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Thursday, October 06, 2022

Somewhere between renting a minivan in Tulsa, Okla., and scarfing down chicken and waffles at 2 a.m. in downtown Atlanta, I realized I have no qualms about saying this has been the best four years of my life. I also have no problems saying my senior year has been the highlight of those four. It's not even close.

Back in December, I stood on the field of the Georgia Dome as the Gators won the Southeastern Conference Championship, tissue-paper confetti drenching me and finding ways to get stuck in my hair. When I got back to our Atlanta hotel later that night, I uncovered still more of the colorful scraps hiding in my pockets.

One month later, I roamed the annals of Dolphin Stadium - a place where I have attended Miami Dolphins games my whole life - during the 2009 BCS National Championship Game and rubbed shoulders with some of the best writers in the business. I hovered just outside the team photo as the Orange and Blue celebrated with goofy smiles on their faces.

I was even in the room when Tim Tebow delivered his now-famous speech, so prominent that you can't buy a commemorative poster without reading the 107 immortal words that make up "The Promise." When stunned reporters glanced cautiously to their left and right as Tebow stormed out of the room, we knew we were witnesses to something dramatic.

Moments like those have made my college career and my two and a half years at the Alligator infinitely memorable.

Moments like those make me wish I could come back next year.

Before I came to college, I didn't travel much. I grew up in South Florida, and in 20 years, I had never visited Georgia, found myself in the central time zone or even seen snow - which I still haven't done. A history like that made me easily excitable to see places as seemingly monotonous as Fayetteville, Ark., or Hoover, Ala. While colleagues were complaining about a 6 a.m. plane trip to Oklahoma with a layover in Dallas, I was just thrilled to see airport terminals in new cities.

I suffered endless insults from fellow writers and photographers for getting giddy to cross the Georgia-Tennessee state line, but moments like that are what made the entire year special.

With the journalism job market about as bad as it gets, those instances could be the last time in a long while that I'm so ecstatic over so little.

Next season, the UF football team treks into Starkville, Miss. By all accounts, Starkville is a terrible place to spend a few days, and some of my colleagues are dreading that weekend. But I couldn't be more jealous that the next crop of Alligator writers will get to make that trip.

So often in sports, athletes, after winning a national championship, will find they don't know what to do with themselves. After an entire season of painful exertion, late nights, exhilarating victories and crushing defeats, they can't possibly comprehend that the year is done and the title-clinching game was really how it ended. They come to realize the entire season's worth of effort - not just those ultimate three hours in the arena - was the reason for their success.

That's how I feel now. I won the jackpot getting to be a part of UF athletics for four years - the best four years in Gators sports history - and now that it's over, I understand that it wasn't about the successful ending, it wasn't about standing on the field as time expired at the national championship game, it wasn't about composing this final symphony. It was about all those things leading up to it, all those memories that will last a lifetime and all the fun I had on the way to this closing column.

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Now, as I'm penning my second-to-last paragraph for the Alligator, I only wish I had something fans frequently plead for from their heroes in The Swamp when a professional contract sits on the horizon.

One more year. One more year.

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