To say it has been a rough offseason for the Florida Gators football program would be a bit of an understatement. On and off the field, present and former Gators have been all over the national headlines.
It all began June 16 when sophomore linebacker, and expected starter, Antonio Morrison was arrested for battery after striking a bouncer at a Gainesville bar. However, Morrison’s tumultuous offseason would not end there. July 21, about a month after his first arrest, Morrison was arrested again, this time for barking at a police dog and resisting arrest. Head coach Will Muschamp immediately suspended him for the first two games of the season, and although the charges from the second arrest were dropped just a couple of days later, Morrison remains suspended.
Easily the most newsworthy of all the negative headlines for the Gators has been the Aaron Hernandez saga. Just days after the first Morrison arrest, on June 18, the New England Patriots tight end was questioned by Massachusetts State Police in connection with the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. Roughly a week later, on June 26, Hernandez was arrested and subsequently released by the Patriots after being charged with first-degree murder. Since then, more details have emerged about Hernandez’s past. Including a couple of incidents that occurred in 2007 in Gainesville. One in which he was almost charged with battery at a local restaurant and the other involving a shooting incident in which police questioned him and another former Gator, Reggie Nelson.
All had been quiet on the Hernandez front for a couple of weeks until a letter surfaced recently in which the former Gator proclaimed his innocence and wrote, ‘all the people who turned on me will fell like crap.’ Time will tell if Hernandez’s is telling the truth, but for now he remains in jail with a large amount of circumstantial evidence piled against him.
The rough offseason continued into July, when the Gators on-field product hit a slight bump in the road just before the start of fall practice. Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel underwent appendectomy surgery July 30. The team announced that Driskel would be sidelined for a couple of weeks while he recovered. On top of that, sophomore running back Matt Jones, who was expected to be the Gators workhouse back this fall, is out indefinitely with a viral infection. Obviously injuries and things of that nature are not as controversial as say a former player being charged with murder, but that are still newsworthy. If these injuries had happened a few months ago they may not have been a big deal, but with fall practice underway and the season opener just a few weeks away, the timing could not be much worse.
The most recent of the negative headlines surrounding the Gators involves yet another former player, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper. About a week ago, a video was released with Cooper dropping a racial slur (the N-word) after being denied backstage access at a Kenny Chesney concert by an African-American security guard.
Since then Cooper has released a public apology:
“I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself,” he said. “I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman, and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”
Cooper was also fined an undisclosed amount by the Eagles, addressed his actions with his Eagles’ teammates and took a leave of absence from the team for a few days before returning to practice Tuesday.
So, the negative headlines have dominated the summer for the Gators. But luckily for Gator fans the season opener against Toledo is just a few weeks away. I think I can speak for all of us when I say August 31 can’t get here fast enough.