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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Losing a race to your little brother sucks, and Florida is the Southeastern Conference’s little brother.

With 12 underclassmen out of 16 men, the Gators have shown they do not shy away from youth. While many other schools embrace experience and seniority, Florida instead relies on its freshmen and sophomores to challenge the region’s older runners.

Leading the youth movement are three of UF’s brightest stars in the making: sophomores Mark Parrish and Matt Mizereck and freshman Jimmy Clark.

These men, finishing third, fourth and seventh overall, respectively, at the SEC Championships, not only boosted the Gators to a second-place finish but sparked a ray of hope in the team as well.

Following the race, coach Todd Morgan immediately recognized the success of the trio.

“Mark Parrish and Matt Mizereck really came through for us on the guys’ side, and we knew Jimmy Clark was a big-time guy and he proved that,” Morgan said.

Parrish, Mizereck and Clark were the only underclassmen to finish in the top 10. This effort put forth by Florida’s youngsters demands attention, says Mizereck.

“We really showed up at Tennessee and, hopefully by doing what we did out there, (other schools) will start to respect us,” he said. “So what if we’re young? You better watch out for what we are going to do in the next couple of years.”

Although the future appears bright for the ripening Gators, Clark doesn’t want his team to forget about this season.

When asked if the team expects to make the NCAA National Championship meet for the first time since 2006, Clark responded with bravado.

“Every season you go in with a winning attitude,” Clark said. “So to expect anything less is a disappointment.”

To meet the Gators’ goal of appearing in the national championship, Florida will have to first perform well in the NCAA South Regional Championship. This will be the largest meet for UF since the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, where the Gators were embarrassed by the nation’s best. Clark believes this time the youthful squad of underclassmen is more prepared and confident.

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While Florida possesses raw, inexperienced talent, Mizereck suggests fighting that inexperience with belief in its abilities.

“It’s best to be cocky and confident because you don’t want to go into a race being timid and scared,” Mizereck said. “For your best performance, there always has to be a little cockiness in there.”

The SEC’s little brother now has the swagger, but it wants some trophies to match.

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