10 ‘Really’ Great Gators

With Martin Luther King Jr. being remembered across the country this week, GatorCountry.com wanted to take a break from the usual highlighting of athletic achievements to recognize many former Florida Gators who also excelled off of the field.

Martin Luther King Jr. is best known as a leader of the civil rights movement. He inspired others and his impact on U.S. history has helped influence change around the world.

GatorCountry.com takes a look at former Gators who have impacted peoples’ lives in a positive way. There are so many. The University of Florida and its athletic programs have produced some awesome humanitarians over the years and continues to introduce more into the world with each graduating class.

Just look at the current crop of basketball players Will Yeguete and Patric Young along with football brothers Clay and Trey Burton, who embarked on a mission trip to Africa over the summer with other UF athletes.

While we certainly will miss many deserving folks, we’ve compiled a list of “10 Really Great Gators.” The school honors “Gator Greats” each year, mostly for their athletic achievements. We wanted to feature those “Really Great Gators” who have made a difference through their humanitarian efforts.

In addition, we’ve added a few more with notable achievements after the initial list of 10 former Florida players.

Please feel free to add any we’ve missed in the comments section below or in the forums.

Danny Wuerffel, football

As a quarterback, Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy after leading the Gators to the 1996 National Championship. After football, Wuerffel began his journey as a humanitarian by working with the non-profit organization Desire Street Ministries, which helps drive spiritual and community development in one of the poorest areas on New Orleans. In 2005, the Wuerffel Trophy was founded by the All-Sports Association of Fort Walton Beach and is given annually to a college football player who combines Wuerffel’s character with “exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement,” according to the website. Deion Sanders is scheduled as the guest speaker at this year’s awards banquet, which is Feb. 8. Because of his accomplishments on and off of the field, the Florida legislature dedicated a stretch of road in Destin as the “Danny Wuerffel Way.”

Dara Torres, swimming

The 12-time Olympic medalist and world record holder is much more than the only U.S. swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games. Torres, who earned 28 All-American honors as a swimmer at Florida from 1986-89, has worked to inspire others through the “Team Invigorate” advertising campaign that encourages people to live “younger for longer.” She also wrote books titled “Gold Medal Fitness” and “Age is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams At Any Stage of Your Life.” Torres has been a regular participant as a veteran celebrity swimmer for Swim Across America, which raises money for cancer research. She also has helped The Heart Truth campaign to raise awareness for heart disease in women.

Carlos Alvarez, football

Despite playing from 1969-71, the pre-Steve Spurrier era, Alvarez still owns UF records for receptions in a single game (15), single season (88) and career receiving yards (2,563). Alvarez and his parents fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in 1960. After college, he was named Outstanding Law Professor at SMU in 1980. He now practices law in Tallahassee and has served on the Florida Election Commission and Second Judicial Nominating Commission. He also was honored with the Jose Marti Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Cuban Community from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Jack Youngblood, football

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and arguably among the best Gators’ football players ever, Youngblood has been active in charity work since his college days. As a senior in 1970, he won the Fergie Ferguson Award for leadership, character and courage. In 1984, he won the Ed Block Courage Award for “representing everything that is positive about professional football and serving as an inspiration in his locker room by being a positive role model in his community.” His list of humanitarian efforts could stretch across dozens of football fields. While still at UF, he organized a 57-mile bike ride through FCA to raise funds to help send disadvantage youth to a summer camp. Other notable charitable works has helped the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, the United Way, Hands Across America, Los Angeles’ “Right to Read” program, the John Tracy Clinic for Deaf Children, the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Feeding America-The Nation’s Foodbank Network and the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which raises funds to help retired football players. He also appears regularly as a guest speaker and serves on the executive committee for the Orlando chapter of Young Life, a faith-based national organization that mentors young men and women.

Corey Brewer, basketball

The former Florida and current NBA basketball player began the Corey Brewer Fight Diabetes Fund and the Corey Brewer Foundation, which is focused on preventing diabetes and improving the lives of those who have been affected by the disease. Brewer’s parents — his father died in 2011 — and many family members have been diagnosed with the disease. Corey helped raise awareness through Shands Hospital, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and schools in his home state of Tennessee. This past Thanksgiving his foundation and family members delivered turkeys in Portland, Tenn. The Denver Nuggets had a game in San Antonio that day, so he wasn’t able to take part in the deliveries. There’s also the Corey Brewer Back-to-Back Youth Basketball Camp. Proceeds benefit UF & Shands, the University of Florida Academic Health Center and the UF Diabetes Center of Excellence.

Tim Tebow, football

The former Heisman Trophy winner and current NFL quarterback has used his national platform to promote Christian messages while speaking at everything from prisons to orphanages. He preached the Christian gospel and assisted with medical care in schools and villages in the Philippines. While in college, Tebow and other Gators athletes created “First and 15” to raise funds for Uncle Dick’s Orphanage, which was founded by his father in the Phillippines. He also has helped raise funds for pancreatic cancer research at Shands hospital and for a trip to Disney by disadvantaged youth. After college, he began the Tim Tebow Foundation. Construction is scheduled to be completed this summer on The Tebow CURE Hospital in the Philippines, which includes 30 beds. It will specialize in orthopedics and will help heal deformities that may be corrected through surgery.

Mike Peterson, football

Born in Gainesville, Peterson starred as a linebacker at Santa Fe High in Alachua before moving on to the NFL. His Atlanta Falcons lost against the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s AFC Championship. In 2004, Peterson launched the Mike Peterson Foundation, which benefits “underserved youth and socio-economically challenged families” in his hometown of Alachua. For the past eight years, the foundation has hosted the “Bring It” Youth Football Camp in Gainesville. The camp that features other NFL players has branched into Jacksonville and Atlanta. There’s also the Mike Peterson Elite 7-on-7 Championship, which raises funds for the foundation’s efforts such as the Alachua County Family Fun Day and Thanksgiving meals to families. He has donated books through his Top Dog Readers Club. In 2010, the foundation partnered with Grove Park Elementary in Atlanta and Home Depot to build the school a KaBOOM! playground. It is the school’s first and only playground.

James Clark, football

The Gators’ career record owner with 53 games played as a deep snapper, Clark made headlines when he scaled a mountain for charity in December of 2011. The Gainesville Buchholz High alumnus climbed Aconcagua in South America. It’s the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere and the feat raised pledge donations of more than $11,000 for Climb for Cancer. Among other thing, the non-profit group purchased stationary bikes for children at Shands because research shows using the bikes helps rebuild blood cells after chemotherapy. He trained for the climb by hiking around North Central Florida and running the stairs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with 60-pound backpacks, according to an article in Florida Magazine.

Andy Owens, basketball

The former UF basketball player went on to become an attorney and later a Circuit Court Judge for the Twelfth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham appointed him to the recently created judgeship in 1982. Owens was behind the launch of the Mental Health Court in Sarasota and a Drug Court invention program, which is an outpatient program that helps rehabilitate felony drug offenders instead of sending them to prison. He attended Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough High and was named an All-American in college along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and Pete Maravich.

Kevin Carter, football

The former Gators and NFL defensive end was the guest speaker at Florida’s awards banquet last month, and for good reason. He’s arguably among the most active former UF athletes in charities and community endeavors through the Kevin Carter Foundation, which is meant to enrich the lives of youth through, among other things, character development. For more than a decade, Carter has hosted the Waiting For Wishes dinner and reception. It has generated thousands of dollars for his foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was voted the Community Man of the Year by his Tennessee Titans teammates three times and was named a United Way African American Leadership Giver. He also founded the Kevin Carter Football Endowment, which has provided financial aid to deserving UF athletes since 1998.

Other notables:

Tracy Caulkins, swimmer — In 2008, she won the Medal of the Order of Australia for “service to sport as an administrator and proponent of sporting opportunities for women.” Also stays involved in a series of physiotherapy clinics in Tennessee that bear her name.

Rex Grossman, football — In 2007, “Rex Grossman Day” was declared in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., for his football achievements and work in the community. The quarterback hosted a charity golf tournament that has raised more than $100,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Hans Tanzler, basketball — A judge and politician who was the Mayor of Jacksonville when the city consolidated with Duval County, a historical moment in the city’s history. As mayor, he spearheaded efforts to revitalize the downtown district and clean up the St. John’s River. Other projects included the creation of the downtown campus for the Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Brad Culpepper, football — Since his retirement, he has spoken out publicly about the increasing number of 300-plus pound players and the serious health risks involved in playing at that size. He pushed his weight to 280 as a player, but lost 100 pounds since retiring from football.

Forest K. Ferguson, football — The World War II hero cleared a path despite heavy gun fire to power the Allied-forces advances on the beach of Normany, France. UF’s Fergie Ferguson Award is named in his honor.

James W. Kynes, football — The “iron man” played on both sides of the line. An award and a scholarship at UF has been established in his name. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and was the Florida Attorney General.

Nat Moore, football — The NFL voted Moore the “Man of the Year” in 1984, which is given annually to a player who goes above and beyond with community service. In 1986, he was given the Byron White Humanitarian Award. In 1989, he founded the Nat Moore Foundation, which works with disadvantaged youth in and around Miami-Dade County.

Floyd T. Christian, football — Was a highly decorated World War II battalion commander and retired from the military as a colonel. He later served as a school administrator and became the Florida Commissioner of Education in 1970. When he was superintendent of Pinellas County schools he was part of the early resistance of desegregation, but changed his views to become a “staunch defender of desegregation” as the state’s education commissioner.


Previous articleUF Hoops Notes: Dawg house
Next articleSEC Basketball Roundup: 1.22.13
Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.