University of Florida

Florida tight end is becoming a vocal leader for the Gators at right time

Florida linebacker David Reese II (33) takes down Missouri wide receiver Johnathon Johnson on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Gainesville.
Florida linebacker David Reese II (33) takes down Missouri wide receiver Johnathon Johnson on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Gainesville. AP

It was this time last year that linebacker David Reese, then a sophomore, called out the efforts of his teammates following a 45-16 loss to Missouri.

“It’s sometimes disappointing when everybody doesn’t want to come together and just play for each other,” Reese said to the media that day. “That’s sad to see. We’ve still got a lot to play for. Me, personally, and our defense, we want to play for those guys. We can’t have appearances like we just had today. That’s unacceptable.”

And after the Tigers took down Florida 38-17 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, tight end R.J. Raymond knew what he had to do as he stood in a locker room full of dispirited Florida players.

Raymond, who was put on scholarship at the beginning of the season after walking onto the team in 2014, had a message that there’s still a lot to play for in the last three games of the regular season.

And he told reporters he has no more interest in quietly leading by example from the background.

“I’ve got two games left in the Swamp,” Raymond said. “I’ve given my all to this program and at this point it’s not time for me to sit back and hope everybody comes. It’s time for me to push everybody to finish this season out like we want to, like we know we can.”

His words seemed to rub off on a Gators team in search of its identity as it closes out the season.

Coach Dan Mullen told reporters that plenty of guys showed up early to their Monday morning team meeting. There were no stragglers, and everyone made it to their treatments Sunday.

Mullen also made it clear on Monday that the questions at the quarterback position still remain after starter Feleipe Franks was benched in favor of Kyle Trask in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.

“I’ve always said we’ll look and see how practice goes,” he said. “We might play two quarterbacks, might play three.”

Though it’s likely that three quarterbacks do take the field between now and then end of the season, Mullen and his staff will be tentative with their use of a young quarterback like freshman Emory Jones before he’s ready.

The coach speculated that Franks was put in a disadvantageous situation last year in which he was thrown on the field before he was fully developed.

“I think you have to be careful with that of saying ‘Hey, let’s just throw this guy out there. That’s how you develop the player,’” Mullen said. “Aaron Rodgers was a pretty good quarterback in the NFL, and he didn’t play for a couple of years when he got there.”

Despite their quarterback situation, members of Florida’s football team took Raymond’s post-game speech to heart. Their mindset after these two losses is to continue to play for their brand, for their school and for each other because they know every week, every team will present a new challenge.

“Every single week you’re gonna get every single team’s best effort,” Raymond said. “That’s why you see Missouri, when they won, their fans, their players, they were Gator chomping because it means that much to beat us. And we’re gonna get that from South Carolina coming up this week. We’re gonna get it from Idaho, and we’re gonna get it from Florida State.”

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