September 6, 2017
This is the third time in four seasons Florida’s schedule has been impacted by a weather event.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – This is the norm for the veterans on Florida’s roster.
Idaho in 2014. LSU in 2016. Northern Colorado in 2017.
“You’ve got to be ready,” senior receiver Brandon Powell said. “We’re just ready for anything at this point.”
As Hurricane Irma churns toward Florida as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm, the Gators announced Wednesday that their home opener Saturday against Northern Colorado is going to start at noon instead of 7:30 p.m.
This is the third time in four seasons weather has affected UF’s schedule. Lightning and heavy rain halted the 2014 season opener after one play and the game was eventually declared a no contest. The Florida-LSU game last season was rescheduled and played in Baton Rouge instead of Gainesville due to Hurricane Matthew. Florida overcame the change of venue and defeated the Tigers to clinch a second consecutive SEC East title.
Florida officials began to meet Monday to monitor Hurricane Irma’s path and to discuss potential scenarios, landing on the decision to move the game to a noon kickoff.
“Currently the latest forecast shows that the tropical conditions will probably hit here Sunday morning,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “There’s a chance they could start hitting here Saturday night, so playing the game at 7:30 obviously wasn’t a smart move.”
The earlier kickoff should allow fans who travel to the game to be able to return home safely before nightfall and prior to any tropical-storm conditions in the region if Irma does cross the Florida peninsula.
VIDEO: Gators secondary coach Corey Bell discusses team’s young defensive backs and more.
The Gators are in a business-as-usual mode for their home opener. The team returned to practice Wednesday and has its final game-week practice scheduled Thursday. UF coach Jim McElwain said the team has already given up its home hotel for potential evacuees from around the state.
“First and foremost, our guys, our team, our organization [are] really looking forward to playing a home game in the Swamp, and yet, obviously, there are some things surrounding it,” McElwain said. “Our thoughts go out to the many people that have the possibility of being affected by this storm that is coming through.
“As I tell our guys, all we can control is what we’re doing right this second. Let’s prepare and be ready and then adjust when needed.”
Based on the latest updates, Irma is on track to pass near or just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday. The storm’s 185-mph winds make it one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record.
Florida’s players were not born in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew, one of only three Category 5 storms to hit the U.S. since record-keeping began, devastated South Florida. Still, most who grew up in the region have experienced a hurricane or prepared for one, easing concerns back home.
“I talked to my mom about it. She’s going to be all right,” said defensive tackle Khari Clark, who is from Hollywood, Fla. “She’s been through hurricanes before in her lifetime, so she knows what to do to cope and all that. If she has to go somewhere else she will.”
Added Powell, who is from Deerfield Beach in South Florida: “You know, my family, we’ve been through Katrina and Hurricane Wilma. I talked to my grandma and she’s got her generator ready. She’s got water. If I got to send something back home to help her out, I will. But my family, we’ve been through hurricanes before. There’s not too much worry about it.”
The No. 22-ranked Gators are coming off a 33-17 loss to Michigan in the season opener.
Secondary coach Corey Bell, a Miami native, has not seen a distracted team in practice despite the concerns back home for many of the players.
“You talk to those guys to make sure that their family is safe, that they’ve reached out and we’re reaching out to make sure all families are safe,” Bell said. “Like I said, it’s just one of those things. It seems like yearly that that occurs. You just try to prepare for it the best you can.”