Saturday night’s season opener will be another chapter in the story of Florida Gators kicker Frankie Velez. It’s a story that began when he was a child in the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
As a walk-on, the chances of that kid playing for the same team he cheered for were slim. About one percent, as he was told when he arrived.
One percent has evolved into the former walk-on Velez with a real shot at earning the starting kicker spot. No longer would he spell in and out the lineup like last year; the kid that was a spectator is now a man that could achieve a dream.
The University of Florida has deep roots in the Velez’s family, as his brother and sister attended the school. Some of Velez’s memories of watching the Gators growing up were of Rex Grossman and Chris Leak. Leak, who is now Florida’s receivers’ coach, still throws a great spiral, according to the kicker.
As college drew near, there were scholarship offers from small schools, such as Western Illinois. Following his parents’ advice to go to a school renowned for their academics, the redshirt senior almost went to John Hopkins, but decided against it due to the athletics and cold winters of Baltimore. Velez also looked at all the Ivy League schools, but ultimately wanted to stay close to home.
In high school Velez won various camps held by Florida but wasn’t strong with kickoffs, so after getting into UF, he would have to try out for the kicker position. The tryout wasn’t a conventional kicking competition; instead he was tested on physical attributes through 40-yard dash and bench press. Velez made the team, but not how he imagined.
“I came in as a wide receiver and I was told I couldn’t kick a ball until my second year, really,” he said. “That’s when I started kicking.”
During his time with the team, Velez has talked with former Gator and fellow Ocala native Judd Davis. Frankie also became close friends with Caleb Sturgis during their three years on the team together.
“Sturgis always helped me with my plant foot and getting downfield more, that’s always been my problem,” he said. “Judd is always texting me, asking how things are going, keeping me positive. Sturgis is more of a technique and Judd has been more mentally there for me, I look up to him, he’s a mentor.”
In addition to Davis and Sturgis, Frankie credited the team’s strength and conditioning program for helping him improve his kicking range. Through a focus on flexibility and leg speed, Velez is now able to hit 50-yard kicks, something he wasn’t able to a year ago.
Frankie, alongside Mike McNeely, recently received a scholarship from head coach Will Muschamp. Velez called it the best day of his life and while the players don’t treat him different, the scholarship has had its benefits.
“I haven’t done the numbers but my parents are happy,” he said.
Motivated by a rough season last year, Frankie Velez will be living out a dream. Playing for his childhood team, he beat the odds, and looks forward to put on a good product for the fans.
The same fans sitting where he used to, cheering like he did. Dreaming of one day playing for their hometown team.
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