There are just over 40 days left until the Florida Gators football team opens up shop against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. It'll mark the first time since 2019 that the Gators will have seen a full, 90,000 fans packed to capacity at The Swamp.
The excitement surrounding the program has never been higher since Dan Mullen took over in 2018, and with plenty of reason. Florida is coming off of one of its most successful seasons under Mullen, reaching the SEC Championship game and taking the top spot in the SEC East.
While the focus will almost certainly revolve around the team's offense, it will be the defense that has the most to prove and Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter will be one of the leaders hoping to re-write narratives as he enters his final season at Florida.
"I just feel we really have some unfinished business, and I wanted to be a part of that," Carter said during SEC Media Day this week. "I remember after the SEC Championship game, I probably stayed on the field for about five minutes after, watching the confetti come down and all of that. I'll never forget that moment. I was like -- at that moment, I knew I was like we'll be back.
"I kind of made a promise to myself, I'm going to give everything I've got this year, and I'm going to try to help my team the best I can, help lead my team in some type of way."
The Gators would go on to lose the SEC Championship to Alabama by a score of 52-46. The team was every so close to at least tying the football game near the end of the contest after mounting a comeback on the back of its second-half defense and impressive offensive performance.
Getting back to that moment and being able to overcome what they couldn't last year will take a lot. The team is much younger this season, and with youth comes a lack of experience with the need for leaders such as Carter, linebacker Ventrell Miller and other long-time players on the team.
"It starts on an everyday basis, just creating that culture, that we got to do what we got to do to get it done," Carter said. "We know last year where we left off is not where we want to be, so we had to raise the bar this whole season, this whole off-season starting in the spring. I think that me and Ventrell had done a pretty good job of doing that.
"It's not only me and Ventrell, it's other guys stepping up to the place, and it's more leadership around the whole team, guys are coming together, and I think we've done a pretty good job this off-season so far."
Florida will have an opportunity to prove just how far they've come quite early in the season as they will open up SEC play against Alabama on Sept. 18.
But first, the Gators will have an opportunity to see its fans fore the first time, something that Carter is excited about, something that he would describe as "pretty tough" last year during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, used to seeing a packed house.
"It wasn't the same, honestly, being out there. You're used to seeing thousands and thousands of a stadium packed, and it's just like 20,000 people out there.
"So I know Gator Nation was hurting last year. I know they all wanted to be there. I'm just really excited to get out there in front of them, man. I'm just really excited to get out there in front of them, man. We love the fans. They make a huge difference when we're out there. So I'm looking forward to that, definitely."