The Florida Gators still have a week of practice to endure before they run out of the tunnel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to open the season against Massachusetts.
But don’t tell that to UF coach Jim McElwain. He’s ready to go now.
“You can kind of smell it in the air — opening weekend,” McElwain said. “Real excited about getting back in The Swamp, getting that energy back.”
And while McElwain and his 25th-ranked Gators are the heavy favorites against UMass — a team with an 8-40 record since stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012—he’s not taking his opponent lightly as he heads into his second year with the program.
To McElwain, first impressions mean something, regardless of the opponent.
“I think the big thing for us is, you know, go out and have a good time,” he said. “Let’s play fast. Let’s adjust. ... Things are going to happen in first games you just can’t let it affect you. Clap it off, go to the next play, and make the adjustments.”
And the Gators have the pieces on the field to help with those adjustments.
They have their quarterback in Luke Del Rio.
They have their defensive leader in linebacker Jarrad Davis.
And on Monday, McElwain confirmed that they’ll have their top playmaker in sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who has been cleared to play in the Gators’ season-opener on Saturday against UMass.
Callaway’s status for Saturday was up in the air following a reported sexual assault accusation that had him suspended from the university from January until late June. He was found not responsible on Aug. 12 in the incident during a Title IX hearing.
Last season, Callaway set a UF freshman record for receiving yards (678) and paced the Southeastern Conference in yards per catch (19.4).
“We need all of our weapons, we want all of our weapons,” said junior Brandon Powell, who is listed with Callaway and junior college transfer Dre Massey as the Gators’ first-team receivers for the opener. “Our ultimate goal is to win everything. It’s just great to have all of our weapons back on the field.”
While Callaway will line up against the Minutemen, two freshman receivers will not make their debuts on Saturday.
McElwain said Monday that Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells will be suspended following their offseason arrest for firing a BB gun at a UF campus residence hall this summer. Both still face criminal charges stemming from the incident.
They join junior Jalen Tabor, redshirt sophomore C’yontai Lewis, as well as an unnamed senior, as players suspended for Saturday’s game.
“Those guys will join us when the time’s ready,” McElwain said.
For the rest of the team, the time is now.
With the Gators opening SEC play against Kentucky next week, they only have one preconference dress rehearsal to identify any problems.
“Now moreso than in camp and summer we’re focused on this year and on UMass,” Del Rio said. “Just going 1-0 every week.”