Dustin Kent, GateHouse Florida
LYNN HAVEN — For most young athletes, a Division I scholarship offer represents something of a holy grail for them, a reward for years of hard work and training leading to the ultimate goal of being a scholarship athlete and all the privileges and possibilities that realizing that dream offers.
Even for the most talented athletes, that point doesn’t typically come until well into their high school athletic careers. For Mowat Middle School’s Randy Pittman, that moment came before the beginning of his.
Pittman, a 14-year-old football player who will start his high school career at Mosley High in the fall, received a scholarship offer from the University of Florida on Saturday while attending the school’s Junior Day.
UF’s Junior Day gives young prospects an introduction to the school and a chance to meet and establish relationships with coaches to build as the recruiting process goes on.
These introductions don’t always result in scholarship offers, but in the case of Pittman, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back/linebacker, that’s exactly what happened.
Pittman said he enjoyed the full experience at Florida and took the scholarship offer as something of a personal challenge.
“It was fun, extremely fun. I thank God and (Mowat coach Tony Davis) for the opportunity and situation they’re putting me in. As a young athlete this is a great thing. This could define who I am. I’ve got four years to gain more offers or four years to lose the offer I have, so it’s a mental game for me.
“It’s more like, don’t mess up and do what’s right and I’ll be able to help other people get in that situation. I could have coaches come see me and they see one of my teammates doing good and that gets them noticed. I love the opportunity and situation I’ve been put in.”
Before the offer came, the day for Pittman began by meeting UF recruiting assistants Otis Yelverton and Keiwan Ratliff and being subsequently measured and weighed before taking pictures in a Gators uniform.
He then got to go to a Florida football practice and meet head coach Dan Mullen, who “talked about how important it is to do things that help you in the future, so prepare myself now,” Pittman said.
Pittman said he enjoyed seeing the UF players compete against each other in practice and that he took Mullen’s message to heart.
“Mentally, I do not want to lose this and I’m gonna do whatever I can academically and physically not to lose it,” he said. “But I also want to gain more (offers), so I’m gonna work even harder and do even better. That’s like a win-win.”
Pittman, who won’t turn 15 until October, said it was also special to share the moment with his family.
“They were excited. I had some of them cry and they were all on Facebook congratulating me,” he said. “Everyone told me I was good enough to do this, so now to get this opportunity at a young age, it’s great.”
Dustin Kent is the sports editor of the Panama City News-Herald. He can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.