The Florida Gators have yet to play in a hostile environment this season. Yes, they went on the road Week 2 against South Florida, but the Tampa, Florida, crowd was filled with orange and blue rather than green and gold.
Now, Florida faces its first true road test in nearly two years Saturday against the Kentucky Wildcats.
“We have teams come, and people get booed, and you know I haven’t experienced that yet,” redshirt freshman cornerback Avery Helm said. “I just want to see what that feels like. I feel like it’s gonna be a lot of high energy.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham says the team knows it's entering a difficult matchup, and he says if the defense stays within themselves and does their jobs, then everything will take care of itself.
“We understand that we're going into a place that will be excited, that’ll be a fun environment to play in,” he said.
Defensive lineman Antonio Valentino is no stranger to hostile environments. The Penn State transfer had to play in some of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, including the Big House at Michigan and The Horseshoe at Ohio State. He expects the Kentucky crowd to be loud come Saturday.
“I'm very much looking forward to it, Valentino said. “I love going into hostile environments. I kind of feel like the bad guy walking into somewhere… It makes it way more fun because I know you hate me when it's like, we’re still here to win a game.”
Valentino also brings a unique perspective into Lexington, Kentucky, that could prove essential for Florida's defense: He was Kentucky quarterback Will Levis’ teammate at PSU. Despite not knowing about how Levis eats bananas, Valentino shared his insights on the quarterback to the defensive unit.
“My biggest thing was Will's mentality,” he said. “He’s not very easily shaken. He’s very strong willed, very strong in his mind. He’s very physical as a quarterback… if he's running the ball, and he has the choice of going around you or going through you, he's gonna try to go through you.”
Grantham spoke of the physicality of the entire Wildcats team, crediting their head coach Mark Stoops for the job he’s done with the program.
“You have to go play them and beat them,” Grantham said. “I mean, they're not going to beat themselves, and it's going to be a physical game.”
The Gators and Wildcats will kick off from Kroger Field at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Michael Hull at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.