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Predictions of downfall motivate Florida

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

GAINESVILLE -- With his 301-pound body tightly tucked into a small chair in the bowels of Florida Field on Saturday, offensive lineman Shannon Snell spoke with a hint of bitterness.

The Tampa native and preseason All-SEC offensive lineman and many teammates can't figure out why the Gators aren't getting more preseason recognition.

It has them hopping mad and eager to prove naysayers wrong.

"I've definitely got a chip on my shoulder," Snell said. "Basically, they are saying the Florida Gators don't mean anything. It was just all Coach Spurrier's business. It was just his offense. It was just his system.

"They are not giving (coach Ron Zook) any respect, and they are not giving us any respect."

The players have seen the preseason magazines. They know the SEC writers voted them the third-best team in the East behind Tennessee and Georgia.

And despite their No.6 ranking in the Associated Press poll, released Saturday, the players said the low expectations from outsiders are annoying.

"It irritates me to think they're down on us just because Coach Spurrier is gone," senior receiver Taylor Jacobs said. "Coach Spurrier is a great coach, but they forget he recruited great talent."

The Gators are top-10 picks in most publications. But the general consensus seems to be without Spurrier and facing a tough schedule, Florida will struggle.

It's not that the players don't understand Spurrier's legacy. But the Gators return 13 starters, including Jacobs, the Orange Bowl MVP, and Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman. That alone, Snell said, should count for something.

"I can see people picking us to finish behind Tennessee because they beat us last year," he said. "But some polls have us picked to finish behind South Carolina, Georgia.

"I just don't understand."

The coaches say the focus is on the Aug.31 season opener against Alabama-Birmingham. There's no time, they say, to worry about "extraneous" issues. Zook reiterated being in Spurrier's shadow doesn't disturb him.

But if the players want to use the perceived slight as motivation?

Go for it, some coaches said.

"I hope so," said Jerry Odom, the special-teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach when asked if the players have a chip on their shoulders. "I think (they do) a little bit because we were a pretty good football team last year and we've got a lot of players back.

"So I hope they take that attitude. I can't speak for them completely, but I think any time you have that circle the wagon type mentality ... I think it's good."

But some players said they've chosen not to focus on what others are saying. After all, it's only preseason.

"I really don't pay attention to that because in the last couple of years, you look in some of those preseason magazines, its 10 games down the road and you see some of the teams they picked and you're like, "What were they thinking?"' junior defensive end Clint Mitchell said. "It's a lot more fun to look at them in November than in August."

Giant posters, complete with a schedule and photo of Zook and four players, lay on a table Saturday, It was emblazoned with the words, "Let's Get It On."

But so far, the Gators have refrained from coming up with a slogan to motivate them. At least not yet.

"Slogan? We've got some goals," Zook said.

What about a slogan like FSU, he was asked.

"We haven't gone there yet," Zook said.

Chances are, there's one formulating in the back of their minds.

"We're trying to prove a lot of people wrong," senior linebacker Bam Hardmon said. "Not many people besides ourselves are rooting for us."

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