When you ask someone in the military why they do it, the answer is often a feeling of need or duty to serve their country.
That’s exactly how Quint Gornto felt growing up in Fort Walton Beach, Florida — an area in the panhandle surrounded by military bases. Gornto’s two grandfathers served in the Air Force. One, a general, flew fighter jets, while the other was an AC-130 pilot, flying special operations missions. His father, Clint, is a government contractor for the military.
You get the picture; patriotism and serving the United States of America is just something that runs in his family and Quint was ready to do the same.
“I’ve always felt the need to serve my country, growing up in a military area in northwest Florida,” he said. “The Naval Academy is just a beautiful place and if you’re planning on going into the military, going to an academy is probably the best way to do it.”
Gornto took over the starting quarterback job at Choctawhatchee High School as a senior and was a consensus pick by the Daily News for the Large School Player of the Year Award — joining the likes of Tyre McCants, Jay Warren and Danny Wuerffel.
Yes, that Danny Wuerffel.
Gornto wanted to continue playing sports but the desire to serve his country still burned strong inside him.
Gornto got some interest from Air Force but felt that the Naval Academy was pursuing him harder and was more interested in him as a football player. He took a trip up to Annapolis, Maryland in October of 2014 to watch the Midshipmen host San Jose State. Navy went on to win the game 41-31 and the young signal caller loved the visit.
“Annapolis is a beautiful place, it’s a lot different than Florida though,” said Gornto.
Signing day came and went and he was ready to enroll at the Naval Academy to pursue both his dreams of playing football collegiately, as well as serving his country. Yet as the days went by, Gornto never signed the papers to send them to Navy. He doesn’t know why he waited, but when the dust settled he noticed his favorite childhood team didn’t sign a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class.
“I’ve always grown up a Florida fan, so when this opportunity came up the past couple weeks it kind of threw a wrench into what I thought my plans were going to be,” he said.
Clint and his son decided to throw a hail mary. They gathered up some newspaper clippings and highlight tapes and sent them over to offensive line coach Mike Summers — Gornto’s area recruiter.
“He emailed me back the next day and said to give him a call,” Gornto said. “[He said] that they were really interested in me and wanted me to come down to visit.”
The coaches and players had a few weekends off due to spring break but the Gornto’s made their way down from Fort Walton Beach to Gainesville two weekends after speaking with Summers for Florida’s first junior day. For a kid that remembers watching Tim Tebow during the Orange and Blue Debut and sneaking a high five from the Heisman winning quarterback as he made his way around The Swamp following his final home game as a Gator, the chance to visit the school he had cheered for his whole life was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“That really was a cool moment for me and my family,” Gornto said. “After going to Florida game all our lives, actually being able to go on the field and into the locker room, try on the jerseys and stuff. It was a really cool moment.”
Quint met with Summers, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and head coach Jim McElwain. They explained that while they wanted him to be a Gator, they couldn’t offer him a scholarship — rather offering him a preferred walk-on spot on the team.
Gornto left Gainesville that Sunday with a lot on his mind.
“Growing up there was really a bunch of colors in my blood. There was orange and blue and there was red, white and blue,” he said. “When I decided I wanted to play sports, I kind of set my aim for the Military Academies, Florida as well, but mainly the Military Academies first.”
On one hand, Navy offered a chance to follow in his grandfathers’ footsteps. He would be able to continue playing the game that he loves, while also getting a head start on a military career after school when his playing days were through.
On the other hand, he had just tried on the Orange and Blue for the very first time. The same colors that his favorite players wore. He had just walked down the same hallway that Brandon Spikes, Percy Harvin and Tebow had walked through. Florida wasn’t offering as much,but
was their offer more meaningful? He would be behind the eight ball. The Gators have a sophomore quarterback in Treon Harris and a redshirt freshman in Will Grier. Gornto would start off behind them on the depth chart and would likely spend most of his freshman and sophomore seasons on the scout team.
That didn’t matter. Competition, to someone who wants to make a career out of being in the military, isn’t a reason to run away from a lifelong dream.
“I’m a competitor at heart and I always have been,” he said. “You can’t pass up a chance to go compete with the best athletes in the country in the SEC and it’s the only SEC school in the state of Florida, which is the best football state in America.
“I just wanted to go and be able to compete at the highest level. I felt that I could compete and help bring Florida back to national prominence, whether that’s as a starter or just giving them solid scout team reps until I do get the chance to play. I know it’s going to be tough but I’m always looking for that challenge.”
Gornto made up his mind and informed Summers and Nussmeier that he intended to take them up on their offer to walk on to the team.
“I was ready to go to the Naval Academy but I wasn’t quite ready to commit yet, I hadn’t signed the papers,” he said. “I’m really glad I waited because I would have missed out on a great opportunity to be a Florida Gator.”
Gornto will enroll this summer and begin taking classes. As a walk-on he won’t have all the benefits that a scholarship player has such as academic tutoring and meals at the training table but he is getting something more valuable — a chance to live out a dream he’s had since he can remember.
He hasn’t given up on the military either. Gornto still wants to make a career in the military following college. He’s a little late in the process to join the ROTC at Florida this fall but says he will look into joining in either the spring or during his sophomore year.
“I would definitely do ROTC. It’s a little too late to do it my freshman year,” he said. “I would have had to already kind of have gotten into it but definitely the spring semester of my freshman year or sophomore year I’m definitely going to get into it because I still want to pursue the military after college.”
Gornto’s ready to compete, thrilled about the opportunity to play in Orange and Blue and willing to be a perfect soldier and do whatever is necessary to help get the Florida Gators back on top.