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April 9, 2013
Errict Rhett was waived by the Cleveland Browns in 2001 and watched his seven-year National Football League career come to an end. One year before, he signed a three-year contract worth $6 million. Now, the game he started playing at 8 years old was gone.
"It's like a second death," Rhett said. "It's very hard. When your outcome exceeds your income, your downfall is your upkeep."
But 12 years after football left his life, Rhett is a success story. He runs a company that develops custom homes throughout Florida. Inspired by his mother - who lived on couches for 19 years - he heads a charity that supports underprivileged youth in South Florida and helps low-income families find housing.
Not all former UF players can say the same, and that is why the Florida Players Network exists.
In its second year, FPN is an organization put together by former Gators to support other former players after their football careers are over. The primary goal is to raise money for past Gators who have currently fallen on hard times financially or medically.
It's a glimpse at the less glamorous side of football, what happens when there are no longer crowds screaming your name or national exposure every Saturday. FPN boasts that it has put "more than a dozen" former players in management positions at Waffle House restaurants and helped fund drug rehabilitation for others; hardly the post-college plans for your average UF student.
"Trying to figure out what you're going to do for the rest of your life is difficult," FPN president Chris Doering said. "After you play four or five years here at Florida, you find yourself kind of left behind. We want to remember those guys who are not as fortunate and not doing as well."
"You're in the limelight and then all of a sudden you're out of the picture," added current Florida coach Will Muschamp, who briefly attended FPN's "Blue Carpet Extravaganza" fundraiser the night before Saturday's Orange and Blue Debut.
Friday night's events were part of FPN's second "Spring Spectacular," three days of events that coincide with Florida's annual spring game. Former players arrived Thursday night before playing in a four-man scrambles golf tournament Friday morning at UF's Mark Bostick Golf Course. Saturday, they took part in an alumni flag football game.
The marquee event was Friday night's banquet , which featured Rhett as master of ceremonies and drew 75 former players, per an FPN spokesperson.
Upstairs in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's Champions Club was a silent auction to raise money for FPN, a pop rock band, food and an open bar. Fans could buy tickets for $100 with the intrigue of "rubbing shoulders" with former UF players. The weekend raised a reported $12,000 for FPN.
For the former players who did show, it was an opportunity for nostalgia. Sitting around the UF Hilton Thursday night, they shared stories of their glory days and the four years that may forever highlight their lives.
"It was (Steve) Spurrier for four hours," former wide receiver Terrence Barber said. "No (Tim) Tebow, no Urban Meyer. It was the old-school guys. All we talk about is Spurrier."
Barber teaches and coaches football at Nease High in Ponte Vedra now. Lawrence Wright, also in attendance, owns a construction company in South Florida. Fred Taylor played 13 years in the NFL and strolled in with Wright the night before watching his son suit up for the Gators, wearing his No. 21 and playing running back. Doering is a mortgage broker in Gainesville.
They know not everyone they played with has it so good.
"If we're not going to do it for our brothers, nobody else will," Doering said.