Jeff's SEC Journey - Gator Country - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Jeff's SEC Journey - Gator Country

Its time for Jeff's Sec Journey. All this week, Jeff Shearer takes us on a trip around the Southeastern Conference. First up, The Swamp and the Florida Crocodiles or is it Gators?

What's the most difficult assignment for a head football coach? No doubt, it's replacing a legend. Ray Perkins found out following Bear Bryant at Alabama. Doug Barfield learned the lesson at Auburn after Shug Jordan.

Now Ron Zook is trying to hold up under the super-sized shadow of Steve Spurrier - the coach who led the Gators to 6 SEC championships and a national title.

Before Zook had even coached a single game, the web site "fireronzook." was up and running, generating hits by the thousands. And when the Gators lost five games in Zook's first season, more losses than any of Steve Spurrier's Florida teams, everyone wanted the new coaches head to use for gator bait. But Zook took it in stride.

"You've heard me say before this is the best job in football. It's not the easiest job in football. The Gators get a lot of national exposure. You have to be ready for things like that," says Zook.

Zook has wasted little time dwelling on the past and has now established a quick reputation as the nation's #1 recruiter by signing the top players in talent-rich Florida, and raiding neighboring states like Alabama.

The Tide and the Tigers would have loved to sign Hoover receiver Chad Jackson, but Jackson had other plans. "People gave me grief when I signed with the Gators, wanting to know why didn't I sign with Alabama or Auburn. But top players have to make their own decisions," says Jackson.

Zook also landed star quarterback Chris Leak from North Carolina. He threw a record 185 touchdown passes in high school! he's the second Parade All-American Player of the Year in school history. The other - a pretty talented running back from Pensacola 16 years ago, named Emmitt Smith. Leak might get a chance to play this season.

With Rex Grossman gone, Florida enters the year with zero career starts at quarterback. Sophomore Ingle Martin took the lead in the spring in a tight battle with Gavin Dickey, a 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman from Tallahassee. And all the quarterbacks are trying hard to prove they're the one ready to assume the title of Gator starting quarterback.

Ingle Martin says, "All of us are just trying to do our best to show the coaches what we can do." But Gavin Dickey says he's the one. "I feel very confident that I can lead this team."

With a big question mark at quarterback, Zook says the running back position is the strength of the team. Is it possible the "fun and gun" will give way to the "smash mouth" in the Swamp?

Speaking of the Swamp, capacity's nearly 90,000 now. Zook better give them something to cheer about this season or that web site, www.fireronzook.com , just might get its wish.

Putting a crocodile on the cover of the Gators' media guide has caused a lot of embarrassment here in "Gator Country." But if Florida goes 8-5 again this season, Ron Zook and not the crocodile will find himself on the endangered list.

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