Gators visit White House

President Barack Obama is presented with a personalized team jersey by tight end Cornelius Ingram, second right, as he poses for a picture with the 2008 NCAA Football Champions Florida Gators in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2009.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:07 p.m.

Some of David Nelson's friends and teammates have told the Florida wide receiver that he looks like Barack Obama. Everyone had a chance to find out just how much on Thursday because Nelson was standing just a few feet from the president during the White House ceremony honoring the Gators for winning the 2008 national championship.

"It was an unbelievable experience," said Nelson, a junior from Wichita Falls, Texas. "It was definitely surreal. I can't tell you how neat that was, standing up there right behind the president.

"I'm a huge Obama fan. Everyone on this team knows how much I like and respect him. Some people say I look like him. I appreciate everything he's done. I'm still on cloud nine. I love stuff like this."

Being such an admirer of the president, Nelson said he's been looking forward to the White House visit ever since the Gators defeated Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 8.

"Some guys like the rings and the glory," he said. "But I look forward to coming to the White House, the prestige of the White House."

Nelson said he made sure he was one of the first players in the White House on Thursday afternoon so he could get a seat close to the stand where Obama would speak.

"I wanted to be one of the first ones through the door," Nelson said. "(Offensive tackle) Jason Watkins and some of the bigger guys started fighting their way down the aisle (on the podium). They pushed me back a little, but I was pleased with my spot."

Not only did Nelson get close to Obama, but Obama mentioned his name during the ceremony.

It came moments after Obama talked about quarterback Tim Tebow's emotional promise following the upset loss to Ole Miss in September. After turning and shaking Tebow's hand, Obama then brought up Nelson and how he'd gone to Urban Meyer after the promise and vowed he would do anything and everything he could to help the Gators rebound.

"My heart just dropped when he said David Nelson," said Nelson, who caught the clinching touchdown pass in the national title game. "I didn't know where he was going with it. I'm honored that he mentioned my name. There are so many guys on this team he could have talked about. For him to call my name is a tremendous honor."

During the brief ceremony, Nelson had his camera out the entire time, clicking pictures of Obama.

"I took about 700 pictures," he said. "I was standing behind him, and I kept getting his back. But I got a few good pictures. It's something I'll always remember."

Obama joked with the 115 players crammed on risers in the East Room while praising them and their coaches. Being a champion doesn't end when the clock runs out, the president said, noting that the team volunteers 400 hours each year.

Obama said strong leadership formed a team that plays hard and works in the community.

"I want to congratulate everybody who makes this program run - from the assistants to the trainers, from the students to the ticket takers," he said. "All of you should be very, very proud."

In a moment of levity, Obama said he still supports a national playoff system instead of the bowl system. But the president also said he's confident the Gators could have defeated any team out there.

The team presented the president with a blue Gator jersey bearing Obama's name and the number 1. They also gave him a football with his name on the side.

Obama called Tebow, the Gators' quarterback, an inspiration for many people.

"He puts faith, family and academics above football. And that's incredible when you think about what he's done on the field," Obama said.

Tebow appreciated the comments.

"It was an honor to meet the president," Tebow said. "He made some really nice remarks about the team and myself. It was great to shake his hand, look him in the eye, and tell him that we're behind him and praying for him."

Early in the ceremony, Obama's speech was interrupted by a ringing cell phone. It turned out to be true freshman safety Will Hill's.

"Is that one of the player's phones? 'Fess up," Obama said as the audience burst into laughter. "Coach (Urban Meyer) is going to talk to you about not turning off your phone."

"We'll be kidding him about that," Nelson said.

It all added up to yet another memorable experience for the Gators from the 2008 season.

Nelson said as the players were filing out of the White House, they were looking around, taking pictures and talking about the 2009 season.

"A lot of guys were taking pictures of the White House," Nelson said. "We were saying, 'Don't worry about it, we'll be back next year.' Our goal is to be here again in 365 days."

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