When recent USF Sarasota-Manatee student Ian Kitchell was in middle school, he had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up. He knew that he loved to play soccer and run track, but at that point had never played on a football team and had no idea where his life was headed.
Now, as one of the newest members of the USF Bulls football team, Ian has filled in at least one piece of the equation. He found out that he made the team as a walk-on kicker/punter at the beginning of March and has been on cloud nine ever since.
“I remember sitting in the stands at Raymond James Stadium for a game with my sister, who was a student at USF Sarasota-Manatee and a huge Bulls fan, and thinking how awesome it would be to be on the field,” he said. “I knew I had to find a way to get there.”
Ian wasn’t always so sure about his direction as a football player. A soccer lover at heart, Ian was thrilled when he made the Palmetto High School football team as a freshman. Unfortunately, his excitement was short-lived. As the backup to a more senior kicker/punter, Ian had little play time, and was overlooked when it came to college recruiting. Refusing to give up on his dream, he joined the Sarasota Millionaires minor league football team as the star kicker and signed up for classes at USF Sarasota-Manatee, hoping to gain the connections needed to play for the Bulls.
“I had the opportunity to go to school at USF in Tampa but knew it wasn’t the right learning environment for me,” he said. “I really liked that USF Sarasota-Manatee was local and had much smaller class sizes, which fit my personality better. I’m a guy who tends to not ask as many questions, but in a smaller class you have to or you get left out of the discussion. In Tampa you can get lost altogether in the big lecture halls.”
Ian chose General Business as his major at USFSM and with the help of Calvin Williams, the head of Football Operations for the Millionaires, he approached USFSM Student Affairs Coordinator Darren Gambrell about the possibility of trying out for the Bulls.
“Darren took us up to a football game in Tampa and passed my highlight videos along to the coaches up there,” he said. “He also met with the coaches and gave me the connection and encouragement I needed to be able to try out for the team.”
In anticipation of trying out for the team, Ian signed up for classes at USF Tampa this spring and still faces the challenge of living in Palmetto and driving to Tampa for practice. He is adjusting to a weightlifting routine, unlike many of the other players who already had one in place, and so far his greatest challenge has been adjusting to the large class size and less personal attention he receives in Tampa.
Despite the challenges, Ian is ecstatic that he made the team and hopes to encourage his younger brothers to try out for the Bulls in a couple of years, likely by taking classes at USF Sarasota-Manatee. His younger brothers – Zane, 17, and Evan, 15 – both play football at Palmetto High School and are big USF fans. His sister, Jonni, received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from USF Sarasota-Manatee and is working towards her Master’s degree at USFSM. Jonni also currently works as a Student Advocate for Take Stock in Children Sarasota.
Ian still isn’t sure about what he wants to do when he graduates in a year and a half, but he is sure about one thing.
“I know my sister’s going to love watching me play in the stadium,” he said. “This time she’ll probably be wearing one of my jerseys.”