GAINESVILLE — Florida's 4-8 season is gone, and yet it isn't really.
As Florida prepares to open fall camp this morning, the specter of last season still looms to some extent. And that's just fine, the players said.
"You want to make sure you keep some of those memories so you'll learn from past mistakes," senior center Max Garcia said. "You have to learn from the past. We know we have a lot of talent on this team, and we believe we'll be much improved."
After struggling through last season, including losing their final seven games, the Gators gathered for their annual media day Sunday. Many said they plan to approach this season with renewed confidence and optimism while carrying the heavy lessons learned.
"It would be hard to find anybody who is more ready to start a season and put the past behind than we are," junior punter Kyle Christy said. "It's like a fresh start."
The optimism, in part, stems from the fact quarterback Jeff Driskel is recovered from the broken right leg that sidelined him for most of last season. Running back Matt Jones and receiver Andre Debose will return to a new offense led by former Duke coordinator Kurt Roper.
"We're just hungry," said senior fullback Hunter Joyer, a Wesley Chapel High grad. "We know we have a great skill set on board; offense and defense, great special teams and great coaching. We've been working extremely hard all summer and in the spring. We're confident in ourselves that we can get the job done. Last year was extremely difficult, but we know we can be so much better."
Escaping the past hasn't been easy, but the Gators have made a concerted effort to put it in its proper place.
"I think that's something we sort of buried to start the summer," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "It was great motivation through spring and the offseason workouts but something we've still got to deal with. I mean, it's there.
"I addressed our team about our preparation, about our attitude, about our embracing adversity, having a competitive edge every day."
Florida was besieged with injuries last season, but Muschamp said Sunday he won't allow the team to keep making excuses that might bleed over into this year's mentality.
"To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that's not right," Muschamp said. "You will fool yourself if you believe that. We addressed a lot of those things in the offseason and moving forward. We're getting ready to get started with the 2014 Florida football team."