For Gainesville (Fla.) native Trent Whittemore, being a Florida Gator means a bit more than your average athlete within the program. Growing up around the Orange and Blue makes it special to don the colors years later as the college of your choice.
Running out of the tunnel for the first time in front of 90,000 screaming fans is special for anyone, but especially so if you were once one of the kids doing the screaming.
Whittemore's first game in The Swamp was as a fan, the Gators played Furman in 2011, defeating the Palidans in a high-scoring contest 54-32. That was the first game that Whittemore saw Florida play in person, but he had seen plenty of games prior, a fan of all major sports, especially basketball.
"Huge Florida everything fan — baseball, basketball. Preston Tucker was my guy in baseball. Cory Brewer in basketball. I can go way back,” he said on Wednesday. The reality is, now Whtitemore is one of those players he used to look up to in the past, able to be cheered on and running out into The Swamp in front of 90,000 strong.
A redshirt sophomore now, Whittemore remembers the first time he ran out of the tunnels at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium fondly.
"I've stood, you know, on the little recruit-seat area for a couple years and then in the stands before that. So, it was crazy coming out of the tunnel there's 90,000 going wild, just an experience," he recalled. "And like I said, the first couple of times it's such a 'wow' factor, and after a while, it juices you up and then you're like, 'OK I also gotta go play.'"
At the end of the day, Whittemore says, it's football and after the excitement, he has a job to do and goals to accomplish, but that doesn't make it any less special.
"It was unbelievable the first time coming out and it still gives me chills thinking about it and I'm glad we're gonna have full capacity again, be able to do it next week."
The Gators will open up its regular season against the FAU Owls on Sept. 4 at The Swamp. It will be an opportunity for Whittemore and the rest of the Florida receiving corp to showcase their talents after losing some key pieces in Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts to the NFL earlier this year.
"Definitely big shoes to fill," Whittemore said when asked about how the group was coming along this year, "Tre, KT and even Kyle was a tight end, but he caught a lot of balls as well. So, definitely big shoes to fill, but I think we’re coming along just fine. Thankfully, you know, we rotate a lot of guys throughout the year, so there’s a lot of guys with experience."
Redshirt junior receivers Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter, along with sophomore Xzavier Henderson and Whittemore will all play major roles this season for Florida. Whittemore was able to have some success last season before suffering broken ribs and a punctured lung midway through the year, an injury that left him in pain for quite some time.
"One of the most painful injuries I've had, and it was bothersome throughout the rest of the year if we're being honest," he said. "So, that was just, it was just annoying more than anything. It takes a while to heal completely, it's always messing with you. I just give a huge shoutout to coach Savage, he really built me back up this summer in a way that eliminated a lot of that pain."
Now, after some training with the Florida strength and conditioning staff, Whittemore says he's finally back at full strength and is ready to play his role in the slot this season.
"Coach Mullen has an amazing offensive mind and I enjoy playing slot. I can pull things from KT, Freddie (Swain) or Josh (Hammond), and at the same time, put my own spin on it. It’s great to look back and take from what those guys did as well as add my own flavor to it. Coach Mullen allows every guy in the offense to do that.”
In just a short week, Whittemore will be able to do just that and having a refreshed mind, in his hometown, it should be one of the most memorable seasons for the young athlete this season at Florida.