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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Two years ago, when linebacker Brandon Siler and safety Reggie Nelson decided to leave early for the NFL, UF coach Urban Meyer remembers seeing "red flags."

Those were the first signs that an immature and borderline-selfish team was going to run into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium later that fall. And, unfortunately for the Gators, Meyer and his coaching staff were right.

Now, the team finds itself in the same situation: UF is coming off a national championship. The Gators don't see Percy Harvin, Phil Trautwein, Jason Watkins or Louis Murphy on the offensive depth chart anymore. And there's that scary thought of complacency.

Except now, Meyer isn't seeing red flags. He's seeing sweat. And lots of it. It's sweat that is showing the Gators, in the coaches' and players' opinions, aren't in danger of having another letdown season like they did two years ago.

"In '07 you had a bunch of young, immature football players that were not ready to play. But that's not the case here," Meyer said. "We're a good program now. We weren't then. We were a good team."

It also helps when you have a Heisman-winning quarterback and All-Southeastern Conference linebacker coming back. While losing Harvin to the NFL early hurts, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. So when Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes came back for their senior years, it became official that it wouldn't be hard for the Gators to find their leaders for 2009.

"Basically the whole team's back," junior linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "That's what's going to be the difference this year, the leadership. Guys are just hungry to come out here and do it again."

Having Tebow helps players stay hungry.

"It's having veteran leaders out here that aren't going to let our team be complacent," Tebow said on why this season will be different from 2007.

That's a big step up from that year when players "didn't take it serious" and were "playing around" in games and practice, Stamper said.

Junior receiver David Nelson bluntly stated that a letdown is "not going to happen" this year. Meyer said several times last season that he hasn't had this level of leadership from a team at UF before, and it looks like this is why it'll be different this year.

"There's a lot of guys that went through that year and went through that process of going from a national championship to losing a bowl," Nelson said. "We know what we did wrong. It's up to us to fix those problems. We felt like we had already arrived. We didn't feel like we needed to come in to practice and give it a whole 100 percent effort because we just won a national championship."

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That's not to say Meyer is going to make this off-season easy on them.

"The only way I know how to do it is to make it the hardest summer they've gone through in their lives," Meyer said. "Just make it real hard so they won't have time to be complacent."

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