Most athletes dream of making it professionally. But, the percentage who make it are slim.
Gators Men’s Tennis star Oliver Crawford is one who beat the odds.
On Monday, Crawford announced he is forgoing his senior season to play tennis professionally, signing with Grutman Sports and Entertainment Worldwide.
Crawford started to have conversations about whether to go pro before the season with his family, coaches and close friends over winter break. They all agreed that he was ready to pursue his dream.
When the team arrived back on campus from break, he notified the coaching staff first.
“When I told them and had that conversation with them, they thought I was ready,” Crawford said. “And they told me if I wasn't ready they would say something, but (coach) Bryan (Shelton) said that he thinks that I’m ready.”
He then told his teammates. Crawford said his teammates were supportive and ready to get the season started.
“We kind of put it under the rug and just said ‘let's go out with a bang,’” Crawford said. “And I was going to do my best to help the team be successful and that was it.”
The No. 6 Gators started the season strong, going 15-3. Their only losses came to teams in the top 15 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association team rankings.
However, everything changed on March 12, when the NCAA made the decision to cancel the remaining spring championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending Crawford’s career at UF.
Crawford said the team was emotional when they all found out after practice. For him, specifically, those feelings didn’t go away in the next several days.
“But, for me, I knew it was gonna be the last time I would ever get to suit up with the boys,” Crawford said. “It was, for me, a pretty emotional few days.”
After reality sank in, he said he didn’t have second thoughts about forgoing his senior season.
Crawford finished his career at Florida with multiple honors. He was named an ITA All-American three times and made first-team All-SEC twice.
He also racked up a 63-22 record in singles and a 62-19 record in doubles while leading the Gators to a Final Four berth his sophomore year.
For Crawford, it was hard to choose one of his favorite moments at UF. But, he said he enjoyed playing matches with his teammates the most because he will cherish it forever.
Shelton said in a release that it was a privilege to coach Crawford the past three seasons, adding that he appreciates how he pushed Florida’s program forward with his leadership and positive energy.
"While we will certainly miss Oliver next season, I can't wait to watch him continue to break through at the professional level and live out his dream,” Shelton said. “Oliver was built for this and I know he will reach all of his goals."
Finally, for next year’s Gators squad. Crawford believes its future is bright.
“I wish them nothing but the best, and I'll be there supporting them every match by watching and streaming the matches,” he said. “I think they'll do great…. I'm sure there'll be big things to come in the future for them.”
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