University of Florida

This is why these Florida Gators seniors will be playing extra hard on Saturday

Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson goes after Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Jacksonville.
Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson goes after Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Jacksonville. AP

Cece Jefferson could only let out a nostalgic sigh.

The senior defensive end was asked to reflect on his time as a Florida Gator, and after a long pause, he shook his head and took a moment to reflect.

“Feels like I just enrolled here yesterday,” he said. “Moving into Keys [Residential Complex], my mom making my bed up. Having people showing me around campus, going to all types of meetings and stuff, just getting familiar with the place.”

Jefferson and 19 more Florida seniors will take the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the final time when the Gators host Idaho Saturday at noon.

Jefferson, who grew up about an hour north of Gainesville in Glen St. Mary, Florida, always knew he’d be a Gator. He’d dreamed of donning the orange and blue Gators uniform as a child.

And after a tumultuous junior season in which he and his team struggled to find success, Jefferson decided to return for his senior year and play for first-year head coach Dan Mullen.

“I was thinking I didn’t want to go out 4-7,” he said. “I knew about coach Mullen’s resume, his past here, and I just trusted it. I talked to Martez [Ivey] and C’yontai [Lewis] and a couple more seniors and we all wanted to go out as winners.”

Jefferson will face Idaho on Saturday with a collegiate resume that includes 106 total tackles, 9.5 sacks for 60 yards and 28 tackles for loss throughout his career.

Saturday’s Senior Day festivities will be an opportunity for left guard Tyler Jordan to reunite with his parents, grandparents and many more aunts, uncles and cousins.

The Jacksonville native joined the Gators roster in 2015 with two other offensive linemen, left tackle Martez Ivey and right guard Fred Johnson, who he says have grown with him over the last four years.

“Us three got thrown into the fire our freshman year, all having to play as true freshmen,” Jordan said. “I think we have been able to bond together and just kind of build a brotherhood.”

They’ve been part of a veteran offensive line that has struggled with consistency in pass protection and run blocking this season. But they played perhaps their best game of the season last Saturday against South Carolina. Ivey was named Offensive Lineman of the Week after recording three knockdown blocks and helping Florida produce 367 yards of rushing offense.

Idaho is allowing 226.5 passing yards per game and 214.3 yards on the ground. The Vandals last faced an SEC team last year on Oct 27, a game in which they surrendered 68 points and 658 total yards to Missouri.

The Florida O-Line can build on its recent improvements, and the younger guys who will replace those veterans will get some playing time in a tune-up games against an FCS opponent.

“Really trying to go out there, play a good game, get off the field early and really enjoy the stadium one last time,” Johnson said. “You know, soak it all in, lather it up.”

Florida’s seniors have experienced the highs of winning two SEC East titles and the lows of a controversial coaching departure amid their 4-7 outing last year, but all of their hard work will culminate in those final moments as they run through the tunnels one last time on Saturday.

“Guys have put a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into the program,” Mullen said. “Their last opportunity to play at home in front of the home crowd in this stadium, it’s always a special day.”

Sports Pass for $30 per year

Get unlimited access to all Miami Herald sports stories and videos for $30

#READLOCAL

  Comments