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Walk-on A.J. Mobley has a special fondness for "Saluting Those Who Serve" day at The Swamp.

Friday November 22, 2013Military Background Prepped Mobley for Difficult Challenge with Gators

Walk-on A.J. Mobley has a special fondness for "Saluting Those Who Serve" day at The Swamp.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

Gators walk-on A.J. Mobley served four years in the Marines prior to going to college.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators’ five-game losing streak, their longest stretch without a win in 34 years, has been difficult on everyone passionate about Florida football.

Gators coach Will Muschamp, various players and countless fans have voiced their discontent at times.

If you expect walk-on receiver/fullback A.J. Mobley to step into that echo chamber, think again.

With Florida set to host Georgia Southern on Saturday in search of its first win since Oct. 5, Mobley’s outlook is framed far beyond what happens Saturday at The Swamp. The Gators are “Saluting Those Who Serve,” their annual game to honor U.S. military veterans.

One of those veterans is on Florida’s roster: No. 87.

“It’s a blessing, first and foremost, to be able to represent all those people who couldn’t even make it back home because they paid the ultimate price,’’ said Mobley, the only military veteran on this year’s team. “For me to have no injuries from my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m very grateful for that.”

Mobley decided to try out for the team in the spring of 2012 when he received the same email as another veteran and former teammate, offensive lineman John Reichardt.

They both made the final cut.

Reichardt has graduated and recently became a father for the first time. Meanwhile, Mobley continues to show up at practice and use his 5-foot-11, 230-pound frame any way the Gators need him to on the scout team.

Sometimes the former Marine staff sergeant looks around and can’t believe where he is.

“I definitely look at being a part of the Gators football team as another act of service,’’ Mobley said. “I know I’m shoulder to shoulder with All-American athletes. A lot of these guys come into this program with aspirations to go to the next level and with my background and real-life experience, I try to focus them in on what’s really important in life.

“I’m grateful just to be part of the game. I love football. I cried my heart out [in high school] right before I joined the Marines in my last game because I thought, ‘this is truly it.’ I didn’t really envision myself being able to get out of the Marines and them come to a place like the University of Florida and then make the team. That was quite a blessing.”

The 25-year-old Mobley enlisted in the Marines prior to his senior season at Starr’s Hill (Ga.) High, about 30 miles south of Atlanta. He spent four years in the military, serving six months in Iraq and later a stint in Afghanistan.

The schedule was brutal. He worked 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

His natural leadership abilities and discipline earned him the rank of sergeant, one of the youngest in his unit. That respect has carried over to his Florida teammates, including freshman linebacker Matt Rolin.

Mobley’s time in the Marines reinforced lessons he learned growing up. Some of the same dynamics in football are in play when you are on a mission with your unit in the middle of a dark night in Iraq.

“It doesn’t matter what your religious belief is, your skin color, people can work together through anything in a time of conflict,’’ Mobley said. “I saw it. I saw people from different backgrounds, faith, skin color -- just come together for a good cause. That’s what I got out of it. If you have an opportunity to take a breath of fresh air, you still have purpose.”

The oldest of five kids, Mobley’s younger brother Bud and younger sister Miranda are currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. They are on his mind constantly as he works toward a criminology degree at UF and trains with the football team.

Mobley’s path toward UF started at the Gators’ 2009 season opener, a 62-3 win over Charleston Southern. Mobley’s girlfriend was a student and invited him down to a game.

It was Tim Tebow’s final season, Florida’s first game after winning the 2008 national title. Mobley was overcome by the atmosphere and energy inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“I had no idea I was going to be overwhelmed by excitement and love for this place,’’ he said. “I sat in the student section, I learned how to chomp. I just fell in love with it. I got to go to some classes and sit in. The veteran program here is outstanding.”

Soon, he moved to Gainesville and enrolled at Santa Fe College. He later transferred to UF and got a job in the VA office. Then the email popped up one day and the rest is history.

In the back of his mind Mobley wondered what it would be like to run onto the field in a Gators uniform.

He finally got to experience it.

His former unit in the Marines and veterans everywhere ran out with him.

“Some guys are like, ‘what if you don’t play?’ ” Mobley said. “For me it’s never been about that. I’m just grateful. It’s just like being in the military. It doesn’t matter if I get an award or not – it’s knowing that you’re making a difference and you are part of something bigger than yourself.”


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