Jim McElwain came to Florida to resurrect a once proud Southeastern Conference giant.
The Gators’ offseason rebirth has mirrored the theme of the original Star Wars film, promoting hope, vision and a new regime.
Now it’s time to get to work.
The Gators open training camp Thursday, exactly one month before their season opener against New Mexico State on Sept. 5. Florida will hold 29 practices before its first game.
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McElwain excitedly addressed reporters Wednesday at UF’s annual media day, saying, “The optimism in the air is awesome. The excitement in the air is awesome. Guys are ready to get after it.”
UF enters fall camp with a litany of questions and low expectations, but McElwain is confident in “the process.”
Over the next month, Florida will determine a starting quarterback, an offensive line rotation and a linebacker depth chart, and although McElwain is hopeful the “discovery phase” won’t take all camp, he knows at least one thing for sure.
“Somebody’s going to take a snap the first play,” McElwain said of the quarterback battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier.
“I don’t know who it is yet. As soon as we know, we’ll let you know.”
On Wednesday, Florida’s first-year coach wasn’t concerned with last season’s turmoil or the program’s recent offensive ineptitude. Instead, McElwain continued to look forward and repeat his offseason adage: Steady improvement. Daily.
“The realistic expectation [for this team] is what we do every day to get better,” he said.
“Whatever [is going to happen in] the game against New Mexico State’s going to happen, it’s on the way. All right. But that game doesn’t mean anything right now unless you put the preparation in now to get ready to play that season.”
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach and current UF co-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon echoed McElwain’s sentiment, saying, “Our biggest goal is to win the now. Don’t worry about the past. Always worry about the future.”
On a number of occasions, McElwain stressed “15 opportunities” — referring to 15 possible games with the 12 regular-season contests, the SEC championship and two College Football Playoff games.
“We’ve got 15 opportunities to play the game,” he said.
“Put in over 300 days of work just for 15 opportunities. You know, I think it really hits home, because they’ve put in some really good work, and yet we’ve got a long, long ways to go as we integrate all the new guys into what we’re doing.”
UF has won just 11 games the past two seasons, but McElwain embraced the reality of competition — expectations or not.
“There isn’t a game, there isn’t an event, there isn’t a thing that we would do that we go in expecting a participation ribbon,” he said.
“I mean, I struggle with that. You go in expecting to win. It doesn’t matter the opponent. I mean, once you go in with a defeatist attitude, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to get your tail kicked. So that’s just not how I was brought up. We’ve got 15 opportunities. Let’s take advantage of them now to make the 15 a reality.”