The buzz coming out of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center could be heard in the parking lot.
Once inside, young and old alike painted the O’Dome in a sea of orange and blue with a palpable excitement.
As nearly every Florida Gators Football player sat with sharpies in hand and a smile on their face, thousands of fans shuffled in line to get an autograph, and maybe even a picture, with their beloved Gators.
Fan Day is an annual tradition for the athletic program; an opportunity for fans to meet players and coaches. It’s always been billed as an exciting day for Gator Nation, but it has become a favorite event for players as well.
Redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee says that the team even holds a “Mock Fan Day” to practice signing techniques and how to best answer questions in order to fully enhance the experience for fans.
Freshman defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson was quick to laugh at that remark with a “don’t believe anything Jake says”, but McGee’s comment about why they (would have) practiced rang true.
“You got to be on your game at Fan Day. It’s about others at Fan Day. As long as we keep the Gator Nation happy”-here a fan getting his poster signed chimed in-“Exactly. Here over two hours.”-“Right! Appreciate it”, responded a laughing McGee.
Many times fans leave with more than a signature and a picture though. Instead they get what they really came for, which is a few moments to give them greater knowledge about their favorite players; something that makes these Saturday hero’s feel like Monday friends; just a glimpse into the personality that transfers onto the gridiron come fall.
The guys did not disappoint.
A fan that walked down the defensive backs line got to see the competitive nature come out in the group who’s vying for the claim of #DBU.
A stop between Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole would reveal a game of tic-tac-toe that was getting a rules re-write.
A couple of boards were scratched out in sharpie on the plastic tablecloth and Poole broke down the play by play.
“Whooping Vernon in tic-tac-toe…I won…Then the next game, I put a O, then he put a big X [across the whole board] and said he won, but as you see, he didn’t”, as a fan chimes in “Wow, y’all are competitive”, and precedes to tell Poole and Hargreaves about her two young sons who always compete with each other. The rise in her voice is unmistakable. She can’t wait to tell her children about how they are like the Florida Gators football players they so admire, then will hold onto that conversation and connection for a while.
Sophomore defensive back Quincy Wilson pinpointed the wishes of most fans during the day when he said, “I know everybody’s excited to see Coach Mac for the first time and see what he’s about.”
And he was correct. Head coach Jim McElwain was still signing autographs as he was being escorted out of the door by security, rushing to his next scheduled event but not wanting to leave any fan disappointed.
Such is the purpose of Fan Day. Leave no poster unsigned, and no fan upset about a missed opportunity. There’s an entire season on the horizon that promises fans packing into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium week after week, and what better way for the Florida Gators football team to thank them in advance than with a day meant just for them.
Many of the guys have been through Fan Day enough now to know the gist of it. In fact, they have the system down pat. We asked many of them who they’d want to stand in line for, how long they’d be willing to wait and how do they find ways to keep answering personal questions about themselves?
Find out all of that and more in the two videos below and make sure to stay with GatorCountry.com for all of your Florida Gators football coverage.