HOOVER, Ala. — Martez Ivey grew up in Apopka, Florida.
It’s a 40,000-person town just north of Orlando and about 110 miles south of Gainesville. Apopka is Gator country. You’ll find Florida flags waving outside of homes and Gator license plates along the roads.
Ivey, now a junior offensive lineman at UF, learned quickly to hate Florida State, the Gators’ longtime rival.
“Ever since I’ve been a Florida fan, it’s about FSU,” Ivey said Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days. “Lately, it’s been all LSU.”
Over the past 10 months, Florida and LSU have gone from yearly playing partners to nasty, trash-talking rivals — with players to coaches to, yes, administrators firing subtle cracks on Twitter.
Naturally, at the peak event of the so-called “talking season,” the budding rivalry was the center of attention on Day 2 of this four-day event near Birmingham. In fact, during his 30 minutes on stage in the main room, Florida coach Jim McElwain fielded more questions about LSU (three) than he did about his starting quarterback competition.
Later in the day, McElwain, exhausted by questions about the Tigers, jokingly asked a Baton Rouge television reporter if he was an LSU “homer.”
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You should know how all of this got started by now.
LSU last season was scheduled to play the Gators in Gainesville on Oct. 8, but Hurricane Matthew’s projected path resulted in a postponement. Tense negotiations among Florida, LSU and SEC officials followed over the next few days before the Gators agreed to travel to Baton Rouge for a game they ended up winning 16-10 on Nov. 19. LSU agreed to play at Florida each of the next two years.
LSU officials have not hidden their disappointment in the handling of the situation. Athletic director Joe Alleva held a news conference amid the negotiations; that “concerned” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who publicly chided Alleva for “drawing lines in the sand.”
Things took a turn from there — starting with the rescheduled game in Tiger Stadium.
The Gators won to claim the SEC East title by stuffing LSU running back Derrius Guice on fourth down from the 1-yard line, a rousing goal-line stand that elicited a wild celebration. At least one Florida player planted a giant school flag in LSU’s south end zone, and McElwain seared LSU in postgame remarks.
“The way I look at it, they got what they deserved,” he said. “And it should have been worse.”
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The rivalry got even more sizzle earlier this month, when Florida announced its homecoming opponent: LSU. Tigers fans have gripped onto that news, taking it as another shot from their rivals in Gainesville.
McElwain and his players only learned of the homecoming date earlier this week.
“Now everybody is looking forward to this game coming up, scheduling them on homecoming,” Ivey said. “That makes it even more interesting for people to blow this game up.”
More was learned Tuesday of how Florida chose its homecoming game. It was not an athletic department decision, athletic director Scott Stricklin wrote in a text message to The Advocate. The university’s faculty senate made the decision, he said.
Also, this is nothing new. The Gators’ homecoming has been an SEC team 20 of the past 21 years, including LSU twice (2006 and 1996).
“Well, you're going to have homecoming, right?” McElwain shot back at a Baton Rouge-based reporter who asked a second time about the choice of homecoming opponent. “So I'm good with whatever game it is. I just know this: I've heard about this, obviously, all day long. The first I heard about it was yesterday. And I'm loving the fact that you think it's news.”
Florida players understand LSU’s gripe.
“They’re probably taking that as disrespect,” Ivey said.
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On Monday, LSU players skirted around the issue. Former players did not. Ex-LSU running back Jacob Hester posted a message on Twitter after learning of the homecoming ordeal last week.
“Maybe now everybody won't look at me like I'm crazy when I say that LSU's biggest rival is the Florida Gators,” he said before adding the date of this year’s game and fire emojis.
Hester was part of one of the most well-known duels between the schools: LSU’s 28-24 win in 2007 in which Hester converted a handful of fourth-down attempts and scored the game-winner with 1 minute, 9 seconds left.
Each of the past three games between the schools went down to the final play, and they’ve nearly split the past 11 meetings, LSU winning six and UF five. Last year's game snapped a three-game Tigers winning streak.
It’s a matchup that nobody has forgotten.
“We still talk about that to this day,” Florida defensive back Duke Dawson said. “I know those guys on the opposite team, they’ve got a bad taste in their mouth about us, too.”
"They're going to take it personal," Ivey said. "And we're going to take it personal."
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On the field
The past three Florida-LSU games have come down to the final play:
2016: Florida 16, LSU 10
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, RB Derrius Guice runs the wrong direction, and the Gators stuff the Tigers to claim the SEC East championship.
2015: LSU 35, Florida 28
The Gators’ last-second drive stalls near midfield as QB Treon Harris misfires on four straight passes, falling to the Tigers in a game that pitted No. 8 and No. 6.
2014: LSU 30, Florida 27
LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye nails a 50-yard field goal with 33 seconds left to complete the Tigers’ 10-point, second-half comeback.