Dover grad Thurman a survivor for Gators

If ever there was a photo that summed up a sad Florida football season, this was it.

After a particularly tough loss to Missouri last October, just two players — Trip Thurman and Kyle Christy — stood in the corner of the end zone as the Gators’ band played the school fight song.

Thurman, the Dover High grad, didn’t do it for the attention he later received, though.

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Courtesy of Florida sports information

He stood there because he thought it was the right thing to do.

“The fans down here in Florida are great,” said Thurman. “We have a saying down here, ‘In all kinds of weather. …’ It was just a really tough loss.

“The fans that stayed there deserved for us to come out there and play the fight song. I just wanted to thanks the fans in that sense.”

A year later, Thurman finds himself one of last men standing again for the Gators.

Now a fifth-year senior offensive lineman, the 6-foot-5, 313-pounder is one of only two players remaining from his original recruiting class. A 10-game starter last fall, he’s also the only Florida offensive lineman who has starting experience.

So sure, after playing for three different head coaches and four position coaches as well as enduring a pair of shoulder operations, Thurman has the right to feel like a survivor.

Not surprisingly, with all the coaching changes, a lot of players transferred to other schools. Jim McElwain was hired in the offseason after head coach Will Muschamp was fired.

“It’s definitely weird to look around and realize that me and another guy are the only ones left from the 2011 class,” said Thurman. “I’ve definitely been through a lot here at Florida — through some good times and bad times. I’m glad I stayed here.

“For me it wasn’t just the coaching staff that had me here at Florida. It was everything that led up to it. And just the education part, I didn’t want to have to go to another school and transfer over. I love the people here in Gainesville. I love the people, I love the community. It was just a good fit for me from the beginning.”

All that being said, Thurman’s football career almost ended last winter.

With his shoulder injury still bothering him, Thurman was given the option of having more surgery. But the medical staff also told him that, if he had another operation, they wouldn’t be able to clear him to play football any more.

The other option was to sit out spring football, strengthen the muscles and ligaments in his shoulder and try to play again. So that’s what Thurman did.

So far, his shoulder has held up just fine in preseason camp.

“I feel great,” said Thurman. “I think I would have really regretted getting the surgery and not playing. I wanted to finish what I started down here. Me stepping into a leadership role is something I’ve been looking forward to since I got here in 2011.

“There’s always some doubt. But the people on the training staff are great. It’s easy to do the rehab and come back as fast as you can when you love the game. When you love doing something, you’re going to work as hard as you can to come back and play.”

A 22, the younger Gators now call Thurman ‘Grandpa’ sometimes. And he knows his days in football may be numbered. He’ll get his degree in marketing in December.

Thurman would like to go into medical sales. He shadowed Florida’s orthopedic doctor this summer.

But, while his shoulder problems would make it difficult, Thurman would also take a shot at pro football he he got one.

Two of his former linemates, including Cardinals’ first-round draft pick D.J. Humphries, are in NFL camps now.

“I kind of have a plan ‘A’ and a plan ‘B,’” said Thurman, who has played in 28 games at Florida. “Plan ‘A’ would be do take this football thing as far as it can go and, if not, I have a backup plan.

“It’s just kind of surreal that this is my last year and I’m the old guy now. It seems like just yesterday I was coming down to Gainesville.”

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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