If there has been one great surprise for Trent Pupello, the freshman tight end with the distinguishable long blonde hair that extends way below his helmet onto his shoulder pads, it’s the lack of creativity with nicknames. He thought when he got to the University of Florida he would hear a few more names that he hadn’t heard before but that hasn’t been the case.
“Let’s see … Hollywood Hogan, Fabio, Tarzan … things like that,” said Pupello, the 6-4, 260-pounder from Tampa Jefferson. “I heard those in high school, too. I thought they’d be more creative.”
No sooner were those words out of his mouth than a group of three teammates walked by and in between the laughs came the words “Hollywood Hogan!”
Pupello laughed and said, “See what I mean?”
It’s all good natured for the big guy that patterns his game after former University of Miami and now New York Giants star Jeremy Shockey. Pupello is a big, physical player with excellent mobility. He’s as comfortable blocking as he is catching the ball in the secondary and then punishing some poor, undersized safety that tries to get in his way.
He showed in the first few days of practice that he’s got the good hands but he hasn’t had a chance to catch the ball in the secondary during a live scrimmage.
“I haven’t been able to catch a ball and run and hit somebody yet,” he said. “We don’t do much of that because they don’t want everybody getting hurt. I hope I get a chance in a game, though. That’s the part of football that’s really fun.”
He will get his chance to play even as a true freshman. He’s already one of the tight ends when the Gators go with a seven man line in goal line situations and he’s running number two at tight end behind Tate Casey. The Gators use multiple formations so there isn’t a true tight end on every play.
It’s that part of the game, learning all the different things that a tight end has to do in the offense that’s been the big adjustment for him. The physical part, he can handle. He bench presses well over 400 pounds and he had a reputation for being big on contact long before he got to Florida.
“The mental part is the toughest,” he said. “Everybody’s faster and they hit a lot harder here, but it’s the mental that’s tough. They give you a lot of information and they expect you to take it in the first time and get it. If you don’t you’re way, way behind. They want you to get it and get it quick so it doesn’t drag the rest of the team down. The mental part is tough and that means you’ve got to study what you’re doing a lot more than in high school. The physical? You get used to it. I like contact and it’s just harder and faster, that’s all.”
He’s learning something new every day and that helps make the practices in the heat and humidity a lot more fun. There’s no monotony because he has to be on his toes at all time, ready to absorb something new.
“They’re big on making steps every day,” he said. “They want to see you doing the things they want you to do, learning all the new stuff and then putting it into what you do in practice. As long as you’re making your steps every day and coming off the ball like they want, they’re happy with you.”
And when they’re not happy?
“Well, the intensity level of the coaches is a whole lot different here than it was at Jefferson,” he said. “Coach (Bill) Simmons was an intense guy who’d get up your butt quick but these guys are a whole new level. But hey, it’s college. It’s a new level, right? That’s what it’s supposed to be. I can handle it and it makes it fun actually.”
Pupello is the son of Joe Pupello, a standout offensive lineman for the Gators in the Doug Dickey era of the 1970s. Trent and his brother Kyle, a walkon fullback, are both Gators now and that makes dad awfully proud.
“What could be better than this?” Trent asked. “I’m a Gator. My brother’s a Gator. My dad’s a happy guy. It’s a dream come true for us. It’s a dream come true for him, too. He’s as proud as he’s ever been about anything.”
As for the hair, Trent says that’s going to stay. The Gators used to have a tradition of shaving the heads of the incoming freshmen but that’s a policy that has changed.
“No hazing now,” said Trent, “but if someone wants to try to cut the hair, bring it on. I’ll do whatever I have to do. It might not be pleasant. The hair stays.”
He gets the hair trimmed up fairly regularly so it isn’t shaggy, but the last time he got it cut was his sophomore year in high school.
“I left Plant at Christmas my sophomore year and transferred into Jefferson,” Pupello said. “I can’t remember if I got my hair cut just before I got to Jefferson or not but I know I haven’t had one since then and that’s what? Two and a half years? Three years?”
It’s not that he thinks he’s another Samson, the Biblical character whose strength came from his hair, it’s just that he likes the long hair.
“It’s part of the personality,” he said. “I’m used to the teasing. Funny but most of the guys teasing me don’t have much hair. Maybe they’re jealous!”
As long as he keeps up the hard work, showing that he’s a physical force as a blocking tight end and catching the ball when it’s thrown to him, nobody will mind the hair. In fact, if he puts together a great season he might just inspire others to abandon the close cropped look for something a little more Hollywood.