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Gators running back Mark Herndon honored for his volunteer work at Friday's home gymnastics meet.

Tuesday March 11, 2014Herndon and McNeely are Role Players on Field, Stars in Community for Gators

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Gators running back Mark Herndon honored for his volunteer work at Friday's home gymnastics meet.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mark Herndon and Michael McNeely often do their best work on the football field at practice as members of the Gators’ scout team. Both have also played on special teams.

The most recognition either has received came last fall when Gators head coach Will Muschamp surprised Herndon, a walk-on running back from Ocala, by putting him on scholarship. Herndon’s teammates mobbed him as tears fell from his face.

However, Herndon and McNeely are stars inside the walls of Florida’s Office of Student Life for the work they do in the community.

Mark Herndon

“Both of them did our Climb for Cancer program,’’ said Valerie Flournoy, assistant coordinator for student services at the OSL. “That’s in the fall during the bye weekend. They donated their time when a lot of their teammates were home. They are part of our Gator Tracks program, too, which provides free shoes to the community.

“It says a lot about their character.”

Both players were honored recently for surpassing more than 50 hours in community service this school year. Herndon was introduced at Friday night’s gymnastics meet at the O’Connell Center.

He works with students at Duval Elementary School in Gainesville on Tuesdays and Thursdays and also has volunteered time at UF Health Shands Hospital.

A family, youth and community science major, Herndon envisions a career in community service once he finishes school. He also wants to set a good example the way others did for him as he grew up in underprivileged circumstances searching for a better way of life.

“It’s important to me because I feel like God has given me all these opportunities and I feel like I have to give back,’’ Herndon said of donating his time. “This is my way to give back though kids because I love kids.”

McNeely

Meanwhile, you won’t find a more likeable player in Florida’s locker room than McNeely, a fifth-year senior from Clearwater who plays receiver. When he is not in class, at practice or at his part-time job at Publix, McNeely (photo, left) can often be found at Shands.

McNeely has donated more than 100 hours of his time this school year, primarily serving in the pediatric oncology unit as part of UF Health’s Footprints program that provides a buddy system for children with cancer.

“We play video games with them and board games, or they want to get any movies, we’re there for them,’’ McNeely said. “We set a play room up for them and just hang out and make sure they have fun.

“I can’t even imagine the situation some of the kids are in. It’s so inspiring to me the way they don’t let being sick get them down and they keep fighting. It makes me grateful for the life I have. Serving is important to me.”

McNeely has been a community volunteer since high school and wants to pursue a medical career after college.

Michael McNeely

A former sprinter at Florida State, Flournoy sees a much different side to Herndon and McNeely than their teammates at practice or those at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.

Their impact in the community has made a difference.

“When they are on the field they build the Gator brand on the athletic side, and when they are out in the community they really take on and exemplify the character of our student athletes,’’ Flournoy said. “These aren’t the starters going out and doing stuff, so it’s really cool to see them recognized.”

 

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