Before every game, Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond trot out to the 50-yard line, flanking David Reese II for the coin toss. After the coin has been flipped, possession decided and hands shaken, either Swain or Hammond will take a spot on the sideline.
Not what you’d expect from a senior captain — taking a spot on the bench to start. But it just shows what Hammond and Swain both know: Start or not, they’ll still get theirs. And if not this game, then the next.
Hammond said that he and Swain have an understanding with wide receiver coach Billy Gonzalez that they switch up who starts each game.
“Me and Freddie didn’t really care, so we were like we’ll just switch it every week and just roll with that,” he said.
And so they did.
“It’s kind of funny, the two guys that play the same position are two team captains, Freddie and Josh,” coach Dan Mullen said. “They play the exact same (position). One question I can’t answer for you is how many games either one of them have started this year.
“It just shows their character and their leadership and shows their understanding of what’s important within the team and what they need to do to help the team win.”
That character and leadership that Mullen lauded at the top of the Gators’ deep group of pass catchers permeates throughout the receiver room.
“I think it starts from coach Mullen kind of just sitting all of us down and being honest with us, ‘There’s one ball and all you guys are great talent,’” Hammond said.
“There’s only so much he can do to try to get the ball to everybody within the game plan. So he kinda let us know things might not go our way every game, things might not sway your way every game. But when it does, be ready to make the play when your number is called.”
To his point, UF has had a different leading receiver in six of nine games this season.
“This is probably the most unselfish group of guys I’ve been around my entire life,” Hammond said.
Besides Hammond and Swain, the receiving corps is headlined by Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and Jacob Copeland. Honorable mention goes to Kyle Pitts, who plays tight end but worked with the receivers last year and now leads the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Everyone has their thing. Hammond, sure hands. Toney and Copeland, lightning speed. Cleveland, a history of big time catches. Grimes, the height to go up and grab jump balls. Jefferson, expert route running. And Swain exhibits the speed he shows in bursts on his kick returns and on his routes.
Grimes has said that some of the receivers compare themselves to cars based on their playstyle.
After a big catch and run against Auburn, he earned the Brinks truck moniker.
“An armored truck. That’s what I call myself. So after the yards for the catch, I ran over to the sideline and Freddie was like, ‘You’re starting to look like a Brinks truck.’”
“(If) there’s a route where Van or Tyrie or somebody runs a slow route, we’ll say, ‘You’re like a school bus,’ or something. But if they run a fast route, it’ll be like, ‘Yeah, that’s a Lamborghini.’”
The big play ability — the Lamborghini-type plays — is certainly there with this group.
Florida is one of six FBS teams with seven plays of 60-plus scrimmage yards, five of which have been made by receivers. Hammond has two by himself: one a 65-yard catch against Miami and the other a 76-yard touchdown run at Kentucky. Swain showcased his speed on the second play from scrimmage against Auburn on a 64-yard touchdown catch. He started that game, for what it’s worth.
Jefferson had a 69-yard score on a deep pass against UT Martin. Toney had an early 66-yard touchdown grab against Miami, all of which were yards after catch. Grimes said Toney was like a Bugatti on that play.
“Strong, fast, powerful,” he said.
But the big plays aren’t always long touchdowns. Jefferson, for instance, had a huge block for Swain that allowed him to score that early touchdown.
“I got a great block from Van that allowed me to turn up and kind of score with it, so I give credit to Van,” Swain said.
And against Miami, Jefferson recovered a muffed punt.
It’s no small task what quarterback Kyle Trask has been able to do this season. He stepped into the starting quarterback job seamlessly and improved on Feleipe Franks’ campaign from a season ago — which at the time was the best season by a Gators quarterback since Tim Tebow.
All the praise in the world goes to Trask for embodying the next man up mentality.
But that transition isn’t possible without the deep, diverse and talented wide receiver room that Florida returned.
“We have great receivers, a whole bunch of senior receivers,” center Nick Buchanan said. “Not to say we didn’t have them last year, but last year we had a whole crew of running backs. Last year we had Feleipe playing quarterback and more of a runner, adds to the running game.
“Kyle’s not the athlete that he (Franks) is, but Kyle can sling the rock around. You just change attributes. You just play to your strengths more than just trying to do something you may not be good at.”
Florida’s strength this season is passing and it has leaned on it more than in recent years.
The Gators are one of four teams in the FBS with four pass catchers with 300 yards, 20 catches and two touchdowns. Pitts, Swain, Jefferson and Grimes are the group that meet those marks.
Just looking at each of their stats — other than Pitts’ numbers, which are among the best in the country for a tight end — they’re not particularly gaudy.
“They all want the ball, but they don’t all talk about it,” coach Dan Mullen said. “They’re all just as happy for the next guy to be in there.”
Five receivers have 20 or more catches, and 10 different pass catchers have scored a touchdown. Swain leads the team with five receiving scores, followed by Jefferson and Pitts who both have four each.
“I would like to say he’s not stingy, you know what I mean,” Grimes said of Mullen. “He moves the ball around.”
Copeland, who missed his entire freshman season with an injury, burst onto the scene against South Carolina. After a few drops and not seeing an uptick in usage after Toney was out for several weeks, Copeland went for three catches, 89 yards and a score against the Gamecocks.
He said his teammates — and competitors for targets — encouraged him when he was down.
“The receivers, like Freddie Swain, Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleve(land), Trevon Grimes,” he said. “They all kept me motivated because I kept dealing with injuries. They just told me to stay focused and it’s all going to play out.”
“Knowing I got people behind my back, knowing I got seniors ahead of me, and knowing that they want their touches too because they want to get out of here and make something big happen in life, just knowing they’ve got my back, that’s love.”
The camaraderie they developed off the field and unselfishness on it developed the tight-knit, successful unit that’s been key in Florida’s offensive shift this season.
“We’re really close, we’re like brothers,” Hammond said. “We spend a lot of time together off the field. We spent a lot of time this offseason working, trying to be the best that we can and you know, we’re just a really unselfish group and I’m happy to be a part of the group of guys we have.”
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected]