UF punter fighting for starting job despite disease
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.
After David Lerner was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in late July, Florida coach Will Muschamp called the senior punter to see how he was doing. Lerner let his coach know right away where he stood in terms of continuing his career.
“That's the funny thing,” said Lerner, the former Buchholz High School wide receiver and punter. “When Coach Muschamp said, ‘How are you doing, how are you feeling?', I said, ‘My insides feel terrible, but my leg still works. I can promise you that.' ”
As bad as he felt at the time, Lerner was determined to persevere and continue punting for the Gators. Muschamp's response was to offer Lerner all the support he needed to keep his dream alive to one day punt in The Swamp in a UF game.
“I didn't have to convince him at all to stay on the team,” Lerner said. “Two days after I was diagnosed, coach called me and said, ‘Whatever you need, we'll get for you. We want you.' He was very supportive.
“I was definitely depressed with everything that was going on. That kind of gave me hope. That was really helpful and nice of him.
“I was definitely worried at first. The doctors and Coach Muschamp and the training staff and all the coaches were very supportive. They said, ‘We'll get you through this. If you can't practice, that's fine, we want you here.' It was very emotionally helpful.”
Lerner said he started feeling sick around July 22. He had no appetite and wasn't really eating. Trainers took him to the doctors and he was diagnosed with Crohn's, a disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, and he began undergoing treatment.
“I'm starting to feel a little bit better,” he said. “I still don't have a lot of energy, but I'm starting to feel better and get back to my normal self.”
Despite his condition, Lerner is not only grinding his way through preseason camp, he's in a neck-and-neck battle with true freshman Kyle Christy for the starting punting role. “It's going to be a fight to the end,” he said.
After sitting behind All-SEC punter Chas Henry for three seasons, Lerner, a walk-on, is not about to let Crohn's derail his chances of winning the job.
Lerner said his condition has “slightly” affected his performance in camp.
“Some days I just don't have as much energy as I normally do,” he said. “Sometimes it causes me to struggle a little bit. For the most part I feel good, good enough to practice.”
The coaches have told Lerner he can take off as much practice time as he needs. But he's been competing at every practice and taking only short water breaks here or there, he said.
“(The coaches) have told me to sit out a couple of times,” Lerner said. “Once or twice I've gone and gotten a break on my own. For the most part, I haven't missed much practice.
“I just try to stay really hydrated and try to eat as much as I can. I'm able to manage through it. Coach takes care of me and the trainers take really good care of me. If I ever need a minute or two break, they're more than happy to give it to me.”
Muschamp said Lerner's effort is inspiring.
“It's an inspiration to me watching him and how he's handling himself,” Muschamp said. “Tough times don't last, tough people do. He's a tough young man.”
Lerner said what he's going through has given him a greater appreciation for the game and the opportunity he has.
“There's never been a time in my life that I've been more happy to go to practice and be around the guys — and even just to get screamed at,” said Lerner, who will undergo two to three hours of IV treatment once every two months. “It's so much better than sitting up in a hospital.
“It's really made me realize we take a lot of stuff for granted. Just eating solid food is a blessing. It's made me a lot more thankful for a lot of the things I have.
“I have Crohn's, but it could be a lot worse. I could not be able to play. At least I can still play and practice.”
In his four-year UF career, Lerner has dressed out for 11 games, but has yet to play.
Having grown up in Gainesville, getting the opportunity to possibly be the Gators' starting punter in a little more than two weeks is a huge deal.
“It would be everything,” Lerner said.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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