In 2020, the University of Florida will celebrate 25 years since winning its first national championship in football in 1996.
Fred Weary was a star in northeast Florida at Mandarin High School and he attended the University of Florida from 1994-1997. Weary would bring home First-Team All-SEC honors in 1996 as a defensive back and was a big part in helping Florida win that national title.
Weary joined “XL Primetime” on 1010XL to discuss that 1996 season.
“That season was definitely a great season for all of us,” Weary told 1010XL. “The year before, we had a tough road in the national championship game against Nebraska, so the ‘96 season was definitely a proving point for all the players on that team.”
The year prior, the Gators made it to the national title game, but were beaten soundly by the Cornhuskers. Weary was asked what the Gators did that off-season to help them prepare for the 1996 title run.
“There were two major things, we got a new strength coach that came in and then, of course, we got (defensive coordinator) Bob Stoops, those were the keys right there,” Weary said. “We realized once we were going up against Nebraska that we clearly didn’t have the strength to go against that team. Even though we dominated the South and we were a pretty good team because we were undefeated going into that game, so we were a pretty good team, but in that game we realized how far we were away from winning a national championship.”
“Coach (Steve) Spurrier went and got the people in place that we needed to make the adjustments and we came out in ‘96 on a whole other level.”
Weary talked about Bob Stoops, who was hired as the Gators defensive coordinator in 1996, and what he did that allowed the Florida defense to play at a championship level.
“It was like night and day,” Weary remembers. “I played under our former defensive coordinator, Bobby Pruitt, and he was a good coach, but the scheme didn’t really let the athletes play at Florida. In other words, our defensive line and our front-seven was doing too much in that defense. When Coach Stoops came in, he reversed all that. He let the skill players play and that turned everybody loose in the front-seven. That allowed them to make even more plays and that’s basically what happened.”
Florida lost in 1996 to arch-rival Florida State, but would have the opportunity for a rematch a little over a month later in the Sugar Bowl. Weary was asked if the team was confident going into that game which would decide the college football national champion.
“The defensive side and Coach Stoops we were all confident,” Weary said. “We kind of knew going in that we should win the game by 14 points. That’s how much confidence we had that we could correct all of our mistakes and play football the way we know hoe which was the ‘Gator way.’ You can ask anyone of my teammates, that’s the confidence that we all had going into that national championship game and the final score (52-20) kind of reflected that.”
Finally, from one Gator cornerback to another, Weary was asked about Jaguars first-round draft pick CJ Henderson.
“He’s got a lot of potential and his upside is great,” Weary said. “The stuff that I would like to see him work on of course is tackling, but I think he will be able to get all that type stuff once he gets up there on that pro level. When I went from the college level to the pro level, I think I left college weighing 188 and my best playing days in the NFL I was at 194. So I got better and stronger once I got used to playing with that pro competition.
“That’s what I see for CJ Henderson and if he can learn the little intricacies of the game, than his potential is off the charts.”
(You can follow Ryan Green on Twitter @RyanGreen1010XL)