Herndon earns scholarship

The Gators rallied around head coach Will Muschamp following Tuesday's practice expecting the normal post-practice instructions, but the script changed. It was a special day for Muschamp, as the former walk-on at Georgia got to hand out scholarships to two Florida walk-ons. Even when the topic was brought up, sophomore Mark Herndon never expected what was about to happen.

The first announcement was that the Florida coaches elected to give walk-on Tim Clark a scholarship for the third straight season. It wasn't much of a surprise to the team when the redshirt senior, now in grad school at Florida, was given the scholarship.

"But I have another one," Mark Herndon recalled Muschamp saying after Tuesday's practice.

There were a few options running through the minds of the players. Redshirt junior Mike McNeely has been praised by the coaching staff, as have other walk-ons that have more experience at Florida. However, it was Herndon's name that was called out, causing applause and a mini-celebration on the practice field.

The tears started to flow for Herndon, and soon after, they were pouring down the face of running backs coach Brian White, too.

"That was a big thing," Herndon said of his emotional time with White. "It makes me feel like (White) really cares about us. I can feel that. It was just a real emotional thing for me. I usually don't cry, but that was enough to do it."

Herndon returned with the rest of the team to the Florida locker room. His first move was to grab his cell phone and call his mom.

The celebration on the phone was one years in the making. Herndon could've gone somewhere else to play college football. He had offers from smaller schools in California, but he didn't want to be that far away from home. Herndon also wanted to live up to what he told younger players on his team at Ocala Forest High School. He wanted them to have high expectations and do whatever it took to make their goals happen.

For Herndon, that goal was to play football at Florida.

That's why he turned down other offers and decided to walk on in Gainesville.

"This was a big dream for me," Herndon said. "I feel like if I took a scholarship and went to a smaller school or something, I would be giving up on what I really wanted to do."

The dream grew from growing up in Ocala. Herndon grew up watching the Gators on television, wishing he could go to a game in Gainesville, but his family didn't have the money to make that happen. Herndon used to watch highlights of Emmitt Smith and Fred Taylor carrying the football for the Gators and knew that's what he wanted to do.

Herndon rushed for 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns during his senior year at Forest High School and was named District 7 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. He maintained contact with White throughout the recruiting process and decided to walk-on at Florida. However, Muschamp told him that he wouldn't have the opportunity for a scholarship until his third year -- the 2014 season.

That was before Herndon put together his strong offseason.

With Matt Jones (viral infection) still being held out of practice, Herndon is second on the depth chart at running back behind only Mack Brown. He'll contribute on special teams like he did last year, but he's also expected to have a role in the Florida offense, especially if Jones misses any game time.

When the scholarship was announced on Tuesday, it wasn't just an accomplishment for Herndon. It meant his sophomore year would be much more enjoyable. The team meals are covered under the scholarship, allowing Herndon to eat what the rest of the team is having. After a freshman year that was full of ramen noodles and Pop-Tarts, the menu will look different this fall.

"I know this is going to sound funny, but I'd say food," Herndon said about the best part of the scholarship. "I'll be honest, there were some nights I didn't eat because it goes on with the financial (situation). I didn't eat like a full-course meal every night. But now, there's training table and all kinds of stuff. That's probably the biggest thing."

For a family that once couldn't afford to make the short drive to Gainesville for Gator games, the scholarship goes a long way.

"I can't even imagine," Herndon said. "It's so much money. It's crazy that now I don't even know what I'm going to do with all that money."

Fightin Gators Top Stories