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!

Florida Gators Recruiting: Cornerback Jalen Tabor Flips from Arizona

If you want to shock the world, one way to do so is to switch your commitment at the last moment when few saw it coming. Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor may have done just that, switching his commitment from Arizona to Florida with the intent on enrolling early.

Jalen Tabor, Florida Gators

The initial surprise came less than one week ago when Tabor committed to the Wildcats at the Under Armour All-America game. While shocking, it may not have been as much of a surprise as it seems. Tabor is close friends with high school teammate Jonathan Haden (remember the Hadens?) who has been committed to Arizona since May of last year.

This time around, he attempted to go bigger. Tabor committed to Florida and looks to enroll immediately. Coming in early, and with his level of talent, gives him a great chance to see early playing time. There’s a chance we could see Tabor as much in 2014 as we saw Vernon Hargreaves III in 2013.

Tabor’s commitment comes at a critical time for the Gators. With two of Florida’s top cornerbacks declaring their intentions to leave early and enter the NFL Draft—Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson—the Gators need to reload. Tabor is a perfectly acceptable way to do that.

The 6’1”, 182-pound cornerback is receives five stars from Rivals and four from the other major recruiting services. The 247 composite gives him a score of 0.9873 and puts him as the No. 24 player in the nation and No. 4 CB.

2013 Football Recruiting: Antonio Riles Commits To Gators; Defensive End Makes It 19 For Florida

Archer (Lawrenceville, GA) defensive end Antonio Riles became commitment No. 19 on Friday when he announced he would be playing for the Florida Gators ($). Riles’ commitment is a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one. At his size, he could play end or tackle on the defensive line.

Riles had favored his home state Georgia Bulldogs at one point, but recently shifted his focus to Florida when contact with Georgia diminished. He chose the Gators over Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee. Riles claims his commitment is solid, but he may still take visits.

At 6’4”, 262 pounds, Riles could easily finish his college career at defensive tackle even if he starts it at defensive end. With the frame he already possesses, he can grow even more and become a run stopper along the line.

With the addition of Riles and Vernon Hargreaves III in the past two days, Florida’s 2013 recruiting class is filling up. The possibility of more commitments during Friday Night Lights means we may be heading toward a full class much quicker than usual.

2013 Football Recruiting: Vernon Hargreaves III Commits To Florida; Gators Add 5-Star Cornerback

Wharton (Tampa, FL) cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made it official on Thursday when he committed to play college football for the Florida Gators. Hargreaves instantly becomes the Gators’ highest rated commit and boosts the overall ranking of the 2013 recruiting class. According to Rivals, Florida now comes in at fifth overall after making Hargreaves their first five-star commitment.

“I can officially say I am committed to THE University of Florida ! #GoGators CHOMP CHOMP” – Vernon Hargreaves III, 2013 Cornerback (via Twitter)

The recruiting services tend to agree on where to place Hargreaves and his elite level of talent. At the highest, he’s the nation’s No. 4 overall player (ESPN) and at the lowest he comes in at No. 15 (Scout). All four major services give him five stars.

Hargreaves is the type that has instant starter written all over him. Once he arrives in Gainesville permanently, Marcus Roberson will be entering his third year with the program and Brian Poole his second. While others such as Loucheiz Purifoy have made strides recently, Hargreaves will compete for playing time immediately. He’s of the instant impact type that recently included cornerbacks like Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins.

Hargreaves chose Florida over Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Look for more on him in the form of a recruiting report coming soon.

2013 Football Recruiting: Top Targets To Camp With Florida Gators, Will Muschamp

The Florida Gators kick off a number of football camps this weekend with numerous recruits in attendance. The 2012 Will Muschamp Gators Football Camp begins on Saturday, June 9 and runs through Tuesday, June 12. It includes two mini camps, two four-day camps, a kicking camp, and a camp for younger players.

The Gators will host a solid number of recruits from each of the next few recruiting classes, but don’t expect any from the 2013 class to participate. Among those in attendance will be: quarterbacks Heys McMath and Asiantii Woulard, wide receiver Richard Benjamin, defensive tackle Greg Gilmore, defensive ends Antonio Riles, Jordan Sherit and DeMarcus Walker, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Current Florida defensive tackle commit Caleb Brantley is also schedule to be in attendance.

McMath and Woulard are two to keep an eye on. Florida hopes to add a quarterback as part of the 2013 class, but continues to miss out on prospects. As top targets commit elsewhere, Muschamp and the coaching staff have to refocus their efforts and move on. This seems to be happening quite a bit lately, so the hope is visits by the two passers this weekend is a turn in the right direction.