GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When fall camp opens on Friday, the Florida Gators will bring one of the top-ranked freshman classes in the country. With more depth and experience at UF than last year, this freshman class will have to earn its playing time.
Fifteen true freshmen played last season, including five who started games, but don't expect to see a repeat of that in 2012. Florida head coach Will Muschamp says playing time is not promised to anyone. It has to be earned.
"I tell those guys when they first report and I tell them again in the team meeting: 'What you've done and what you've accomplished in high school does not help you at Florida. It's over. You have not made one play in our league and you have not made one play in our stadium. So you need to earn the respect of your teammates first in how you prepare and how you play and how you compete every day,' " he said Thursday at the school's annual media day.
"Some of those guys possibly have done that in workouts this summer; I don't know. But at the end of the day, those guys haven't made any plays for us. At the end of the day they are good players and I'm glad they are Gators and I'm glad they are here. But they need to go out in camp and play well and create their opportunity with our football team."
When Muschamp is on the recruiting trail, one pitch you won't hear him make to a prospective athlete is a promised starting position as a freshman.
"When we recruit them, we tell them we are going to promise them one thing -- an opportunity," Muschamp said. "That's it. That's it. My loyalty is with the young men on campus. And the young men that want to come to the University of Florida, we promise them one thing -- an opportunity. And if they are the best in their position, in my history as a defensive coordinator, as a head coach, they will start if they are better than the guys in front of them. I don't care where you're from. How many freshman did we start last year? Several.
"Every freshman at the University of Florida will be given every opportunity to be a starter or to play. They will determine their role and how much they play based on how they perform in camp."
Redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins said the upperclassmen have already bonded with the freshmen, but trust will come with time.
"We welcome everybody with open arms," Jenkins said. "We are already a team, we're already closely bonded. Trust and all that comes with experience and playing together, so all of that will come."
Jenkins said all of the newcomers are working hard in Florida's offseason workouts, but added the defensive line has already made an impression on him, specifically defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
"A lot of them have looked good," Jenkins said. "I like our D-linemen a lot. Fowler, he's one guy that I've seen. He's caused havoc already, and we haven't even started yet."
"He has good ball skills, for one," Roberson said. "He's a confident corner and that's what you need as a corner. I feel like he's going to contribute to this defense and play his part in this defense."
When evaluating who should play early on, Muschamp said he is looking at the long-term picture and won't rush to any decisions.
"At the end of the day, after practice 18, we will sit down as a staff and say as we move forward, who can we count on," he said. "The thing you always have as a coach, because normally in the first game they may not be better than that older player; but are they going to be better in week five? That's a decision as a coach you have got make. Because if he's going to be better in week five for the long haul, we probably should be playing him."