GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 21 Florida has endured a season’s worth of drama in a little more than a month.
Suspensions. Sworn complaints. Hurricanes. A canceled home opener. Two games decided in the closing seconds. Quarterback chaos.
There’s surely more to come, too. But the Gators (2-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) believe all those potential distractions have brought players closer together as they begin a three-game home stand against Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday.
“It made it a lot easier on us,” left tackle Martez Ivey. “It’s like we can fight through adversity and come together and we can still win, still push each other every day to come out and play hard.”
Florida’s resiliency has been tested repeatedly, and plenty of challenges remain.
The Gators don’t expect to get any of the nine players suspended indefinitely amid a credit card scandal back anytime soon, if at all this season.
Campus police filed sworn complaints Monday against receiver Antonio Callaway, running back Jordan Scarlett and seven teammates. In all, the police say nine players made nearly $20,000 in unauthorized credit card charges — there are at least 15 victims in seven different states — and face 62 felony counts of fraud.
“Everybody in here, we know right from wrong,” McElwain said Thursday. “There comes a point where you’ve got to tell yourself this is right or this is wrong. Like I said, disappointing, no doubt about it.
“In some cases, the amount, you know, a couple of the cases … Wow.”
Offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort (30 counts) and defensive lineman Jordan Smith (18) were the most egregious offenders, according to sworn complaints now being investigated by the State Attorney’s Office.
The police report also states that Telfort and Smith made multiple charges from multiple cards. The report states that Callaway and six others transferred money one time from one stolen credit card to their campus bookstore accounts and using the funds to buy mostly electronics. Some of the players later sold the items for cash.
State Attorney Bill Cervone said the cases could stretch into November. And even after the state completes its investigation and decides on formal charges, each player would then need to attend a university student code of conduct hearing to determine wrongdoing and potential punishment.
“This is a long, legal piece still to go,” coach Jim McElwain said Thursday. “You’ve just got to let it, from a legal standpoint, play out. And then obviously from there, the university standpoint. Then we’ll deal with it at that time.”
Seven of the nine players, including Callaway, were suspended indefinitely Aug. 13 and have not practiced or worked out with the team since. The other two joined them in late August.
Since then, the Gators were blown out in the season opener against Michigan and lost a tuneup game against Northern Colorado because of Hurricane Irma. More than 60 players had family members affected by the Category 5 hurricane that devastated parts of the state.
Florida returned to the field against Tennessee less than a week later and needed a 63-yard touchdown pass on the final play to avoid the program’s first 0-2 start since 1971.
Last week at Kentucky, the Gators trailed 27-13 in the fourth quarter and looked like they would end a 30-game winning streak in the series. But Luke Del Rio replaced starter Feleipe Franks and directed a late rally . It was the second time in three games Franks had been benched, and now he’s demoted in favor of Del Rio.
“With all the distractions that have happened, it’s only brought us closer,” linebacker Cristian Garcia said. “Especially those two wins. They’ve just boosted our confidence, and now we’re ready to get rolling and just start killing people and not having these close games.”
Without those nine suspended players, the Gators surely will continue to be short on talent and depth — and could have more nail-biters and probably more drama ahead.
“Sometimes in the back of your head, maybe you’re outside practice like, `Man, I wish we had these guys here,”‘ Garcia said. “But at the end of the day, we’re focused on beating every team that we play, and this week it’s Vanderbilt. No matter who’s here, we’re going to play and we don’t let it distract us directly.”
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