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The UF football team has gathered on Thursday afternoons since January for

Thursday August 21, 2014Gators Go 'Beyond Football' to Prepare for Life Outside the Lines

The UF football team has gathered on Thursday afternoons since January for "Beyond Football" program. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The speaker brought instant credibility as a player.

He spent 15 years in the NFL, was selected to five Pro Bowls and was named NFL Man of the Year in 2002.

But Troy Vincent, a former defensive back who was the seventh overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft, wasn’t here to talk about the best way to defend a slant route. Vincent had Twitter on his agenda.

And as the executive vice president of NFL Football Operations, Vincent had done his homework.

“He was outstanding,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said recently. “He definitely had the attention of our team.”

As part of Florida’s Beyond Football program, a weekly series of meetings designed to educate players about life skills off the field, Vincent was invited by Muschamp to speak to the Gators.

Part of Vincent’s presentation focused on Twitter and how the evaluation process for NFL teams nowadays includes reviewing potential draft picks via their social media accounts.

What type of content do they post? Who do they communicate with most often? How much time do they spend on social media?

Vincent began to single out players in the meeting. He noted that one player tweeted 16 times during a time period when he had a class. Some players sunk into their seats, hoping Vincent was not going to call their name. Others howled at their teammates’ surprise at being exposed.

They all listened to what Vincent had to say.

“You want to have a meeting where the guys are reached,’’ said former Gators running back Terry Jackson, UF’s director of player and community relations since 2008. “If they are reached, then it’s a successful exercise.”

Gator Athlete Network

Kay Lennon, a former Gators distance runner who later practiced law in Seattle, speaks to team over summer. She returned to UF to work in compliance office. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Far from the spotlight of X’s and O’s, Muschamp has always wanted to offer players a broader scope of resources than football coaches have time to provide. While he has regularly invited outside speakers to visit the team during his tenure, the weekly meetings became a regular part of the schedule starting in January with the launch of Beyond Football.

Each Thursday afternoon the Gators gathered inside their primary meeting room to be educated about something other than football.

“It addresses all issues,’’ Muschamp said. “Anything you can imagine.”

A sample of topics: drug addiction, dealing with the opposite sex, balancing a checkbook, the importance of a good credit score, writing a resume, how to properly tie a tie, job interview techniques, media training, sexually transmitted diseases, a visit from Planned Parenthood, and the list goes on.

Muschamp and other coaches often attended the meetings, and players sometimes broke out in groups to discuss the topic of the day. Beyond Football also included community service outings.

“This is to help them beyond football,’’ Jackson said. “They need more than football to be a success in the real world. We want them to learn those things so when they are hit with them, they already have an idea how to handle it.

“Coach Muschamp is behind all these things. He wants our guys to be well-rounded.”

The meetings have continued during fall camp as the Gators prepare for their Aug. 30 season opener against Idaho.

“A lot of the stuff I’ve heard before but it never hurts to hear stuff over again because it’s in the back of your mind,’’ senior offensive lineman Trenton Brown said. “It’s like glue. It was a lot of stuff that other schools probably don’t do. They taught us life skills than can help us in the long run.”

Junior fullback Hunter Joyer learned things about his teammates he didn’t know and considers the program an important part of the team’s offseason.

“I got a lot of things out of that,” Joyer said. “It’s something that I think a lot of young players need.”

Jackson said it’s not unusual to have a player come to him for a phone number or more information about one of the speakers if it was a topic that hit especially close to home. While practice and conditioning and the game remain similar to when he played at UF in the late 1990s, a lot has changed off the field.

No. 1 on that list is social media.

“I think the biggest difference is the lifestyle on social media and instant access to all this information,’’ he said. “We could do a video right now and it could be on a website in 10 minutes. The pressure and amount of scrutiny on a kid is elevated.”

Once the season starts the stream of presentations will slow down and the focus will be the 108th season of Florida football.

Beyond Football has laid a strong foundation to help the Gators in that quest.

“This group gets along,’’ Muschamp said. “That’s the one thing that you notice very quickly: they get along well and they practice extremely well together. There is a fine line there. I’ve been extremely pleased with the locker room and how those things have progressed.”

 

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