GAINESVILLE — With 11 starters returning on defense and a senior, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback leading the offense, the most important thing standing between Florida and living up to its anticipated preseason No. 1 ranking is four summer months.
And Mickey Marotti.
Marotti, the Gators' strength and conditioning coordinator, is responsible for making sure the football players don't get caught up in their hype and forget what got them where they ended up last season: BCS national champions.
"Do I worry about complacency? Sure I do," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "That's why we're going to have the toughest offseason we've ever had."
For Marotti, that challenge isn't taken lightly. But make no mistake. It is a challenge. One of just 57 people nationwide to hold the Master of Strength and Conditioning certification, Marotti has more than two decades of experience in collegiate athletics training.
But this offseason is different. It has to be. He knows it. The players know it.
"I think it's all about accountability," Marotti said. "The easy thing to do is, 'We've won. We've got all these guys coming back. We're going to be good.' No, you train this team different than last year's team; different than you trained the 2007 team. They're all different, with different dynamics. You're trying to find out what those dynamics are."
Currently, the workouts are five days a week: four days of lifting and three of running, primarily linear speed training. Fridays are team-building activities.
"If you can survive Coach Mick's workouts in the summer, then (handling) the season ain't nothing to you," junior offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey said. "That's one of the main things that made the team so good (last season). You're mentally strong. You're physically strong. He makes it like that for everybody."
Marotti's greatest advantage this summer might be the veteran leadership, which includes linebacker Brandon Spikes and quarterback Tim Tebow, both of whom passed up the draft and returned for their senior seasons.
"It's kind of every strength coach's dream at this level in the summer to have guys like that," Marotti said. "I told one of my assistants, 'This is how it's supposed to be.' I didn't say a word. The (players) were coaching each other up.
"It's not so much from the lifting. That stuff is irrelevant. Spikes made a comment to (defensive end) Jermaine Cunningham. He was doing a lift, and guys were saying, 'Come on! Come on!' Spikes said, 'I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing it for you, Cunningham.' To me, that's kind of cool because that's what the head coach preaches."
And that, Meyer said, is what was missing the last time the Gators came off a national title.
After beating Ohio State in January 2007, the Gators not only lost key players, but they failed to handle success well, Meyer said. Remaining players assumed repeating would come easily.
With a degree in psychology, Meyer is constantly interested in discovering ways to delve into his team's mental state of mind to improve its game on the field.
"I love that, the mental aspect," Meyer said. "When we say hard (workouts), it doesn't mean we're going to lift harder. It means we're going to be much more disciplined. If a kid is late, it's going to be a bad deal. If someone doesn't finish the right way, it's going to be a hard deal. So it's more mentally taxing than it's ever been."
Marotti said he hasn't seen any of the complacency that plagued the Gators' most recent post-championship team.
"They know what they have to do," he said. "It's kind of the theme of what I've seen so far. I don't have to have the fake juice of jumping up and down and getting on somebody to motivate them. They're self-motivated. My job is to remind them this: I guarantee you every program in the country is (using) … the University of Florida (to keep their players motivated)."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3389.