and Ahmad Black stepped up. That would not have happened a few years ago...that's the difference."

One nightmare for many fans would be for the true team leader to go down. Nobody wants to think of it, but if Tim Tebow were to get an injury somewhere along the line, John Brantley would have to be inserted. Urban Meyer is all but ready to turn Brantley loose on the SEC when the time comes and his confidence in the sophomore signal caller has grown immensely since the spring.

"At this time, John Brantley will play meaningful minutes in games," Meyer said. "He is starting to earn that right. Unless he screws up and starts to hit reverse on the practice field, then we will back off. There is that fine line of Tim playing and gunning for his deal, but we have to get Johnny ready to go. He is starting to really impress.

"We aren't going to change our offense, but it might be a little more throw heavy when he's in there because he's a really good thrower. If he can help us win a game he will be put in the game. Right now I would say he is on track to help us win a game. If he practices well, we will put him in."

The confidence in his team seems to be growing from player to player. Maybe nowhere is there more confidence than he has in his defense. Meyer believes that the 2009 Gator defense can be better than the 2008 defense that was absolutely one of the best in the country.

"We gave up a lot of yards last year, we all know we can get much better," Meyer said. "Scoring was one thing we did very well and the national championship game was a perfect example where we gave up some yards but made the stops. Our goal is to be less of a not so much bend but don't break defense.

"They can be real good. We have four coordinator type coaches in the meeting room everyday and I like our scheme. I think it can be the best defense we've had."

Meyer isn't scared of all the attention his team is getting. He understands success breeds success and along with that comes the notoriety. To him, it is better than the alternative, but there is one preseason goal that they set themselves up to meet before any others can be really looked at.

"I have extremely high expectations for this team but our goal is to get to Atlanta," he said. "I hope we are ranked number one every year, it means we are really good and have really good players. It's obviously not going to happen. We don't pay much attention to it, but if you asked me if I'd rather be 114 or number one. I'd rather be number one.


The 2009 recruiting class wasn't one of the highest rated classes the Gators have had since Meyer arrived, mainly due to the low number of players in the class (16). So far, the quality of the individual players seems to be on par with all of them, and maybe slightly ahead. Meyer continues to praise his two new linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic along with offensive lineman Xavier Nixon.

"Right now, our two backers are doing well...Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic and that Xavier Nixon guy is doing great," Meyer said.

Meyer also is frequently asked about receiver Andre Debose who looks to be the real deal himself.

"Andre Debose has unbelievable upside," Meyer said. "His hamstring was hurt in the state finals for track. He is practicing hard, but has a long way to go. We are trying to get him ready, but his upside is off the charts."


One other offensive skill player Meyer pointed out was running back Chris Rainey. Rainey has evidently buckled down and become more serious about his college football career. Meyer is expecting bigger and better things.

"He's night and day (different)," Meyer said of Rainey who was a free spirit of sorts in his first two years on campus. "His attention to detail and maturity, his grades, his demeanor, he's 180 pounds. I can't say enough good things about Chris.

"He was a role player last year which means you could simply hand him the ball and hope everything worked out. We couldn't check the play because he might run the wrong way and we certainly couldn't throw the ball because he couldn't block a linebacker. He's not completely different, but it is getting close. He is a much different player.

"I see his role being much extended and I am hoping he will be a major part."

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