The Southeastern Conference Media Days bring an early kickoff to the new college football season. For Gator fans, it puts a spotlight on what has been going on the field and what the future of their beloved program is shaping out to be.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, junior offensive lineman Richard Gouraige and senior linebacker Ventrell Miller represented the Florida Gators at the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Atlanta Wednesday.
Each player dressed to impress with suits donning orange ties, was ready to answer the desired questions that members of the media have been holding on for since the end of last season. Has new head coach Billy Napier reached his players? Are the veterans of this team ready to lead? Can Richardson, 21, lead a team away from the struggles of last season and back to the glorified standards of a national championship that Florida hasn’t seen since 2008?
Those answers were given at the home of the College Football Hall of Fame
Richardson has been praised in the media, finding himself on this season’s Maxwell Watch list and receiving top 15 Heisman odds. However, the media still put the Gainesville native under a microscope when gauging his ability to match Florida’s expectations this year.
“We try taking everything one day at a time because we can't predict the future, we don’t know what's gonna be for us,” Richardson said. “As long as we prepare for everything and just take it one day at a time I feel like everything will be smooth.”
Richardson talked about how Napier trusts in himself, his system, his players and his staff.
“His confidence is unmatched,” he said. “He puts people before himself and I definitely respect that because I try to do the same thing.”
Richardson’s bond with Napier helped him further understand his role as a leader.
“A lot of people look up to me, looking at me and expecting a lot of things,” he said. “With coach Napier, I understand that means connecting with people, building relationships and bonds. If people can trust you and rely on you, it makes it a lot easier to lead them.”
With the struggles of the final chapter of the Dan Mullen era last season, Richardson was asked why this season feels different. For him, he feels the bond this team has grown into is the deciding factor.
“Before you can be a football team, you have to be a family,” Richardson said. You have to be able to want to play for your brother, play for your coach.”
Gouraige, who is tasked with protecting Richardson’s blindside, started 24 games over the past two seasons and has grown into a leader. However, he doesn’t see himself leading alone.
“The veteran guys definitely know the Gator standard,” Gouraige said. “What to live by, they've been doing a great job so far.”
With the many changes to the coaching staff that came with Napier, the same can be said about the offensive line coach duo of Rob Sale and Darnell Stapleton. Gouraige said this seems to be an advantage for all of the offensive line.
“Even for the rookies, even for the vets just getting different points of view and how to increase your game,” he said. “Just getting different coaches has been great so far.”
This year marked Miller’s second appearance at SEC Media Days. He returned to the program after a torn bicep tendon cut his last season short. As a seasoned veteran with five years of collegiate experience, he spoke about missing most of last season and his excitement to return to action.
“Definitely devastating, I can't be out there with my boys going to war with them,” Miller said about last season. . I'm looking forward to this season and being out there this year.”
For what coach Napier brings to the team? Miller had nothing but praise.
“Coach Napier has done a great job emphasizing accountability,” he said. “Teamwork, bringing the team together… building relationships and I feel like that’s a big thing that he has brought in.”
With a new head coach comes multiple new faces on a program's staff, including new inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman. With 24 years of coaching experience, Bateman knows preparation is key.
“Coach Bateman has done a great job getting us prepared, teaching us the playbook,” Miller said. “He’s emphasizing the techniques and stuff in his drills, so coach Bateman has done a great job so far.”
As Florida’s representatives make their way back to The Swamp, focus turns towards the opening weekend game against Utah Sept. 3.
Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator, Gator Country and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.