FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Florida Football 3-2-1: Trask Heisman hype grows
- Recruit Reaction: I wasn't expecting such a blowout
- Uncensored Sound Off – Post Game Reaction
- A historic night for Trask, a momentous win for Gators
- Inside the Gators: Mock Signing Class 8.0
- 30 Game Report Card: On par with Spurrier, coming up short of Meyer
Saturday was a huge day for Florida tight end Kemore Gamble and his family and not just because the redshirt junior caught his first career touchdown.
Gamble’s mom, Keiva Rodriguez, had attended all of her son’s college games except the three Florida-Georgia games. She is deathly afraid of heights and big bridges, which are unavoidable when driving from Miami to Jacksonville unless you drive several hours out of the way.
“I didn’t used to be scared of bridges,” Rodriguez said. “It came from some years ago when they had that bridge that collapsed a couple of years ago, I believe, in Tampa, when they had to rebuild that bridge. I’m actually from New Jersey, so I always flew and drove back and forth from New Jersey to Miami with my family, and all of a sudden I just got afraid of flying and bridges.”
She went back and forth throughout the week on whether to overcome her fear and make the trip to Jacksonville or stay home and watch the game on television like she did the three previous years. Later in the week, she got a feeling that Gamble was about doing something special, so she decided to make the trip.
“My gut feeling just kept telling me that your baby is going to get in the game, and he’s going to score a touchdown,” she said. “It just kept telling me he was going to score two touchdowns. And then at the last minute, I had said, ‘I’m not going to go. I’m not going to go. I’m going to stay home, and I’ll watch it from home.’ Thursday night, I just told my husband, ‘You know what? Let’s go because I have this gut feeling that he’s going to get in the game, and he’s going to score a touchdown.’ I kept texting Kemore like, ‘I’m scared, Kemore. I’m really, really scared.’ He was like, ‘Mom, just get on the bridge and come.’”
Rodriguez posted about her anxiety on Twitter throughout the week, and she received a bunch of encouragement from people wanting her to go, which aided in her decision.
Her husband drove them to Jacksonville on Friday. The plan was to cut through the central part of the state and go through Gainesville. That route wouldn’t have involved crossing any bridges at all. However, for some reason, the couple got sidetracked and ended up going over the Hart Bridge in downtown Jacksonville.
This isn’t one of those stories where crossing the bridge ended up not being as bad as she envisioned and she can laugh about it now. Crossing the Hart Bridge was just as nerve-wracking and miserable as she made it out to be in her head.
“I had a panic attack,” she said. “My Apple watch actually told me to breathe while we were going over the bridge. I couldn’t believe the Apple watch worked. It told me to breathe.
“I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t breathe. My heart stopped. I had to breathe like a woman’s in labor; that’s how I literally was breathing. It may sound weird, but I really was.”
Rodriguez is certainly not the only one who gets anxious when driving over the Hart Bridge. The bridge is more than 0.7 miles long, making it one of the longest bridges of its kind in the world. It sits 14 stories above water level and is sometimes referred to as “The Green Monster” by locals.
Her son rewarded her courage and fulfilled her prophecy by playing the best game of his career. After Kyle Pitts went down with a possible concussion following a helmet-to-helmet hit, Gamble took on a larger role in the offense and caught a career-high three passes for a career-high 51 yards. His 24-yard touchdown on a wheel route in the second quarter gave the Gators a lead they never surrendered in their 44-28 win. That moment made the trip over the bridge worth it.
“It was amazing,” Rodriguez said. “I cried. I danced. I was excited. I was very excited. I was up in the stands thanking Coach Mullen, Coach Brew, Mrs. Mullen. I just was thanking everybody up in the stands. I went, like, bizarre. I was overwhelmed.”
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Gamble said having his mom in the stands made his first career touchdown against a bitter rival even sweeter.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It was enough for her to cross that bridge for the first time, to have her here to watch me catch my first touchdown.”
Gamble needed a big game like that after a frustrating 2019. He played very sparingly and didn’t catch a pass that season. He never questioned the coaches or considered transferring, but he was highly disappointed at times.
“It was really tough for him, and he cried sometimes, and it makes me cry,” Rodriguez said. “It hurts to see your kid cry, especially a boy to cry. It hurt him, but just like I tell him, when it’s your time, God will let you know it’s your time.
“Just told him to just keep doing what you do, stay humble, do what the coaches tell you to do. Don’t go backwards; go forward. Don’t stop working hard. Stay working hard, stay doing what you do, and your time will come. Your time will eventually come.”
With the NCAA choosing not to count this pandemic-affected season against players’ eligibility, Gamble will still have two years of eligibility left after this season. If he chooses to stick around that long, will Rodriguez find the courage to cross the bridge two more times?
“I’m still thinking,” she said.
If Gamble keeps producing magical moments like the one he created on Saturday, she might not have a choice.