Fireworks go off in the Swamp during the Florida Gators win over New Mexico State Throughout his five-years on the team, Mark Herndon has demonstrated just what it takes to be Florida Gator.
For someone who lives only 30-minutes from Gainesville, Mark’s dream was always to play in the Orange and Blue. However, he did not think it was possible to play at a Division 1 school due to some set-backs he withstood growing up: his struggle with being overweight as a kid; picking up the game of football later than most athletes; and his lack of experience on the field.
Fortunately, Mark’s high school coach, Stan Sulzer, saw something special in him. “He saw something in me that I didn’t, and he pushed me harder than anybody ever did,” Herndon explained.
Surprisingly enough, Sulzer was friends with Coach Brian White, Florida’s old running backs coach, and put in a good word for Mark. As a freshman, Mark was given the chance to serve the role as a preferred walk-on.
Entering a program as a walk-on is far from glorious – You aren’t on the pre-payed meal plan and housing isn’t payed for, you don’t receive the attention from coaches that scholarship athletes receive, and you’re playing simply for the love of the game. “I don’t know if people really understand how hard physically, mentally and emotionally tough it is to walk on a team,” Herndon admits.
Tough indeed. During his freshmen year, Mark often times didn’t have the means to buy a nutritious meal. Instead, he would stick to his monotonous Ramen Noodles. Other times, Mark’s teammates would pack him a to-go plate from Training Table.
As an athlete, you need a substantial amount of protein, vegetables and complex carbs to perform at the optimal level. Now imagine the physical stamina that it took for Mark to complete an entire practice with just Ramen Noodles in his system.
Despite those challenging days, everything changed for Mark the summer going into his sophomore year. At the end of camp, Coach Muschamp relayed the news that the program freed up some space and had two scholarships to give out. “I wasn’t even thinking of myself. It didn’t even cross my mind that I was going to get one,” Mark said.
Herndon’s name was called as Coach Muschamp gave out the final scholarship. Filled with disbelief and pure joy, Herndon walked back to the locker room, embraced Coach White and both began to sob in each other’s arms.
When asking Mark about this favorite memory as a Gator he says, “The most memorable moment in the Swamp for me was receiving my scholarship from coach Muschamp on our last camp practice.”
That season, Mark played in all 12 games, serving as a key member on special teams (where he made two tackles) and held the role as a backup at running back. In the season opener against Toledo, Herndon had four carries for 38-yards.
Off the field, Herndon earned multiple awards including SEC Academic Honor Roll, the Gene Elleson Community Service Award […]