Brandon Powell has dealt with hurricanes before. As a child in Deerfield Beach, the Florida Gators receiver endured Katrina and Wilma in 2005. So with Category 5 Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, he’s not concerned, and neither is his family.
“My family, we've been through hurricanes before,” he said. “There's not too much worry about.”
But his team isn’t taking any chances. Athletics Director Scott Stricklin announced Wednesday afternoon that the team is moving Saturday’s game against Northern Colorado, which was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Gainesville, up to noon.
“Currently the latest forecast shows that the tropical conditions will probably hit here Sunday morning,” Stricklin said. “There's a chance they could start hitting here Saturday night, so playing the game at 7:30 obviously wasn't a smart move.”
The adjusted start time means the game won’t be televised on SEC Network as originally planned. Instead, fans will be able to stream the game on SEC Network+. Stricklin said television wasn’t a concern that went into making the decision.
He emphasized the safety of everyone coming to the game, as well as fans who can’t because they live in the path of the hurricane. He also encouraged fans traveling to Gainesville to give up their hotel rooms if they can make it back home after the noon start. Coach Jim McElwain also said the team is giving up the hotel it usually stays in the night before home games for potential evacuees.
"How important is a game when you're talking about people's lives?” he said.
One remaining problem is Northern Colorado’s travel. The Bears will arrive in Gainesville on Thursday, but they’re flying commercially and can’t leave until Sunday morning.
Stricklin said he’s trying to do “everything we can” to get them out before the weather worsens.
The players are, for the most part, not as concerned. Six UF starters are from South Florida, and many more of its players come from the area or other parts of Florida. Powell said they’ve bonded over Irma.
“There's a lot of us from down that way,” he said. “Around this time, you just check to make sure everybody, their people, are good.”
But plenty of No. 22 Florida’s players have never experienced hurricanes, so Powell added lots of them have asked him what a hurricane is really like. Running back Mark Thompson experienced a tropical storm once in Philadelphia, but being from the northeast, swirling winds and non-stop rain are still pretty unusual. His mom reminded him of that in a text message.
“She was really worried,” he said. “Sounded pretty concerned. I’m from up north so we don’t deal with hurricanes, but if it happens, it happens. I’m sure we’re all prepared for it.”
That was the attitude of most of Florida’s players, who were more interested in talking about Saturday’s game than about Irma. McElwain wasn’t quite as enthusiastic on Wednesday afternoon.
He spoke about the game — about the great opportunity for Northern Colorado’s players, for his own players, and for the fans to escape the uncertainty surrounding Irma — but he seemed more interested in the lasting impacts of the storm.
“You sit back and you take a breath and you kinda realize the things that are really important in life,” he said.
Stricklin said something similar, noting that this weekend, safety trumps fandom.
"We understand there's a lot of people who normally would come to a Gator game this weekend in parts of the state that just aren't going to be able to make it,” he said. “We completely understand that.”
▪ Florida freshman receiver James Robinson had an undisclosed problem come up during a heart exam on Tuesday and was sent to doctors at UF Health Shands Hospital for more tests. His status moving forward is uncertain.
Tight end DeAndre Goolsby will also be out Saturday with an unspecified leg injury, and defensive back Chauncey Gardner, who injured his foot against Michigan, should be able to play.