The Gators star defended his friend Samantha Bohon

New Florida football coach Samantha Bohon summarized her initial conversation with the program during her introductory press conference.

“When the University of Florida calls,” she said, “you answer.”

A similar sentiment can be expressed when it comes to one of the Florida program’s most illustrious competitors and one of Bohon’s longest friends, Danielle Fotopoulos.

When Danielle has something to say, it’s best to listen, which is exactly what Bohon, 45, was doing in the days leading up to his introduction as the third manager in the history of the football program. ‘UF.

Although it’s worth noting that Bohon was the first to reach out.

“She was actually calling me, something personal had happened in my life and she was reaching out to me,” Fotopoulos said. “We had a conversation for about 45 minutes about me, not about her, and she’s like, ‘Oh, I have to tell you something,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I have to go, I’m busy. “and she’s like, ‘I think I’m gonna get the UF job,’ and I’m like, ‘What?!

Fotopoulos may have been ecstatic, but she wasn’t necessarily shocked.

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Danielle Fotopoulos wanted Gators to hire her friend

She had privately advocated Bohon’s hiring to UF athletic director Scott Stricklin nearly 16 months ago, when coach Becky Burleigh announced plans to retire after 26 seasons with the UF program. . Stricklin eventually went in a different direction, hiring Tony Amato from Arizona on the recommendation of a recruiting firm.

Bohon would remain at Embry-Riddle for his 15th year with the program, while Fotopoulos was preparing for his 12th season as head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eckerd College.

Amato lasted less than a year with the Gators. For Stricklin, Bohon quickly came to mind.

However, he didn’t want to rush the process, no matter how certain he was of Bohon’s prowess as a head coach.

Although Bohon wasn’t just going to cross her fingers and hope that Stricklin had remembered her name – so she picked up the phone and made the first move.

“I was told there was an opening, then I reached out,” Bohon said. “It was with Lynda Tealer, who I think is very easy to connect with, and what she said this program was looking for was exactly what I was already doing.”

She was one of five applicants, and the only woman, to contact the Florida program, according to multiple sources familiar with the hiring process.

Still, Stricklin intended to conduct a thorough search. He scoured the landscape for coaches interested in taking on Florida’s impending rebuild—few shared Bohon’s combination of professional experience and enthusiasm. Stricklin felt she was dedicated to success, a sentiment Bohon agrees with.

“I am competitive. I’m a little fiery. My family can attest to that. I think I got that from my mom, who was a state champion tennis player in high school,” Bohon said. “So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Friendship and rivalry go back a long way

Samantha Baggett, far right, from her college days at Duke.  Now Samantha Bohon, she is Florida's women's soccer coach.

The early days of the relationship between Bohon, née Baggett, and Fotopoulos, née Garrett, were marked by competition.

The two met in college, as teammates on a traveling football team.

“She’s from Orlando, I’m from Daytona Beach Beach, so we’ve grown up together since we were 12,” Bohon recalled. “She played for the Orlando Gators, and I played at Ormond Beach, and then the Orlando Gators asked me to play as a guest. So I played with Danielle as a guest when I was 14, and then we played against each other in high school. We won. And then our early years in college, we both played for a team (under-19 club) in Clearwater, and we won two national championships.

The two were quickly separated by state lines, with Fotopoulos heading for Florida and Bohon bound for Duke University, though they didn’t have to wait long to reunite on the court.

On November 3, 1996, less than 18 months from competing as teammates and several months from Fotopoulos’ wedding, in which Bohon was a bridesmaid, Bohon and Fotopoulos found themselves adversaries in Durham, North Carolina. .

Fotopoulos was quickly developing a reputation as one of the nation’s most talented strikers and scorers for a still-infancy UF program, while Bohon was a force in the Blue Devils’ back line. Something had to give that day.

In a scoreless game, Fotopoulos would be the one to make the tough tackle that day on Bohon, although Fotopoulos felt devastated by how the game ended. His play on the ball sent Bohon crashing to the grass with an ankle injury. She watched the rest of the game on crutches from the touchline.

She may not have won the battle, but Bohon won the war, as Duke took a 1-0 victory over the visiting Gators, and she didn’t let her former teammate forget that.

“She took me out at the end of the game,” Bohon said. “I left the game on crutches, but we still won.”

Fotopoulos has a slightly different recollection.

“I think maybe she got her ankle in the way,” she joked, “and I kicked her.”

They coached in the same conference

With Embry-Riddle and Eckerd both competing in the Sunshine State Conference, the battles continued, with Embry-Riddle claiming victory in eight of 10 matchups in series history.

“She has my number, that’s for sure. That’s why it’s good that she’s here now,” Fotopoulos said. “She is like a sister to me. She is my voice of reason.

Now in his first week on the job, Bohon is focused on building relationships with Florida players, as well as building a coaching staff.

Prior to her introductory press conference, she briefly met the Gators in the locker room. She knows the sentiments expressed regarding Amato’s only season in Florida, and she’s committed to a relationship-focused approach based on constant communication with the administration.

If it has not yet specified, Bohon plans to facilitate such communication. Stricklin and Tealer might be in a good position to follow Fotopoulos’ lead and get used to Bohon reaching out.

” It’s imperative. I told them when I was talking to them that I would err on the side of communication because I know directors don’t like surprises,” Bohon said. “You are all a team. That’s really it. So whether it’s sports science, coaching or the mental health aspect, whatever aspect is trying to come together and support this group, there really has to be a team atmosphere.

While Fotopoulos is not expected to join Bohon in Florida as part of her inaugural coaching staff in Gainesville, she does intend to join the team in an unofficial capacity.

“Danielle is just going to be on the cheering committee, and we’re going to have good banter back and forth,” Bohon said. “I’m going to entrust him with the alumni weekend because it’s definitely going to be fun.”

Florida head football coach Becky Burleigh, left, presents Danielle Fotopoulos senior with the ball she scored for the 104th goal of her career in 2018. Fotopoulos set an NCAA record with the goal.

Will Becky Burleigh have a role?

The presence of Becky Burleigh remains a question. She was present for Bohon’s introduction, and her shadow continues to hang over the program.

With less than three months to go until her last game in Florida, Burleigh did not retire from coaching, albeit briefly, to serve as the interim head coach of Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Burleigh has been an influence on Bohon since she was known to Florida fans.

“She coached Danielle and I when we were 14 and 15 in the Olympic development program,” Bohon said of Burleigh. “And I coached against her obviously, and we stayed in touch.”

Burleigh, while she may not return to the payroll, will be a luxury available to Bohon.

“I think Becky will be available for as much or as little as I want,” she said. “I’m sure she wants to enjoy her kind of retirement.”

She may not need to make selecting Burleigh’s mastermind a priority — Bohon, like her conversations with Stricklin, had already reached out to Burleigh before she imagined herself in the role.

With Embry-Riddle just a two-hour drive from Gainesville, Bohon honed his craft in Burleigh’s backyard.

As a result, his approach is very similar.

“That’s the beauty of it, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Bohon said. “I used to come here quite often to get his brains out of him, because, you know, Division II, you don’t have the resources you have here.” She was always very inviting, and I would come and watch sessions and even attend some of the coaching collaboration events they had.

“I’m a wholehearted subscriber to the way she likes to do things.”

It’s time for Bohon to lead the program, and those around him are optimistic the Gators have found a worthy successor to the national championship-winning program Burleigh helped build.

If she needs help along the way, there are plenty of worthy candidates willing to lend Bohon a listen – and she’s not afraid to strike up a conversation.

“It was a little frustrating. I waited and, I think, developed relationships — I was reaching out and developing relationships, and now I don’t need to reach out anymore,” Fotopoulos said. “I just called my friend. We talk all the time, or text, or whatever we have to do. I am really super excited for her, her family and for this program. The timing couldn’t be better. »

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