Senior stories: Football players reflect on college experience before graduating

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

For the seniors on the FIU football team, the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl will be the final time they suit up for a college football game.

Some of them will also be receiving their diploma at one of this weekend’s fall commencement ceremonies on campus before the team travels to St. Petersburg for the big game.

In between practices, we caught up with several seniors on the team and asked them to reflect on their FIU experience and what made their time at the university so special:

What is your favorite memory from your time here at FIU?

Quarterback Alex McGough

QB Alex McGough: “There’s so many… back in freshman year, it was my birthday, and I missed a hot blitz in practice and [former Head Coach] Ron Turner just screamed his head off at me. Every single year on my birthday, even this year, he still texts me a ‘Happy Birthday’ and asks if I remember the time he screamed at me. It’s little things like that you can always look back on and laugh at that are special.”

DB Niko Gonzalez: “My very first college play against Louisville. They ran a screen play and one of their linemen came up and chopped my legs from under me and ever since then I was like, ‘Yeah, this is college football.’ It was my ‘welcome to college football’ moment. Another was sophomore year when I got my first interception that I ended up returning for a touchdown. That was special.”

How have you grown as a person and as a football player since you got on campus?

LB Anthony Wint: “Football teaches you a lot of life lessons. It teaches you about learning from mistakes, growing up and taking responsibility, and focusing on one task. I feel like being here has prepared me for any obstacle I might face in life. I’ve also learned to have more love and passion in anything I do.”

LB Fred Russ: “When I first got to campus, I was focused on the wrong things. My mind was all over the place since it was the first time on my own, first time being responsible for everything I was supposed to do. I’ve learned so much about time management skills, working hard and facing adversity. You have no choice but to grow up.”

McGough: “Mental toughness is probably the biggest area I’ve grown in. Coming here I was a little timid in ways you wouldn’t think, especially because I’m more of a laughing, joking around kind of guy, but I wouldn’t say a lot. But now I speak my mind when I need to, and that’s helped me become a better leader.”

You get to finish your collegiate career by playing in a bowl game. What does that mean to you? 

RB Alex Gardner: “We want to leave with the bowl game on top. We fell short the last three years, but knowing I was part of getting this program back on track, it’s a great feeling.”

Russ: “When we came here as freshmen, we set a goal. We said before we leave, we’re going to play a bowl game. Now that we’re doing it, we just want to win it. Being from Tampa, this will also be my first time playing close to home in front of family and friends since coming to college. I feel like it’s going to be a moment that is irreplaceable and one that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Running back Alex Gardner

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Gardner: “Breaking the all-time FIU rushing record against Marshall last season was a big deal for me. Not many players can say they lead their schools in all-time rushing. Nobody really expected me to do something like that since I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, so that was special.”

What are you going to miss the most about FIU?

Wint:I’m going to miss the camaraderie with my teammates. These guys are going to be my best friends for life. There’s nothing like being on a team like this and going through pain and seeing results come out of that.”

Russ: “All of it. I’m going to miss waking up every morning and going to practice, coming in and being with the team. I’ve created great friendships here; friends that are like brothers. I’ll miss them the most.”

For up-to-the-minute information about the Gasparilla Bowl, which will be played on Thursday, Dec. 21, including ticket prices and information about attending the game, visit Bowl Game Central.