Largest-ever Gator band is fine-tuning for Saturday

Drum major Freddy Masterson and the Gator Marching Band practice on campus at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.

The Pride of the Sunshine, the University of Florida's marching band, has been spending hour after hour this week at Pony Field on Gale Lemerand Drive preparing for Saturday — the first performance of its centennial year.

The band — with students representing more than 100 majors across the UF campus — goes into its 100th year with 365 members, the largest it's ever been. The band practices six hours a week at Pony Field, then rehearses on the turf of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium the Friday before every home game.

"I'm convinced they're some of the hardest-working students on campus," Gator band director Jay Watkins said.

They're also an award-winning band, having won the prestigious Sudler Trophy for 2013.

"It's a huge deal," Watkins said, explaining that the Sudler Trophy celebrates the close historical tie between college marching bands and the American way of life. The trophy will be formally presented on Nov. 9 during the halftime show at UF's homecoming game against Vanderbilt.

The Gator marching band will celebrate the award at a 100th anniversary gala at the Reitz Union on Nov. 23.

Watkins is the seventh director of the Gator marching band in its 100-year history.

"I tell everyone I've got the best job in the world," he said.

Freddy Masterson, the marching band's drum major and a marketing senior at UF, said this is definitely a big year for the band.

"We're coming off an award-winning season," he said. "Expectations are high."

The routines the band will practice and perform on game days are put together in the spring by a volunteer student creative team that is responsible for brainstorming ideas for shows.

"We try to do a different show every week," Watkins said.

In addition to teaching these students how to be an effective part of a marching band, Watkins said he also tries to teach "the things they're gonna need to be successful whatever their career is."

Watkins' direction is held in high regard by band members.

"He's portraying to us the drive to push and we're just feeding off of that," said Adren Hance, a 19-year-old music major who plays trombone.

Brought together by their mutual love of music, the Gator band is a tightly knit group of friends, Hance said.

Masterson echoed this sentiment: "It brings us all together as a family."

"That very first note of pregame, that's when you realize what all the hard work, what it's all about," Masterson said.

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