Friday, August 24, 2012

Belichick, Patriots really like their Florida Gators

Photo: jdn, Flickr 

Taking a quick scan of the New England Patriots' roster, one college alma mater comes up twice as much as any other.

After the signing of speedy tailback Jeff Demps Saturday, a total of six former Florida Gators now play their professional football for head coach Bill Belichick.

That number is the result of Belichick's long-standing relationship with former Florida coach Urban Meyer.

"The University of Florida has great athletes and great players at their school as do a lot of the other Florida schools," Belichick said Thursday when asked about the Florida-New England connection, according to the team's website.

"But I had a good relationship with Coach Meyer as I do with Coach [Will] Muschamp and so maybe we had a little more insight or opportunity to evaluate or whatever and we felt like those particular players that we drafted there fit our system and what we were doing."

A common sight roaming the hallways of the Gators' training facility in the mid-2000s, Belichick cultivated a mutually-beneficial relationship with Meyer, where they discussed coaching philosophies and prospects. There he was able to closely interact with the Florida talent pool.

"I'd see him in our facility so much," Brandon Spikes, a second-round pick in 2010, said. "He knew what he was going to get out of the Gators."

New England drafted wide receiver Chad Jackson and defensive end Jeremey Mincey out of Florida in 2006. Neither of those players stuck with the Patriots, but New England would go back to the well in a big way.

In 2010, the Patriots selected a trio of Gators in Spikes, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, and tight end Aaron Hernandez. All three are either big parts of the weekly gameplan or are significant role players going into this season.

Hernandez in particular, drafted in the fourth round, has proven to be a dynamic weapon in the Patriots' lethal offensive attack.

"Not everybody worked out and some worked out better than others," Belichick said. "I just had a little more opportunity to interact with those players and that school and they were available at the particular times we were drafting."

The Patriots have certainly benefited from Belichick's close association with the University of Florida. Now that Meyer is the head coach at Ohio State, don't be surprised if a few Buckeyes get drafted by New England in the near future.

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