While the No. 10 Florida Gators football team returned to the practice field on Monday, the 14 days prior offered challenges the team hadn't ever faced before. Stuck at home on what would amount to be an extended bye-week period,
Florida athletes were required to get creative in how they remained active, while also trying to balance their own health through the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, many players needed to figure out creative ways to work out and stay focused on the upcoming opponents over the last seven weeks of the regular season. On Tuesday, linebacker James Houston IV offered some insight into how he was able to do so.
“We always have film on every team in our XOS list so you can always go over the game film, any kind of cut-ups coaches put in there," said Houston shortly following practice. "Also staying in shape, running, lifting, make sure you’re going through your individual drills that you need to do every day to get better at your craft. Those are some of the things I did during the two-week period.”
On Saturday, it will mark three full weeks since the Gators suited up to face one of its SEC opponents on the gridiron. A long bye week that is typically 14 days since the last contest. Staying focused without teammates and coaches keeping you honest in person is difficult, however, Houston figured out a way to do so.
"You just got to kind of be creative," he said. "I set up pads, I put chairs in the way, I had little balls on top of garbage cans to try to help work my hands. It’s a lot you have to be creative if you’re really interested in your craft and want to get better, you’re going to find a way.”
Balls on garbage cans to work on hands - that's certainly not something linebackers coach Christian Robinson teaches his players during the week, but Houston was able to find a way to emulate, as best he could, certain drills to stay active and get better. Houston says the garbage can with the ball on top will help him in his ability to fight off blocks and get over the top to make a stop - whatever it takes to get better, it would appear.
Although Houston has not been the team's starting linebacker, he has made an impact on the gridiron thus far this season. In three games, he has generated eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one sack. Routinely being used as a gap-shooting linebacker in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's scheme, Houston has made the most of his ability and has been able to get "over the top" more often than not.
While Gators head coach Dan Mullen said on Monday the team wasn't able to practice, therefore limited progress could be made, the Florida athletes certainly took on the challenge.
“Those two weeks off were pretty good," Houston said. "We got to get fresh. Everyone on the D-line is fresh and ready to go. I would just say probably just staying in your playbook, coming together as a team and just bearing down, just getting the job done. We all know we have the talent, we have the capability to be one of the best defenses in the SEC. So, I mean, really at this point it’s all mental.”
It's all mental, and the Gators will need to get physical against the Missouri Tigers, a team that was able to truly dominate the time of possession against the Kentucky Wildcats just last week - 43:10 - 16:50, something the Gators have struggled with throughout the season.
For Houston, and the rest of the Gators players impacted by this 14-day stretch, getting healthy, fresh, and ready to roll was the primary objective. On Oct. 31, it will absolutely be put to the test.