He spent his life as a Gators fan.
Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer’s championship runs fueled Shane Solana's, a 21-year-old UF animal sciences junior, love for the program.
So when he enrolled at UF, Solana made it his mission to attend as many games as possible. This included a five-hour road trip from St. Augustine with his girlfriend and two friends to watch Florida’s 2019 Orange Bowl win in Miami. He’s only missed two games as a student.
But the odds that Solana attends one this year are in limbo. As a way to balance fans attending games while limiting the chances of spreading COVID-19 through social distancing measures, only 17,000 fans will be in The Swamp during home games. Of that, no more than 2,000 tickets will be given to students through a lottery system.
Solana isn’t alone, as many students expressed frustration over the small proportion of tickets allotted to students for games.
“I feel like students are the ones that provide the most to the university,” he said. “It's just, it's a shame that it's only 2,000. I just feel like it's kind of a little ridiculous.”
Up to 10,000 students will watch games at home this season because once one wins the lottery, they’re no longer allowed to enter. Gators Students, the official Twitter page for the Gators Students Rewards Program & Student Info for UF athletics, said the decision was made to maximize the number of students and general season ticket holders that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium can host on game days.
Many took to social media to voice their displeasure. One suggested a petition to allow students to have an extra year of eligibility to receive discounted tickets. But most just used it as a platform to vent.
One reason they are bothered by the limits is the experience of attending games at The Swamp. Solana says the atmosphere is part of the reason he loves being a UF fan, and his best experiences were watching Florida upset LSU in 2018 and Auburn in 2019.
It’s the camaraderie that Drake Kavanaugh, a 21-year-old UF biology junior, thinks is quintessential to the student experiencing at games in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“I think we serve as the loudest voice in the stadium,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh, a first-generation college student, wasn’t a fan before enrolling at UF. But his first experience hit him like a semi-truck. This season, it won’t be the same.
“When you're a student, you give like 100 percent going into the stadium,” he said. “You cheer for everything, you get loud, you motivate your friends to get up and get loud with you, and I just don’t see that happening.”
That sentiment is shared by Leslie White, a 20-year-old UF agricultural education and communications junior. As a transfer student, she hoped she would see a game in-person, and even more excited to be a Gator. Now, those feelings of excitement are overshadowed by frustration.
“No matter if you're a football fan or not, going to a football game is something that everybody kind of looks forward to, just being a part of that atmosphere and environment so getting that experience almost certainly cut out is kind of something that we talk about a lot,” she said.
While Kavanaugh, White and Solana plan on putting their names in the lottery, they’ll be among thousands, and the odds likely won’t end in their favor.
“My morale, just looking at that, went down because I know the odds of me actually getting a ticket is pretty low,” Kavanaugh said. “For there to be — not the greatest odds for someone — no certainty that you could get a ticket. It's pretty sad, honestly.”
With UF’s expectations to succeed this season at its highest since Meyer’s departure, this season could feature the return to form Gators fans have craved for a decade.
Whether that will come to pass remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The live-game experience this fall will be unlike any before.
Contact Christian Ortega at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.