GAINESVILLE – When Florida went through offseason workouts, coach Dan Mullen was right in the middle of it, running alongside his players in conditioning drills.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that when the Gators opened spring practice Friday afternoon, Mullen was right there, too, running up and down and leaping into the air to celebrate interceptions and touchdowns.
"That's just me kind of flying around," Mullen said. "Excited to be out here, having some fun."
That's a word that hasn't been associated with the Gators since around the time Mullen left for Mississippi State before the 2009 season. UF knows that, which is why athletic director Scott Stricklin vowed in October to make Florida fun again.
Friday looked like a step in that direction. Former Gators Percy Harvin and Ahmad Black were posing for photos. Employees were selling season tickets and $4 bottled water. Fans stood on bleachers to watch the two and a half hours of practice.
The fact that Day 1 was open to the public marked an obvious, 180-degree shift from the us-against-the-world mentality of the last regime. Under Jim McElwain, even the most insignificant details – like who came up with the money down sign – were treated like state secrets.
Mullen knows UF fans have been starved for any positives, and the oohs and aahs of the estimated 400 fans crowding the sidelines added to the energy.
"I feel like everyone thinks, knows, this is our time to come back," linebacker David Reese said. "Time to wake that sleeping giant."
More like speeding giant, given how fast UF practiced. Even warmups went quicker as the Gators try to get used to Mullen's faster pace.
"We were flying around…" redshirt senior R.J. Raymond said. "It made it fun."
One pad-less practice in March doesn't tell us whether fans will be using that three-letter word in September or November. It did, however, provide a few glimpses that might be relevant this fall.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks was impressive, while four-star quarterback Emory Jones was as inconsistent as you'd expect an early enrollee in his first college practice. Both ran often – not a surprise in a system that made stars out of dual-threat talents like Dak Prescott, Nick Fitzgerald and Tim Tebow.
Freshman Amari Burney (Calvary Christian) looked like he can contribute immediately. So can former Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson, assuming the NCAA clears him to play this fall. Running back Jordan Scarlett didn't seem rusty after returning from a season-long suspension for his role in a credit card fraud scandal.
But the unknowns still overshadow the rest. Look no farther than the roster, where UF lists 25 players under the generic position "athlete." The only thing Mullen guaranteed in his offseason speaking tour was that his team would play hard, which isn't much of a revelation. The next coach who promises lollygagging will be the first.
Still, Mullen practiced what he promised by running all over the field. Players noticed.
"That's the kind of coach you want," tight end C'yontai Lewis said. "A coach that can be able to tell you what to do and show you. It's hard to look at somebody and tell them to do something and they're not doing it. But a coach like him, I'll do anything for him."
Maybe even make Florida fun again.