top of page

One Last Ride: I tried out for Florida Gators Football for a 4th and final time. Here's how it went.



I sat in my girlfriend’s apartment twiddling on my phone, clueless that fate was taps away. It was 6:47 pm. Eventually, I opened my email and scrolled to reveal a little yellow star on an email from 2:43 pm. It was a VIP star next to Lamar Sorey’s name.

I froze. I couldn’t touch it. I couldn’t even read the preview line. Four semesters of dream chasing hung in the balance. The next words I read would decide if I'd become a Division 1 athlete; a member of the team I’ve poured my soul into rooting for.


 

In the beginning, it all started with a tweet. Billy Napier had just just arrived in the 'ville, and it was the beginning of a new era: the #UFuture.


When I came across this on my timeline, my jaw dropped to the earth's core. Destiny was calling. I thought back to my very first Gator game in The Swamp. COVID had killed my freshman year football season (for attendance at least), so my first time swinging and swaying was the home opener vs. FAU two years ago. It was the very beginning of Anthony Richardson mania, when he had his famous hurdle and big time touchdown run. I'll never forget the energy of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that night. It was the first time I witnessed firsthand the greatest atmosphere in college football (not that I'm biased).


I wanted to be apart of that. It was something bigger than me. I knew if I made the team, the most I would sniff was the practice squad, but even that was more than enough. All I wanted was to be a member of the team. Even if it was only as a tackling dummy with a plucky attitude, I wanted to contribute.


However, one small thing stood in my way.


In my two decades of existence on this Earth, I have not played a single snap of organized football. Not one down. My older brother played peewee up until high school, and I grew up in a devout D.C. football household, but my personal gridiron aspirations did not develop until later in life. Those who know ball might read this and ask the valid question: football is a complex game of gladiator chess; how do you expect to learn the ins and outs that fast, especially in a D1 program?


I thought about this question myself, and in my head I developed a plan. I like to think I’m a fast learner. Retention of information has been a strength of mine for a while. I graduated high school in three years, and I’ve been able to keep a steady 4.0 GPA through my first three years at UF. If I made the team, I’d utilize 100% of my brain power to study the game and the playbook all day and night. To visualize, think Alan gambling in The Hangover, Mike Wazowski learning how to scare in Monsters University, or Elle Woods studying for the bar exam in Legally Blonde.



I would try out for running back. This was the position I was best suited for. I am just under five-foot-ten, I am a decent runner, I have good crowd vision to find running holes, I have always been naturally stocky (for blocking), and most of all, I get back up when I fall down (debatably the most important trait of an RB).


For my tryout number one, I was dead on arrival (I forgot cleats). I was better prepared for tryouts two and three last school year, but obviously I was not up to snuff. I received two more rejection emails.

On August 11th, after months of patiently waiting for another crack, there it was. The tryout meeting tweet was the starting gun for the walk-on process. It was the bat signal for any football player wannabes on campus.



After 20 months and three failed attempts, I found myself staring down the double barrel of my senior year. I am taking 12 credits this semester, but I only have four credits left in the spring to reach my degree. You have to be a full-time student to try out, meaning you need to be taking a minimum of 12 credits. I am an out-of-state student who cannot afford my current credit load let alone any extras. So, there was no way around it. This was it. My final chance.


I triple circled August 25th on my calendar, this time around feeling anxious but comfortable. The process had been the same for each tryout. I knew what was happening and what I would have to do. When the day came, I walked with a pep in my step to the Heavener Complex for the meeting. I tailgated someone through the doors (only athletes and staff have access to the building) and two team assistants ushered us walk-ons to the side to wait before the meeting. We sat next to the arcade area that contained pop-a-shot games, ski ball and a brand new golf simulator.


When they collected us, we headed up the staircase located near the grand entrance, which led us directly into the Gator Room. It was a sizable meeting space with hashmarks in the carpet and an enormous screen on the wall. There were 15 of us noble dream chasers in there.


We each filled out an online form with basic information like height, weight, classification and position we were trying out for. I wrote down running back/special teams. Personnel Quality Control Staffer Lamar Sorey, who had run the show for both tryouts last year, introduced himself to the group. He went over the basic information for tryouts before dropping the most important nugget of information. Tryouts would be Monday, September 4th, at 2:30 pm (check in at 2).


After the meeting, before I left, Lamar Sorey recognized me. I was a regular at this establishment. “What’s up man! How’ve you been?” he asked warmly with a smile and a handshake. I told him I was doing good: “like they always say, 4th time’s the charm!” I also told him that I’d keep trying until they kicked me out.


It made me happy to see that my tenacity had not gone unnoticed. I thought perhaps that tenacity would be the thing that landed me a spot. As I walked out of the glorious $85 million Heavener Complex, student athletes from all sports were eating their surely gourmet meal at the five Michelin star athletics dining hall. I hoped one day I would be among their ranks, thinking that I too might be able to dine on surf and turf at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon.


Two days later, on the 27th, my training and preparation took me to the vast Atlantic Ocean.


While visiting my mom for the day in St. Augustine, I waded out in rough surf (red flag conditions) for an exercise in mental fortitude. I tried to blocked waves like they were linebackers blitzing through the gap. The waves varied in size and intensity, but I told myself there was no wave too big. Go through the wave; don't let it go through you.


I figured the ocean was a worthy opponent. I challenge you this: find one SEC defense bigger or stronger than the Atlantic Ocean. Some reps were won, and some were lost, but I was not too pressed. Recently, ESPN’s Mel Kiper projected some of the waves I faced to go in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft, so I felt better about my performance.



The next week, Mother Nature, maybe out of spite for my act of competition against her, decided she had other plans in store for us walk-ons. Hurricane Idalia was on a crash course for Florida, specifically the big bend near Gainesville. Classes were cancelled for half of Tuesday, August 29th, and all day on the 30th. Lamar Sorey emailed saying that tryouts would officially be pushed back a week to Monday, September 11th.


On August 31st, I watched through a different lens as the Florida Gators took on the Utah Utes in the season opener. Last fall, the tryout took place before the season started, but not this year. The Gators did not have a pretty performance in the game by any means, and it added fuel to my fire. I wanted to contribute to the team even more, providing they would have me.


On Tuesday, September 5th, the next step on my journey took me to the Hawkins Center, a fancy academic advising building us commonfolk students don't typically have access to. Donning a mustard yellow Mr. Two Bits shirt I got for free at a football game, I found my way in. I was there to get a signature from Assistant AD Tom Williams, whose signature we needed to verify we were full-time students.


I got there early (Williams met walk-ons at 4 pm), and sat in the second floor lobby along with four other football walk-ons and two more there for softball. While waiting, I spoke with Gabe Weldon. This would be Gabe's first tryout, but he played QB at the NIA and junior college levels. He said he was going out for anything, maybe TE or DE. He hoped he could make the team so they could call him Gator Gabe. After chatting for a few minutes, I found out that he was a walk-on legacy. His brother, Daniel, walked onto the Gators in the late 2010s, where he played as a linebacker for Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen. Gabe said Daniel only played in a couple games, but he loved it.


Danny Weldon taking the field vs. LSU on Oct. 6, 2018. Photo: Bronte Wittpenn/TB Times


After getting our signatures, we chatted some more outside the Hawkins Center, and Gator Gabe gave me a great tip. He said for the shuttle drill, a drill I've done at tryouts all three times, his brother gave him some quality advice (Daniel had a fast shuttle time).


"When starting on the middle line," he said, "don’t stand up too tall when starting to run. That slows your time down."

He told me to almost side shuffle to the first cone, staying low the whole five yards. This kind of advice was just what I was looking for. I needed coaching.


Two days later, on Thursday, September 7th, I aimed to complete my paperwork. I traveled to the Heavener Complex a little before noon to get one of my final signatures from Athletic Trainer Donavon White. I tailgated someone in once again, with the realization setting in that it could be my last trip to the athletics fortress. I was early once again, so I waited by the entrance at a table. More walk-ons trickled in, and I met with Gator Gabe along with Nolan, a walk-on I met last tryout.


As we sat there chatting about tryouts, Florida Gator legend Major Wright (working with the team as a coach as he finishes his degree) walked in and talked to Lamar Sorey's right hand man, who assisted in running tryouts, in the entrance (I scoured the UAA directory and was unsuccessful in finding his name). He walked back to the football training room where we were headed, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him for some sage advice.


After a few minutes, Donavon came to collect us and take us back to his office. We lined up single file to get our highly coveted autograph, looking around the training room to see recognizable names like WR Ricky Pearsall and punter Jeremy Crawshaw stirring.


On the way out after getting my signature, I saw the same right hand man Major Wright spoke to sitting alone at a table near the entrance. Slightly nervous, I approached him and asked if I could ask one question. He said shoot. I asked what they were really looking for at tryouts, whether it was a position, measurement based, etc. This was a question on the minds of all of us desperately hoping to make the team.


“It’s really all about fluid movements in the drills. That's all there is to it.”

It was a simple answer, but it made sense. I left the complex for The Swamp, where I turned in my form to UAA compliance. Bureaucracy and red tape were finished. The only step left was to ball out on the coming Monday.


Later in the day, I went to Norman Field on 13th street to meet with Nolan, another walk-on named Joe, and Joe's buddy Carter. Carter was not trying out, but he played QB in high school in Pennsylvania, where he won a state championship. He had a good arm and was throwing the ball to us for a little bit. Even though there'd be no ball at tryouts, running some routes was some fun, quality agility practice. We mostly worked on our shuttle drill, and I found Gabe's advice to be pretty useful. Nolan, Joe, and Carter helped coach me up too.


On Saturday the 9th, I got the best motivation I could receive. It was the Florida Gators' home opener in The Swamp against McNeese State. Even though the game was against an inferior opponent (nobody knows where McNeese State is), the stadium was juiced. Game days are a holiday in Gainesville, and for intoxicated orange and blue diehards, it was Christmas morning. The Gators treated the McNeese Cowboys like a pit bull treats a ribeye. The final score was 49-7, but Florida pressed the brakes early in the third quarter by pulling starters. It could've been 70.


I sat in the stands soaking in the energy of my favorite place on earth while watching my favorite team dominate in the sport I love most. Witnessing the events of the game unfold intensified my desire to be down on that painted Bermuda grass. I wanted to make it. I also became pals with the mother of our QB1, Graham Mertz, but that is a story for another day.


Graham Mertz's mom, Amy, a new buddy at football games, agreed to be in my BeReal


On Sunday, the eve of my walk-on finale, I continued a tradition I've held dear for all of my tryouts. The night before each attempt, I have watched one of my favorite films, the magnum opus of sports cinema: Rudy.

In the movie, Rudy Ruettiger takes classes at Holy Cross College with his sights set on transferring to Notre Dame to be a walk-on. However, Rudy struggled as a student, and he had to work hard to make the grades. He applied to transfer three times, and each time he received the same letter of rejection. During his junior year, with his back was against the wall, he sent in his final transfer application (Notre Dame wouldn't accept senior transfers). On his fourth try, the scrappy underdog got the acceptance he needed. Perhaps, I thought, this could be me.


On the morning of tryout day, there was no wake-up process. When my eyes first opened, there was a single thought in my mind: it all comes down to today. No coffee necessary; I was wired.


I left for my one class of the day, where I TA for former Gator linebacker and national champion James Bates. It is a sports play-by-play/on-air talent class, so think of it as public speaking but for sports and TV. The assignment of the day was for each student to go up to the front of the class of ~15 and tell a story they were passionate about. Bates had me go first, and I shared my tryout story, ending with the fact that it was not yet finished. I left class a couple minutes early for my pregame meal, receiving a motivational applause. I told the class wishfully that the next time they saw me, I'd be a D1 athlete.


Before I left for the facility, I thought about all of the help I'd received on my quest. Former Gator (now LA Rams safety) Rashad Torrence II, defensive tackle Desmond Watson, offensive lineman Austin Barber, and three-time world champion (and Olympian) Grant Holloway have all provided me with inspiration and advice, both mental and mechanical. Conner Clarke, fearless leader of this website's writing team, even sent me a pair of his cleats after my first tryout oopsy. I thought about them, and everyone who was in my corner rooting for me to succeed.


After reflection, I began my walk to the Condron Indoor Practice Facility, passing the iconic spiral concrete ramps in the gateway of The Swamp. The walk was a steamy one, as the Florida sun and RealFeel temperature of 99 degrees made it feel like I was walking across a cast iron pan. The sweat came fast.


I zigzagged through parked cars across the O’dome parking lot, blasting No Flockin’ by Kodak Black through my AirPods to get in a mindset of domination. Once I walked through the wide-open back gates of the complex, an equipment manager gestured me through a door propped open with an orange cone. The relief of A/C hit me immediately when I walked into the humongous room floored with turf.


I soaked in the sights on the way to the check-in table, where Lamar Sorey and the mysterious right hand man told me to head off to the side to get loose or warm up. I was a few minutes early, and check-in would begin promptly at 2 pm. Near the large garage-style doors on the wall, I met with Gator Gabe and other fellow dream chasers. I stretched to the best of my ability to make sure no tight muscles wouldn’t stand in my way.


Once 2 o’clock rolled around, Lamar called us over to the table and told the 16 of us to line up in single file to get our assigned jerseys. He called my name first thanks to alphabetical order. He handed me my white practice jersey and told me to head across the field to the weight room, where they would take measurements.


I took my threads and found out that for my fourth and final tryout, I would be number 4. Big Quattro.

The BeReal went off after my weigh in. The only pic I was able to get in my 4 jersey


As I made my walk across the field, I studied the equipment setup to see what drills we would be running. I could clearly see the agility bags and shuttle drill setup as normal, and the other two drill stations appeared to be similar to previous ones. I was the first walk-on to enter the weight room, and I got some curious looks from a couple players who were getting an extra midday lift in. Two personnel staffers took my height and weight, and I came in at 5’9.5” and 193 pounds. Interestingly, they didn’t measure our hand size or wing span like last tryout, but this was in my favor (I have dainty hands unfortunately).

After we all measured, it was our time to use until 2:30. I finished first, so I had about 25 minutes to kill. I stretched some more, ran through some drills in slow motion, and chatted with my acquaintances and pals like Gabe, Nolan, and Joe. Once the time came, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Alex Watkins blew his whistle in the north end zone, and we all hustled to him.

He told us the basics: we’d be starting with a warmup called the flex drill, and then we would move to the four agility stations. He stressed that it was important we pay close attention to demonstrations to make sure we did everything right. One of his assistants went through the flex drill for us to see, then we ran over to the sideline making two lines five yards apart. We went across the field doing our specific movements in single file, and after the flex drill we lined up on our yard lines for stationary stretches.


Our first stretch was bending down to touch the ground, kicking up our left foot. As my face plummeted towards the turf, disaster struck, literally, as I felt the heel of a cleat slam into the bridge of my nose and right eye. I was stunned. My UFC experience can be best described with the word zero, and I personally have never taken a heel to the face. I was terrified that my nose would turn into that elevator hallway in The Shining, likely taking me out of commission for the tryout, but fortunately for me, not a drop of blood.



"Don't get kicked in the face! Leave enough space for the guy in front of you," Watkins shouted to the group after this mishap. I took a couple steps back and tried to maintain an iron face for the line of personnel staff staring at us 10 yards away. While I did not look to see, I am sure there were a few understandable laughs among them.


I decided I would try to use this moment as an advantage. I got an extra rep, and the only rep for all of us, in a peak drill of toughness. After stretches, we moved to the first drill station, the agility bags, which remained the same going back to my first tryout.

We all paid close attention to Coach Watkins' assistant who demonstrated the patterns we would run each go. Attention to detail was something Watkins' repeatedly emphasized. We had to do the drills right to succeed.


We started five yards away from the bags and had to sprint to them after the person in front of you passed the third bag. We ran with one foot between each bag, two feet between each bag, and two feet moving sideways (running each two times, there and then back once everyone had gone). I was prepared for this one. My gas tank was full, and I knew the bags well like they were old, estranged friends. I ran each pattern clean, pumping my arms like I was supposed to.


After everyone went twice for each drill, a personnel staffer blew an airhorn signaling it was time to move on. We jogged with Coach Watkins to the next station. Breaths started to get heavy. We had maybe 30 seconds between each rep, and if you're not sprinting and giving 110% each drill, you shouldn't be there.


For the next drill station, there were two sets of four cones making two squares. We stood in two lines on the inside cones of each square, and we would be running around the square with different combinations involving running, side shuffling, backpedaling, and specific turns. After running each drill pattern, we would immediately run to the other square to go through the drill again in opposite direction.


In one of our ~45 second breaks between patterns, where Watkins' assistant would demonstrate, coach shouted above the panting, "get your hands off your hips. We don't do that here." This had been something I incorporated into my training, so I knew to treat my hands and hips like magnets with opposite charges.


I made one small mistake on this station when I ran from one cone to another instead of shuffling, but I fixed it on the next rep going around the other square. I felt good about my cuts on this station. I remembered to sink my hips like Grant Holloway taught me and swing my outside arm in the direction I turned to change momentum quickly.


After running us through this station for a few minutes, the airhorn blew once again and we moved to station three.



This station was new, but similar to the second station. Before explaining the drills, Watkins said this station was more complex, so we had to listen. Because we had just run the most exhaustive of the four stations, it was clear they were testing our attention and memory while fatigued. By the south end zone goal line, cones were set up in a similar pattern as station two, but minus one cone for each side.


Dripping with sweat and adrenaline, we lined up in two lines again. We sprinted to touch the white five yard line before returning to touch the goal line. Then, we sprinted back to the five yard line, completed a specific turn, went around the outside cone in a specific direction or movement, and sprinted back around the outside of the cones to finish through the goal line. After a rep, we switched lines to run it again.


This drill was a big test. Some among our ranks began to succumb to fatigue. More mistakes were made, and some reps got sloppy when guys didn't touch the lines. I stayed locked in, and while my reps were not lightning fast, they were clean aside from a single turn where I spun inside instead of outside. When touching the lines, I made sure to leave no doubt when I swiped the paint.


After what would be my last rep on this station, I took a green squeezy gatorade bottle filled with ice water and sprayed some on my sweat drenched locks. I was convinced that somehow they got that water temperature down to absolute zero. It felt spectacular, and it gave me a boost before the final station.


The fourth and final station was the shuttle drill. Like the bags, this had been a station at every tryout, and this time I felt double prepared with my new and improved form thanks to Gator Gabe. Six cones were set up mirroring each other, with two sets of three cones five yards apart each. The shuttle was simple. When Watkins blew the whistle, two of us would sprint to the middle cone from our respective lines. Once two of us had our correct hands down touching the cone (right hand if you're going right, left hand if going left), Watkins would blow the whistle again to start.

I stood on the line, cleats planted in the turf, ready for my rep. This would be one of my last chances to prove myself, and I wanted to make it count. Watkins blew the whistle and I ran up to get in my starting stance touching the cone. I looked up to the man across from me to see a jacked six-foot-four specimen with bleached hair. It was Joe, one of the walk-ons I had trained with. We would be competitors for this rep.


The whistle blows, and I stay low to the ground and do my cross leg side shuffle. I stopped at just the right time and touched the first line at the same time as Joe. I turned and bolted to the second cone. I turned again and finished through the starting cone, seeing that Joe was two strides ahead of me. The best man won the rep.


I ran around to the opposite line for my rep in the other direction. I stood on the waiting line again ready for my whistle. My tank was running low, but if there was any time to use that last pint of gas, it was now. Relief was in sight, and I had one final chance to give my all.


I sprinted to the line and touched my cone as I got in my stance across from a walk-on named JP. The whistle blew. I shuffled, turned, sprinted, turned, and sprinted again. I finished a half step behind JP, and as I slowed down from sprinting I clapped my hands once in frustration for not winning either time.


Once everyone had shuttled twice, the horn blew. Our tryout was over.


We huddled up on Coach Watkins, and he said that each of us should be proud we didn't quit. Lamar Sorey came in and told us to keep an eye out for an email in the coming days for results. We put our arms up in the middle and broke down on three with "hard work." An equipment assistant then told us to drop our jerseys in a pile.


We all walked back over to our stuff to change shoes and head out, exchanging positive acknowledgements of each other's grind on the way. I talked with Lamar Sorey and explained my situation. We took a picture together, but he requested it remain private. That was fine by me. Even if I didn't make the team, I still wanted the memory.


It was a long two days of waiting. The pressure was there, but I tried to remind myself that at that point, it was all out of my hands.

 

I sat there with shaking hands, too nervous to see the results. Could I really become a D1 athlete at THE University of Florida? Would I get the chance to play the sport I dedicate my heart to half of the year?


I wanted to know, so I opened the email.



Unfortunately, my tale does not end like a Disney movie, rather it ends like a Pixar film. Like the end of Toy Story 3, or the beginning of Up.


However, while my story does not reach the conclusion I hoped for, I am endlessly proud of the journey itself. I tried out for a division 1 SEC football team not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Rashad Torrence II told me hours before my first tryout that just by going out there, I had more guts than a lot of people, and I choose to take that to heart.


I reached out to other walk-ons to see if anyone shined in the eyes of the personnel staff and made the team, and there was a glimmer of hope. Sadly, Gator Gabe and Nolan received rejection emails similar to mine, but Joe, who I trained with and competed against in the tryout, was told to send videos of himself doing additional drills for further evaluation.


I will always be a Florida Gator, and nobody is pulling my fan card any time soon. I'll always remember the numbers I wore on the turf while runnin' down a dream (8, 0, 1, 4), and while I might not get to be a member of the team on the field, I'm happy to resume taking my place in the stands as a 12th man in The Swamp. No transfer portal or NIL deals for me, "I'm a Gator, bro!"


Signing off and hanging up the cleats,


The Great 8, Agent 0, Uno, and Big Quattro




855 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All

3 ความคิดเห็น


Christina Weldon
Christina Weldon
06 ต.ค. 2566

Hello, this is Gator Gabe's mom. I really enjoyed your article and Gabe speaks very highly of you. Our son Danny was a walk-on for three years and loved every minute of it. He tore his ACL at the last play in the last practice before the Peach Bowl. Danny recently graduated from UF Law and is a proud F Club member. His dad (my husband) is a two-time NCAA champion swimmer for the Gators. Gabe has been going to UF games since he was an infant, I graduated from there and three of our four also went there As for Gabe, he is 6'5 and 225 lbs. He has always been a great QB but a chil…


ถูกใจ

Excellent read, dainty hands Ames. Total supastah, D1 or not.

ถูกใจ

Andrew Bohinick
Andrew Bohinick
20 ก.ย. 2566

I have to say it was really hard to read all of this as all I wanted to do is know that you were triumphant in your 4th attempt. I don't know you but I feel like I do and I thank you for sharing your story.

ถูกใจ
bottom of page