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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Receiver knows about Tide
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 27, 2005
GAINESVILLE - The majority of his teammates have never been to Bryant-Denny Stadium and have to rely on what they've heard about the legendary Alabama program.
But receiver Chad Jackson is well aware of what's in store when the Gators travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend.
Jackson grew up in Hoover, about an hour from the Alabama campus, hearing of Bear Bryant and stories about the Tide's glory days.
But Jackson spurned the Crimson Tide when he chose the Gators three years ago.
Saturday, he returns to Alabama hoping to make friends and family proud and helping No. 5 Florida stay undefeated.
"I feel pretty pumped about it," Jackson said after Florida's win over Kentucky on Saturday. "I'm ready to go back home and see what everybody says and see how the fans treat me and all that. So I'll be ready. Some people love me there, and some people hate me."
Alabama didn't lose just any player when Jackson left the state. He is ranked fifth nationally and first in the SEC in receptions at eight per game. He has 32 receptions for 401 yards and six touchdowns.
Jackson knows there's more at stake than his personal goals, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't like to have a career game.
"I'd like to go out there and show off a little bit," he said. "If there's a plan for me to do it, then I'll do it. My friends from Alabama, they talk about they're going to be ready for me.
"I don't tell them anything. I tell them, "We'll see when we get there."'
CONFIDENT TEAMS: Slowly but surely, the Gators feel like they're getting their swagger back.
Alabama is feeling pretty sure of itself as well.
That's why both sides believe Saturday's game is among those "as big as it gets" games.
"This is the game we've been looking forward to since summer," Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "We'll get to see what we're made of."
The Gators are in the Top 5 for the first time since 2001, have the SEC's best defense and are coming off their best offensive performance of the season.
"I can see the confidence," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "When we go to practice, there's confidence everywhere. Everybody's confident about what they're doing, and it's starting to grow more and more. It's not a cocky sense of confidence. They know they feel like they can get the job done. When you work as hard as we do, we know it's going to pay off."
Florida plays in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1998, and the teams enter undefeated for only the second time in the series (1964). Unfamiliarity means extra preparation.
"We're going to have to spend a little extra time, for sure, this week," Tide coach Mike Shula said. "We haven't played this group. They do a lot of things in all three phases, and they are good at it. So we've got to make sure we do a good job and be thorough in our preparation."
Neither Urban Meyer nor any player on the Florida roster have played in Tuscaloosa, but everyone is aware of the tradition and expects a tough game.
"This is a big-time test," Meyer said. "They are really good. They've got experience, a lot of players back on defense."
ROAD WARRIORS: The volleyball team is coming off a two-match road trip in which it dodged Hurricane Rita and tornadoes and is headed out again. For the first time, Florida opens SEC play with three matches on the road.
The Gators (12-1, 2-0) are at Georgia on Wednesday in a rematch of last season's SEC tournament semifinal that went five games. Florida has won 37 straight matches in the series.
"From everything we've heard, Georgia's been looking forward to Wednesday's match for some time," Florida coach Mary Wise said. "We talk to players that you can't play without emotion. But you don't win with emotion. You win with execution."
--Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or firstname.lastname@example.org