End of an Era: Muschamp’s last players graduating
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp stood on the SEC logo at the 25-yard line of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
His team had just blown a 31-14 lead to the Gators, his former team. But you couldn’t tell from looking at him.
A camera focused on Muschamp hugging CeCe Jefferson, a player the Gamecocks coach recruited but never had the opportunity to coach. Muschamp turned around and was immediately swamped by tight end Moral Stephens.
With a smile on their faces, they embraced. A few moments later, Khairi Clark did the same.
“Oh man,” Clark said. “I just told him I appreciate the opportunity for letting me get a chance to come play here at the University of Florida and that it was a blessing all these years for me.”
If you are a senior on the team and didn’t transfer in, you are a part of former UF coach Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class. If you are a redshirt senior and had the same deal, you are in Muschamp’s last recruiting class.
That’s the case for six current players on the roster.
Offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless, kicker Jorge Powell, tight ends C’yontai Lewis and RJ Raymond, Clark and Stephens.
The Muschamp Six.
“Coach Muschamp’s a great guy,” Raymond said. “He’s always showed us love and waited for us after the games we have played him at South Carolina and mentioned to tell us how much he, you know, loves us and stuff like that.”
This Saturday may be the official Senior Day for the Gators, but Florida’s game against South Carolina brought the story full circle for those six players.
It was almost like a second Senior Day, one they could celebrate with the coach that brought them in.
“It’s actually really crazy, because I feel like the guys in my class coming in,” Stephens said, “I feel like that class, almost all of us could’ve (done) a lot of things for this team.”
The Muschamp Six have seen a lot throughout their five years, more than most players will go through in their college careers.
They came to play football under Muschamp and didn’t see the field their first year. Then, he stepped down as head coach before the season ended. They were recruited by Muschamp and played under McElwain.
All was well until McElwain got fired right after Florida-Georgia in 2017.
History has a funny way of repeating itself, and the six entered their final season of eligibility with yet another head coach.
“I’ve taken a lot from every coach that I’ve had,” Clark said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve had three head coaches, so I’ve been through a lot since I’ve been here and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.”
Raymond highlighted just how important this season’s South Carolina game was for the players that still remember him. They got to see Muschamp one last time before their college careers are done.
“It means that much more to us, the six guys that are still left to go out there and get a win but it’s gonna be fun seeing him,” Raymond said before the South Carolina game. “He’s a great guy; I’m very excited to go back and see him one last time.”
Uncle Carl: CeCe Jefferson matures for final ride
Jefferson had just finished answering questions from a large group of media members when he turned and saw offensive lineman Fred Johnson.
Johnson had his own little crowd around him. Not as large as Jefferson’s, but enough to constitute one.
The right guard was answering a question about his parents when all of a sudden…
“Oh my god,” Jefferson yelled. “My name is Fred Johnson, and I’m like 7-foot tall.”
“Hi my name’s CeCe,” Johnson responded, “and I look like a billy goat.”
That kind of joking around was commonplace for Jefferson when he was with his teammates or the media, especially this season. But when he’s on the field, he’s all business.
That’s because he wants to set an example for his 3-year-old son, Luke, who has only ever known his dad as a Gators football player.
“He’s just an everyday reminder that I have to keep my nose clean,” Jefferson said. “That I have to do everything right even if I don’t want to ‘cause he’s always watching every move that I make and everything I do can affect him and will effect him.”
That attitude has also changed what he does off the field. He has matured. During his freshman, sophomore and junior year, Jefferson went out around Gainesville. Now, he opts to chill at his apartment playing video games or watching a little TV.
He said going into his senior year, he came to the realization that he can’t do the same activities he used to. He has to be a role model for his son, even if that means sacrificing what he likes to do.
“I’m kind of like the uncle on the team now,” he said. “The old uncle. That’s my role but I embrace my role. Uncle Carl.”
Being Uncle Carl doesn’t mean Jefferson has changed too much. He’s still the same person on the field and is still the same hard worker at practice.
He hasn’t lost his determination, a huge reason for why he decided to come back after Florida went 4-7 last season instead of trying his luck in the NFL Draft.
“I talked to Martez (Ivey) and C’yontai (Lewis) and a couple more seniors and we all wanted to go out as winners,” Jefferson said. “We knew we could with that staff that was coming in.”
So far, they have. The Gators are 7-3 on the year with wins against ranked opponents in Mississippi State and LSU. They could even be on the verge of a New Year’s Six Bowl game if they win out.
Jefferson has been a part of that success, even if he isn’t having the best year. He missed the first two games due to poor academic performance. He has 14 tackles on the year, significantly less than his yearly average of 35.3.
Jefferson does, though, bring some leadership as one of two defensive seniors on the team. The hard work he presents at practice is something he wants his teammates to remember after he is gone. After he walks through the tunnel on Saturday.
“That’s it, that’s (Uncle Carl),” Jefferson said. “Dropping knowledge on these kids.”
Ryan Farr: Air Guitar Hero
Music blasts through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium accompanied by the echoes of tens of thousands of Gators fans.
“HEY BABY, THERE AIN’T NO EASY WAY OUT!”
It doesn’t matter if the game is during the day or night, the bright iPhone flashlights illuminate the stadium like stars in the night sky.
Lost in that array of lights is a player channeling his inner star power.
What do long snappers do when they are not snapping?
If you’re senior Ryan Farr, you’re a bona fide air guitarist.
“We just go out there and try to have fun,” he said. “Just like, messing around, man, just trying to have fun out there, cause it’s real serious, when I’m on the field I’m real serious. But I really just like to have fun with football.”
ESPN cameras caught Farr in the middle of his routine during the South Carolina game. When the station went back on air, fans at home were greeted with a video of Farr singing along with fellow long snapper Jacob Tilghman before jumping in the air with as much enthusiasm as Freddie Mercury performing on stage.
He started strumming that imaginary guitar to the likeness of Slash or Angus Young.
“I was always a big Slash fan,” Farr said. “But I don’t have the hair for that.”
He doesn’t practice his moves, contrary to popular belief. When he’s on the sideline and hears the music at the end of the third quarter, he does the first thing that comes to mind.
No set pattern and no moves are exactly the same.
“That’s not choreographed, that’s off the top of my head,” Farr said. “Maybe, I will have to, maybe I should practice in front of the mirror.”
Farr said he didn’t even notice the camera at first on Saturday.
“I was just shredding and all of a sudden, like, I look up and somebody was pointing at it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s game time now, I better start really performing.’”
His antics caught the attention of the fans sitting in front of him, as the loud uproar of cheers could be heard in the video.
While the fans may have liked it, Mullen had some criticisms of the performance.
“I don’t know what behind the back... I wasn’t impressed,” he said. “The leg part was good, but the behind the back, I think he lost it there.”
Farr responded that he would have to take that one out of his routine.
So what does a long snapper do when he isn’t snapping the ball?
Receiver Josh Hammond has an idea.
“Those guys are – they get a lot of free time I would say,” he said. “And during their free time they definitely take advantage of that, and they always doing a lot of different, fun, cool things that we don’t really notice until they hit social media.”
When Farr takes the field at home for the final time on Saturday, fans will have the opportunity to see his crazy sideline performance one last time.
And maybe, just maybe, he will give an encore performance.
“I actually used to play the guitar, yeah, but not air guitar,” Farr said. “I kind of picked up the air guitar when I came out here and just started shredding it, a little Tom Petty - never hurt anybody, right?”
Thrown into the fire: Ivey, Johnson and Jordan embrace last home game
Martez Ivey and Fred Johnson had no idea who the other was when they first stepped foot on campus four years ago.
At least not until they met in the dorms.
Both were freshman with different backgrounds.
Ivey was from Apopka, Florida. He was a high school All-American athlete featured in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game and Nike’s The Opening event.
Johnson was from West Palm Beach, Florida. He didn’t have the same accolades as Ivey, nor did he lead his school to a state title like Ivey did, but he was named to the All-State Second Team.
Their pasts didn’t matter.
“I got to know him, became chill, became friends,” Johnson said. “It’s just a fun experience.”
Both became leaders on the offensive line and started as true freshmen. Granted, at different times in the season, but they still made an impact.
Then came McElwain’s firing last season. They were both eligible for the draft or they could have transferred, and at one point, it became a legitimate question.
“We was like, like we talked last year about whether we were coming back and all this other stuff,” Johnson said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it. We’re gonna come back.’”
They aren’t the only seniors on the line, however.
When Ivey and Johnson’s names are called on Saturday, they will be joined by another player who played as a true freshman and has been with them since the start: Tyler Jordan.
Jordan was similar to Ivey in that they were both high school All-Americans. Jordan played in the Under Armour All-America Game. All of those prior accomplishments didn’t matter once they reached the college level.
“I think it’s special, you know? Us three got thrown into the fire our freshman year,” Jordan said. “I think we have been able to bond together and just kind of build a brotherhood.”
Jordan, Ivey and Johnson were mainstays in the offensive line rotation. They eventually became starters as the season went on.
Jordan was the only one who played in all 14 games as a freshman. Ivey missed the first two games of his freshman year due to a torn meniscus but played in 12 contests that season. Johnson appeared in eight.
“I think for the most part, our bond strengthens when we’re playing together, but (also) hanging around the locker room, goofing off,” Jordan said. “We’ll hang off the field and spend time together.”
But those moments of goofing off in the locker room will come to an end after four years. They’ll take the field one last time at home as three of the five pocket protectors of quarterback Feleipe Franks. They played a combined 109 games over their careers at Florida.
“It’s been a ride. It’s been bumpy, it’s been good, it’s been up-and-down, left-and-right,” Johnson said. “But overall, it’s been a great ride. I’m glad I’ve got to experience it with them boys.”
When their names are called on Saturday, they will have no regrets. They are excited for the day to come but are a little sad because they know what it all means.
“I grew up wanting to go to Florida always. I dreamed about playing in the Swamp,” Ivey said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel when it’s all said and done and it’s my last game here. But I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world.”
Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida football will host its Senior Day when it takes on Idaho at noon on Saturday.