GAINESVILLE -- Players are quitting Florida's football program at a remarkable rate. The count is up to three and folks inside the locker room think that number might increase. The guys already gone: Trent Pupello (DE), Jarred Fayson (WR) and Chevon Walker (RB). Two more players -- Bryan Waggener (QB) and Bo Williams (RB) –- will probably be gone soon as well. Williams (Oakland Park Northeast) told me yesterday that he's done at UF and Waggener also wants to transfer.
So many players jumping ship ... What's the problem, exactly? The head coach didn't get fired, did he? You usually only see this many players leave a program when the head coach gets canned or the NCAA infractions people come calling. The last time I checked, Florida should have one of the best teams in the country next season. Don't players want to win a national championship? Florida, of course, will tell you that it's no big deal that players are leaving and that the program is in good health. Kids these days...
Of course, Gator Clause is going to have to disagree with that, especially in the cases of Fayson and Williams. It is a big deal. They're both good athletes but that's not their best characteristics. Their best characteristics: Both are great kids. With so many players getting into trouble in Gainesville these days, UF should probably want to make an effort to keep around some of the moral leaders.
As for the kids-these-days perspective (that's the go-to cliché for programs in denial that there's an in-house problem), there might actually be some truth to that idea.
You could blame Florida for not retaining some of its up-and-comers (the buck stops with Coach Meyer, right?) but I'd much rather point the finger somewhere else. From Gator Clause's perspective, no one is really to "blame," but we will indict recruiting websites such as Rivals.com and Scout.com for filling high school football players' heads with an inflated perception of self and fostering a culture of play now or transfer.
High school players are nobodies when they show up to college. That's the reality. Internet recruiting websites, however, are telling these high school kids that they're "five-star talents" and "program changers" and "the greatest thing since bacon!"
Mr. Better Than Bacon then shows up to campus after signing his national letter of "intent to take over the world" and finds out quickly that he's one of the worst players on the team. A five-star rating on Rivals.com only means you're the shiniest lure in the tackle box. Never mind that they can't swim with the big fish, freshmen aren't even capable of swimming. They just float around and get eaten. No offense to freshmen, but you guys pretty much stink like 10 paper mills. (Give credit to Florida for winning nine games this season. They're team was made up mostly of freshmen and slightly-less-worse sophomores. Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes are the exceptions, of course.)
It's like this: You're an ugly girl (freshman football player). Hideous, really. I mean zits, bad breath, fat ankles, mustache, all that. But you're whole life your dad (Rivals.com) has been telling you that you're the most beautiful thing in the world. And why shouldn't he, he's a good dad and in his eyes you're the next Angelina Jolie. Then, finally, on your 18th birthday, your big coming-out party arrives and you get to show everyone just how gorgeous you are. But SURPRISE!!! you get stoned to death for scaring children because your face looks like a half melted Mrs. Potato Head.
And it's no surprise that this comes as a major shock to most freshmen. This is what they were used to before the stoning: Being called on the cell phone 452,873 times a day by Internet recruiting websites for live-on-the-eights updates of their lives, being told at least 35 times a day at school that they're a five-star recruit and that means "you're going to play in The League one day" and, finally, being constantly doted on by college coaches.
Then those same college coaches -- the ones who make millions of dollars on the backs of (cough-cough) students -- immediately send you to the bench and tell you how pathetic you are, and what a waste and you'll be lucky to contribute on special teams. Because that's reality. Because that's what good coaches, motivators, bosses, drill sergeants do: tear you down to make you better.
The Catch-22 at Florida this season: With so many underclassmen, a freshman player's perspective of Florida's football program was slightly bent. There just weren't enough juniors and seniors to field a proper team. Many freshmen played and the ones that didn't thought they had been forgotten. Never mind that every freshman who graced the field this season pretty much played football like a one-handed deaf man plays piano. Sure, Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden and Major Wright got a few notes right now and then but mostly they just banged around clumsily.
Meanwhile, Florida accepted a transfer from USC (running back Emmanuel Moody) that absolutely screamed of hypocrisy. How in the world can you preach loyalty and patience to the program on one hand and then welcome a program deserter/gun for hire on the other. It makes no sense. And by that logic there is no possible way Florida can get upset when its players realize this whole college football fairytale is actually just like any other business (only the employees don't get paid) and they decide to leave for a better job to advance their careers.
And it should be noted that this whole transferring nonsense is partly fostered by a broken high school system. The Florida High School Athletic Association allows players to transfer schools throughout high school with no penalty. Elite high school players in Florida (South Florida in particular) grow up without the slightest notion of loyalty to a program. It should come as no surprise that those same players only care for themselves when they get to college. It’s not their fault. It’s what they’ve been taught.