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May 17, 2009

Round Table II: Football parents

Round Table features are normally reserved for GatorBait.net staff members, or staff members combined with network analysts or off site guests, to share their opinions on various topics related to the sports programs at the University of Florida.

Today's version is a bit different. This time around GBN has asked the parents of football players to share their thoughts on several subjects.

With quite a few parents as subscribers to the online site, GBN originally asked 10 of them via email if they wanted to participate. Three of the first who have agreed to take part in the Round Table discussion are Renee Trautwein (mother of former lineman Phil Trautwein), Dwayne Dunning (father of former running back Kestahn Moore) and Willie Hill (father of safety Will Hill).

To be fair, in order to ensure objective responses and hopefully allow the parents to open up as much as possible, we have given each parent the ability to remain anonymous (we wouldn't use their name and cross out their son's name or alter any answer that would identify who they are in their responses).

Today's participants decided against that option.

Here are their answers to our questions:

1) At what point did you realize that your son was a special football player and was going to have an opportunity to play at the collegiate level?

Ms. Trautwein: When his high school coach called me and he started sending out his tapes. Then, when Phil started to receive letters and later phone calls. It was very exciting.

Mr. Dunning: As a freshman in high school. He rushed for 1,800 yards, threw for 300+ yards, caught around 20-25 passes for over 200 yards and had 60+ tackles as a linebacker. All the while carrying a 90+ grade point average in school. He was focused, determined and trained hard with me beyond his regular activities and I'm no 'easy' coach & trainer.

Mr. Hill: This has been asked to us before, and I really didn't get the question. As any parent would, I would think that your child is always special to you. We always knew he was a little better at the game than his peers, but I always made sure that he worked hard to accomplish that. As for the latter part of that question, when did we think about him playing at this level? Well it's always been his dream to play college football from the time we started watching the Army All-American Game when he was a kid. That was one of the first steps he wanted to take before college. Which he did, not that game, but the Under Armour All-American Game.

2) Going back to the recruiting process, describe what it was like for your son.

Ms. Trautwein: It was very exciting, but at the end, stressful. It was a hard decision to make for him. There are some great teams and coaches out there, but the Gators were always in his heart.

Mr. Dunning: We tried to make the process logical and not be chaotic. We put all the teams on a spreadsheet and systematically eliminated them. In this order, we started with academics (what degree plans were offered), alumni support (are they strong and where are they?), offensive linemen (3 classes deep), quarterback (rating), strength coach, running back coach, offensive coordinator, distance to the school and then finally head coach and coaches contract (strong or weak).

Next we came up with a top five list (to visit) and then made a choice based on our agreed upon criteria (parents & son together). Florida's process for us was brief, but good. UF (Coach Meyer and Gonzales) approached the process much like I did so there was an instant appreciation there. Coach Gonzales is the best recruiter. Honest, trustworthy, forthcoming with facts and extremely detailed. Loved that about him and the process.

Mr. Hill: The recruiting part - I would not wish that on any one. It wasn't that good for us. The reason I say that is those guys (college coaches) are relentless at their jobs. After a while you do realize it's a job for them. At one point I cut off a few recruiters because they thought they were bigger than our family. I will not name them, but I'm sure other parents know what I'm saying. They would text and call our home at all hours of the night.

3) If you were in charge and had the ability to change one thing about the recruiting process, what would that be?

Ms. Trautwein: I don't think there is anything I would change. It was a wonderful experience.

Mr. Dunning: I would have Coach Gonzales "train" or write the manual for recruiting here. His style and approach to the process is top notch. Why fix what's not broken, just replicate what works well..

Mr. Hill: The part I would have changed has already been done. I think texting the kids whenever the coaches wanted to became so annoying at times.

4) Describe Urban Meyer in one word. Then, please explain why you picked that one word.

Ms. Trautwein: Tough!!! Coach Meyer expects nothing less than the best out of you. When he came in the players had to prove themselves and win him over. This was a good thing. My son wouldn't be the player he is today if it weren't for that expectation, but at the time it was hard on him.

Mr. Dunning: Focused. Simply stated Coach Meyer is determined, focused, committed and driven to the success of the goal, the big picture. I think you could have used either of those words interchangeably when describing him.

Mr. Hill: Honest. He told us some things during the process, and that never changed from what he has done. He always seemed to be concerned about our family every time we spoke, which was big for me. Every other coach would only speak about football and what our son could do for their school. Never what their school could do for our son.

5) Being a parent of a player at a big time football school, is it hard to hear and/or read some of the things that have been said and/or written about your son?

Ms. Trautwein: This was one of the hardest parts of being a parent of a player. It was hard reading mean things written about my son and also other players. Especially when you see how hard these kids work and give it their all everyday. I'm talking about the fans mostly, not the media.

Mr. Dunning: Without a doubt it's hard, however, it comes with the territory. You just have to start to prepare them early (in high school) and teach them that lights from the crowd often fade, but never let your light stop shining. Often times kids don't learn how to take loss, so they have difficulty handling the pressure of not being number one. To teach them how to be number one, you must first teach them about being number two. Being a part of something greater than yourself. A good number two should always be groomed to be a better number one.

Mr. Hill: Is it hard reading about or hearing things about our son? No! We experienced that long before he got to Florida. People will print and say things you have no control over and that is why we had to learn how to give interviews and who to talk to and who not to talk to. That's why didn't give interviews much, because we did not trust that reporters would change what we said. They can always write it the way they want, to put it out there in the form they want, which I don't think is right.

6) Has there ever been an instance at a game or elsewhere where you thought that a criticism was over the top?

Ms. Trautwein: Yes, when the fans booed Chris Leak. His father was sitting by me, and I was appalled. I stood up and yelled for everyone to STOP!

Mr. Dunning: Yes, there were several in my case, however, that comes with the territory. Most people forget all the good that is done when one mistake happens. It becomes difficult when you know that all the good was done to help the team win and the loss was blamed solely on the one mistake, which, in fact, did not directly result in the loss of a game.

An example - the infamous 'fumble at LSU'.

The fact is quarterbacks throw interceptions, running backs fumble, wide receivers drop balls, linebackers/cornerbacks miss tackles, etc... It is part of the game.

To your point, the criticism got a bit out of hand. The next thing I know the whole season was blamed on that play. Ali Highsmith is a pretty damn good linebacker and he simply did what a damn good linebacker would do...go for the ball on the hit.

I digress. It's part of the game.

Mr. Hill: Yes! It was an interview he did with some one from the Orlando Sentinel. The writer made it seem as if Will had to go through pure Hell just to go outside or to get to school. It really wasn't that bad at all and it really upset us about what was written. The entire interview was negative from start to finish. We should have known it would turn out like that with the way the reporter asked his questions.

7) What is the best part of being a football parent - and the worst?

Ms. Trautwein: The games. Seeing him run out of the tunnel always brought a tear to my eyes. His dream was to be a Florida Gator and he made it come true. And a parent wants to see their children's dreams come true.

The stress that came along with it was the worst part. You feel your kid's stress from game to game, week to week. If he didn't have a good game, he beat himself up. Maybe that's what makes him achieve his goals. But its hard when you see all they put into it and the stress on his face.

Mr. Dunning: The best part is easy...watching my child get his degree while playing at the best school in America. The icing on the cake was winning, not just one, but TWO national championships. Who the heck does that?!!.

The worst part was dealing with the 'infamous fumble at LSU'

It was being strong for him in the face of such criticism. A true test of faith and character.

Mr. Hill: The best part of being a football parent was the joy I felt for him coming out of that tunnel the first game against Hawaii. It brought tears to my eyes to see our son living his dream.

The worst for me at this time was when he wasn't played in the LSU game after being up three plus touchdowns when the "D" took the field in the fourth quarter. He was put in when it was six minutes and some change left in the game.

8) Meyer has said on many occasions that he expects his assistant coaches to be active in the lives of the players - such as having them over to their homes and around their own families. Have you seen this? Also, how included to you feel? What is your access like to the head man himself as well as the rest of the staff?

Ms. Trautwein: The coaches and staff are all phenomenal! Coach Addazio took him under his wings like a father and mentored him. He was very blessed to have these people in his life. I could of called any of them any time of the day if needed. They always included me when he was injured and kept me up to date on what was happening.

These coaches are the reason these kids work so hard and strive to do their best. There is a real love between the staff and players.

Mr. Dunning: Coach Meyer is true to his word regarding the assistants having the players around their families. This included attending church or just simple drop by and say, 'hi' moments. Regarding my feeling of inclusion, I felt very connected to the staff as a whole (offensive more than defensive of course). That includes the support staff. I had a wonderful relationship with Coach Mick, Anthony Pass and his team, the nutritionist, Coach Meyer's assistants, etc...

Now regarding my access to Coach Meyer himself, I always had access to him. There was not one time that he did not return my call or text. 90% of the time he answered my initial call.

Over the course of time with UF, starting with the first game that Kesthan ever played as a freshmen, I started sending a text prayer and an encouragement saying before each game. Did it for four years and I missed sending that text only nine times….we lost ALL nine over that four year period……funny.

Because of reporter error, the question was not asked of Mr. Hill

9) Overall, on a scale of 1-to-10, how would you rate your family and son's Gator experience both on the football field and off?

Ms. Trautwein: 10! We would do it all over again. We will always be gators in our hearts and souls. GO GATORS!!!!

Mr. Dunning: The experience is without a doubt a 10! There were rough times, but not enough that would deter the decision to come to UF. If you make opportunities for yourself and execute on those opportunities, keep God at the captain's table of your life...the rest is easy stuff.

Simply put, UF has allowed us to build many bridges that will lead to many opportunities, life long friendships and memories. Who would trade that?!

All in all this was a good ride. Kestahn finished on time, won two national championships and signed a Free Agent contract with the Denver Broncos. A testament to his character, work ethic and shear faith and dedication to his dream.

Mr. Hill: On that scale right now, I would have to say a 10. I have no complaints.


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