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Dad there for Zook era's start

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

GAINESVILLE -- After weeks of wondering if he could make the trip to Gainesville, Pete Zook, the 75-year-old father of Ron Zook, was at his son's coaching debut Saturday.

Pete Zook has cancer in his lung and liver and is weak from recent chemotherapy treatments.

A pilot, Pete Zook planned to fly to his son's first game against UAB, but his illness changed those plans. The University Athletic Association sent a plane for Zook and his wife, Dorothy, who live in Lake Worth.

Ron Zook's wife, Denise, said the excitement of preparing for his coaching debut, mixed with the sadness over his father's illness, has been tough.

"That's been in the back of his mind since all of this occurred back in February (the diagnosis) and I can see lately that it's been wearing on him emotionally," Denise Zook said at a recent practice. "I see him now and I know he's tired, but more than that I see an emotional drain in him."

SAFETY FIRST: In the wake of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Florida officials beefed up security.

Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in Friday night to scour the stadium and some security personnel remained in the stadium overnight.

Saturday, 460 police and security personnel were on duty from three law enforcement agencies, plus private security personnel.

THE MEMORIES LIVE ON: Jim Finch died in March after 36 years as Florida's public address announcer, but his voice will live on at Florida Field.

University officials said a recording of Finch's well-known call of "Heeeeeere come the Gators" will be used as the players run out of the tunnel this season.

Marion Finch, Jim's widow, received a plaque at midfield in his honor before the game. Jack O'Brien replaced Finch.

LEADING THE WAY: Zook had said he was unsure if he would run out of the tunnel before or after the Gators. Apparently he decided that to be a leader, you have to be the leader.

When the Gators came charging out of the tunnel Saturday, Zook was first, leading the players onto the field to a raucous ovation. At halftime, Zook left after the team, again to an ovation.

LOOK FAMILIAR?: Zook's first series had a Steve Spurrier Fun "n' Gun feel to it.

Quarterback Rex Grossman started with a 59-yard pass to Taylor Jacobs on the first play. Ultimately, the first touchdown of the Zook era took 1:28. The Gators needed five plays to go 79 yards. The numbers were close to Spurrier's debut in 1990 against Oklahoma State: five plays, 70 yards, scoring in 1:50.

JOHNSON RETURNS: Senior safety Todd Johnson was on the field 10 days after he was hospitalized for a concussion during a scrimmage. Also, former Tampa Catholic standout Jason Hunter started at punter after earning a scholarship last week. Hunter walked on this fall. DEBUT: Ciatrick Fason was the only UF freshman to play in the first half. He was on special teams and was in on the opening kickoff.

-- ANTONYA ENGLISH, JILL MARTIN

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