Becoming a Florida Gators Fan Again

Sports blogs have failed you. And this one is no different.

Years ago, when the first sports blogs appeared, the idea was simple: sports, from a fan’s perspective. You visited because you were intrigued and you returned because it felt like you were reading the thoughts of someone you could hang out with. Suddenly, your friends had a voice. Sports blogs were different than traditional sports journalism because of that voice. You didn’t see dry game recaps. No, you saw opinions. Opinions you yourself had or even those you vehemently disagreed with. But it was those opinions you latched on to and wanted more of. You wanted your rant to your dog after a heartbreaking defeat to be justified because someone out there somewhere felt the same way you did. It was a beautiful thing.

Florida Gators Football Fans

Then they became too popular.

Advertising. Networks. Partnerships. Sports blogs became the same large media outlets they had hoped to differentiate themselves from. Bloggers started to alter their writing styles to gain hits. They changed what they were writing about to drive page views. Opinions were still there, but they were lost in a sea of 100-word game recaps with post titles carefully constructed for SEO purposes.

During that time, many sports blogs became insanely successful and just as many bloggers made careers out of what was first a hobby. Let’s clear the air and say that not long after its inception in 2008 my goal was much the same with The Bull Gator. I wanted to be the next casual blogger turned buyout success. I too had lost sight of the reason I started TBG in the first place. But back to that in a moment.

None of this is a knock on those high-trafficked blogs and what they have become, even if it’s hard to call them blogs at this point. There are many of them I read weekly if not daily. My list of favorite writers includes a number of talented individuals that started as I did. They put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today and I’m genuinely happy for them. They have turned a hobby into something much more. There was a time when I wanted the same, but now I’m not so sure.

The point of all of this is to return to the reason I started TBG in the first place—because I’m a fan of sports, specifically college football and the Florida Gators. I and a group of friends would banter over emails chains that lasted days. We loved every aspect of college football and probably liked discussing it even more. We were simply fans, and then I started TBG.

TBG was an outlet for me to expand on my opinions. One of those friends once said “you should start a blog,” so I did. How many endeavors in the history of the world have begun that way? “You should see what’s across that ocean?” “You should make a rocket that will take people to the moon?” “You should definitely take that shot?” Okay, that last one is almost always a bad idea, especially if it’s after 2:00am.

So I went to Blogger, signed up, and TBG was born. It took a long time to find its focus and even today may not truly have one. I tried talking any and all sports. I tried focusing on the athletic programs of the two universities I had the pleasure of attending. I tried just one of those schools. I tried to be too much. I tried to be too little. Mostly, I tried. I wouldn’t say I failed, but I tried a lot that worked out and just as much that didn’t.

For the last few months, as TBG lay idle, I’ve thought about what its future held. More often than not, those thoughts came around to shutting it down and saying farewell to the world of blogging, but in the end that’s not what I really wanted.

What I wanted was to be a fan again. I wanted to share my opinions on the Gators. I didn’t want to rush to write a game recap as quickly as I could as soon as the final buzzer sounded. I wanted to write what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it. I wanted to go to games thinking about my love of the orange and blue, not worrying about how long it would be before I could get up a post about the latest injury, or highlight, or win, or loss. I wanted to be what I was in 2008 when I clicked the button that made the site live.

So today, I’m a fan again. A Gators’ fan. A fan that is seriously concerned over his choice of shirt and hat for the first game because superstition has set in. A fan that can’t wait to go to the bookstore and add to my all-too-large collection of Florida apparel. A fan that hopes with everything in his being that 4-8 was an anomaly we won’t see again. A fan that cheers during the good times and the bad times. A fan that spills his beer jumping out of his seat after a touchdown. A fan that paces in front of the television when the Gators are losing. A fan that truly believes it when he says “wait ‘til next year.” A fan.

I love the Gators in every way a diehard does. I’m angry at 4-8. I’m happy at the prospect of improvement. I experience the ups and downs of recruiting. I think Will Muschamp should be fired while at the same time think he needs more time. I blame injuries. I blame refs. I blame offensive coordinators. I blame myself for putting on a cursed shirt. I believe I can impact a game by yelling at the players from the comfort of my living room (my wife disagrees).

As that fan that I am once again becoming, I could not be more nervous about the upcoming season. 4-8. 4-8!!!!! It’s hard to think it let alone say it. There were so many factors that went into that record and so many excuses we could make for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Gators went 4-8 in 2013 and lost to Georgia Southern AT HOME! No, no, just no. I hardly had the energy to give out my signature line of “just win” last season because more often than not Florida couldn’t. To make matters worse, they started 4-1. That’s a whole lot of losing to end a season. I wasn’t a happy fan and if Twitter, Facebook, the Internet in general told the story, none of you were either.

But 2014 is a new season and with it comes a new offensive coordinator. Hope springs eternal in the life of a sports fan. The problem is that we hope for something along the lines of 10-2 when realistically 7-5 could signal a drastic improvement. And there is exactly where fans will divide. We could see a dramatically improved Florida team that does go 7-5. There will be the fans that seen that improvement and look toward 2015 and on the other side will be those fans that see 7-5 and don’t care what the Gators looked like to get there. To them the five losses are far too many, and they’re right.

That is too many losses. So is four, but I’ve always looked at it in terms of wins. For me, 10 wins is the mark. That’s what a program like Florida should hit season after season after season. The Gators play in an unbelievably competitive conference, you all know that, but based on so many other factors, they should be near the top of the SEC every single season. I want 10 wins, at least. I want it in 2014 even if I don’t think it’s realistic. I want it so my friends that like those other schools that will remain nameless shut up. And I want it so I’m happy. But mostly, for 2014, I want improvement. I want visible improvement to show the program is rebuilding and getting back to where it should be. And I think it will happen.

I do. Of my group of Florida fan friends, I’m the most optimistic one. It’s a fault, but also keeps me sane. I think. The glass is more than half full for me and I like it that way. 4-8 is behind us and all signs point to improvement in 2014. But again, that improvement may not show much in the final record. Maybe I just want to see good football. There were times, many times, last season where good football wasn’t present. There was a lot of bad, horrible, awful football. I can’t stomach even the thought of the loss to Vanderbilt. I was there that day watching who knows what. It was not good football and probably the farthest from it the Gators have played in quite some time.

That leads me to the bright spots. A healthy Jeff Driskel should fit into Kurt Roper’s offense. Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the nation’s best players. Dante Fowler, Jr. is a superstar in the making and someone we will be watching on Sundays for a very long time. And the running back position excites me as long as injuries and the fumble bug don’t hit. I like a lot about this team. I don’t believe it’s a championship team and I don’t think anyone else does, but if you look hard enough, turn your head to the left, squint, and tap your heels together three times, you might see that Florida is putting something together.

The first three games on the schedule could tell us nothing. September 20 will. A trip to Alabama that all too many have written off as a loss already. I’m not proclaiming a Gators’ win. I just want to see what happens. It will be a telling 60 minutes during which we’ll see where this team is and where they will go. Add LSU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, and FSU to the schedule and, well…scariest environment imaginable. And I didn’t even mention Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Hence the “7-5 would be a drastic improvement” comments.

Regardless of what will or won’t happen and my hope or lack thereof, I’m excited. Today is the most wonderful day of the year (you know, every day I get to spend with my wife and son aside). It’s the start of the college football season. I have a Gators’ shirt on, I set up a patio television for my pool viewing pleasure (it’s hot in Florida this time of year, people), and in a few hours I pick up my cousin at the airport. That last part is important because my cousin may be the biggest Gators’ fan that has ever lived that has stepped on the University of Florida campus exactly once.

The two of us will be at the game on Saturday, so if you see two men tailgating behind a black GMC Yukon that look too old to be college students, but too young to be true Bull Gators, stop by, say hello, and join us for a beer. My name is Joel, his name is Scott, and we’re Florida Gators’ fans. We’ll cheer with the rest of you on Saturday and on every other Saturday for the next few months. We’ll be obnoxious to opposing fans when the moment calls for it. We’ll question every play that results in less than five yards. We’ll complain and moan if Roper doesn’t rain down offensive fireworks galore from the very first snap. Through it all, we’ll cheer and we won’t stop. We’re fans of the orange and blue and excited to kick off another season with hope.

And before I go, I have to leave you with two things—Go Gators! And Just Win!

Ronald Powell the Latest to Declare for 2014 NFL Draft; DE/LB to Leave Florida Early

Ronald Powell has become the latest underclassman to declare his intentions to leave Florida early and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker had one season of eligibility remaining.

Ronald Powell, Florida Gators

The top recruit in the nation coming out of high school, much was expected of Powell before he ever stepped foot on campus. He was the second top prospect to sign with the Gators under former head coach Urban Meyer and if his impact were to even be close to that of the first–Percy Harvin–Florida fans were in for a treat.

Powell struggled early, but mostly due to those high expectations. It’s not that he underperformed during his freshman season; it’s that so much more was expected out of him. Will Muschamp’s arrival as the new Florida head coach may have been a good thing for Powell in the long run. While it did take him some time to get used to his role as a “buck” linebacker, Powell started to come on strong during the season half of the 2011 season. Seven of his nine tackles for loss and four of his six sacks came in the final six games of the season.

Powell wouldn’t get a chance to build on his strong end to the 2011 season as his 2012 season was over before it began. He tore his ACL during the Orange & Blue Debut, putting him on the shelf for all of 2012.

When the 2013 season came around, Powell was ready to contribute again. While he was back to full strength, he also greatly benefited by the play of defensive lineman Dominique Easley and fellow buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. The emergence of Fowler allowed Powell to move between buck and more of a traditional linebacker role throughout the season.

Powell played well enough throughout the season that this announcement isn’t much of a surprise, but it’s also widely believed he would benefit greatly from one final year of development. However, after suffering the type of injury he did, it’s understandable that he would leave now and not risk getting hurt at the college level again. Early predictions have Powell falling somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft.

While I wish Powell all the luck in the world, the one thing I would have really wished for him during his time at Florida was more wins. Due to the injury forcing him to miss the 11-2 2012 season, Powell played for the Gators during seasons in which they finished 8-5, 7-6 and 4-8.

No. 6, Tyler Murphy, LSU, and My Never-Ending Love of the Florida Gators

Yes, I am alive. And yes, my love of the Florida Gators hasn’t died. It has just been dormant on this one particular display vehicle. While active on other mediums, The Bull Gator site has been left out in the cold. My name is Joel and I haven’t posted anything on this site in 63 days.

Tyler Murphy, Florida Gators

In that time, the Gators have marched (if that’s one way of putting it) to a 4-1 start behind an elite defense, an impressive after-thought turned hero of a quarterback and a schedule that’s about to take a turn into the realm of increased difficulty. I’d like to say I’m pleased with the season so far, and I am, but I’m also cautious and worried about what’s right around the corner. The defense gives me hope, while the offense has my wondering if it can keep up with the scoring prowess of some of the teams on the horizon.

As the Gators continue the 2013 season, I’d like to say my contributions to the blog part of The Bull Gator network will increase, but I honestly can’t promise that. Oddly enough, my first season as a football season ticket holder coincides with the lowest post output since this site’s inception. But the love is there and is never-ending. To use a phrase that honestly makes me laugh just a little every time I hear it, I bleed orange and blue.

For now, I’m back if for one post in the middle of a season with plenty to look forward to. Enjoy the thoughts of someone that has been observing from the sidelines (or, more accurately, from 21 rows up).

Speaking of hope and looking forward, I ever so briefly looked forward to what No. 6 would bring to the Gators this season. His contributions were limited and are now over as it stands for 2013, but that quickly brings me to another No. 6 and a player that is fast becoming one of the nation’s best.

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Ronald Powell Stays On Track To Return To Florida Gators In October

Florida Gators Buck linebacker Ronald Powell was on track to take a major leap forward in 2012. The junior had shown flashes in the past, but was said to have been a workout warrior during the offseason. Powell appeared determined to live up to the enormous hype that came with being the nation’s top high school prospect a few years ago and people had taken notice. Then he tore the ACL in his left knee.

Not long ago, you would have seen “torn ACL” followed by “will miss the entire season.” Instead, Powell was given a timetable of being out four-to-six months. Still ambitious, but not out of the realm of possibility. If all continues to go as planned, Powell could make his debut in October. That’s great news for Florida and the to-be star defender, but everything is still very much in TBD mode.

Powell could be completely cleared to return, but he shouldn’t be rushed. Manning the position in his absence are Lerentee McCray and Dante Fowler Jr. We’ve heard of McCray’s positive progression and we’ve also heard that Fowler could command serious playing time from game one. Basically, the Gators seem to be in good hands at the Buck position. If the two are performing well, there’s no reason to rush Powell and risk further injury.

We all want to see Powell on the field as we hope for a great year from the junior, but no one – fans, coaches, players or Powell himself – should want to rush him back if there’s an opportunity to give him a little extra time rehabbing.

Florida Gators Will Play Freshmen Early And Often During 2012 Football Season

The Florida Gators will play a number of true freshmen during the 2012 football season and that trend will start during Saturday’s opener against Bowling Green. It’s not surprising* as it’s become quite the frequent occurrence not only at Florida, but around the nation.

Among those expected to contribute and even see time in the first game are running back Matt Jones, wide receivers Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman, tight end Kent Taylor, offensive linemen Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Antonio Morrison, and defensive back Brian Poole.

We’re far past the days where a redshirt season was the norm. In today’s college football world, you redshirt if you’re hurt or you’re really, truly not ready to see the field. Otherwise, game experience is a desire of coaching staffs across the nation. The Florida freshman will earn valuable playing time in 2012 and (hopefully) be more prepared for 2013 and beyond.

*We should just go ahead and add a new category to the mix – Things That Don’t Surprise Anyone But Are Still Considered “Newsworthy.”

Dante Fowler Jr. Impresses In Practices, Ready For The Real Thing

Five-star recruit Dante Fowler Jr. waited until National Signing Day to commit to the Florida Gators. The defensive end/linebacker – who is working at the Buck position at Florida – was committed to the Florida State Seminoles until he pulled the switch. It didn’t come as much of a surprise, but we’re still happy with his final decision. Even more so now.

Fowler has been making a name for himself since day one. He’s been a standout at the Buck with Ronald Powell out. Fowler constantly finds himself disrupting the offense and has been in the backfield almost as much as the Gators’ running backs. His next goal is to carry that over to game days.

With Powell watching from the sidelines for part of the season, Fowler will get an opportunity to shine. He’ll split time at the Buck with Lerentee McCray, but there are already a number of people that believe Fowler could make the position his own once the games begin.

Fowler was a big get for the Gators and by the sounds of it he’s already living up to the hype.

Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler Jr., Dante Phillips Have Yet To Report; Could Arrive At Florida Soon

The Florida Gators put a heavy emphasis on the defensive line during the 2012 recruiting cycle. That added focus paid off with the signings of Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr. among others. Considered two of the nation’s top prospects, Rivals gave both five stars, ranking Bullard No. 6 overall and Fowler No. 28. Just outside of the Rivals100 was defensive tackle Dante Phillips coming in at No. 120. Unfortunately, at this point, none of the three have reported to Florida.

Bullard was one of the stars of the class and also one of the incoming freshman expected to contribute immediately. He’s the one we may not have to worry about. The latest reports have Bullard qualifying. He has completed the necessary coursework and should be with the Gators as soon as all of the necessary paperwork is where it needs to be. Take a sigh of relief Florida fans.

Fowler may not be far behind. Some say he could report as early as Monday, while others expect him to arrive later in the week. Whatever the case, it appears Fowler either has completed the necessary academic requirements or is about to. He should be in Gainesville soon, joining fellow five-star Bullard.

Phillips is the wild card because, well, we just don’t know. His status is up in the air and he’s the one we’ll have to continue to watch.

For now, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about, but just a situation to keep on eye on. All signs point to the positive for Bullard. Fowler should be close behind. Phillips is the question mark.

2013 Football Recruiting: Gators Add Rodney Adams; 4-Star Wide Receiver Commits To Florida

Blink and you might miss something. The Florida Gators continued their impressive and extremely early haul with the commitment of four-star wide receiver Rodney Adams. The 6’1″, 166-pound receiver out of St. Petersburg, FL (Lakewood) is the second to announce his intentions on becoming a Gator on Saturday after Kelvin Taylor did so earlier in the day.

Adams is a four-star receiver according to both 247Sports and Rivals.com and both services put him in the same ballpark when it comes to overall rankings. He is No. 234 according to Rivals and No. 240 according to 247. Rivals doesn’t have position rankings just yet, but 247 has Adams ranked as No. 31 in terms of wide receivers. Adams joins a class quickly climbing up the team rankings as well. After Taylor’s commitment on Saturday morning, the Gators were No. 4 on 247’s list, but Adams bumped them up to No. 3.

Adams will join former high school teammate Dante Fowler Jr. in Gainesville.

Go here to check out the entire 2013 recruiting class as it continues to grow.

2012 Football Recruiting: Florida Gators Experience The Ups And Downs Of National Signing Day

Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators didn’t quite bring in the nation’s second-best class, but it was close and there’s still a chance for it to improve. At this moment, the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class ranks as high as third (Rivals) and as low as fifth (Scout). Even with National Signing Day coming to an end, Florida waits on one final prospect – Stefon Diggs. Diggs won’t sign until February 10, so we have plenty of time to reflect on the day the just was.

Overall, the Gators have a good class, but NSD left many wondering what could have been. Josh Harvey-Clemons choosing Georgia wasn’t a surprise, but his grandfather’s reaction was. Tracy Howard himself told us he was 100% ready to sign with Florida before visiting Miami. That one trip completely changed his world and Howard will play for the Hurricanes. Jake Meador, Schyler Miles and Vincent Valentine were all prospects expected to go elsewhere and they all did, but any of the three would have been a welcome addition to the class. Like some of the other signings, Leonard Williams to USC wasn’t shocking, but there was hope there. Go back a few months and you would have thought Avery Young was a lock. That all changed and after a blunder by whoever runs Georgia’s athletic site, Young signed with Auburn. And finally, there’s Nelson Agholor. It had long been thought the star athlete was down to the Gators and Trojans. As NSD approached, USC was rumored to be the leader. With each passing day it seemed unlikely Florida would gain his commitment. In the end, he headed west.

Reading that paragraph once is one time too many, but was it really all that bad? On NSD alone, the Gators added Dante Fowler Jr. and Raphael Andrades to the class. It’s also worth noting that Florida didn’t lose anyone. Then there’s Diggs, who many think the Gators will add. And, oh yeah, don’t forget that the recruiting cycle doesn’t just consist of NSD. All four major recruiting services have Florida’s class ranked among the nation’s top five. Top-five class, three five-star prospects (which according to Rivals ties Florida with Alabama, Stanford and USC for the most) and a real shot at another is something to be happy with. And we are; we definitely are even if there are questions.

Did Muschamp get the numbers he wanted? Did the Gators fill holes on the depth chart? Is there enough depth? When will Florida finally have a full roster again? Are the players the Gators did get being overshadowed by NSD despite the addition of a top recruit and another at a position of need?

Those of us that follow recruiting have a tendency to focus on who our team didn’t get when we really should look at who they did. Some of those questions above can be answered. The Gators could use more bodies and have a need at wide receiver and offensive line. Depth is easy to answer, but hard to do so accurately until we see how injuries impact the roster. There were definitely some misses, but also some hits. This is a good class, but one that could use more names. Four or five years from now we’ll look back and evaluate how it panned out and the success it had on an individual and team basis. For now, we wait for Diggs. NSD is over, but the door might not be shut just yet on the Gators’ class.

2012 Football Recruiting: Dante Fowler Jr. Switches To Florida; Five-Star Defensive End Spurns Florida State

Dante Fowler Jr. originally committed to the Florida State Seminoles in 2010. Yes, you read that right; the five-star defensive end was a member of the ‘Noles’ 2012 recruiting class for over a year. Despite that, he seemed to sway back and forth between FSU and the Florida Gators for most of that time. There were rumors he would eventually make the switch; then there were those saying he was 100% committed to FSU. Fowler himself added to the speculation by going back and forth. It almost seemed as if a different answer would come out every day. Then we arrived at National Signing Day and Fowler made his choice. The DE signed with the Gators and will wear the orange and blue.

On a day when many of the big names Florida was still in play for signed elsewhere, Fowler was the shining star. Not long after Raphael Andrades gave us a pleasant surprise, Fowler practically blew us away. He joined a class that already contained a large number of defensive linemen, but there are many different roles to fill. From 4-3 end to 3-4 end to defensive tackle to the buck position, there are a number of spots to fill. At 6’3″, 232 pounds, Fowler looks like another great fit for the buck. His talent is such that he may become the backup at the position to Ronald Powell simply by stepping foot on campus.

If you followed Fowler’s recruitment, the switch wasn’t entirely out of the blue, but that’s doesn’t make it any less important. The Gators added a great player when the announcement was made and grabbed a commitment from their biggest rival.