For the past five years, Tate Casey has dedicated himself to the University of Florida and the football program. He started out a star his freshman season, but found himself having to fight for playing time later in his career due to injuries and scheme changes. This year, he will walk away from the program as one of a handful of athletes lucky enough to win two national titles. He will be remembered as a leader, an excellent blocker, and a team player. Few will forget his jump pass from Tim Tebow that is now a part of Florida Gator Football lore. GatorBait.net's Ali Peek sat down with Casey to for this edition of Parting Shots.
GatorBait.net: Take me through your recruiting process and how you ended up at Florida?
Tate Casey: Coach Zook and Coach Fedora are the ones that recruited me and got me to take a trip and pretty much I went to Florida hoping it was everything I wanted it to be. My deal was, as my last recruiting trip, I figured that if Florida was everything I thought it was going to be then I was definitely going to come. When we got out here and got to look around and see the stadium and stuff like that it was pretty much a done deal for me so I ended up committing Friday night, the first night of our recruitment trip. I stuck with it and signed on National Signing Day a couple weeks later.
GatorBait.net: What was it like the first summer you came in?
Tate Casey: Oh man the first summer we came in, I came in with Drew Miller and Trautwien and Tartt and those guys were all part of the 04 class. A lot of guys ended up leaving or getting kicked off so there was only a few of us left the whole way through, but the first summer was fun because you had a group of guys coming into a big time program really highly ranked out of high school and there was a lot of expectations out of us. We did a really good job of getting to know each other and coming together as teammates and being friends.
GatorBait.net: Was it a shock to your body to go from high school workouts to college workouts?
Tate Casey: it was a little different. In high school, I was fortunate enough to have a full time strength coach. So to come from a good high school program that really knew how to prepare a guy for college was great. The main thing that made the transition easy is that when you work so hard in high school when you got to college the work ethic that you had and all the stuff you put into it in high school, it wasn't too hard to come to a big time college program. I mean, it was a little different, in the aspect of conditioning and stuff, but the biggest difference was transitioning to the speed of the college game. You kind of put it on yourself to hurry up and catch up with the rest of the guys. In college everyone is fast, everyone works hard and so it's a matter of separating yourself from the guys you came in with and be a hard worker and be determined to play.
GatorBait.net:You are one of the last remaining players that were at UF under both coaching staffs. Talk a little about your year with Ron Zook and what he was like as a coach.
Tate Casey: Zook, man, he is definitely a player's coach. You hear it all the time about coach Zook and how he loves his players and has a lot of respect for them and treats them all pretty equal and stuff. I think that freshman year I had a real good relationship with him as far as playing time and what I was trying to get done here and help out the team. There was a role for me. I think with him, anything I could do to help the team win and he knew that, which is what made it such a good deal between me and him and it was fun.
GatorBait.net: How did you find out that Zook was fired?
Tate Casey: Ha, the Sunday newspaper. You know, the loss to Mississippi State that year really didn't help anything and the fraternity incident and a lot of stuff that took place leading up to the firing. There was a lot more behind the scenes than what meets the eye with the fans and stuff. But there were a lot of small incidents and then some big ones mixed in there and then you throw in a loss to a team like Mississippi State that year, which was unranked and I think 1 and 6 or something like that, it wasn't good. To hear that, that it was going to happen to a coach you love so much and in your first year, it was kind of like a bomb that had been dropped on us. As freshman, we didn't know where to go from there. We didn't know if anyone was going to leave. You start getting the idea, "Maybe I should transfer or maybe I should get out of here" "Maybe this isn't the place for me" "Who are they going to bring in?" It throws a lot of ideas in your head and a lot of stuff gets scrambled around.
GatorBait.net: Did you ever consider transferring?
Tate Casey: Oh yeah. I think if it wasn't in the back of your head, at least once or twice, you know, and then it really didn't matter to you as far as your career. A lot of guys have the dream of playing in the NFL and trying to get to the next level. You have to think what is in the best interest of your career and so it has crossed mind. You kind of just deal with the tough times, everybody has had them in college. When you go through a new coaching staff and colleges that didn't recruit you that hard the first time around, it's hard to look at them the same way as you do the person that brought you in. I think in my mind it was "I made a decision to go to the University of Florida because of a couple reasons, not just football." A lot of it had to do with the tradition and the history of the program, the football team, but a lot of it had to with the academic side of it. You look at it is one of the top notch programs in the country and you can't push that aside when you are thinking of a big decision like where you go for 4 or 5 years of your life.
GatorBait.net: What was your first impression of Urban Meyer?
Tate Casey: Coach Meyer man, he had a goal. I think the main thing that turned me on to him when he first got here was that it was set in stone, a legit plan for the future of Florida football. It was "we are going to win games. We are going to win championships we are going to get Florida back to where it used to be." For a period when Zook was here after Spurrier left, a lot of it went dead. That dream and that tradition kind of died a little bit. And it be honest with you, it wasn't because of coaches. It had a lot to do with the players it had a lot to do with everything around the program and I think the main thing is when Meyer came in, if you bought into the system, and that was his main thing, just buy into the system, believe what we are trying to do here, we can win games and we know how to win games, you just got to put it in our hands and trust we know what we are doing as coaches. And I don't think in four years under coach Meyer I ever saw him stay away from that original goal of doing everything the way he said he was going to do it. He was doing everything right, just like they ask us to do it. I mean, his track record over the last four years speaks for itself. Two national championships and two SEC championships. He stayed on that goal and he gave us everything he said would come if we bought into it. I think all the guys did a good job of buying into him.
GatorBait.net: What would you say are some of the biggest differences between Zook and Meyer as coaches?
Tate Casey: To be honest with you, they are both hard nosed coaches. Both of them are really intense guys. The both get after it pretty good; they both have a lot of special teams' background. I think with coach Zook and his NFL coaching experience with special teams and then coach Meyer, that is his big deal, special teams, special teams. But, you know they are both two great coaches, two great character guys and they both did all they could to keep this program and everything it had been, to keep it going, and I think it is just certain things that happen when certain coaches are recruiting certain players that are supposed to be good that don't turn out or certain players that were brought in that were supposed to be great in high school that don't end up developing. I think it has to do with the support staff one had. Coach Meyer came in a cleaned house to bring in a support staff that ended up being one of the best in the country, if not the best. I think that had a lot to do with it. From the equipment staff, to the training staff, the compliance office and everyone around the football program, they bought in to what he was trying to do here to and I think everyone had a hand in getting it done. Especially when you look at the academic record when Meyer got here, you know, when he got here, there wasn't a lot of guys graduating. A lot of guys were trying to leave early. Guys weren't getting their college degrees; they were just trying to train for the NFL. Jason Strorch and those guys were right on the same page with Meyer from day one and I think that is the reason. The two academic advisers, Tony Meachem and Jason Storch did a great job making sure everyone got their classes taken care of. That everyone was passing their classes and going to class. That is a big deal. Freshman year, not a lot of people went to class. There were guys trying to skip out on classes. Meyer just said "Look, you are going to class. This is the way it is done. If you don't want to do it this way, then get out of the program. If you want to win championships, this is what we are going to do."
GatorBait.net: Talk about the workouts when Meyer first came in. They had a reputation of being incredibly intense
Tate Casey: I think that first spring, we were miserable. We had heard so much about how tough college football spring is. To guys that played 3 sports in high school, (they) didn't really have an off-season, and didn't really understand what an off-season workout was, it was rough stuff. When Meyer first got there and he introduced Mickey Marriotti as the strength coach, and coach Balis. Those two guys had more of a role in our lives than anyone else the whole four years. When coach Marroti first took the stage in the first team meeting, man we thought they were nuts. It turned out to be, they were nuts, but they knew how to balance it a little bit. The workouts, you would have to be there. I could tell you everything, in detail. But there was just so much passion from the coaches, it wasn't about them. It wasn't about them getting paid to do it. It wasn't about anything but making us better football players and to win games.
GatorBait.net: Are there any particularly grueling stories from mat drills or workouts that stick out to you?
Tate Casey: Mat drills, wow, I mean that first year of mat drills was the worst any of us ever had. There were a couple people that got choked out that year. There were stitches, cuts, bruises, you name it. Broken noses. That year of mat drills it was anything goes and it was pretty much a testament to the toughness of the program and they wanted to start it off and make sure that is what they instilled in us. Physical and mental toughness. I mean, 5 a.m. mat drills, we were there for two hours, and it sucked, I am not going to lie. It is the sole reason the program is what it is today. I mean, you look at it now, it only got easier. It went from being the toughest year of our lives to getting a little bit easier and getting more accustomed to it, then we finally started realizing that is what we needed and that is what we were missing. It brought the program together. As much as it made us hate each other and there's competition and everything that was going on, it kind of bonded us and I think that is one of the main reasons the '06 season happened. We finally realized that is what it took to win games. After we lost the Auburn game, it was all the stuff we had put into it. From mat drills, to midnight lifts, to massacres, that is what it was about. Coming together once you get punched in the mouth. How are you going to react to it? That really prepared us because we can't play that out in practice. You can't play out someone beating you and trying to bounce back from a loss. To us, that is what mat drills were all about.
GatorBait.net: Tell me about champions club.
Tate Casey: Champion's club? Coach Meyer brought that in the first year. Coaches have their own way of getting players to buy in and getting them to do things the right way and that was Meyer's deal. If you went to class, if you took care of your grades, you busted ass in the weight room and all that other stuff that comes with football, it all comes together to make you a better player. Then, you make Champions Club. You eat steak, you eat on china, you have the good meal. Then you look over and see the guys that didn't make it, eating hot dogs and potato salad and beans and stuff. It's a program based on reward. If you are doing things the right way, the way it should be, you are going to get this, if you don't, then you aren't getting anything. To see guys get a pair of shorts, it's really not that much when you look at it, but for the guys that made the Champions Club, it meant a lot to us. It drove people to start wanting that, instead of sitting and watching other guys getting it and being like "why aren't I getting what they are getting?" It changed a lot of attitudes. Guys worked. The good thing about it is a lot of guys went from being lazy to working hard. The guys you least expect to play the next year ended up coming through and busting it in the off-season and ended up becoming great players.
GatorBait.net: When Meyer first came to Florida, there were a lot of people that said things like "The spread won't work in the SEC", "He is too green" stuff like that. When was your real "A Ha!" moment when you personally really start buying into his system?
Tate Casey: Coming from Zook's offense to Meyer's offense was a big transition because we ran a lot of tight end, two tight end, full back, running back and two wide out sets and stuff like that. We had never really seen it before. I mean, I had watched it on TV, I watched it when they played Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl that year before he came. My real big moment I guess, I wouldn't even say it came that year; it came the second year, in '06. Watching Percy Harvin work, I mean Percy is a player that makes you say "wow" a lot anyway. But when they finally got the guys in there that fit into the offense, the guys they really wanted in there that they knew would make it work, once they brought in Percy and we had a couple freshmen that showed up that year and played good ball. Murphy was a guy that kind of stepped up that year as a young guy. Then you had guys like Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius, guys like that who really bought into the program that year. That is when it came together and you realized it shut all the guys up that said his season at Utah was a fluke; the spread couldn't work in the sec. Ig you look at it, had we beaten South Carolina his first year, we would have gone to the SEC championship game. That is how close we were the first year. That second year really shut all the critics up.
GatorBait.net: You have the honor of being part of a class that won two national championships, but both seasons you guys suffered a loss and it definitely was not a sure thing you would even play for a title until down to the wire. What do you remember the locker room being like after the Auburn loss?
Tate Casey: After the Auburn loss, I think there was so much shock. For three and a half quarters, we went in there and dominated. For three and a half quarters. I can remember everything that took place in that game. We put so much into it. It was the fact that everyone was so fatigued, everyone had put everything they had into it; to come out and take a loss like that was hard for us. I remember everybody being down and out about it and we kind of thought that was it for us in the national championship race. There were some great teams out there, USC was undefeated at the time and a couple other teams, and Ohio State was on a roll. It kind of misplaced us a little bit. Coming back and having our Monday morning meeting with coach Meyer and he talked about Danny Wuerffel and the 1996 and their loss to FSU that year and what that did for them. He passed out cards to everybody with a quote on it from Danny. That was the turning point of that season. That meeting had a lot to do with how our guys bounced back. We did a good job of just coming together and having it in our minds that we were going to win every other game.
GatorBait.net: I have heard some of the seniors from the 2006 team say that they don't know if you guys would have won it all had the loss to Auburn not happened. What do you think?
Tate Casey: I think that is a fair statement. Every team wants to go undefeated, and that is hard enough in any league, whether NFL or college. It's hard to say, but had we not lost that game, would our heads have gotten a little bit bigger and we might have lost later in the season? If you lose one early in the season, you are much better off then if you lose one later in the season as a one loss team. For us, looking at the rings and the "1" for a loss for both seasons, it sucks looking at it. But in reality, you have to look at it and say "it made us stronger, it made us a better team". It really did. I couldn't tell you it would have played out the way it did had we not lost that game.
GatorBait.net: What was different about the locker room atmosphere after the Ole Miss loss?
Tate Casey: That one was a little harder to swallow. Being a home game, being Ole Miss, it's not that they were a bad team, they were a young team, real good, but I think we knew we shot ourselves in the foot too many times. You know, we fumbled the ball 3 times on our side of the 40; they got points off of all three of them. I think the main thing with that one was there were so many guys that knew we were better than that as a team. We knew how good we were this year. We knew what we had going for us. If we had just said on a path, just stuck to the plan to win, everything was going to happen for us. The way we prepare, we prepared so hard for that game, and to come out with a loss the way we did, especially on a blocked extra point that probably would have sent the game into overtime and we probably would have pulled it out. That probably made it worse for us, because special teams are preached around here.
GatorBait.net: We all know the effect Tim's speech (after the Ole Miss loss) had on the media and the fans. But what kind effect did it have on the players?
Tate Casey: I think it depends on how you know Tim. For the certain players that know Tim and really know his passion for the game and I think all of it them do. For the fans and the media, yeah it was great for them
but for the players that really sat there and listened to it, you could kind of; you get what he is saying. There was more to it than just what he threw out there. I think for us, sitting at home watching it, it was so much more than words. It had a lot to do with the way we felt. Not just that he was going to pull us up as a team, he is a hell of a leader and we always look to him to keep us up, but we knew we had to play better. We knew what we were trying to accomplish, an SEC championship. We knew if we could get there and not lose another game, we would be playing for a title in January. I think we just had to keep our mind on that and how bad that loss felt to us and we didn't want it to happen again.
GatorBait.net: So you guys kind of saw his speech as a challenge to you all?
Tate Casey: Yeah, yeah. For Tim to the fans, it was kind of like "Oh, he is pissed. He is ready to roll. We aren't losing another game." To us it was like that is what is expected out of us. We shouldn't lose another game. We should play with everything we have, every down, every snap. We are going to go out and give it everything we got. He was right. We owe that to ourselves. Not to the fans or the coaches or anybody. Us. We owe that to ourselves. We are the ones putting in the work; we are the ones who busted our ass all year. I think it was more that we owe it to ourselves to play better than we had been playing and better than we played in that game. We knew what we were capable of and we knew if we played like we could, we would be okay.
GatorBait.net: Okay, so Florida wins out and you're headed to Miami. What are the main differences between this national championship week and the 2006 game?
Tate Casey: As a team, it's a little bit different going to Miami instead of Arizona. I mean, it's a big city, bright lights, a lot of guys from Florida being in their home state; it was a lot of distractions. But this year, I think we carried a swagger with us a lot more than in 06. In 06 we had to listen to so much stuff, "the buckeyes this, the buckeyes that
undefeated, Florida shouldn't even be playing, it should be Michigan/Ohio State, yada yada yada" and we listened to it. Meyer posted all the quotes; we saw what everyone else was saying. That was more of a game where we were playing an underdog role in my mind. Even though this year we were number two going into the game, I felt like just being in the home state and the way the media was acting about it, Florida's team speed and Tim Tebow finally established himself as a starter and he's starting in his first championship game and I think this year it was more that we couldn't let the home crowd down. We couldn't let our parents down, the people from Florida. There was a certain swagger about those guys
it was like you knew we were going to win the game before we even played it. We had that in our minds. We knew in our minds if we played our ball, we'd win the game.
GatorBait.net: When the clock ticked down to zero and you looked around and realized you did it again, that Florida has only won three titles ever and you were there for two of them, what were you feeling?
Tate Casey: It's hard. You can't really, and I get this all the time. People back home always ask "what was it like to win the first one and what are the differences between the first and second and how awesome is it to be a part of?" It makes you sit there, and I could sit there for hours on end talking about the history of the program and what it means to be a part of it. You never get the joy that you feel from winning a national championship from anything else. I don't think it can be matched. Super bowl? Haven't played for one. High School State Championship? Never played for one. I've never had a kid, never been married. Those are the only two things I can think of off the top of my head that would be even comparable. I don't even think, to be honest with you, in my mind, I don't even think those we be even close to the feeling you get. You know, after the first one, it takes so long to sink in. You don't realize it, but it takes so long to realize what you just did. Then we you do finally realize, you are right back in the next off-season and it's kind of like, "well, we won that one, but now we have to try to go out and win the next one." This time, being a senior, I always thought it would be great to go out on top, not have to worry about coming back a defending it. I mean personally, because obviously the team has to come back and defend it. But then you realize how much work goes into it, most of these guys have been playing since grade school. I have been playing since third grade. Ever since junior high I had it in my head that I wanted to play college football. I had a dad that played, a brother that played. I think if you think about how much we put into it as players, it is a good 13, 14 years worth of work, and for the payoff to be this big
We will forever be remembered, anybody that played, anybody that had a part of it. We will never forget those moments; we will never forget the teammates. It's just one of those things you don't forget. Whether you hated a guy personally in the locker room, or you had beef with someone and you really couldn't stand someone, it just all gets thrown out the window. It's kind of like, you'll see him 20 years from now on Florida field in the fall at a football game when they introduce you at halftime or before the game and I guarantee you'll be nothing but smiles, all the stuff we put into it, the blood, sweat and tears, it's all worth it in the end.
GatorBait.net: After the 2006 season, 2007 was a letdown. I think a lot of people attributed that to all the senior leadership graduating and a bunch of young guys that hadn't really put that much work in yet taking the success for granted. What do you think the problem was and how do you think next year's team can avoid it?
Tate Casey: I think that 2007, the main problem was that we lost a lot of seniors. 23, 24 seniors. A lot of leadership that got lost, and there was a lot of leadership that was lacking that year. But I think the main thing was there were a lot of young guys that didn't play in '06, but they reaped the benefits and rewards of '06 championship and they got it in their minds that they had something to do with it, when a lot of them didn't play. It is nothing knocking them; a lot of them are great players. They kind of got it in their mind that they were a big part of it, that they had a lot to do with it. They kind of got a big head. When 2007 came around, they kind of realized, they were the ones that had to make the plays now. It's not going to come from those seniors that they watched the year before. It's picking up the slack. We lost a lot of guys. We had a lot of young guys. It is perception verse reality. I mean, the perception was, we're the returning national champions, we're back. But in reality, we weren't that damn good. I mean, off season and spring ball, we weren't that good. Off season and two-a-days, we weren't that good. By the time season rolled around, we had the chance to be good, but as players, we just weren't coming through. There are a lot of guys that realized after the '07 season how hard it really is. How much harder they needed to work, how much more they needed to put into it. They thought they worked hard the year before, but that next off season was pretty much the most important one of our career, because we embarrassed ourselves in with a 9-4 season. Mediocrity that year. The Capital One bowl. A loss to Michigan, who was really not a good team. That loss really broke me. I didn't play that year. I sat on the sidelines and I can remember just thinking, you know when a team is special and you know when there is talent on a team, but you the ones that really have something great are the ones that bond and have team chemistry. That team really didn't have it. There wasn't a lot of team chemistry and there wasn't a lot of leadership. Tim had a hell of a year, won a Heisman trophy, but it just wasn't coming together. think that is what the whole 2008 off-season was based off of for this year. Come back fresh in '08 and make a run and no bull shit, nothing involved. Nothing but hard work. I think we ended up getting that accomplished.
GatorBait.net: If you could talk to a recruit, what would you say to him about the program?
Tate Casey: I have talked to plenty of recruits. If I could talk to any of them this year, my main advice for the guys coming in, and I tried to sell this to every guy Meyer tried to bring in that I hosted, my deal was, if you want to win championships, if you want to have a great career at a great school with a lot of tradition, it doesn't take a fool to see what is happening here. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there are championships that are about to be won. There is about to be a big time dynasty here that is being built right in front of your eyes. It is just a matter of "are you ready to hop on board?" I tell the recruits face to face, I have never lied to a kid. They are trying to make a decision about where they are going to go to college. I always tell them, "if you don't want to work hard, if you want to be one of those guys that wants to go to a school where you can get away with not going to class, get away with missing some practices because you are tired, or that kind of stuff, then go do it, but don't waste your time here. If you want to win championships, then that kind of stuff just doesn't get it done. But if you want to go through all the hard work, probably the hardest workouts ever in college football, all the stuff, the mat drills, the midnight lifts, all the off-season stuff that we do, come on. But don't bullshit us as players. Don't come here and waste MY time. I would say I only have a little bit of time left here and I'm not trying to NOT win championships. If you are going to be one of those guys, then go do it somewhere else where they settle for mediocrity. There is a bar set. There is an expectation. If you aren't willing to work hard to get that reward, then don't waste our time. We don't want you. We can find anybody else in the country that wants to come to Florida that's got speed, that's got talent. You've got to be willing to put into it what you are going to get out of it. You've got to be willing to do that. If you come here, the guys like the Percy Harvins of the world that really buy in and are already the best athletes in the country. Once you start realizing what you are going to get out of it, and yeah, you are going to bitch, you are going to moan, and there is going to be a lot of times that you don't want to do it. But after it is all said and done, when you are done with college and you aren't playing football anymore, you will remember exactly how much work you put into it and how hard it was, how grueling it was to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to be at 5:00 a.m. mat drills. And how good it felt once you were done to knock all that out and be the best and most invested team in the country. When you win a championship, all that stuff comes into your mind. You start thinking, okay we started day 1 in January and all that hard work paid off. For a recruit, they just have to realize if you don't want to work, don't come. We really don't need you that bad. If you want to, you want to be one of the best players in the country, you want to win championships, you want to graduate and go play in the NFL, this is the best place to do it.
GatorBait.net: If you could give some advice to your teammates that are coming back next year, what would it be?
Tate Casey: For the guys that were here in 2007, that were young guys when we won in '06, they are going to be seniors. Remember exactly what it was like to be embarrassed that next season as returning national champions. The let down and the expectations that never got lived up to. The main reason was lack of senior leadership. I could have been a senior that year, '07, and I got to come back, and I'm glad I did. I would have hated to go out with a 9-4 record and being one of those seniors that didn't lead by example and didn't show everyone the way. For those guys, they have to know how that felt, how horrible that season was. For the guys that are younger and weren't here for the first title, they have to realize that now they have to step up and be the guys that were making the plays for the '08 national title. There are guys that are leaving, the guys that are coming back need to compete instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching. If you weren't a big player for the last title game, be that player now. Be that Percy Harvin, be that Dallas Baker, the guys that are the big-time go-to guys. Bust your ass everyday to get to that point and go build your own legacy. Go start your own legacy. Continue to build this dynasty and keep it going because that's what it's about, tradition. You're just another building block in the brick of the stadium. And that is what has built the stadium to what it is now. The whole program is built off a strong foundation that started 102 years ago. You are in the hundred and second year of the program and it just keeps building and building and building. For those guys, they just have to realize they are a part of something special. When you look at it at the end of the day, you've got to ask yourself, exactly how much of a part of it, you were. For those guys that didn't play last year, do you want to play and actually get to say you started as a national champion? For the guys coming out of high school, you don't have anything to do with it. That's not bad, that's not negative, that's just the reality. You've got to know your place on the team. Being a freshman coming in, know what the expectation level is. You are expected to win championships. You can have a big part in that, a lot of freshman do. Meyer plays a ton of freshman, especially on special teams. If I could say anything to the guys coming in from high school, I would tell them the first thing they need to do is play special teams. If you are looking for a spot on offense or defense as a freshman, you are not going to play if you don't play special teams. If you can get a starting spot and impress, go after everybody with an intensity level that you are going to knock their head off every play, and if you can get hit in the mouth and get back up and keep punching and hit some people in the mouth. Do whatever you've got to do to impress. First impressions have a lot to do with your career. I think that is the main thing I would say to those guys.
Gatorbait: If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?
Tate Casey: No. Maybe play punter, haha. No I wouldn't. I couldn't. How could you? I played for the best program in the country and won two national titles.
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