Chasing a Dream

Walk-on Jared Hetzel has made an impact on FSU special teams. He was voted the unit's Most Valuable Player last year and the Top Non-Scholarship Player on defense following spring drills. At the moment, Hetzel is balancing classes with weight lifting and delivering pizzas to make money. He also finds time to golf with teammates and enjoy college life. "I didn't know if I would get a chance or if I would ever get this far, but it has been a great experience," Hetzel said.

Jared Hetzel always knew he wanted to play football at Florida State. Not even a baseball season in center field at Central Florida Community College could change Hetzel's mind.

"I told the baseball coach I was just playing to do something for that one season, because I was heading to Florida State," Hetzel said. "The whole time I was playing, I knew I wanted to come up here and play football."

Hetzel, 22, is one of the Seminoles' better stories, a gritty walk-on who earned significant playing time on FSU's special teams last season and is expected to do so again this year.

In fact, Hetzel was voted that unit's Most Valuable Player last season, thanks in large part to his Kamikaze-style on kickoff coverage, which resulted in a pair of fumble recoveries and 12 tackles. Hetzel also was voted the Top Non-Scholarship Player on defense following spring drills. (Tailback Greg Tony earned the same award on offense).

Hetzel's heart and speed -- he can run a 4.4 40 -- more than make up for his smallish stature (5-9, 170 on a good day, as he says and smiles).

"I didn't know if I would get a chance or if I would ever get this far, but it has been a great experience," said Hetzel, a fifth-year senior who played both football and baseball at Belleview High near Ocala.

Of course, all walk-ons dream of earning a scholarship. Such stories are part of FSU's folklore, dating back to defensive back Monk Bonasorte to defensive end Andre Wadsorth to kicker Chance Gwaltney and wide receiver Joey Kaleikini last season. FSU coach Bobby Bowden has tried to make it a point to reward walk-ons for their loyalty and hard work when possible.

Naturally, Hetzel would love to end his collegiate career on scholarship, though he's not consumed by the thought either.

"It would definitely would make things easier, but I am still going to play," Hetzel said and smiled.

As a walk-on, Hetzel must balance school and football with a job. He worked on the golf course at Golden Eagle two summers ago and is currently a driver for a local pizza chain. "You can make $100 in tips a night, but I usually try to work days because I don't like nights -- it can be a little dangerous," Hetzel said. "Still, it's a good job for college."

During the day, Hetzel finishes class work towards a degree in management and works out four times a week with teammates/good friends Brett Williams, Brian Sawyer and Jesse Stein. Workouts usually last 90 minutes or so, and the group alternates body parts each day.(FSU's monitored offseason workouts started Monday).

When the quartet finds some free time, they usually head to a local golf course for a dose of action and comedy. The group is also planning a hunting/fishing trip for later this summer.

"Jesse and I shoot in the 80s, and I think Brian has beaten us a couple of times, which is hard to live down when a fat guy beats you," Hetzel said and laughed. "Now, Brett. He's a hack. He usually shoots around 110 or so. He's pretty funny out there."

Of course, there's nothing funny about sprinting downfield on kickoff coverage. Hetzel saw his first career action at Duke last season. The trip also represented Hetzel's first time on an airplane. If he had to choose, Hetzel would take kickoff coverage over the airlines.

"Yeah, we are not a big flying family and I was pretty nervous, especially when the plane kind of swayed that first time," Hetzel said. "I just wanted somebody to tell me that's normal. I tried to stay as calm as I could, but I was pretty nervous inside. I wasn't the worst, though. X-man (kicker Xavier Beitia) doesn't like to fly and gets pretty nervous, too. He won't keep his eyes open. He will put a pillow over his head the entire trip."

Hetzel's job on kickoff coverage, of course, is to stick his head into the action. Still, it's a matter of style. Hetzel, No. 13 in your program, usually lines up between the hash marks on kickoffs. Opponents averaged 20.5 yards on kickoff returns and 12.5 yards on punt returns against the Seminoles last season.

"Basically, you have to play as hard as you can," said Hetzel, who was listed third-team on the depth chart at cornerback following spring drills.

"Everybody is going to get knocked down. Everyone is going to get blindsided. You just try to get up as quickly as you can and take care of your responsibility. Different guys have different styles. I try to avoid (blockers), shake and get to the ball. Coaches teach us to avoid (blockers) at some point, but you either have to go through or around a guy at some point. At 170 pounds, going around is definitely the better route for me."

As a defensive back, Hetzel also has gotten an earful from coordinator Mickey Andrews.

"Coach is intimidating but the more you get to know him, the more lovable he is," Hetzel said. "He's awesome. The image he portrays on the field and what he portrays in the meeting room and during one-on-one sessions, he is so totally different. He loves his guys. It's great having the opportunity to play for coach."

Of course, Hetzel is also thankful for the opportunity to play at FSU. His older brother is a Seminole graduate and his younger brother currently attends FSU and is a roommate. Hetzel also sees a better season from the Seminoles, who look to rebound from last year's 8-4 mark. Ironically, if all goes as planned, Hetzel may also try to make the Seminole baseball team as a walk-on next season.

"We were playing very well at the end of last season, and we are looking to carry that momentum into this season," Hetzel said."It should be fun."

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