Updated: Dec 29, 2019
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL—You could hear them before you saw them. The chants of “we ready, we ready, we ready for y’all” echoed off the surrounding buildings at Barry University and grew louder as an assembled unit jogged as one around the bend in the sidewalk.
It quickly became clear the singing group was comprised of the Florida Gators defense, moving towards head coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the coaches waiting impatiently for the unit that was late to Friday’s Orange Bowl practice. As the guys drew closer, confused looks crossed the faces of coaches, family and media that were waiting by the gate. Then Todd Grantham realized what was going on with his guys.
“I'll be honest with you, that kind of jacks me up,” laughed the defensive coordinator Saturday morning with reporters.
Each guy had switched jersey’s with someone else on the defense. But it was more than just passing one left or right. Entire unit’s purposely switched with another group that was their opposite.
It was Andrew Chatfield’s idea initially. Within moments though, Trey Dean was running with the prank and someone else’s jersey.
“Trey Dean’s running around the locker room, ‘I got Zu’s jersey. I’m Zu for the day,’”
BUCK Jon Greenard couldn’t stop cackling as he recounted the sight of the slight 194lb. defensive back Trey Dean drowning in the jersey typically meant for the 246lb. defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga and vica versa.
“They was like D-linemen we gonna go to DB’s and DB’s, we just switched it in all aspects of it. It was hilarious when I seen Zu with Trey Dean’s jersey on.
“I’m gonna tell you that was the funniest thing I seen. It was hilarious.”
T.J. Slaton’s (358lb.) jersey went to Kaiir Elam’s (187lb.) knees and Mohamoud Diabate (213lb.) had to worry about his being stretched out on Adam Shuler (275lb.) Linebacker David Reese swapped with corner Marco Wilson and after squeezing into the new threads knew exactly what he looked like.
“I looked like overweight Marco.”
The chant—first becoming popular thanks to Ridgeway High School in Memphis two years ago before becoming ESPN’s soundtrack for NFL coverage—harkens back to sandlot’s and late nights. Teams compromised of neighbors and cousins; kids playing because there was no better way to spend the twilight hours between school and bedtime. And that’s the attitude the Gators defense took into practice as they prepare for their Monday matchup against No. 24 Virginia.
Said Greenard, “I just thought we was just gonna run out there and next thing I hear is ‘we ready.’ Chat said man I feel like I’m back in little league ball again, hear them little chants like that. I’m surprised we weren’t beating on our pads and thighs and stuff like that…I couldn’t stop laughing at it the whole time.”
Greenard and his former teammates at Louisville had tried the prank before and been shut down by the coaches. But his Gator teammates had a plan with which they felt the coaches couldn’t argue.
“I was like man look, these boys gonna send us back in if we go out like that. They was like ‘nah, nah, not if we go out at the same time. They not gonna send all of us of back in.’ We like,
‘alright maybe you got an idea’…and they said ‘ok let’s go out right now’ and we all went out as a team.”
It was the decision to do it together that made the difference and why Grantham and Mullen laughed instead of sending them back to the locker room.
“I'll be honest with you, when I looked, I was like, who is that, because you get used to numbers in spots and things like that, and it's no longer there,” admits Grantham.
“You're used to seeing this guy, hearing that number, and all of a sudden I see T.J. Slaton playing nickel, and I'm like—so anyway, but they were ready to play, and they played with energy, and hey, it's about having fun. But you've got to perform, and they did a good job with it.
“I think they're very united and I think they have a really good bond. I think they like playing together. I think that comes from the leadership that we have up top, and it kind of trickles down to guys playing with energy and effort and doing the things they need to do to be good.”
This Gators defense has been good more often than not this season. They’re ninth in the country in total defense, holding teams to an average of 299 yards while pitching three shutouts. Grantham’s aggressive style has the unit 5th in the country in sacks (46) and 13th among Power 5 schools in passing defense (192 yards per game).
Linebacker David Reese said on Saturday that when all the pieces are present, he feels the defense for the No. 9 Florida Gators is elite. Save corner C.J. Henderson who is sitting out the bowl game in preparation for the NFL Draft and the known season ending injuries, Mullen and players reveal they expect everyone to play. Those with nagging injuries like Jabari Zuniga and Shawn Davis practiced on Friday and no other NFL prospects are bowing out from Monday’s game. They’re having too much fun to consider the idea.
“We’re down in Miami, this is a big bowl game. We had to let loose a little bit,” commented Greenard.
“We’ve been down here just putting in work, just trying to get ready for this game. We done put work in before coming down here. So to get in a little time and let loose and have fun at practice…stuff like that, we gonna remember that forever.”