As part of a new series, Bourbon Meyer will get to know a few of the writers and bloggers who cover Gator athletics. This week Dan Thompson sat down with Joel Smith from TheBullGator.com to discuss Gator football, recruiting and how he rose to become one of the most trusted Florida Gators bloggers.
DT: Joel, thanks for joining me. Tell me a bit about how you got into blogging and about the creation of The Bull Gator?
JS: A group of friends and I – when we probably should have been working – would send emails back and forth discussing any variety of sports topics. What it all came back to time after time was college football. At one time someone suggested I start a blog, probably because my emails were always a tad too long-winded. I had always liked to write and, of course, loved the Gators, so it seemed like a good idea.
Over the next few years, it became a trial by fire of sorts. Initially, I had absolutely no direction and ventured outside of the world of college sports quite often. In addition to Florida, the site covered USF (I attended USF as well as Florida and so did a number of the friends I exchanged emails with) and just about anything else that entered my mind at any given moment. About a year ago – after much of the non-Gator discussion had all but disappeared – I decided to refocus things and dedicate the site to Florida. From there, I’ve covered the Gators for a few other sites, but in the end came back to The Bull Gator.
It has been an interesting four years in terms of too many changes of direction to count, but I guess one of the great things about running a blog is that you make the rules.
DT: What has been your favorite part about blogging about the Gators for the past four years?
JS: To be honest, I wasn’t that entrenched in the blog world before I started The Bull Gator. My daily reading consisted more of network, local and recruiting sites. I did read a few blogs on occasion, but nothing was bookmarked on my computer. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think any were worthy of my time – far from it – it was just that I was unaware of what was out there.
My favorite part is that I have an outlet to write about the Gators, but a close second would be the discovery of all the great blogs out there. There are a lot of good writers, but also a lot of great fans. My daily reads now consist of a number of Florida blogs and blogs covering a variety of schools and sports. I’ve come to realize blogs have it all – writers, fans, analysts, any type of person you can think of – and I have come to enjoy all types.
DT: Does any particular story stand out as a favorite of yours to cover?
JS: In terms of a specific story, I’m not sure; an era is probably more accurate. For the first two years The Bull Gator was live, the Florida football team went 26-2. So in addition to being a great time to cover the Gators, it was an easy time. As anyone who runs or writes for a blog can tell you, you become an easy target for opposing fans. When things are down, they like to tell you as if you were the won that threw that last interception or missed the game winning kick. For the first two years, that didn’t happen to me a lot thanks to the Gators football team.
DT: Your site covers news, recruiting and opinion pieces; what are your favorite stories to write about?
JS: Recruiting. Definitely recruiting. There’s a tough balance in wanting to run a blog that wants to do all three – news, recruiting and opinions. You want to be on top of the latest happenings, so you have to hit the news pieces, but ultimately most of us tackled this world with the intent of voicing our opinions. There’s two of the three and you already have a time battle on your hands if you’re like me and work a separate full-time job. In the end, it’s the what if of recruiting that draws me in. I enjoy high school football and like that there is no draft – one team can get the top five players. If I had a few extra hours each day, recruiting coverage would fill the time. Well that and finding out a way to stop all of the people that just lost a recruit to a rival from saying “well, we didn’t want him anyway.”
DT: If we could play a quick game, who would you choose from these position battles:
DT: Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel?
JS: Brissett. I’m not on either’s side necessarily and only have what we saw last season to really go on (practice reports are just that…PRACTICE reports). The biggest difference that stood out for me was Brissett’s confidence. He didn’t seem to get rattled. Coming off the last two seasons in which we experienced a quarterback that had trouble finding that confidence, it’s an attribute that goes a long way with me.
DT: Chaz Green or Matt Patchan?
JS: Green. If Patchan can stay healthy, he definitely still has the potential to end his career on a high note, but Green has the potential to be great. He needs experience this season to propel himself toward that.
DT: Jabari Gorman or Pop Saunders?
JS: Saunders. I’ll go with experience on this one. Saunders had some growing pains last season, but also made some plays and appeared to be learning. For now, he’s my pick.
DT: Purifoy or Watkins?
JS: Brian Poole. No offense to Watkins – who got plenty of time last season – or Purifoy – who is currently the talk of the town – but I believe Poole will be a serious contender to see the field a lot in 2012.
DT: Who will be the stand out player for the Gators football team this upcoming season?
JS: My hope is that it’s Mike Gillislee. As good as Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were at times, I’m old school in that I like a feature back. If Gillislee can be that guy and give the Gators a consistent running attack, it’ll do wonders for their chance to compete.
DT: How do you think new offensive coordinator will do in his first year on the job?
JS: Perception is the big problem here. Let’s say the Gators go 8-5 and at times the offense struggles. Suddenly the perception is that Pease is not doing a good job. While that could be true, it’s also his first year with a program that itself is rebuilding. What I want to see is consistency. Cut down the number of three-and-outs and get on the scoreboard early. The Gators don’t need to average 50 points per game for Pease to be considered the right hire; they just need to move the needle in the right direction.
DT: Who is a surprise player that Gators fans should look out for?
JS: There are so many people you could name here that wouldn’t actually be a surprise, so this is a tough one. No one would be surprised by Purifoy based on recent reports. Pittman wouldn’t shock anyone. Neither would Antonio Morrison. If I had mentioned any of them two months ago, maybe, but not as much now. I’ll go with Colin Thompson. Stay with me for a minute. Jordan Reed seems to be the forgotten man in the offense, but he can have a great year and could be a star if he continues to grow. Depending on where A.C. Leonard’s head is, he also has a world of potential. Kent Taylor should be the next great Florida tight end in the passing game. But Thompson is going to be the one that does all the dirty work that most tight ends aren’t asked to do anymore. I think he’ll be more important to the Gators offense and blocking schemes over his career than many expect.
DT: Regarding recruiting, who is the one player from the class of 2012 you think will have the greatest impact?
JS: I’ll pick another wildcard of sorts here. What fun would it be if I went with all of the obvious answers. Bullard, Fowler, Humphries, Pittman, Morrison, Poole and Maye could all compete for serious playing time. With what we hear about Pittman lately, he could be a big part of the Gators plans in the passing game, so he may actually be the answer, but I’ll go a different route. I’ll say Jessamen Dunker. I know, I know, but depending on where he ends up on the line, he could enter the rotation very early. If Green truly becomes a tackle, then I don’t see why Dunker can’t compete with Jon Halapio and James Wilson for a guard spot. Depending on how those two hold up, Dunker could find himself getting a lot of first-team reps. Probably not the expected answer, but it’s too easy to go with the obvious.—— Daniel Thompson is a graduate of the University of Florida, majoring in Political Science and Economics. During his time as an Undergraduate, Thompson worked at the University of Florida Football Recruiting Office for three years. He can be found on Twitter @DK_Thompson and @SND_Gators and manages TheGatorsDaily.com.