Three years ago, when my dreams finally came true and I arrived on campus at the University of Florida, something pretty strange happened.
The morning after my mom and stepfather moved me into my dorm room, said their goodbyes and flew home, I got sick. It wasn’t your common cold or anything like that — I felt nauseous for the entire day and could barely eat a thing. I was also supposed to begin classes that day and I can remember holding my belly as I was trying to find my way from calculus to English. The first days of school are typically difficult, but this was a whole other level. To make matters worse, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I’m pretty sure some of my classmates and teammates were like, Yo, what’s wrong with this dude? Is he nervous or something?
Now, my mom would probably tell you that I was simply homesick and missing her, and maybe she was right. My mom is rarely wrong (this will make her very happy that I’m admitting this in writing). At the time, I was convinced I got sick from eating Southern food — guess I couldn’t handle all the cornbread and gator meat. I wasn’t used to meals like that in D.C.
But looking back on it now, I think it might have been something else.
Where I grew up, nobody’s really expected to go to college. I often doubted whether or not it was in the plans for me. So getting the opportunity to go to a school — any school — was significant for me and my family. When I think about my journey, coming from inner-city D.C. and living in some challenging environments, to arriving on campus and seeing the Swamp for the first time, I realize that I’ve been a part of something bigger than just a football team. It has reminded me to continue to work hard no matter the circumstances.
I write to you today to say that I’m ready to begin the next chapter in my life. I have decided to forgo my senior year and declare for the NFL draft. But I cannot say goodbye without first saying thank you. I am forever grateful for the University of Florida and every member of the amazing Gator community.
We spent some pretty incredible years together, didn’t we?
When I think about my time padded up in orange and blue, it’s hard to think of a moment more special than our game in Death Valley back in November. Is there anything more symbolic of this program than what happened there?
Think about it. On the road. SEC East title on the line. Last play of the game. We’re leading 16–10. LSU is at our 1-yard line. All the Tigers have to do is punch it in.
And we stopped ’em.
We spent some pretty incredible years together.Jalen 'Teez' Tabor
I remember the moment so vividly. I was on the sideline kneeling just a few yards away from Coach Mac. Our big fellas were out there in our goal-line package. I saw the LSU quarterback pitch the ball to Derrius Guice and … it kinda looked like a broken play. At that point, I knew. I knew that our boys were gonna lock ’em down on the goal line for the second straight time in the game.
What happened next was mayhem. Some of us ran over to the LSU student section where it looked like all the fans were doing the mannequin challenge. They were just frozen, with their hands up to their faces and their mouths wide open. I’d never heard that stadium so quiet … we silenced Death Valley, but we were hollerin’ and going crazy.
I am fully aware that I would have never gotten this far on my own.
That’s SEC football right there. It’s drama personified.
When I was blessed with the opportunity to be a Gator, I dreamed about big moments like that and plays that people would be talking about for years. Going on the road. Silencing the crowd. While we were victorious, we also experienced challenges. It was always a battle to play against teams like Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. But I made sure to cherish every moment no matter the outcome because I knew it was going to end one day.
Now that the season is over, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and have been feeling pretty nostalgic. I’ve also realized something: The University of Florida has changed my life. And I don’t mean that in the cliché way. I mean every single syllable of it. Every day, I’m walking around campus thinking this is some sort of dream. I am fully aware that I would have never gotten this far on my own, and I’m thankful to everybody who helped me get here. I have matured so much since that first day. In my mind, that’s because of the people I have met in Gainesville. They’re the ones who have molded me into who I am today. And I want to take the time to explain why Florida has meant so much to me for the past three years.
For the fellas that I ran out of the tunnel with this year, I’ll never forget the ride we went on. Being a part of this team has been a true honor and I am proud to say you are all my brothers. Eddie Giles, Marcell Harris, Marcus Maye, Mark Norvelis, Nick Washington, Chris Williamson, Quincy Wilson and the rest of the DB unit: Man, I just wanna say thanks for fighting with me every day. I’m going to miss all of you so much. Whether it was us just chilling in the dorm or laughing until we cried, y’all have meant something so special to me.
I’m appreciative for all the DBs who have come through this program. A couple of my brothers like Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole taught me the value of hard work before they continued their journeys professionally. They also instilled in me the importance of doing the little things, like watching film late into the night, stretching, treating people the right way and supporting the program.
In short, they molded me into the young man I wanted to become.
To the best coaching staff in college football: Thank you for constantly pushing me and elevating my game. Without Coach Mac, Collins, Shannon, Rumph, and Gray, the training staff and the strength-and-conditioning staff, I’d be half the athlete I am today.
To my former coaches, Coach Muschamp and T-Rob, thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to this amazing university and teaching me valuable lessons on and off the field.
There are two women that I have to say something about, because they taught me how to challenge myself in the classroom. Ms. D and Ms. Ashley were my two academic advisors. If it wasn’t for them, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be writing this letter. The transition into college wasn’t easy for me, but these two lovely women — along with my professors — helped me through some tough times.
To Jeremy Foley: It was an honor and privilege to be a part of this incredible athletic association you created.
And, finally, to all of Gator Nation … you gotta stand up! Y’all turned the Swamp into a party every game. Hands down, you’re the reason we have the biggest home field advantage. One hundred percent. I would hate to be on an opposing team next season. We have a lot of big home games next year, and I know y’all can’t wait for them. Keep doing you.
Even though I’m leaving for the NFL, I’m a Gator through and through. Wherever I end up next, I know that I’ll find myself back in the Swamp at some point next season to cheer with y’all. I’ll always come back and show some love. It’s the least I can do for a place that has given me so much.
It’s an exciting time for me. I’ve decided to do what’s best for me and my family by continuing to pursue my dreams. But I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying see you later. Hopefully I’ll make y’all proud and show how my passion for this game continues to shine through. You can measure how fast a guy runs and how high he jumps, but you can’t measure how much heart he has — even though there’s nothing more important.
After three years, I’ve given Gator Nation everything my heart has.