It all started with a tweet.
When it popped up on my timeline, my jaw hit the floor. For the past year, I've had an elevator pitch ready to go just in case I met Dan Mullen, or more recently Billy Napier, around The Swamp. My goal was a walk-on tryout, and even though I didn't meet either of them, soon I would get the shot I wanted. It might be worth mentioning that I have never played one down of football in my life, but that didn't matter to me.
I got to Ben Hill Griffin at 5:00pm on Monday. Nice and early. There were around 15 of us at first, but more and more students came trickling in until we were just about 80 strong by meeting time. There were some shakes here and there, but I couldn't tell if that was nerves or just the fact that it was 50 degrees and windy.
At 5:30, we were rolling. Coach Kyle Kazakevicius, Assistant DFO for Quality Control and Assistant to the Head Coach, came out and introduced himself, telling us that he was running the show. Right off the bat, he made it clear that the walk-on program was important to Billy Napier.
"He calls it the Heartbeat."
He also said that they were hoping to have a 50 person walk-on roster, which Napier mentioned in his press conference on Friday.
For the rest of the meeting, Kazakevicius and Athletic Trainer Donovan White told us about the paperwork and other things we had to take care of, as well as the fact that we wouldn't be touching a football at tryouts because of the dead-period. What came as a surprise to most of us though was the turnaround. Tryouts were on Friday, meaning we had three and a half days to send our SAT scores and high school transcripts to the NCAA; get a physical, EKG, and blood test; and get signatures from people around campus.
At first, I didn't know if I would be able to get all of that done in time, but I was not going to let bureaucratic red tape get in my way. I went full Demon Time, and was able to get everything done by Thursday (major shout out to the UF Student Healthcare Center). It cost $90 to register with the NCAA and $50 to send my SAT scores, but in my mind, that's chump change when we're talking hopes and dreams.
Getting closer to Friday, I started to get pretty nervous. I wasn't sure what exactly we would be doing at tryouts, I just knew we'd be doing agility drills. I will tell you, I'm not the most athletic specimen. I'm 5'10" 193 lbs (quick flex I've lost 50 pounds since August), and I figured that I would try out for Running Back or Full Back.
Not everyone saw my vision, and the doubters were out in full force, starting with my childhood pals.
I decided I would only let the haters fuel me, and boy did I get plenty of fuel. When I was sitting in Donovan White's office on Thursday waiting to get his signature, I sat next to another guy who was trying out. We were sitting there in silence for a minute, and then he looked me up and down and said, "what are you trying out for? Kicker?"
I don't think I look like a kicker, but I didn't take any offense. "Running back or full back, actually," I told him.
His eyes widened, he was speechless. I tried to tell him that I thought it couldn't hurt to try, and that all I could do was give my best, but he was not buying in. We sat in awkward silence for another two minutes before Donovan came in.
But, I'm not trying to gain sympathy. I did have support along the way. On Friday morning, hours before the tryouts at 5:00 PM, I sat down in my history class. After settling in, Rashad Torrence II, a safety for the Gators, sat in the seat next to mine. I told him that I had a football tryout later that day, and I asked him if he had any advice. He was very kind.
"Don't overthink it. Just by going out there, you have more guts than a lot of people."
His advice was very helpful, and it was on my mind for the rest of the day.
At 4:00 PM, I walked from my room in Murphree Hall to the football practice facility, where I waited outside with the other students trying out. Most of the other guys were a little nervous too which I realized after chatting with a few of them. At 4:30, Coach Kaz came outside and told us that we could line up and sign in. We finally wrote down what position we were trying out for, along with the name of our high school and the number on the practice jersey we were given.
I immediately felt some positive energy once I got in the building. I was randomly given the number 8, which has been my favorite number since I was a little kid.
However, those good vibes were soon to be squashed. As more of us congregated on the indoor practice field, I realized that in the chaos of paperwork and medical checks through the week, I made a fatal error.
I forgot to get cleats.
I tried to tell myself I wouldn't be the only one and that I'd be fine, but as we gathered for warm-ups, I looked up and down the goal line and it became clear that I was in fact the only one. I looked like a fool standing there in my Nike Flex running shoes.
However, I wasn't going to roll over and die. The first drill station we did was feet-in-the-hole. We lined up and did one foot between each bag, two feet between each bag, and two feet sideways going both ways.
Next, we did a cone drill station. This one was pretty simple, just run from cone to cone as fast as you can. We did sprint to each cone and sprint-backpeddle-sprint. (not the exact drill below, but you get the gist). I slipped a couple times on this one, but I didn't fall down so I'll take it.
The third station was a 5-10-5 shuttle drill. I slipped again, sacrificing speed, but I thought I held my own. We all lined up in two lines and did this twice so we could test both left and right cuts.
The last drill station was short and sweet. Contact drill. We each got two pops on the single-dummy sled. This was probably my best performance. I had some ground to make up so I wanted to kill that thing.
And just like that, it was over.
We all gathered on the logo at midfield. Coach Kaz said that we would all get an email by 6:00 PM on Sunday telling us if we made the team or not. I got some water, dropped my jersey in the bin, and thanked Coach Kaz for the opportunity. Best of all, as the adrenaline started to wear off, I realized that I pulled my groin muscle on the first drill station, and that I was in great pain. I limped back to Murphree Hall, taking a pit stop at The Swamp to soak it all in. I knew that the decision on me had probably already been made.
It was a long two days, but last night I got my email.
I did not make the team.
Am I disappointed? Yes, but I am proud. I tried my best. At the end of the day, I may not be a D1 Athlete, but I can say that I tried out for the Florida Gators. There were some rumors spreading about FSU possibly targeting me in the transfer portal, but I am here to put those to bed. I am orange and blue through and through.