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Monday, June 17, 2024

With a Flanigan’s cup in hand, I come to you humbled and grateful

Brandon Hernandez says goodbye after five semesters with The Alligator

Brandon Hernandez was the Fall 2023 Enterprise reporter at The Independent Florida Alligator.
Brandon Hernandez was the Fall 2023 Enterprise reporter at The Independent Florida Alligator.

When I first transferred to UF in 2022, I moved into a small one-bed residence hall in Sledd Hall. It took all the money I had in my bank account to get that room. Frankly, not the best money spent for your first home away from home. However, it came with a good price.

Outside the hall was an orange box labeled The Independent Alligator. The first story I read from it on my first day on UF’s campus: a 2022 baseball preview by Carson Cashion. 

I never imagined becoming a print journalist in my life. Similar to the Detroit Pistons playing basketball in the month of May, I had little experience. 

Everything I had ever done before that point was in play-by-play broadcasting, ticket sales, blogging and reviewing basketball film in a tiny 1960s-style bedroom in Hollywood, Florida. But something hit my mind when I was reading that baseball preview. Why can’t I do print sports journalism?

I left my home and everything I knew just for a chance to prove I could become a sports journalist and cover the sport of basketball. The Independent Alligator gave me that and more.

Through five semesters, I have hosted one of the largest independently student-run newspaper’s podcasts, its sports desk podcast, became an assistant sports editor and written as a beat reporter for multiple sports.

After being dubbed “The Brief King” in my first semester with The Alligator as a beat writer for men’s and women’s golf, I stuck around for the Fall and hosted the paper’s Weekly Roundup with the help of Luigi Bencosme. Throughout the semester I worked with him and many other incredible student reporters to spread our coverage on Ben Sasse, local elections, police brutality stories and other incredible stories throughout Alachua County. 

Bencosme will forever be one of the best coworkers I have ever worked with. Podcasting meant long nights script writing and recording interviews in an empty Gainesville Sun building well past midnight. When I finished all the recordings and headed home, he went on to edit the content and always created an incredible finished product.

Those episodes I hosted for the Weekly Roundup would be nothing without his help. I know Bencosme will be a force directing any production he desires.

I became close with multiple podcasters, journalists and skilled sports reporters while I was there. Funny enough, a majority of them became editors, a.k.a my bosses. I, however, did manage to take up an editor's position myself as an assistant sports editor and alongside the talented Jackson Castellano, who was the sports editor at the time.

I never wanted to become an editor originally. Working two-to-three jobs a semester while taking classes like multimedia reporting at UF isn’t something I would advise for the faint hearted. I didn’t know why I did it, but I’m grateful that Jiselle Lee, Jackson Reyes and Kristine Villarroel (mi gente Latino) allowed me the opportunity to do so.

Frankly, it was the best semester I had at The Alligator. The incredible people I worked with for those three months will always be close to me in my career.

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My proudest moment at The Alligator was when I got the men’s basketball beat position last Spring. I was already covering UF men’s basketball on an internship, but when the 2023 Spring sports editor Kyle Bumpers called me up, I lit up like I went third overall to the Boston Celtics.

One phone call on a random December day made me do a stupid smile with teary eyes looking for my phone to call my family and friends back home. I finally got what I wanted. I found a place where I could prove to myself that I could cover the game I love. I immediately quit my internship and went full in.

Nothing beats watching basketball, especially at the Hugh Hathcock Practice Facility. Breathing in the gym's air as you walk past Florida’s accolades from the past to a court where only a few eyes are allowed to scan. I stood among other members of the media, NBA scouts and others as a professional.

Through 22 years of life, I have worked a Super Bowl, college bowl games, a Taylor Swift concert, NHL and NFL games, broadcasted live for FIU and Santa Fe Saints basketball, but nothing has made me more grateful than covering the first two years of Gators head coach Todd Golden’s era in Gainesville.

As fitting as it is, the last game I will cover for this paper will be Florida vs. Richmond in the Orange Bowl Classic at the Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, Dec. 9 – the same venue that I used to sell tickets in as a part of the Florida Panthers.

God is good. Without Him I wouldn't be able to find my way to The Alligator or be able to work the way I do. No matter how poor or wealthy I may be in the future, I will be forever saved. 

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone who has read my stories, sent me emails on Florida basketball’s transfer recruitment and corrected me on any errors in my tweets. I am nothing without you.

Also, because I don’t know how long these things are supposed to be, I also want to thank my peers from the past Karina Wilson, Faith Buckley, Alan Halaly, Ethan Eibe, Julia Coin, Ryan Haley, Topher Adams, Ethan Eibe, Fernando Figueroa, your mom, Claire Grunewald, Lauren

Whiddon, Aidan Bush, Jack Lemnus, Joe “The Machine” Henry, Luke Adragna, Diego Perdomo, Ryan Friedenberg, Namari Lock, Heather Bushman, Alyssa Britton-Harr, Krisha Sanghavi, Isabella Douglas, Emma Behrmann, the incredible crew downstairs that prints the paper and everyone that I’ve ever worked with.

Thank you for the chance. Glad to be a part of your life!

Brandon Hernandez was the Fall 2023 Enterprise reporter at The Independent Florida Alligator. 

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Brandon Hernandez

Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.

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