Focus-wise, how is camp going? How different is it? Jim mentioned he was appreciative of you guys basically taking charge more so this year. Can you describe that a little bit?
McCray: “From a defensive standpoint, we’ve got a lot of new faces that’ll be starting, in the starting lineup and things like that. Lot of new guys, freshmen coming in and just stepping up and being more vocal on and off the field. Building that camaraderie between each other and learning things about each other to help us while we’re on the field as well, so that’s the biggest thing defensively.”
Cole: “Offensively, just like the defense, the same offense is coming in back in terms of schematically so just really pinpointing that offense really mastering it for everyone. So many young guys, and getting them ready in the offense and pushing them forward every day. As we get ready for Florida, just keep pushing them every day and as we get closer and closer guys get more and more prepared.”
Mason, how’s the right side of the offensive line progressed and how do you see it shaking out?
“Really good. I mean, we had so much competition this fall camp and the guys handled it really well. They competed their butts off every single day and so many guys got so much better, and just to see that happen through camp and going into Florida week, it’s really exciting.”
Who are some of those young guys that you’ve seen a really big jump?
“Yeah, I think just about everyone. Everyone got significantly better: guys like Mike Onwenu, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Jon Runyan, Nolan Ulizio and all those freshmen, too. Guys came out every single day to compete and they did that.”
[After THE JUMP: linebackers who’ve stepped up, the moment they became captains, and Cole making too much sense about rosters]
What was your reaction when they called your name?
M: “For me, I was sitting next to some of my close friends, Tyree [Kinnel] and Khalid [Hill]. I just smiled and was laughing about it a little bit. Really excited for the opportunity and grateful for it. Just a happy moment.”
C: “Yeah, same thing. I was sitting with the offensive line in our team meeting room and just a really exciting moment for me and Mike. Just really honored to be elected by our teammates and our peers and excited to help lead this team.”
Mason, can you talk about Florida’s defensive line; maybe how much of a strength it is of them on defense; they have a player who seems like the best one; and then the game you guys played against them last time, any reflections on that.
C: “Yeah. This year, just a really talented, athletic defensive line. They lost a lot of guys on defense, but these guys are coming up and they’ve played a lot of starts. Just really talented, athletic, and they’re going to be ready to play. In terms of how they played last time, the same thing. Just really talented guys. They’re a big university, recruit a lot of the great state of Florida, so we’re expecting them to come ready to play and they will be ready.”
Winning that game so easily, does it do anything for you or your teammates?
C: “No, no. That was two years ago so that’s kind of in the past. It’s a totally new game with a totally new team so just have to prepare just like we did last time and go out and play.”
Usually you start your season with a lesser opponent. What’s the difference when you start with a team like Florida in a neutral site, especially with a young team?
M: “I don’t think it’s any different. You always want to open the season up with a win. Playing Florida in the first game; coming out with that win would be great to start off our season. Hopefully we can come out with a win and just go into next week after that and keep going from there.”
C: “Yeah, it’s kind of the same. You never take preparation differently. Preparation’s always the same no matter who you’re playing. Preparation should always be at the highest level, so just preparing for the first game like we would any other team. Just going out there and trying to start the season off right.”
Mike, you’ve come a long way from being a guy who had injuries to being a starter. Can you elaborate a little bit as far as it’s important to be a captain but is this something you ever imagined for yourself? Did you think this would be a possibility?
“No, I didn’t at all. Like I said before, I’m grateful and honored to be one of the captains on this team, and looking back, I’m glad that it happened. It made me stronger, made me the person I am today.”
Mike, being a fifth-year guy and you mentioned some of the things with injuries, what kind of wisdom can you impart on the guys or what do they come to you and talk to you about?
“They ask me about a lot of different things, different plays, things like that; what did I do—some people get hurt get bruised or something like that and they come to me and ask ‘What did you do’ and ‘How’d you keep your head right’ and things like that. I just try to spread motivation to them with what I went through and just spread light on the situation.”
Mike, have you seen depth build at linebacker and who’s really stepped up?
“Yes, I have. They’ve all improved. A lot of people have stepped up: Josh Ross, Elysse Mbem-Bosse, Devin Gil, Josh Uche, Furbush, pretty much all of them. You can see from day one the improvement until now.”
What do you both think of the attention on your roster that hasn’t been announced, the buzz it’s created outside this building? Your thoughts.
C: “I don’t think that’s the first time it’s happened. I don’t think we did in the past either. I don’t know, we don’t think anything of it. We’re just there to go out and play, and that’s Coach’s decision and we’ll back it for all it’s worth and our plan is to go out there and play. We don’t really worry about the roster.”
Obviously you were elected by your teammates but in your personal opinion of your own demeanor or of your own personality, to each of you, what makes you a good leader and a good captain?
M: “For myself, I feel like I work extremely hard. I give everything I’ve got every day and just try to keep a positive mind and influence others to keep a positive mind and kind of be a good teacher as well and that’s really why I feel like I’m a leader.”
C: “Yeah, kind of similar to me, too. I just think that a lot of people can be vocal. Anyone can be vocal but for me, I just try to lead by example of going out there every day and going 100% all the time, doing the right things all the time inside this building and outside. Just trying to lead by example. I think a lot of the younger guys can watch you and watch Mike and really just take grasp of the lifestyle they live and the ideals that they practice.”