The University of Florida being an upper-tier football program hasn't happened by accident. Every bit as important as the coaching staff and the players is the support staff working behind the scenes who help to drive the effort.
Over the past several off season's GatorBait.net has taken a look at those invaluable members of the team though our Behind the Scenes series. This year, we're going to try something different.
Tate Casey, former Gator starting tight end, now is a part of the GBN family and provides us with an inside look at the Florida program, from a player's point of view, based on his time in Gainesville.
Casey originally burst onto the scene as a freshman playing in all twelve contests that year - making four starts and scoring four touchdowns. Despite that fast start to his career, he will always be best known as the recipient of Tim Tebow's 'jump pass' for the go-ahead touchdown in the 2006 win over LSU.
In all he played in 54 games, starting 16 of them.
Casey was a favorite at Florida among coaches and players and was seen as one of the most popular Gators, among his teammates, of the Meyer era.
Here in this edition of Tate's Take, Casey talks about what it is like to play in the annual border war known as Florida-Georgia.
By Tate Casey...
IT IS A REGULAR SEASON GAME THAT FEELS MORE LIKE A BOWL GAME
In my mind I think that there are a few things that give this game such a bowl atmosphere. One, you always have the fact that both teams are normally still in the position to take the East with a win. With that in mind, there is always a dominant presence from both sides, and being the rivalry that it has become is just more fuel on the fire.
Another thing that adds to the atmosphere is the overall history of the rivalry and the absolute hatred for one another. I think that it is safe to say that this is on the field as well as the parking lot and in the stands. Florida hates Georgia, it's just the way it is and the way it will be. We don't like their fans, their ugly red sweaters, their fraternity guys in red pants with black G's, or their sloppy bulldog who sits there every year bored out of his mind in the confines of his red and white kennel. It's not a knock on Georgia, that's just how we are brought into this match up as players. I'm sure if you ask any Georgia fans or players they will tell you the same about us as well. I think that is the main thing about this rival, there is absolutely no respect for the opponent.
Last, I can say that playing at a neutral site and having both fan bases travel to support is second to none. I have seen Texas vs. OU at the fairgrounds and it's not even comparable in my opinion. It's just awesome to see two of the better fan bases in the SEC going back and forth constantly starting on Monday night. Add all of this together and consider the overall alcohol consumption, and you have what is one of the most physical battles you will ever encounter as a player. No matter what the BCS standings say or each teams' win-loss column reads, you can bet that they are going to strap it on a little bit tighter when they roll into Jacksonville.
THE WEEKEND AS A PLAYER
As a team we usually leave in the afternoon on Friday and take the charters to Jacksonville. This is always a light trip and always good to see how many people are lining Hwy. 301 to send us off. One thing I always liked is seeing the fans and the support. In my mind, we have the best fans in the country hands down and no matter what the situation they stick with us.
Once we get to the hotel we pretty much take the time when we aren't doing walk thru's and meetings to just relax for the first time since Sunday. Majority of our time during the week consists of having meetings, class, weights, tutors, practice, etc. so we make sure we rest and stay off our feet. I will say that when meetings or walk thru's are scheduled, there is an immediate switch that locks and it's all business once you walk through the door. You have to get how serious this is to a lot of guys playing in that game, because you never know when your number is going to get called to make that play. I can tell you, in a pivotal game like this, you never want something as small as not paying attention in a walk thru coming between a win and a loss. We always do our Friday ritual at the stadium when we get into town and have best Friday's in football. It's a good way to cut up with the position coaches and joke around a little bit before we get serious for Offense/Defense walk thru as well as special teams. After that it's to the hotel for dinner and the rest of the night off.
The hotel is also a good place to see family the night before the game. I was from Texas so that was one game I always had someone coming to, whether it's aunts and uncles or mom and dad. I just liked the fact that Coach Meyer always gave us a chance to see our folks. That was great for me as an out of state player because my parents and family usually left Sunday morning so that made it easier for me to see them for more than Saturday night after the game. You see a lot more fans at the hotel than a home game but never have to worry about being bothered because we stay around each other in a certain area and there is plenty of security around to keep anyone from bothering the team. Most of the time we just watch college football on Friday night after walk thru and play spades.
The best part about the travel has to be the trip to the stadium. I can say there aren't a lot of things that will get your adrenaline pumping near as much as coming over the bridge to a sea of blue/orange and black/red. It's hard to explain, but there is just so much anticipation and tension for the game and seeing it for the first time the whole week firsthand is amazing. From gator fans lining the streets decked out in orange and blue, to old drunk Georgia grandmas shooting you the bird, there is everything you need in a rivalry from the end of that bridge to the Gator Walk. Funny, some of the things you remember as a player and there are at least a hundred of them that I can come up with in five years of playing. But as far as the best moments, they are always associated with rival games. The Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is where some of the best took place.
BIGGEST MEMORIES FROM PLAYING IN THE SERIES
Some of my best career moments came during the Florida/Georgia game, and most of them wouldn't be the typical shining moments that some players think about. This is the only team that I had a catch against each year that I played, so to me that was a big deal and something that I tried to keep that way. I think that 2005 was one year that sticks out in my mind because we brought a different approach to the game as far as utilizing the tight end and fullback. Billy Latsko and I had a lot put on us during the week and we took it as a chance to get involved in the offense and do some work. I know that I was excited to get some passes, and that was really something we did effectively. We didn't hammer it to the Tight End every time but we were able to keep that personnel on the field as well as keep them honest in the pass game so they couldn't stack the box. We got ahead early and established the run game, and I think Chris Leak scored on the first drive on play action pass. We actually scored on the same play action the next scoring drive, and that was one of my favorite moments that year. Not that it was a touchdown, but more so the fact we implemented the play action from a tight end and fullback set and did so the rest of the season.
Most of the other moments that I remember best are the blocks. A lot of guys talk about their receptions and touchdowns, and don't get me wrong I do to every now and then but I knew what my role was. There is a lot of adrenaline in scoring in a big SEC battle, especially a rival game such as this one. But I can honestly say that when you land a block that springs a touchdown or a momentum changer in a big game, there is nothing in the world like it. Catches and touchdowns come and go and those are things that come natural. If you toss something at me, I'm going to catch it out of reaction from what is natural for me. The one thing I can say is that when you spring a guy like Percy Harvin or Andre Caldwell for a 30, 40, or even 50 yard touchdown, you get a hell of a lot more excited about it on the field. Blocking is built through fundamentals and practice.
Of all things in this program, the P position (Tight End/H-Back/Fullback) may be the most brutal position on the field. I don't say that because we are better athletes or have it rough in practice more than anyone else, there is just so much that goes with that title. You have to be able to master a range of techniques and manage the mental capacity that comes with it. You have to know your personal audible on a given play, be an O-lineman, a receiver, a running back, and a tight-end. Sometimes that gets to be demanding, but when you can get it right and get used to it, you get a lot of reward out of that job.
Of my blocking memories, one that sticks out the most was in 2008. We trained the whole off-season with this game in mind and after having to sit and watch the 2007 'Gator Stomp' during a redshirt year, I was ready to have a hand in what we had planned for Georgia. I just remember we ran Percy and Timmy to the left on an option to the field and there it was in front of me, just like it was in film, just like it was repetition after repetition on the practice field the whole week. Take the safety off the top and its home free. I had to get him down with a running cut and all I was thinking was break his leg or force him to slow and jump, either way we win the edge and score. I didn't break the thing but it was right in-between and he jumped right when I hit his thigh and it upended him pretty good. I think it was safe to say that was one of the things I liked best about playing that H-back, you could just go a hundred miles an hour with the speed we had. It was relentless, and you had to have some psych to you but it was fun. There were a lot of good memories but these are what I remembered most.