After UF coach Jim McElwain disembarked from a plane in Bristol, Connecticut, on Tuesday morning to participate in ESPN’s annual Southeastern Conference coach “Car Wash,” one of his players took off for the second leg of the flight to participate in a media day of his own.
Cornerback Jalen Tabor, an outspoken presence on the Gators’ roster, spent Tuesday roaming New York City, taking part in interviews with a handful of media outlets and taking in some sights along the way.
Tabor felt right at home, basking in the city with an outgoing personality that rivals his.
“Big city. Big stage. I feel like that’s me,” Tabor said.
In between interviews across the city, Tabor visited the set of “Good Morning America” and NFL headquarters, participated in a Facebook Live Q&A with fans while standing in Times Square and stopped for a couple of slices of pizza.
“I like to talk and this will help me in the long run, opening up doors outside of football,” Tabor said. “I feel like if you use the media the right way, you can set yourself up for life after football.”
Tabor’s hoping his football career isn’t even close to its prime. A potential top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tabor wants to bring the Gators back to the big stage in his junior year.
Big names from last year’s defensive unit are gone, with cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal and defensive lineman Jon Bullard all preparing for their NFL careers.
“It’s not about replacing that position and being that player, but it’s about the other people around elevating their play that are coming back until those different spots are filled,” McElwain said Tuesday on “SportsCenter.” “We’ve got some great leadership on that side of the ball.”
Tabor could arguably headline the list.
UF’s lone preseason first-team All-SEC member, Tabor led the Gators with 18 defended passes and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns in 2015.
But just like the receivers he covered, Tabor’s breakout year fell into the shadows. Eyes were instead locked on Hargreaves, the third-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and a unanimous All-American.
Now that Hargreaves is in the NFL and Tabor will assume that top role in Florida’s secondary, he wants to prove that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke.
“That’s my main goal, just for people to feel my presence,” Tabor said. “Just know that [No.] 31 is on the field.”
It’s a big task, but that’s how Tabor likes to play the game.
“I feel like I was born to play football and that’s just what I’m naturally good at,” Tabor said. “If I just go out there and play my game, everything else will take care of itself.”
MAC ON CAR WASH
While Tabor toured the Big Apple, Florida coach Jim McElwain spent the day in Bristol, sifting from interview to interview. His plan was to talk about the positives surrounding the Florida football program heading into his second year as coach, but instead the focus in one of his early segments was about two freshman receivers who were arrested Monday after authorities said they shot at a residence hall on campus with a BB gun.
Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells, both 18, were booked into the Alachua County Jail on charges of criminal mischief and firing a missile into a dwelling. They were released on their own recognizance later that day.
“Here’s the beauty of it: We have freedom of choice, right? What we don’t have is freedom of consequence based on our actions,” McElwain said on “SportsCenter.” “Our guys know that they’re going to be dealt with. That’s the way we handle things. That’s the way I handle things. I think my track record proves that.”
Yet while the consequences are evident, McElwain said his ultimate goal is to use this as a lesson.
“That’s the thing as a teacher, as a coach, the thing you go through every single day is trying to help all these young men learn,” McElwain said.
Here are some highlights of McElwain’s appearances Tuesday on ESPN:
▪ His day began with a late-morning appearance on “SportsCenter,” where he was introduced with juxtaposing images of his first season at Florida. First, highlights from the Gators’ 28-point win over Ole Miss, ranked No. 3 at the time. Immediately after, clips from the three losses to end the season (Florida State, SEC title game against Alabama, Citrus Bowl against Michigan). When Jay Crawford broke down UF’s 2016 schedule, which includes trips to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State, McElwain laughed. “You had to go through that schedule. You just kind of ruined my day. Is there something else?”
▪ On the continuing quarterback battle: “ I love our quarterback room. Our quarterback room is something that people don’t think about, but the individual position room sometimes and how they can really affect everybody in the organization. Obviously the greatest effect that you can have is in that quarterback room. … Successful quarterbacks, no matter where they’ve played or what they do, the other 10 around them play better because they’re in the huddle. That to me is the key and we’ve got a couple [of] guys that I feel comfortable with.”
▪ On how he emphasizes current events and the current climate of the country to the team: “The mental conditioning coaches we have within our organization [are] talking about current world issues and where exactly it’s at and how to deal with some of those. There’s a lot of landmines out there. It goes back to, again, the education and weekly, daily, information you can give these guys to make better choices in all the things that they do.”
▪ After being shown a clip of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh in a rap video, McElwain was asked with whom he would want to star in a rap video. His answer: 50 Cent. “I don’t know if they’d let me back in the state of Montana,” McElwain quickly joked afterward, “but that’s the way it is.” McElwain followed up by saying that’s not his style of recruiting before adding, “I think the players that I recruit and the players that play for us, they know what it’ll be like to play for Coach Mac. That’s the good thing.”