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Monday August 18, 2014 Group of Wounded Warriors visit Gators, to be honored during season

Updated: 4:04pm, August 18

Gators coach Will Muschamp and Pat Corcoran

UF coach Will Muschamp shakes Wounded Warrior Pat Corcoran's hand Saturday. (Photo: Dennis Black)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Wherever Nate Helmuth went, so did Toby. It’s been that way since the two became close friends four years ago.

When Helmuth walked to the center of Florida Field following the Gators’ practice Saturday afternoon, his four-legged buddy tagged along.

“He helps me stay grounded and calm around people in social situations,’’ said Helmuth, a former Army combat engineer who served in Iraq.

Helmuth suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service in Iraq and is plagued by PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). He was at the Swamp on Saturday with the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit Jacksonville-based organization whose website declares its mission is “to honor and empower Wounded Warriors.”

The reason for the group’s visit Saturday was to film segments with GatorVision to honor Wounded Warriors on the video boards at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during games this season. UF players also recorded spots to introduce the Wounded Warriors to the crowd.

“We appreciate what you have done for our country,’’ Florida head coach Will Muschamp told the group.

The 32-year-old Helmuth, who lives in Middleburg and is now studying finance at UF, was joined by Gators receiver Ahmad Fulwood during his segment. Toby, his dark Labrador, was by their side.

Meanwhile, Chris Willard watched Helmuth’s interview from a seat inside a Gators’ meeting room before he took a seat in front of the camera.

Willard is a former Army combat medic who was injured by a grenade in 2009 in Iraq. An avid bicyclist who now walks with a noticeable limp, Willard suffered a serious leg injury in the explosion. The Wounded Warrior Project helped him recover by putting him on a bike that he could pedal with his arms.

Willard grew up a Florida fan and appreciated an opportunity to break the team from its post-practice huddle Saturday.

“Every man on my father’s side has served in the military,’’ said Willard, who is attending school to become a physician’s assistant. “My first Gators game was a Gator Bowl that my dad took me to when I was a kid.”

For more on the Wounded Warrior Project, check out the video below that tells retired Army Sgt. Maj. Pat Corcoran's story, one of those to be honored at the Swamp this season:

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