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Tuesday January 4, 2011 Catching up with Tony Lilly, Will Muschamp's favorite Gator growing up

Will Muschamp revealed his knowledge of Florida’s football history at his introductory press conference when he shared a story about the time he spent as a kid growing up in Gainesville.

“My two brothers, Mike and Pat, we have had a lot of good football games at 1122 Northwest 22nd Street off 8th Avenue,’’ Muschamp said. “Mike was Wayne Peace a lot. Pat was Tyrone Young and I was Tony Lilly, on the back end there for all you guys that know a lot about the Gators.’’

Lilly played safety for the Gators from 1980-83, moving into the starting lineup late in his freshman season when Tim Groves got injured. He stayed there for the rest of his career. Once his time at UF was finished, Lilly, 48, was drafted by the Denver Broncos and played four seasons in Denver, including starting in a pair of Super Bowls.

His NFL career ended in 1988 after the Broncos released him and he signed with Buffalo. However, the Bills discovered two damaged disks in his neck and Lilly retired. He eventually got into coaching and recently finished his first season as head coach at C.D. Hylton High in his hometown of Woodbridge, Va.

A former high school coach who now lives in Jacksonville called Lilly to inform him that Muschamp referenced old No. 18 during his press conference.

“That was pretty funny,’’ Lilly said. “It was quite a nice thing for him to say.’’

Lilly has never met Muschamp but was aware of his status in college coaching circles prior to Muschamp’s introduction to Florida fans on Dec. 14.

Since his final season at UF in 1983, Lilly has been back to a game at the Swamp just once, the 1993 Florida-Florida State game. He remembers Warrick Dunn’s touchdown and his seats.

“I’ve been coaching high school football for the last 15 years, so it’s kind of difficult with our games on Friday night to get down there,’’ Lilly said. “I’m hoping to come down this year for sure. The game I came down to I was seated in the top deck. A buddy of mine called me up [after Muschamp got hired] and I said, ‘Well, maybe I can sit down lower this time.’ ’’

While Lilly hasn’t been around Florida’s program since he left school, the Virginia native is glad he came to Gainesville for college. He was strongly considering joining Howard Schnellenberger in Miami until the Hurricanes told him they wanted to redshirt him.

Lilly came to Florida for a chance to play, and by the end of his freshman season, he was a regular starter and football hero to at least one kid in Gainesville.

“We were very talented,’’ Lilly said. “For me, coming in and seeing the caliber of athletes from the state of Florida, I was so impressed. I had never seen athletes like that.

“I really enjoyed Gainesville a lot,’’ he said. “I’ve never met [Muschamp]. I’d love to get his e-mail address and just thank him for mentioning my name. That was quite an honor. It’s nice to have a good day and think you made a little bit of a difference at one point.’’

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