Welcome to “In the Zone,” an in-depth look at the pre-game rituals of Florida Gator student-athletes. Have you ever been curious as to what runs through the mind of a linebacker as he runs out of the tunnel at the Swamp? Or maybe you’ve been curious to know what music your favorite Gator listens to for a pump-up jam. “In the Zone” is the place for that! I’ll be interviewing some of the Gator athlete family, learning everything about their rituals, from the meal they prefer the night before, to the good luck charms they can’t perform without. Stay tuned to find out about your fierce Florida athletes.
“I play for the Florida Gators. I play for the Lord.”
Gideon Ajagbe is a redshirt junior fullback from Coconut Grove, Florida and is a devout Christian who channels his faith in every aspect of his life and sport, especially on game days. For all you Gator football fanatics out there keeping track of touchdowns, Gideon scored his first career touchdown in the season opener this year against Toledo. I caught up with him after this game to find out how he clears his head and gets In the Zone.
For the past three years, Gideon has kept his pregame ritual nearly identical, although he is free from superstitions about changing up his customs. Every Friday before games, whether they are in the Swamp or in enemy territory, the Florida Gator football team eats a pregame meal together at the hotel where they are staying. After this meal, Gideon spends time with his three-year roommate, Darrin Kitchens, talking about life and “taking the pressure off from what the game really is and just enjoying each other as Christian brothers and friends.” He and Kitchens are able to relieve each other’s worries and stresses about the upcoming game.
After team meal on game day, the Gators are bused to the field. During this time, Gideon takes a moment to reflect on his upcoming performance and clears his head by listening to “The Beautiful Exchange” by Hillsong, a Christian Contemporary group. Why this song and this group? Gideon says it calms his nerves, because after all, a 90,000 fan stadium is rather nerve-racking. He aims to fill his heart before every game with good input, the word of Christ and Christ’s love. He claims: “Listening to the song just reminds me who I play for. I play for the Florida Gators. I play for the Lord Jesus. It reminds me to give my best effort for the game.”
Once the team has arrived, dressed out and warmed up prior to the game, the Gators come together to say a prayer, grab their helmets, rub the gator head and take to the field, ready for a victory. Gideon says he remembers throughout the entire game that it is more than just him out there. He’s there for his team and for The Lord. He takes the game as it comes at him, leaving all superstitions aside saying he “[doesn’t] need a set schedule, I play for the moment.”
So the next time you see number 25 run out onto the field and score a touchdown, you now know how he prepares himself and gets in the zone.