The room is quiet. You can go in.
A college quarterback is standing in front of a microphone. He has just finished playing his last football game of the season, finished taking off his bulky shoulder pads and his bright orange jersey, and, for the last time this year, is speaking to a group of reporters.
Less than one decade after helping Florida win two national championships over a three-year span, Dan Mullen is coming back to Gainesville.
“Coach (Randy) Shannon always says this one thing,” Feleipe Franks begins.
And then he pauses. He looks down.
“He says it didn’t happen to me,” Franks continues. “It happened for me.”
The criticism. The insults. The hate.
Franks — along with the rest of the Florida football team — has endured his fair share of all three this season, one of the most forgettable seasons in the history of Florida football. It ended on Saturday the same way it began — with an utter letdown.
After the game, Franks said he hopes it fuels him.
“Hopefully,” Franks said, “I’m going to look back and I’m going to be like, ‘I’m glad that happened to me, when everybody was hating me. I’m glad that happened to me because it made me dig deeper, made me be a better person, made me work harder.’”
His teammates hope so, too.
Slowly, one by one, they walked off the field.
They walked past University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, who stood near the locker room tunnel, clapping.
They walked past their cheering friends and family, some of whom clambered down the bleachers after the final whistle had blown to hug their sons, brothers, grandsons and nephews and tell them they were proud. So, so proud.
They walked past the numbers that still glowed across the scoreboard: Florida State 38, Florida 22.
“It sucks,” sophomore receiver Josh Hammond said, quieter than usual. “A lot of guys are really hurt right now.”
You could see it on Mark Thompson’s face. The running back transferred to Florida before last season, hoping to develop into a featured SEC halfback and help lead Florida on a deep postseason run.
Neither of those things happened.
“A lot of things didn’t go my way,” Thompson said.
The same can be said for Florida.
The program failed at nearly every one of its goals this season: It lost its season opener against Michigan after then-coach Jim McElwain guaranteed a win. It lost its homecoming game against LSU because of a missed extra point. It lost its annual neutral-site rivalry game against Georgia by five touchdowns. And it lost its final game of the season to Florida State on Senior Day, ending the year with a losing record for the second time in just under four decades.
“There shouldn’t be any excuses,” sophomore linebacker David Reese said. “We had a lot of games where we should have won.”
But there are positives Florida will take from this season, like Reese, who began Fall training camp as Florida’s wide-eyed starting linebacker and ended it as UF’s locker room-leader.
Reese represents the next generation of Florida players, many of whom will return next season under the new coaching regime, including at least three of its four leading receivers, three of its four leading rushers, six of its nine leading tacklers and its starting quarterback.
“It’s a talented team,” Shannon said. “Whoever inherits this team is going to be really excited about it.”
On Sunday, Florida announced that Dan Mullen, head coach at Mississippi State for the last nine years and offensive coordinator at Florida from 2005-2008, will take over as the Gators’ new coach. Shannon said he has enjoyed being Florida’s interim coach, but he declined to say whether he wants to return, even in an assistant role.
Many of Florida’s players have said they want Shannon to return. But they also said, whether he comes back or not, Florida will be just fine.
“We’re going to be back,” Reese said. “We’re the Gators, and we’re going to get somebody to come in and be great for us.”
You can follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @icohenb, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.