Head coach Will Muschamp had a surprise for a couple of his players following practice Tuesday, one that brought walk-on Mark Herndon to tears.
Muschamp put Herndon and fellow walk-on Tim Clark on scholarship.
A running back from Ocala (Fla.) Forest High, the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Herndon played six games on special teams as a true freshman last season. However, this season Herndon could be in line to make a much bigger impact. After an impressive showing in the spring game, Herndon worked his way into the conversation to garner more playing time at running back.
“Mark Herndon played as a true freshman walk-on and that doesn’t happen very often at the University of Florida,” said Muschamp, a former walk-on himself at the University of Georgia. “He works extremely hard. He is as well-respected a teammate as anyone out here and he defines what we expect from our players here.”
Although the Gators have a relatively crowded backfield, questions remain as the team prepares for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo. Projected starter Matt Jones has yet to practice as he continues to recover from a viral infection. Redshirt junior Mack Brown has been running with the first team in Jones’ absence and as of now Herndon is listed as the No. 2 back behind Brown with converted safety Valdez Showers as the No. 3.
It may come as a surprise to some that true freshmen running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane are not ahead of Herndon, but troubles with ball security and issues in pass protection have left the talented freshmen fighting for the scraps of playing time.
Herndon’s success is not all that surprising. As a high school senior he rushed for 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had scholarship offers from several small schools, but ultimately decided to walk-on at Florida.
Now all of his hard work of the past year has paid off and if the depth chart remains the way it is then Herndon will be doing at lot more than playing special teams this fall.