The feeling was familiar for Abby Wambach.

As she took center stage Tuesday night, the former Gator soccer star stared into a crowd of about 1,000 fans, many wearing her name on their backs as they stood and cheered.

Hosted by the Accent Speaker’s Bureau, Wambach was interviewed by Ted Spiker, chair of the UF College of Journalism and Communications. She was paid $20,000.

Wambach, the all-time leading goal scorer in UF history and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, spoke about being a leader on and off the pitch.

"The reality is you can be a leader in any moment in any given day," she said. "All you have to do is believe in yourself and have some conviction and passion about what you do."

Although it was the place she would win a national championship during her freshman year and spend the next three prepping for a professional career in soccer, UF wasn’t on Wambach’s radar when she was a high-school graduate on the hunt for a university to attend.

She had her sights set on the University of California, Los Angeles and three other schools when her mother talked her into visiting Gainesville.

"When I got to college and came here, something really changed and clicked inside my brain about the game," Wambach said. "My goal was to win a national championship."

In 1998, when Wambach hoisted the national championship trophy as a member of the UF soccer team, Matt Nobles was still a student.

On Tuesday, Nobles, who graduated in 2008, wore a white No. 20 Wambach jersey. Although Wambach retired from soccer, he said she has the potential to achieve much more off the field.

"There’s even greater things ahead for her," he said. "I think she transcends athletics."

UF criminology and law junior Melanie Mason was watching when Wambach was in the midst of her 15-year career as a professional soccer player.

When Wambach helped the U.S. win the World Cup last summer, Mason was celebrating alongside her.

The feeling was familiar for Wambach on Tuesday night.

Later, the cheers may fade and the jerseys may bear different names.

But Wambach will always have a home at UF.

"You have no idea how many stadiums I’ve been in that there’s a Gator flag waving, that somebody is doing the Gator Chomp," she said. "I do still bleed orange and blue."

Contact Martin Vassolo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @martindvassolo

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