GatorZone.com Senior Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the Gators reconvened Tuesday to begin preparing for the Jan. 2 Gator Bowl here against Ohio State, Florida alum Jay Alligood was one of the Gator Bowl volunteers to greet the Florida football team.
Alligood has a prime assignment this week as one of the Gators’ primary guides around town. He’ll accompany the team to bowl functions, press conferences and other bowl-related events. On Tuesday night Alligood stood at the doorway to a large ballroom in the Omni Hotel greeting players at their official welcome dinner.
Alligood’s freshman year at UF was Steve Spurrier’s first season in 1990. Once he finished as an undergrad, he enrolled in graduate school and finished right before the Gators won their first national championship in 1996. He has been a Gator Bowl volunteer since 1997 and is grateful his alma mater is back in the game. Florida hasn’t played in the Gator Bowl since 1992.
“I’ll be with the team all the way through,’’ Alligood said. “I’m really looking forward to it. We want to welcome them to the city of Jacksonville and hope they enjoy themselves. It’s a great bowl and two great teams.’’
While the players enjoyed a Southern meal of roast beef, catfish, chicken and various side dishes, shortly after conducting a practice at Jacksonville University, Florida coach Will Muschamp and his staff attended a welcome party at EverBank Field, site of Monday’s game.
The Gators eased back into practice after several days off for Christmas, spending about an hour and a half on the field as Muschamp tried to get them to start “thinking about football again.”
“The plan is in, we’re just tweaking certain things here and there,’’ Muschamp said. “Today I wanted to get them in and get them running a little bit and get their heart beating. I thought that was important. I know some of them have ate a little too much over the last four or five days. So we wanted to get them out there running a little bit.
“We’re looking forward to getting cranked up. The Gator Bowl people have been great.’’
MAKING THE GRADE
One of the first items Muschamp emphasized at the open of his press conference is that there are no academic casualties for the game.
“Everybody is here and accounted for,’’ Muschamp said. “We did a good job academically. I’m proud of our players. We had no issues.”
The only players absent from practice Tuesday were running back Jeff Demps and receiver Deonte Thompson. Demps is scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning after taking care of a personal issue and Thompson remained at the team hotel Tuesday due to getting sick.
NO HIRINGS TO ANNOUNCE
Despite Internet reports saying Muschamp had hired a strength-and-conditioning coach to replace Mickey Marotti, Muschamp said that’s not the case.
“I haven’t hired anybody. I’ve talked to a lot of people at the strength position and the offensive coordinator position,’’ he said. “When I make the hire, everybody will know. But no one has been hired.’’
As for the offensive coordinator position, running backs coach Brian White is serving in that role for the Gator Bowl and is a potential candidate to replace Charlie Weis. However, the process remains far from finished according to Muschamp.
“I still have people I want to talk to. I’ve talked to six, seven, eight people so far,’’ he said. “I’ve never put a timetable on it. I’ve talked to multiple people on both situations. We’re not going to have a public search.’’
Muschamp said starting offensive lineman Dan Wenger remains hampered by an ankle injury but is expected to play … Linebacker Lerentee McCray continues to receive treatment for a shoulder injury and his status remains uncertain for the game according to Muschamp.
--Muschamp and Ohio State coach Luke Fickell met three years ago when Texas faced the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl and the two have remained in contact. Muschamp even called Fickell to congratulate him when he took over for Jim Tressel prior to the season. “I have a lot of respect for him and what he does as a football coach,’’ Muschamp said. “I just called to say congratulations under a tough situation.’’
-- Muschamp said he has spoken to former Gators coach Urban Meyer, who will replace Fickell after the Gators Bowl, since Meyer was named Ohio State’s next coach to talk about football and coaching candidates.
--Ohio State is 0-9 all-time in bowl games against SEC teams. The Buckeyes were forced to vacate last season’s win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
--One player who has caught Muschamp’s attention lately is senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard. “I thought Jaye played well. Jaye has played himself into a decent situation there for April. He really has,’’ Muschamp said of Howard’s draft status. “You talk to a lot of people who play us, they all compliment how he has played and how much better he has played – his pad level, his hustling to the ball, finishing plays.’’