College Football: Florida opens practice
GAINESVILLE, Fla. ó Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has a Heisman Trophy, four championship rings and more accolades than most college football players could ever imagine.
He wants more.
Tebow and the defending national champions opened fall practice Thursday with hopes of winning a third title in four years, and they want this one to be special.
The Gators are embracing sky-high expectations that come with returning nearly every starter and are openly talking about wanting to become the first team in school history to go undefeated.
“It’s something that we want,” Tebow said, sporting a full beard for the first practice. “That’s not our goal. We’re not writing that anywhere. We’re not posting that. But obviously when we step on the field, we’re going to want to win. That would be special, being the first time in Florida history for that. Obviously that is a goal and it’s something that I hope comes true.”
Talk of an undefeated season by the Gators is something coach Urban Meyer would like to stop.
“The goal’s always been to go to Atlanta. That’s it. We’ve got to move on,” he said after the team’s late practice on Thursday. “I look forward to the day when (the players are) off limits (to the media), and that might be sooner than you think. We’ve just got to take care of our business and practice hard. That’s what counts. Not what people say.”
But the Gators can’t help but realize they’re an overwhelming favorite to repeat, maybe even more so than the 2005 Southern California team that featured Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The Trojans stormed through the regular season, extending their winning streak to 34 games, then lost in the title game to Vince Young and Texas.
Although Florida doesn’t want to look too far ahead, especially with LSU, Georgia and Florida State on the schedule, players are bracing for each opponent’s best shot every week.
“We know the target’s on our back and we’re ready,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “Everybody’s been looking forward to this day. … It’s just like Christmas.”
The Gators opened practice at 5:45 a.m., with about 200 fans eagerly awaiting their arrival. The early start was no surprise after Meyer promised to make summer workouts and two-a-day practices the toughest in his five years.
His rationale? For the most part, Florida has the same team that beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the Bowl Championship Series title game in Miami, and Meyer wants his players to avoid complacency.
Tebow and Spikes vowed not to let that happen. The team captains led offseason workouts and never shied away from talk of going unbeaten.
“It’s a big goal,” Spikes said. “It’s something I think about every day. Our whole summer we’ve been stressing this. My job is to make sure the guys don’t get satisfied. We’ve got to keep striving and push that rock back to the top of the hill.”
The Gators won their second national title in 2006, when Tebow and Spikes were freshmen, then bounced back from a rebuilding year to earn a second ring this past January. Both of them considered turning pro, but they decided to come back and try to make history.
And they don’t want to leave anything to chance. Last season, Florida had to rebound from an early season loss to Mississippi and win 10 in a row to reach the title game.
“It’s pressure, but it’s nothing that we can’t live up to,” cornerback Joe Haden said.
Defensively, Florida returns 21 of 22 players on the two-deep depth chart. Defensive tackle Torrey Davis transferred in March.
“That’s one of the reasons I decided to come back my senior year,” Spikes said. “I just wanted to rewrite history. We’ve got a good chance. We’ve got Tebow and (many) starters coming back and a lot of young guys. It’s going to be great.”
Notes: LB Dustin Doe (suspended) and S Ahmad Black (unknown reason) were not at the first practice. RB Emmanuel Moody and WR Carl Moore sat out drills while rehabbing injuries.
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