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For their own good
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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Together at the top?
Gators preach - and buy into - an all for No. 1 philosophy for their teams .
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 8, 2007
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Billy Donovan and the Gator basketball team raise the national championship trophy back in April 2006.
About a week ago, Florida senior receiver Dallas Baker was leaving his room in Gainesville when he ran into Gator basketball player Joakim Noah. "He looked at me and said, 'Go get that national championship. If you don't win, don't come back.' "I told him, 'Don't worry, we'll be back,' " Baker said with a smile.
With a victory over No. 1 and undefeated Ohio State tonight, Florida (12-1) can become the first Division I school to be the reigning champion in both men's basketball and football.
"It's something that's never been done before, so sure we'd like to be the first," coach Urban Meyer said. "I still remember the day when Joakim Noah said afterward (the basketball team's victory), 'Now it's football's turn.' It's like, 'Okay, I'm with you. Let's go.' "
No jealousy. Only extra motivation to be just as good.
That's the model Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has fashioned for the Gator program to follow. In Foley's mind, success begets success. Winners feed off other winners. And if every sport is treated properly, the athletes will fuel each other's success.
"That has always been our philosophy," said Foley, who begins his 15th year as AD in March. "Not just for me, but when Bill Arnsparger was athletic director. Each one of those coaches and each one of those athletes picks the University of Florida and therefore we have a responsibility to provide them with the same opportunity to be successful. It would be hard for us to look a women's tennis player in the face and say your sport isn't as important as the football program.
"Obviously the football program may get written about more and may make more money, but I can tell you the women's tennis program, our volleyball program, soccer program, men's golf, you name it, are just as important to us," Foley added. "So I think if you make the coaches and athletes feel that, then you have a chance to be successful. And I think it's a good healthy environment."
Apparently, it's working.
"We're all good friends," junior receiver Andre Caldwell said. "They support us in everything we do, and we support them. We talked about it (both teams winning) all the time after they won. They kept saying it's ya'll's time to win it. Hopefully we can see it through and it'll be a great accomplishment for us. They got big rings. We need bigger ones."
It also resonates among the coaches. Billy Donovan's hottest speaking circuit was with the Gator programs, including speeches to the football and volleyball teams about teamwork and how to win it all. Donovan and Meyer are good friends and big fans of each other's program. And Donovan enjoys that his players feel the same way. On Dec. 2, the basketball team was on a bus ride to Tallahassee for a game the next day against FSU. The players spent much of the ride huddled around a small television trying to see the score of the UCLA-USC football game, knowing an upset of the Trojans would be good for the Gators. They alternately listened to the SEC championship game on the radio.
"It was great for me to sit up there and hear our guys root for those guys," Donovan said. "It was great because I think sometimes in a lot of programs there can be a lot of jealousies and there can be a lot of things that, 'We don't get enough attention, we don't this, we don't that.' ... It was just nice for me to be able to sit on the bus and hear our guys root for the football team. And I've said this all along, even when Steve (Spurrier) was here, the fact that Florida is playing for a national championship in football helps our basketball program because Florida is out there in the national eye. It's out there. It helps."
In fact, some of the football team's biggest fans are on the basketball squad.
"It's a lot of fun to watch the football team, especially C.I. (Cornelius Ingram) when he's playing because he was around us so much," senior guard Lee Humphrey said.
When the basketball team won, nobody was happier than the football players.
"Those guys winning the national championship was definitely motivation for us," senior linebacker Earl Everett said. "They are great guys, all of them. We always pull for them. There's no jealousy at all. We just felt like if my boys can bring it back to Gainesville (in basketball), we have to do it, too."
So tonight, Florida athletes from swimmers to cross country runners, and most especially the basketball players, will be rooting for the football team.
Because after all, a win for the football team is a win for the Gators. Period.
Gators go for a first
Since the Associated Press originated in 1936, only six schools have won national championships in both football and basketball. None has done it in the same season.