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Florida football: GatorMade program aims to prepare players for life beyond the gridiron

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier was all smiles during Gator Walk at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, October 2, 2022. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Florida football players wore a new logo on their helmets on Saturday during the Missouri game with the words "GatorMade."

 It's not just a slogan, but rather an initiative launched by first-year coach Billy Napier and his staff to help prepare players for life after football. Through a variety of programs, UF's student athletes will be empowered with opportunities to learn, serve, and lead. It received a notable gift this week from former UF football player Mike Ricketts, a successful business owner whose company specializes in marketing, packaging and supply chain management.

"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to really position the players for success independent of football,” Napier said.

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The program, under the direction of Florida senior director of player relations Savannah Bailey, already is off to a strong start. Bailey sent a group of 16 student-athletes, including 10 football players, to a service trip abroad to Greece to aid Ukranian refugees of Greek ethnicity who fled to Greece to escape the war-torn country.

Bailey was hired by Napier from Clemson, where she ran a similar life skills program for the Clemson football program under Dabo Swinney from 2017-21 Her background included a bachelor's degree from Tennessee in microbiology and a masters from Clemson in student affairs.

The goal of the program, Bailey said, is to develop football as a tool for life.

"It is not something that you rely your whole life on," Bailey said. "But you can use it to power yourself to go through many, many doors. That can always be a lead for you."

Florida wide receiver Justin Shorter was among those who attended the Greece trip. It was his first time leaving the country. He called it a life-changing experience.

"Really just seeing something else, seeing how other people live, someone else's culture for a change," Shorter said. "That really opened my eyes up. I was kind of like, Whoa. They call it wanderlust where you want to travel the world and do stuff. Now I just want to travel everywhere now after doing that now."

 Bailey also exposed UF's program to a variety of speakers this summer including Inky Johnson, a former Tennessee football player who suffered an injury in 2006 that permanently paralyzed his right arm.

"Whenever we have speakers I always try to mix it up between education and motivation or inspiration," Bailey said. "You don’t want all hype people but you don’t want to leave them high and dry, too, of what’s the application here, so it’s having that balance and having that mixture."

Bailey and Napier both believe that the off-field program could have positive impacts down the road on the field as well.

"If you're a more mature person, you're going to make some better decisions," Bailey said. "You're better in high-pressure situations.

"And I think just general leadership and empowerment. What does it look like to be comfortable in who you are? That identity, and then that intellect. Do you have the ability to communicate what you know? The influence part, can you spread that to your team or anybody else? And the impact. Can you go out and do it in a game and impact a whole lot of other people that are then queued into just watching you."

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