Dan Mullen knew the questions would come given the off-the-field news surrounding the Florida Gators football program that had transpired over the past week.
Freshman Justin Watkins left the program following his second arrest in three months, the latter of which involved felony charges of domestic violence.
Shortly after that, news surfaced of a May confrontation between a group of UF football players and a local gambler who goes by the name “Tay Bang.” More information surrounding friction between the gambler, whose real name is Devante’ Zachery, and the players has surfaced over the past two days. Among the revelations: a wide receiver having a loaded rifle in the back seat of his car during a traffic stop and a report from Zachery claiming he gave discounts on rental cars to two players — an accusation that could lead to NCAA violations if found to be true.
No UF players have been charged so far in relation to incidents concerning Zachery, although six UF players have been recommended to the UF Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution department for their part in the May 28 confrontation.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney and defensive lineman Kyree Campbell were recommended the department for an “holding and pointing what appears to be assault rifles (later determined to be airsoft rifles) at other individuals on campus,” according to the report. Four other players named in the initial police report — wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland, Rick Wells, tight end Kemore Gamble and freshman quarterback Emory Jones — also were recommended to the department for lying to university police.
“One of the things you deal with as a head coach is trying to help young men make good decisions. That’s a never-ending process,” Mullen told reporters Thursday in Gainesville at Florida’s media day ahead of fall football camp. “That’s one that from my first team meeting through the team meeting we had last night. We constantly talk about decision-making in every aspect of your life and the consequences that your decisions have. We’ll have 110 young men coming to training camp between the ages of 17 and 23 years old. Part of our job is not just to coach football but to help educate them and teach them how to make good decisions in life. That never ends.”
According to the UF Police Department report, first obtained by Jacksonville’s First Coast News, the May 28 confrontation took place outside a UF residential complex.
Zachery, who is reported to be friends with UF tight end C’yontai Lewis, was upset with the players after losing bets he placed on the Gators’ during their 2017 season in which UF went 4-7 and fired coach Jim McElwain, according to the report.
One player said in the report that after Zachary’s group left the scene and returned, someone from Zachery’s group had a baseball bat and another pointed a red laser at one of the football players’ chest.
Since news of that initial report surfaced on July 25, though, more information has come to light.
A Gainesville Police Department report made public Tuesday revealed an ongoing conflict between the football players and Zachery’s group dating back to February.
“We’re always concerned for our players of who they associate with in every aspect of their life,” Mullen said. “... If you want to judge a successful person, show me their friends. I’ll tell you how successful they are by their friends, who they associate with, who they hand out with. Another educational part for our young men of making sure who you’re associating yourself with. Are those people that are bettering your life or making you a better person?”
A separate GPD report from July 22 and subsequent police body cam footage showed that police found a black rifle in the back of Toney’s vehicle when he was stopped for a seat belt violation. Toney and teammate Brian Edwards, who was in the passenger seat, were placed in handcuffs during the search but were later released. Toney said he needed the gun to protect himself from locals.
Mullen said Thursday that while he generally has a no-weapons policy, each case is discussed individually.
Mullen said no suspensions have been made regarding the off-field incidents.