GAINESVILLE — On the night before games, Kurt Roper generally sleeps pretty well. He doesn't expect that to change tonight — despite the circumstances.
When Florida opens the season Saturday night against Idaho, Roper, 42, will be the center of attention. The first-year UF offensive coordinator has been given the task of resurrecting the offense, and essentially the program.
Florida finished 4-8 last season and ranked No. 113 nationally in total offense, with 18.8 points per game.
So while the nerves will show up sometime Saturday — as they have on game day for the past 17 years — Roper isn't shying away from the challenge.
"I think it's exciting," he said. "Every year is a different year, every team is a different team. Even though you go in and you coach the same things and do a lot of the same plays that we've done for quite a while, but it's a new group, and I think you try to figure out what this group does good. … I'm anxious to see how we play. It's just fun to watch a team play; it really is."
He has had just 38 practices in spring and fall to implement his offense, which is why his dedication to building personal relationships has had a major impact even before the players hit the field.
"Coach Roper has been great since he's gotten here," junior quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "He has a lot of stories for us in the meeting rooms. We've been to his house for dinner, so whenever you can do that, you can really get to know somebody off the field. He's really a guy that we enjoy having around."
One night during fall camp, Roper got knocked down on the sideline. He leaped to his feet, jogged a few steps and took a bow.
"He's hilarious," junior running back Matt Jones said. "He's more exciting than Coach (Brent) Pease was last year. Coach Pease was kind of uptight, but he's more loose with us, and we can kind of understand where he's coming from. And that plays a big part in being coachable."
Having a system players can believe in — and understand — also helps.
Among the changes, Roper has allowed his offensive players to create the hand signals for plays, and name them. That way, there's no confusion.
As offensive coordinator at Duke, Roper's Blue Devils set the school record for total touchdowns (54) and became the first team in school history to have 20 or more rushing and 20 or more passing touchdowns in the same season. He says Gator fans can expect an aggressive offensive style.
And that has fans and players excited again.
"I feel like everybody is buying into Coach Roper," senior receiver Quinton Dunbar said. "Everyone believes in his plan. Everybody believes in him, and everybody wants to go out and play for Coach Roper because he's a fun coach. He's a very exciting coach. You're going to get the same thing from him every day, which is a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, so we look forward to going out there to play for him."
Roper is aware of the outside expectations, the clamor for a quick revitalization. He wants to make sure the Gators aren't disappointed.
"I hope they're excited," he said. "I want them to be excited. I hope we meet the expectations. I think whenever you are coaching at the University of Florida the expectations are to win football games, and so I think that's the bottom line. I hope we can do it with exciting offense and a lot of points. Obviously I don't want to let anybody down, much less the guys who you're working with all the time. So we want to go out and play well. And I hope at the end of the day they're happy I'm here."
Contact Antonya English at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Gators.