Thursday September 2, 2010GatorZone.com Catches Up with Errict Rhett at Nike Uniform Launch Event
New York, NY
New York, NY
As they stood on the stage next to each other, Errict Rhett and Michael Irvin began a playful banter.
Rhett, the Gators' all-time leading rusher, and Irvin, the former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys star, have known each other for years. They both grew up in underprivileged circumstances in South Florida, relying mostly on their mothers for direction and support.
Both were in New York on Wednesday for the Nike Pro Combat Uniform Launch. Florida and Miami will wear the uniforms later this season, and Rhett and Irvin attended to unveil their schools' designs at the event.
In the final moments of the ceremony, Irvin kept reaching over and trying to cover up the Gator logo on Rhett's white polo. Rhett kept knocking his hand away, at one point pretending to stomp on Irvin's injured left foot that was in a protective boot.
"We grew up with each other," Rhett said. "That South Florida bond, you could tell it. You can tell the bond and passion we have for the game. We both wanted to help our families out, help our mothers out. We both grew up in some humble beginnings."
Those humble beginnings not only helped push Rhett to surpass Emmitt Smith as UF's all-time leading rusher during his college career (1990-93), but they are still shaping his life today. When Rhett officially retired from the NFL following a brief stint with the Browns in 2000, he embarked on a business career.
Rhett is currently CEO of Errict Rhett Custom Homes and the Errict Rhett Foundation, an organization that strives to provide support for underprivileged youth in South Florida and help low-income families find affordable housing.
Rhett's primary inspiration these days continues to be his mother, Neomia Rivers. When Rhett arrived at Florida fresh out of Hollywood's McArthur High School, he immediately made an impact on the field at Florida, becoming the only player in school history to lead the team in rushing for four consecutive seasons.
"I had a mother sleeping on a couch for 19 years," Rhett said Wednesday. "I had to make it to the next level. I wanted to do so much for her. That was my inspiration at the University of Florida, to get my mother off that couch and build her a beautiful home.
"That made my dream come true."
While Rhett's playing days are over, he continues to remain closely involved in sports through his three kids: Errict Jr., 12, Morgan, 8, and Amaurri, 5.
Rhett, who returned to live in South Florida after his playing career ended, coaches his son's youth football team in the Optimist Club of Cooper City. He is also a regular at Morgan's and Amaurri's track meets.
"I want them to keep in sports," he said. "I had a reason why I had to make it. They don't have that same kind of reason, but they are developing that same kind of passion their dad had."
For the record, dad pointed out that Errict Jr. is a running back.
Later this season, Rhett plans to be in attendance in Jacksonville when the Gators face Georgia in the annual showdown between the Southeastern Conference rivals. The fact the Gators are wearing the Nike Pro Combat uniform against the Bulldogs added to Rhett's excitement at Wednesday's event.
Rhett of course had his signature moment at UF in the 1993 game, rushing for 183 yards on a school-record 41 carries in Florida's 33-26 win.
He said that rarely a week goes by when someone doesn't ask him about that Georgia game in the rain and mud at the old Gator Bowl. He often shares stories from that day when he is asked to serve as a motivational speaker.
"The pigskin has done a lot for me," Rhett said. "I tell everybody that the University of Florida helped mold me into the man I am today. I can't even imagine where I would be right now in life if I didn't attend that university.
"I can assure you, going to the University of Florida is probably the best decision I ever made in my entire life. I come to tears sometimes when I think about it."
For more on Rhett's foundation, you can visit errictrhettfoundation.com.