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Fans filled the sidelines during Florida's first practice of spring on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday March 19, 2014Fans Appreciate Opportunity to Watch Gators Practice This Spring

Fans filled the sidelines during Florida's first practice of spring on Wednesday afternoon.


By Michelle Provenzano
GatorZone.com Writing Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- About 300 miles stood between Terry Morrison and the Gators.

Morrison and his wife lived in Lighthouse Point, Fla., but frequently made the trip to Gainesville to The Swamp for game days.

Then they decided it was time to move closer to the team they have always supported.

“I’ve been a Gator fan all my life growing up in Central Florida,” Morrison said. “My wife graduated here, and we started coming up from South Florida about 15 years ago to all the games. We finally got a chance to retire and we moved up here."

Morrison’s dedication as a Florida fan has opened a new avenue of experiences that he and his wife have embraced. He is glad they made the move.

“We have more friends here than we ever had in South Florida,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”

And of course the tailgating experience outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on fall Saturdays is a must on the Morrisons' fall calendar.

“We love to tailgate — that’s actually what I major in,” Morrison said with a laugh, pointing to his blue Florida baseball cap with “Tailgator” written across it.

Morrison and his wife were among the fans that packed the sideline of the practice field Wednesday afternoon for the first of the Gators' nine open practices this spring.

As the Gators worked up a sweat on the field, fans basked in the excitement of being able to watch the team practice. Fans, parents of players, and even a few former players -- Jaylen Watkins, Josh Evans, Jon Halapio and Dominique Easley to name a few -- stopped by to check out the 2014 version of head coach Will Muschamp's team.

Ann Dillard, offensive lineman Cameron Dillard’s mother, came to support her son and the rest of the Gators on a bright and sweltering afternoon at Sanders Football Practice Field.

“It’s quite a shock between this and Michigan, where we came from,” Dillard said. “To be able to come out and actually see them and get a concept of what they’ve actually been practicing so far, it gives you a good heads up as to what to expect this season.”

When Cameron Dillard was recruited in 2012 and decided on the orange and blue, Ann Dillard found a nursing job in Gainesville and followed her son into the heart of Gator Nation.

“It’s marvelous,” she said. “It’s just awesome down here. Everyone needs to come to Florida.”

Dillard said the coaches and football staff have been a huge comfort in the family’s transition to the Sunshine State.

A center, Cameron is expected to be a regular contributor on the offensive line this season.

“They have literally just taken me under their belt and shown me everything there is to know about their facilities, everything that they do, and everything that goes on,” she said. “They never turn their back on you.”

The start of spring practice Wednesday helped turn the page on a disappointing 4-8 season last year. Although it was only the first of 15 practices this spring, Dillard said she is confident the team can turn things around quickly.

“As long as the kids play their best and do the best that they know how to do, I think we’ll have a really good season,” she said. “We’re going to keep our heads up, and we’re going to go get them.

“I know the Gators are going to get it done this year.”

Fans attending Wednesday's practice were greeted by cheerleaders at the gate and handed autograph cards for players in designated position groups to sign afterward.

The Gators' next open practice is Friday afternoon and will be followed by another one on Saturday. The Orange & Blue Debut, the team's annual spring game, is scheduled April 12.

“It’s great,” Morrison said of the open practices. “They’ve had closed practices for so many years that you couldn’t see what was going on, so it’s a wonderful thing now. It gets the fans more involved.”

For Muschamp, having fans present at practices acts as a building block for the team.

He said when you have to be out on the field on game day with a packed stadium watching your every move on every play, it’s a lot for a player to take in.

Working to improve and making those adjustments in front of fans gives the players a small dose of what to expect come game day.

“We’re going to have to make game-day adjustments, and we have to make practice adjustments,” Muschamp said. “If you can’t make the adjustments sitting out there with a great crowd for the first day — which I appreciate the great showing we had — but if you can’t make the adjustment out there, you’re not going to make it in front of 90,000 people.

“That’s part of the evaluation.”

*****

Muschamp honored offensive lineman Chaz Green, linebacker Neiron Ball and running back Mark Herndon on Wednesday with offseason awards.

“Chaz Green has had a fantastic offseason. Neiron Ball has had a fantastic offseason — he banged his knee up a little bit today. I think he’s fine; it’s nothing serious. Mark Herndon had a great offseason as far as representing our special teams.”

Green and Ball are projected starters and Herndon, a former walk-on, contributes on special teams and was recently honored by the Office of Student Life for his more than 50 volunteer hours in the community.

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