Running back Mark Herndon grew up rooting for the Gators. As a student athlete at nearby Forest High School in Ocala, Herndon dreamed of one day donning the Orange and Blue. In 2012, he got that opportunity as Will Muschamp and Florida offered him preferred walk-on status. His dreams came alive when in August of 2013, UF gave him an athletic scholarship. Now number 37 looks to contribute on the football field in whatever way possible.
Herndon had a lot of success for the Wildcats, especially during his senior season. He rushed for over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns on only 165 carries, good for nearly a 10 yards-per-carry average. He showed the rare combination of speed and strength by running a 4.48 40-yard dash and benching 350-pounds. The 5-9, 195 pounder displayed a skill set that ran the spectrum, including the ability to break away from the defense on the edges and to run through the tackles on the inside. His great senior campaign earned him District 7 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors, but not much interest from Division I schools.
After displaying a skill-set of a major college running back, Herndon had only walk-on and Division II offers. Herndon decided to sign with Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. But a couple of months later, Muschamp offered him a preferred walk-on spot with the Gators, something he’d been hoping for his entire life. As a lifelong Florida fan, Herndon couldn’t afford the experience of watching the Gators in The Swamp. But now, he’d have a front row view for the games. He got out of his letter of intent for Lindenwood and made his way 30 miles north to Gainesville.
In his first year at UF, Herndon beat the odds to play in six games during his freshman season, mostly on special teams. He didn’t record any stats, but played in the season opener against Bowling Green, Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, and Florida State. Herndon earned Scout Team Player of the Week honors for his performance leading up to the South Carolina game and Special Teams Scout Player of the Week twice for the Bowling Green and Tennessee games.
The walk-on had a some tough nights off the field, however, during his freshman year. The financial burden of attending a university was a lot for Herndon to handle. There were nights where he’d come home from practice, school, and team meetings and would have to dine solely on Pop-Tarts or Ramen noodles. But in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Muschamp surprised him with great news.
“Mark Herndon played as a true freshman walk-on and that doesn’t happen very often at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said. “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.” (h/t GatorZone)
Herndon was emotional as he received the news and with good reason. A scholarship is worth about $20,220, a huge windfall for a person who would go to sleep hungry after an innutritious meal. Possibly the biggest thing for Herndon: The training table. The training table is the team dining room which means unlimited food starting this season. Now he’ll be able to go to sleep happy, healthy, and hungerless.
His first season as a scholarship player saw increased time at the RB position, including four carries for 38 yards against Toledo in the season opener. Herndon played in all 12 games and also saw action on special teams, where he notched two tackles. But it wasn’t just on the gridiron where he was making his impact. His work in the community earned him the Gene Elleson Community Service Award.
Mark Herndon has a long list of talented running backs ahead of him, including Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones, Mack Brown, and Adam Lane, but don’t be surprised if Herndon still sees the field this fall. He’s overcome the odds to become a scholarship player at a major university and I’m sure he can find some playing time and be a leader to that young group of backs. By all accounts, the junior has his priorities straight and wants to make an impact on and off the field. I wouldn’t bet against him doing just that.