A Case for walk-ons at UF


Gainesville wide receiver Case Harrison runs past a Columbia defender during a win on Sept. 6, 2012.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 9:40 a.m.

Drawing on his many and varied football experiences at Florida, Chris Doering could write a handbook for anyone attempting to embark on a similar journey/adventure. He might call it, “A Walk-on's Guide for How to Survive and Eventually Thrive in College Football's Big Time.”

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Gainesville wide receiver Case Harrison runs past a Columbia defender during a win on Sept. 6, 2012.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

His story is one of the most endearing and uplifting in Gator football history: Area high school star shunned by the college recruiters walks on at the school he loved growing up and rises from no-name scout team player to one of the greatest wide receivers in school history.

It's a great tale of hope and perseverance. But Doering doesn't want to sell it. He wants to share it. And the one person he really wants to share it with is Gainesville High School standout wide receiver Case Harrison, who is about to follow in Doering's footsteps.

In November, Harrison accepted Will Muschamp's offer to become a preferred walk-on at Florida. He will enroll at UF this summer and start competing on the practice field in August.

Doering looks at Harrison and, well, kind of sees himself when he was coming out of P.K. Yonge and getting ready to walk on at Florida 22 years ago.

“Obviously, there are a lot of similarities between the two of us,” Doering said. “(Walking on) is a difficult process. There are not a whole lot of walk-ons that are given an opportunity.

“I think I can certainly tell him some of the valuable things I learned along the way at Florida to be a successful walk-on. I can give him some insight that would allow him to compete immediately. I can help with advice off the field and tips on the field.”

The mentoring has already begun.

Doering has known Mike and Pam Harrison for many years. The more he heard about their son — his exploits on the field at GHS (where he led the area in receiving this past season) and his offer to walk-on at Florida — the more he wanted to meet him.

Doering and Harrison recently had lunch together and the two plan to stay in touch as Harrison prepares to begin his walk-on journey at UF.

“My mom kind of filled me in on everything Chris did at Florida, how great of a player he was,” Harrison said. “I've heard, ‘Doering's got a touchdown, Doering's got a touchdown' about a million times. He was a great player.

“We talked about how I don't have a scholarship offer at all, from anybody. He said, ‘That's just how I was, too. I just used that as a motivational tool to go to the University of Florida and work harder than anyone else and prove everyone wrong.'

“That's exactly how I feel. It was great to have a chance to talk to him, and we're going to talk again. He said, ‘If you want to go out and throw, anytime, I'd be happy to, let me know.' That was kind of good to hear, a Gator great wanting to throw the football with you.”

The fact Harrison and Doering seem to have made an instant connection probably is not surprising. The two have much in common.

Both grew up in Gainesville and were star high school wide receivers who had no college scholarship offers. Harrison was overlooked despite a big senior season in which he caught 51 passes for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns, three coming in the Hurricanes' state semifinal victory over Navarre.

Doering was offered and accepted preferred walk-on status at UF. Harrison has done the same.

Both are known for their team-first attitude, tireless work ethic and high football IQ. Both have a knack for knowing how to get open and make plays despite not having blazing speed.

Probably the biggest thing they have in common is their love for the Gators. Both grew up living and dying with Florida football.

Doering's father, Paul, is a UF professor and Doering grew up dreaming about playing for Florida.

Harrison's grandfather, Fred Pearson, played offensive tackle for the Gators under Ray Graves (1961-63), both of his parents are UF graduates and he's been going to UF games since he was eight years old.

Harrison was born a Gator.

“I was brought home from the hospital in a Gator blanket,” he said. “I've always been a Gator.”

When Harrison started playing football at age 10 at the Boys and Girls Club, he made sure he got to play for the team that was named the Gators.

Doering said Harrison's passion for Florida football may be the biggest thing he has going for him as he battles to succeed as a walk-on.

“It makes a big difference,” Doering said. “I can't tell you how many players on the team didn't really know the history of the program, didn't know about the old players and didn't have that passion for Florida football.

“It's a main motivator. I dreamed of being able to run out of that tunnel and live and die with what happens on the field. It meant a lot more to me to have the opportunity to put on the orange and blue.

“When you're talking about guys like me and Case, you're talking about guys that are already fully invested in Florida football before they even get there.”

Harrison said he has that fire in his belly that comes with having a chance to play for the team he grew up loving.

“It means so much more when you come from a Gator family and Florida is in your heart,” Harrison said. “Even if I went somewhere else, I'd be a Gator at heart.

“It's that much more of an incentive to work hard and try your best. It means so much more that you were raised a Gator. It means a whole lot more.

“It's so surreal when I go over there (to UF) and I'm getting shown around (by the coaches). I'm not just getting a tour, I'm getting shown what I'm going to be a part of. It hasn't really sunk in yet.”

To help him succeed as a Gator, Doering has already offered some key pointers to Harrison based on his own walk-on experiences at Florida:

— Don't become discouraged, especially in the beginning. “It's a long road. You can't get discouraged by one or two roadblocks early along the way. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping an even keel mentally is certainly important,” Doering said.

— Bust it in the weight room, bust it on the practice field, and always try to outwork and outperform the competition (those highly rated scholarship players). “You have to outwork everybody you're competing against. (The coaches) are not going to look at you the same way they look at the players they've invested scholarships in. If you're even with the scholarship guy, they're going to give (the playing time) to the scholarship guy. You have to be clearly better than everyone. That means working harder and being more committed than those you're competing against,” Doering said.

— Do something positive early that will catch the head coach's attention. “The first conditioning run (before the start of camp my freshman season), I blew away everybody. That 12-minute run was important to Steve Spurrier. Immediately, he noticed and respected me for that. It starts with day one. Try to do something early to show the coaches how committed you are and how you are different.”

It's sound and proven advice, coming from someone who went from local walk-on wide receiver to Florida's all-time leader in touchdown receptions (31).

Harrison is listening.

“It means a lot to me that he wants to share his experiences with me,” Harrison said. “I hope to do some of the same things he did at Florida.”

Doering said he has a good feeling that Harrison is going to succeed.

“I'm very impressed with the type of kid he is,” Doering said. “Obviously, he's got great role models in his parents. You can tell he's a sharp kid and highly motivated to go out there and not just be on the team at Florida, but play.”

GHS coach James Thomson said Harrison, who helped lead the Hurricanes to the Class 6A state title game in December, will be more than just a walk-on at Florida. He'll be a player and an asset to the team.

“He's a great kid. I can't say enough good things about him,” Thomson said. “He's a team player. He's going to do anything and everything you ask him to do. He was the most valuable player I had on my team.

“Case's attitude is, ‘What can I do to help the team?' That's the reason Florida wants him. Will Muschamp will be as happy as can be when he gets Case.”

Who knows, maybe one day in the not too distant future we'll be hearing Mick Hubert exclaiming, “Harrison's got a touchdown!, Harrison's got a touchdown!”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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