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Saturday, May 25, 2024

UF football player remembered as 'fun-loving'

They called him "Sunshine."

Michael Guilford, a UF sophomore and defensive back for UF's football team, received the nickname because of his long, blond hair and resemblance to quarterback Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass from the movie "Remember the Titans."

But the connection was more than superficial."Michael lived life to the fullest every day," said Guilford's mother, Janice Watson. "They named him 'Sunshine' because of his hair, but it was his personality too. If he was in a group, everything was better because he was there."

Guilford, 19, died after his motorcycle hit a median early Friday morning, which sent shock waves across campus and throughout his hometown of Quincy, Fla.

Guilford started his football career as a quarterback for Blountstown High School for three years. When he was a high-school junior, he played in a state championship game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Greg Jordan, Blountstown's football coach, said his current players honored Guilford by wearing his high-school number, 13, on their wristbands for their Friday night game.

The loss has had a communitywide effect with more than 100 people showing up at his family's Quincy home Friday morning.

His funeral is expected to take place early this week in his hometown.

"There's probably no churches that are going to be big enough to house the whole thing," Jordan said. "They'll probably have to do it at the school."

News of the accident has even been featured on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

"We're going to remember him as a fun-loving kid, passionate, full of life," Watson said. "That's the way we want to remember him, not on a motorcycle, not that way."

Guilford gained fame during the Gators' practices leading up to the BCS National Championship game in January.

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He helped the team practice by playing as Troy Smith, quarterback for Ohio State University.

"He was an outstanding, quality young man that was loved, respected and admired by all of us," UF coach Urban Meyer wrote in a statement.

"His unselfish efforts on helping his teammates getting ready to play every week were only a glimpse of the person he was," Meyer wrote.

Guilford had been acting as Andre' Woodson, the University of Kentucky's quarterback, in preparation for UF's game Saturday.

In addition to playing the guitar and drums, he took pride in learning opposing teams' plays every week to prepare UF's defense though he never had the chance to play on Saturdays.

"He was very competitive," said Sean Cronin, a graduate assistant who runs the practice squad's offense.

"He had a fire and was the leader," Cronin said. "He was the core of that group. He was the heart and soul of our scout team."Cronin said he last saw Guilford at a dinner honoring the practice squad Thursday night.

The video staff presented a tape of the practice squad team's highlights, including a shot of Guilford holding his hand up in a peace sign and smiling.

Cronin spoke to Guilford for the last time before leaving the dinner.

"He thanked me for the highlight video and said thanks for the dinner," Cronin said. "I said, 'No, thank you. I really appreciate everything you do for us.' It just means a lot that I was able to thank him."

Guilford later played video games at a teammate's apartment, Cronin said. Guilford always wore a helmet when riding his bike but left it with his belongings at the apartment before taking a late-night ride, Cronin said.

Cronin told UF players about Guilford's death Friday morning.

"A lot of them were just shocked and probably didn't have any reaction until after they got off the phone," Cronin said. "They probably broke down afterward."

Tim Tebow, UF quarterback, missed calls while he slept but woke up to hear the news.

"I was just in shock," Tebow said. "Right when I heard it I was like, 'What? Say it again.' I felt horrible and sick about it. The first thing I did was pray for him and his family."

Alligator Staff Writer Mike McCall contributed to this report.

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