Former linebacker Brandon Spikes’ biggest hit during Florida’s school-record 22-game winning streak came against the Gators’ most hated rival.
Entering the schools’ latest meeting Saturday in Jacksonville, Spikes, now a volunteer assistant at UF, recalled the remarkable run during 2008-09 seasons and what it required.
“Firm leadership from coaches and senior players, and a shared commitment to keep improving,” Spikes told the Orlando Sentinel. “Trust, humility and a close-knit team was important for us. We strived to excel physically and mentally. Handling external pressures, including academic demands, media attention and high expectations, required mental toughness.
“We felt the weight of representing UF’s tradition of excellence.”
The Bulldogs are living in the moment, even if history is on the line every time they take the field.
“We’re trying to win every game,” third-year safety Javon Bullard said this week. “It really doesn’t matter. That’s our motto: Do whatever we can to get the victory.”
But as victories and championships pile up, so does the pressure to keep winning.
Safety Malaki Starks, a sophomore, has been there for the past 22 victories, but tries not to think about the feat.
“It’s on us to keep it going and not look too much into it,” he said. “If you look too into it, you’ll soak it in for too long.”
Spikes is now able to reflect on the Gators’ streak, but still regrets how it ended with a 32-13 drubbing by Alabama to spur the Crimson Tide’s decade-plus of dominance.
“Looking back, we will always take pride in our accomplishments but we still regret not securing a championship in 2009,” Spikes said.
However it ended, the run was exhilarating and highlight-filled.
The 434-day stretch without a loss began after a stunning 31-30 loss to Ole Miss in the Swamp that spawned quarterback Tim Tebow’s teary-eyed speech ultimately titled “The Promise,” included the 2008 national championship and season-long run at No. 1 before the Alabama loss.
Few moments still resonate like Spikes’ helmet-to-chest hit of Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno on the Bulldogs’ second play of a 49-10 loss.
“I was there,. Iwas at that game,” said UF sophomore edge rusher Jack Pyburn, a Jacksonville native. “I saw that for the next five years. I’d play that every Saturday morning before my little league football game, trying to be like him. ”
The Gators (5-2, 3-1) aim to channel Spikes’ intensity and impact as 14.5-point underdogs seeking a seismic upset that would supercharge coach Billy Napier’s rebuild.
“They say we’re coming in as the underdog, going to lose by two touchdowns,” sophomore linebacker Shemar James said. “But we’re still the Florida Gators. We’re always going to have that chip on our shoulder going into each and every game no matter who we play.
“That just added fuel to the fire.”
Meanwhile, the weight of a winning streak now falls squarely on the shoulders of Georgia.
The man who fueled Florida’s run 15 years ago knows how the Bulldogs feel.
“You’re getting everyones’ best game,” Tebow said during earlier this month during an SEC Nation interview at Georgia. “You get chipped away at, over and over and over again, it’s hard not to get those body blows.”
Edgar Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org