As a three-year starter at tackle and guard for Bear Bryant in the early '60s, Charley Pell knows well what it's like to look into the baleful eyes of a crouching monster. As Pell, now head coach at Florida, stares at the schedule facing his 1982 Gators, he should have no trouble recalling when he was dug in against some behemoth from Auburn or Mississippi. Florida opens with Miami and closes with Florida State, and everything in between, as Pell puts it, "is the Burma Road."
"There are a lot of don't dos in the coaching book written as law," sighs Pell, who is charged with gaining the Gators' first-ever SEC championship, "and in 1982 we violate more of them than any group I've ever been associated with. You do not schedule two teams like Miami and Southern Cal back to back. You do not schedule Mississippi State and LSU back to back. You do not schedule Auburn and Georgia back to back. You do not play Kentucky in Lexington in November. And you do not have three open dates. We've got all those things."
Besides the imposing schedule, which seems designed 10 keep intact for a 76th straight season Florida's record of never winning all its games, the Gators face other obstacles. Among them: filling four glaring holes in a defense that was the best in the SEC last season; opening without a proven punter or placekicker; and finding a running game to complement the tested quarterbacks and receivers. "We've got some real worry spots," says Pell, who nevertheless scooped up four of the top-ranked high school running backs in Florida—John Williams of Palatka, Leon Pennington of Oakland Park, Neal Anderson of Graceville and Joe Henderson of Winter Garden.
Sorely missed by the defense will be All-America Tackle Dave Galloway and Nose-guard Robin Fisher; they have graduated to the NFL (St. Louis and Miami, respectively). Gone, too, is Alonzo Johnson, an outside linebacker who was outstanding as a freshman but is sitting out the year on disciplinary action. The fourth loss was Strong Safety Kyle Knight, who suffered a concussion in an auto accident and had to give up football.
When Pell took command of Florida at the end of the 1978 season—after leading Clemson to a 10-1 trip into the nation's Top 10—his immediate priority was the signing of large and talented linemen, a quest now completed. The Gators' front wall averages 250 pounds. "We've got people who can play the line, but they all are as green as a gourd," says Pell, showing that he at least read the chapter on self-deprecating preseason remarks in the coach's guide.
While the offensive line might still be learning its trade, a lot of mistakes will be made up for by Wilbur Marshall, a junior linebacker with All-SEC credentials, which take into account his 11 sacks in 1981.
Another bright spot in the defense is the secondary, which is talented, experienced (only Knight is gone) and deep, if not altogether hale. Vito McKeever and Victor Bradley will be testing knees after surgery, and Ivory Curry, who was also the Gators' leading kick returner, was operated on in mid-June for an obstructed bowel.
"How they come back is very important," understates Pell, "but we could start the most experienced secondary we've ever had."
The Gators have hung up 8-4 and 7-5 records the past two seasons by playing pitch-and-catch with great success and have all the folks who can provide them with more of the same. Pell is in the luxurious position of having not one but three talented quarterbacks. Last year's starter, Wayne Peace—intelligent, poised and weighing in at 220 pounds—has played only 17 games but already is No. 3 in Florida career total offense, behind John Reaves and Steve Spurrier. Senior Bob Hewko is equally adept at moving the team, but his playing time has been sorely limited by injuries. No. 3 is Roger Sibbald, redshirted last season after knee surgery, who will also do the punting.
Florida's shortcoming on offense the last few seasons has been that, other than Fullback James Jones, Pell hasn't had anybody who could run with the ball. Last season Jones was the second-leading rusher in the SEC, far behind Georgia's H. Walker (617 yards to 1,891). Florida may have found a tailback to provide the dash to go along with Jones's hard-nosed slashes. Lorenzo Hampton took off the redshirt he wore last season as a freshman and showed in spring practice that he has both the talent and the speed to keep opponents from keying on Jones. Pell also hopes that at least one more ready-to-play tailback will be found among the four gifted freshmen.
"We'll be tested to the seams," says Pell. "Our concern is how quickly our freshmen can help us. With our schedule, we'll have to drive hard in preseason, reach a peak early and then meet the challenge of maintaining that over a long period of time." Whew.