Kurtz: no longer just a zero

Jacob Kurtz doesn’t have the ball skills of  point guard Kasey Hill, the shooting stroke of Micheal Frazier II or the high wire game of dunker deluxe Casey Prather. When he plays, it’s because the Florida Gators are winning a game by an obscene amount of points. It has allowed Kurtz to become somewhat of a garbage time all-star with a cult following among the Rowdy Reptiles at the O-Dome.

There were no Division I scholarship offers for the 6-6 210 pound junior when he graduated Oviedo Hagerty (the year before Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel) in 2010. His self-professed love for basketball brought him to the University of Florida, where he earned a manager position with the team. But when Kyle McClanahan transferred to Rollins College, a  walk-on spot was open for the taking. There was a catch, though. Kurtz had to try out.

The tryout went well, well enough that after a year of doing laundry and toting water for the Gators he actually got his chance to practice with the team, travel and even get into games during garbage time.

“That was a dream come true; that’s what I always wanted to do,” Kurtz said recently. “It was always a dream and an aspiration watching Florida growing up and putting on the jersey for the first time was a really cool feeling.”

The second time he put on the jersey was a 2011 game against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. In the first home game that Kurtz had ever dressed out, head coach Billy Donovan inserted him into the game with 3:01 left and a 77-45 lead. Over the next three minutes Kurtz got a defensive rebound, was fouled and drilled both free throw attempts.

That night, his biggest cheering section was on Florida’s bench. Kurtz’s teammates started the habit of rallying around their hard working walk-on. They have always shown their appreciation by rallying around him any time he gets into a game.

“That’s a really good feeling, just to know how much everyone cares about you and had your back,” Kurtz said. “We’re all close on and off the court so you can definitely see that so it’s a really good feeling to be able to recognize that, look over there and see them having a big smile and the support they have really means a lot.”

He saw time in three more games that season, but didn’t accumulate any stats. The 2012-’13 season was different. With Florida so dominant in many of their regular season contests, Kurtz saw time in 20 games. Out of all of the games he played in, the closest margin of victory was 17-point home win over Kentucky. In Florida’s 33-point home win against Georgia, Kurtz had his breakout performance. He drained a 3-pointer, made a lay-up and even committed a personal foul. His career high-five points may have made Kurtz’s biggest fan the happiest — Patric Young.

“Me and Patric have always had a close relationship,” Kurtz said. “Pat’s a great kid, he’s always very caring. When I first got here he would always make sure everything was going good with me and he was kind of quick to make friends.”

Young, a former Mcdonald’s All-American and potential first round NBA draft pick has an admiration for the former team manager who has never been on the floor for more than four minutes. The friendship runs deep, and it comes from Young’s understanding of how far Kurtz has come.

“I have a tremendous respect level for Jake, what he’s done to get to where he is today,” Young said. “My freshman year he sat up there at the top of every single thing we did until coaches brought him down as a manager and then he worked his way, earned the respect of everyone here. He’s a very well-respected member on our team”

Gator fans respect him too. When he enters a game cheers ring out for a player who has become somewhat of a folk-hero to the Rowdy Reptiles. He also has a nickname on the team: “The Snake.” It’s a moniker that he embraces on social media, with his Twitter handle “@Jakeda_snake” and he took time on his birthday to send out 36 tweets of thanks to followers that wished him well on his special day. Last but not least, was his good buddy Young:

Whatever fame he has, it doesn’t appear to be going to his head.

“What is it like? That’s a good question,” Kurtz said. “It’s a dream come true to play here. The fans really love it. They’ve  kinda got in the whole Jake the Snake here. The guys love it a lot, they’re all behind us. It was a lot of fun. I obviously want to play all the time, so when you do get the chance to play it’s a lot of fun to see everyone’s reaction to it makes it a lot better too.”

One thing is different about Kurtz this season. He won’t be wearing his familiar 0 jersey. He gave that up so that Kasey Hill could wear it. Kurtz opted for the other number he wore in high school: 30.

“Over the summer I was told Kasey Hill wanted to be zero,” Kurtz said “So I had two jersey sets in high school — one was zero and one was 30. So, it wasn’t like a huge change, like I’d never worn a different number so I didn’t mind changing it.”

Jake “The Snake” Kurtz will most likely never start a game in his Florida career. He probably won’t ever hit a buzzer beating shot, or make a crucial defensive stop in crunch time. But for a former team manager, someone all 351 division-1 schools overlooked for a scholarship offer, the respect and admiration from friends and fans alike is more than enough.

Richard Johnson
Richard lives in Gainesville and prides himself in being a bonafide lifelong Alachua County Resident. He attends the University of Florida and is in his third year studying Telecommunications. He isn’t sure how he started loving football being the son of two immigrants that don’t care about the sport, but he has developed a borderline unhealthy obsession with it. In his free time, Richard watches other sports and is an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tampa Bay Rays. He doesn’t like chocolate, knows Moe’s is better than Chipotle and drinks way too many Arnold Palmers. He also took up golf in the summer of 2012. That pursuit isn’t going well. You can listen to him talk about sports during the Cheapseats radio show on ESPN 850-WRUF or online at WRUF.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RagjUF.