Darrin Kitchens endeared himself to the entirety of Gator Nation when he came over to the Gator Band after Florida's dispiriting loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl to sing the alma mater. It became, for most, the lone silver lining of a game that served as a bitter chaser to a sweet 2012 season.
When Gators win, team sings alma mater with band. Despite loss, one player stayed to sing tonight: pic.twitter.com/fglGTaDx— Whitney Holtzman (@WHoltzman) January 3, 2013
I never wrote about it in full at the time — I didn't want to dwell on the Sugar Bowl, though I also thought it wasn't nearly the fiasco some did — but Kitchens' gesture, which happened only a few dozen yards in front of me, struck me as both genuine and convenient. It looked to me like Kitchens realized no one else was singing the alma mater, then came over and did so because no one else was; the grins he gave fans after we cheered him and yelled "THANK YOU!" seemed like sheepish acknowledgement that he knew he'd done the right thing, perhaps consciously. (He spent the next couple of weeks thanking fans on Twitter who thanked him for it, too, which I found neat.)
It was a touching moment, to be sure, and as good an epitome of our cherished #InAllKindsOfWeather philosophy as we're going to get without off-the-field tragedy. But I couldn't help but think a little cynically about it, too. I remembered walk-on Mark Herndon's excellent play for attention earlier in the season, in which he hopped into the stands and mugged with fans after a game in which he didn't see action; that struck me as smart, and fun, but also as opportunistic. I wouldn't be being fully honest if I didn't note that Kitchens' swan song for 2012 gave me some of the same vibes.
Then again, I wouldn't be fully honest if I didn't say that I realize that bit of cynicism is stupid.
Regardless of motive, Kitchens singing "All hail, Flor-i-da, hail" assured that he is going to be one of my favorite Gators for the entirety of this year. And he deserves a good year on the field. Remember this awful injury against Florida State in 2011?
Kitchens recovered from that, and worked his way back onto the field in 2012, starting for Florida against Florida State and Louisville, playing on special teams, recording 14 tackles, and forcing a fumble against the 'Noles. He sat behind Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray for almost all of his Florida career, and has been a model citizen on the field and off. (He married his long-time girlfriend last summer after proposing at a church camp, which is really sweet.)
Now, in his senior season, Kitchens has a chance to be a season-long starter, and consistently productive. If Florida's defense is going to match or approach its fearsome 2012 unit, Kitchens will almost certainly have to be a big part of it.
That combination of relying on a player to succeed for team success and cheering for a player for personal reasons makes Kitchens one of the better stories of the 2013 Florida Gators, whether a lot of ink and inches are spent on it or not. I'll be wishing for the best possible weather for him.
We'll be running items from the 2013 Florida Gators Football Wish List every day(ish) from now until the beginning of the season on August 31. Feel free to leave feedback or contribute ideas in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, or via email.