Saturday November 17, 2012Seniors Leave Swamp on a Winning Note
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Surrounded by the rest of his 2012 senior classmates, Caleb Sturgis nervously tapped the tile floor in the south end zone as they readied to run through the Florida Field tunnel one last time.
Sturgis, on the verge of breaking all kinds of UF kicking and scoring records, watched, one by one, as his fellow seniors ran onto the field to the roar of the crowd.
He swears the following thought actually entered his mind.
“Your biggest fear is to run out and there’s silence,” Sturgis said.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Sturgis, in fact, received the loudest ovation of the 19-member class, which then went out and accounted for all the points in 23-0 shutout of Jacksonville State on an overcast Saturday afternoon at “The Swamp.”
In becoming just the seventh team in UF history to start a season with 10 wins in the first 11 games, the seventh-ranked Gators (10-1) got 122 rushing yards and a touchdown from tailback Mike Gillislee, a 7-yard interception return for a touchdown from linebacker Jon Bostic and three field goals from Sturgis (plus two PATs) to finish the season a perfect 7-0 at home.
How’s that after going 7-6 last season, and a combined 15-11 the previous two?
Very fitting, very rewarding, according to their coach.
“I want to thank the 19 seniors and the job they’ve done at the University of Florida. All these guys have represented our university in a first-class manner,” Will Muschamp said in opening his post-game news conference. “Really appreciate them. Going through a coaching change [last year]. Going through a 7-6 campaign. Questioning a rookie coach and his staff and where we were going with the program. Certainly, they could have walked the plank on us, sort of speak, and never did.”
Muschamp is a Coach of the Year candidate for the turnaround job he’s done with the Gators, but his words came from the heart because he knows this 2012 reversal of fortune could not have happened without his seniors totally buying and setting the tone as leaders.
“It’s a testament to our hard work and dedication,” outside linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “We got together as a senior class in the offseason and we used 7-6 as our motivation. We didn’t want to finish with that taste in our mouths again. So we grinded, man.”
“We wanted to leave a lasting impression,” safety Josh Evans said. “The guys in this class, we came into the season with a chip on our shoulders. When we came here as freshmen, we came into a big-time winning program. We wanted to leave it as a big-time winning program and to do that we had to set an example of the way things were supposed to be.”
Going out with a shutout -- the first time Jacksonville State had been blanked since Nov. 18, 2000, a run of 133 games -- and reaching double-digit victories sent a resounding message of the classes of 2013, '14 and beyond.
It was so loud, several players weren’t ready to process the fact their playing days at the Swamp were done.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Bostic, whose interception return for a score marked his first touchdown since his days at Palm Beach Central.
“There are just so many great memories here,” Sturgis said.
“It’s real emotional,” said wide receiver Frankie Hammond. “Me and the other seniors, we put so much into this program. It had to come to an end at some point. We’re just embracing it and taking it slow. But it’s time to move on.”
Yeah ... to Florida State.
But that’s a story -- a good one -- for next week.