Florida Gators Former Walk-On Gives Real Glimpse into Program on Reddit

Allison Banko@@allisonbankoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

Sep 7, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Florida Gators players warm up prior to the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Until Monday, it had been more than a week since the Gators had met with the media. Access to Florida's football team is limited, as it's infamous for being crazily overprotective of its athletes and coaches. On top of that, when they do talk, they say a lot of words with little information.

Last week, the Gators were completely quiet, preoccupied with crawling out of an unsightly loss to the Miami Hurricanes as they chipped away at a bye week in preparation for Saturday's SEC opener against Tennessee.

Gator Bait's Thomas Goldkamp tweeted:

Granted, Muschamp isn't pulling a Lane Kiffin just yet, but because Florida doesn't say much as it is, being a beat writer for the Gators is certainly no picnic. 

Luckily for us, on what was looking to be a silent week, former UF walk-on running back Jesse Schmitt hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) question-and-answer session on Reddit, which ended up giving us a better look into the program than a season's media sessions combined.

Per Schmitt's Twitter:

Special thanks to Only Gators' Adam Silverstein for bringing this to the forefront.

A little background on Schmitt: He was on Florida's roster for his junior and senior years. Schmitt first tried to walk on for the Gators in the spring of 2009 but didn't make the cut. He told GatorZone's Scott Carter in a 2011 article titled, "Pushing Forward: Gators Walk-On Jesse Schmitt Headed Toward Marines, Fueled by Family and 9/11" that he spent all of sophomore year training to try out again his junior year (via GatorZone.com):

I realized how much I missed football. I missed playing, being part of a team, having something to work toward. So I said, ‘OK, this is an opportunity. I’ll take the entire year to get bigger, faster, stronger, and I’ll try out again. I did that and they took me.

While Schmitt donned a Gators jersey at Florida, he built a phenomenal reputation through his honorable character with his Marine Corps aspirations and involvement in student government. The Independent Florida Alligator's Samantha Shavell wrote an article on Muschamp's public support of Schmitt during student government elections. Here's Schmitt's campaign video that has some familiar football faces (the Students Party ended up losing the election):

Schmitt hosted this AMA on Reddit nearly two years after he led the Gators out of The Swamp's tunnel with an American flag to honor those serving in the military and in remembrance of September 11th.

Below are some of excerpts from Schmitt's thread, presented exactly how he typed his responses. Schmitt's AMA gives a rare look into the program that current players and coaches don't often unveil—even when they do meet with the media. Plus, Schmitt is well-spoken and throws in some jokes, too (via Reddit):

On quarterback Jeff Driskel:

Jeff is absolutely fine. He made probably 3 or 4 bad throws/decisions on Saturday. Yes, you want to cut down on those, and yes they hurt us. But every football players makes a few mistakes every game, don't delude yourself to think otherwise. There are plenty of Gators who had worse games than Jeff on Saturday, including one of my best friends on the team Trey Burton. It just is was it is, people have bad days. They know it, they recognize mistakes, and they work to never commit them again. That's part of being an athlete.

Jeff is a great guy, an incredible athlete, and I am 100% confident in him moving forward. And I'm equally sure that if you asked everyone in the locker room that same question, they would say the exact same thing.

On fan/media criticism of the Gators:

Social media LIGHTS UP after a disappointing loss like ours was on Saturday, and everyone seems to know exactly how to fix things. Look, collective internet-bros, the team spends literally days worth of time every week perfecting every little aspect of their game. The coaches spend more time watching film than they do with their kids. Every single person on the team has dedicated their body and soul to winning. And on Saturday, if things go wrong, people crucify them from their couches. It's actually a bit of a sore spot with me, now.

The media, at least, can provide more expert analysis. If you had an NFL career? Yeah, you can say whatever you want about how the team or any player played. You've got the experience. Even if you've been a fan all your life, for decades, you just haven't seen enough football to truly criticize a football player or team.

On The Swamp's locker room:

Ok, I'll try to describe the shape in words, hopefully it comes through. The locker room is a gigantic rectangle. The main room is in the shape of a cooking pot. The bigger part of the pot is the main room, with a big open space, and most of the lockers for the scholarship players. There are a few couches and a TV. The handle of the pot, "In the back" as we called it, is where the walk-on lockers are. It's the same room, just a bit off to the side.

Underneath the handle is the bathroom/showers, as well as a player's lounge they just put in. The lounge has two giant TVs, a bunch of comfy chairs, ad refrigerator (with nothing in it) and a pool table.

On the relationships between players:

The players are nearly 100% super cool. They tend to be closer friends with either offense or defense, depending on their position, and they're closest friends are probably in their own position group (RBs, LBs, WRs, whatever). But everyone on the team is a brother, and you can go up to anyone and hang out. There's pretty little distinction between walk-ons and scholarship players, because they know we're out there busting our ass just like they are. Among players, if you show yourself to be a good dude who works hard, you get respect. Doesn't matter if you're a starter or a walk-on.

As for shenanigans: You have not LIVED until you've seen defensive linemen dancing in nothing but towels. Our locker room had a nice stereo system the guys would plug their music into, and everyone knows that Dominique Easley likes to dance. That shit was always funny. Beyond that, standard locker room highjinks. Towel-whipping, etc. Some of these guys really are nothing but gigantic 11 year olds. Sharrif and Easley spring to mind.

On jorts (jean shorts):

OK, this is one thing I've never understood. The whole Gator Fans=Jorts thing. Yeah, Gainesville is a bit of a rural community, and yeah I know it's all just good-natured taunting and whatnot. But there are so many other things to choose from, I don't know how or why jorts became our negative calling card. And now some fans wear them ironically to big games like FL-GA or UF-FSU. I guess I shouldn't look for logic in SEC fanbases, though.

But I own none. Unfortunately, because I'm sure my thighs would look great in them.

On who Florida has a bigger rivalry with, Georgia or Florida State:

For me, FSU. All my high school friends either went to UF or FSU. Or UCF, but they don't matter. Point is, if we lose to the Noles I have to put up with their obnoxious facebook posts. Sorry GA.

On Tennessee:

Sorry, but you haven't been good enough in the past few years. It's all cyclical, you guys will be back around in good time.

(Why does this sound like I'm breaking up with Tennessee? It's not you, babe, it's me.)

The maddest he's ever seen Muschamp:

Hmm. Probably at refs in a game. He gets mad in practice, but it's kind of a logical progression. You make a mistake, he gently yells, all is well. You repeat a mistake, and you get truly yelled at. If you make the mistake again, and then have poor body langauge or don't care, then he actually starts to get upset.

Referees, though, don't get a second chance. They go from 0-90 pretty instantly.

On the removal of Aaron Hernandez's brick outside The Swamp:

I couldn't care less, really. He was, and is, an incredible athlete. Good on him for that, I suppose. He has done some terrible, terrible things. Do I admire him as a person? Nope. Is he pretty good at the whole "football" thing? Yep.

The university didn't want to be honoring someone in prison so they took the brick down. Makes sense to me.

On practicing with the Gators:

Haha well, it definitely took some getting used to. I will admit, when Jon Bostic made that big hit in the preseason, I bragged to all my friends that I, too, had been hit like that. Same with Elam and Sharrif Floyd and that whole gang. They're freakishly good, and my Dolphins got Jelani, Gillislee, and Sturgis. I'm excited to watch all of their careers.

But back to answering your question: I was a lineman in high school. I was about 150 lbs, playing both sides of the ball at Guard and NT. I loved every freaking minute of it. I never intended to continue my football career, but somehow the Gators decided to take me on. So now I had to figure out what position I was going to play (because it sure as hell wasn't going to be on the line). I figured fullback, because it involved blocking (which I had lots of experience with) and didn't require me to be super fast (which I'm not, unfortunately).

Good fullbacks, though, need to be able to not only take punishment from linebackers but dish it out, too. Our current fullbacks, Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe, are some of the strongest people I've ever met. Hunter still has some FL state HS state records in shotput I think. As for me, I did my absolute best for about a year on the scout team. I threw myself at our starting defense, desperately trying to block them. It generally didn't work so well. So after about a year, we got a new scout fullback who was a bit bigger than I was, and I started to play scout WR, RB, and generally whatever they needed.

I've rambled on and on, here, and I still feel like I haven't answered the question: It was tough. Lots of bruises. Tackling drills sucked the most, because the walk-ons were all used as living tackling dummies for the scholarship guys. That's just the part of the game, though. At the end of the day, I still had a locker with my name on it in the Swamp. That made it worth it.


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