There's a reason why home court advantage is coveted, and at the University of Florida, the Rowdy Reptiles are a big reason for that.
Florida's student section is one of the most intimidating in the SEC. Unlike other schools' student sections, the Rowdies are seated in prime real estate. They stand right on top of the opposing team their insistent heckling at full throttle from warmups to the final buzzer.
Their goal is to get under the opponents' skin... and it's working.
"When you have fifteen hundred students screaming and cheering on the Gators I think that can get very intimidating," said Rowdy Reptiles President Eddie Brace. "I know that it does because a lot of opposing coaches say, the South Carolina coach said, that the Rowdies, you don’t want to play in a place like inside the "O" Dome in Gainesville.”
It takes a lot of preparation and dedication to be a Rowdy. They research opposing players and compile a dirt sheet that the entire student section can use to trash talk opponents.
They say their goal isn't to be mean, but to get inside the players' heads.
“Usually when you start singling out a player, usually a star player, their teammates will start laughing at what you’re yelling at them," said Rowdies Vice President David Steinfeldt. "That’s when you know you’re doing a great job.”
They meet once a month to go over rules, upcoming games and bring light to dirt on opposing teams.
On game days they line up at gate three with hopes of scoring quality seats. They'll even set up a camp site outside of the O'Dome for marquee matchups.
Their dedication doesn't go unnoticed. Head coach Mike White and the players have even stopped by to drop off sustenance.
"I think my number one memory has to be waking up in the morning, I think eight o’clock in the morning, to head coach Mike White bringing us Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuits for breakfast and telling us how much we mean to the players,” said Brace.
"I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming," Steinfeldt said about the moment he woke up to White handing out chicken biscuits. "He really makes sure we know how valuable we are to this team, and we feel that every time we’re in the arena.”
Not only are they valuable to the team, but also to each other. Being a Rowdy means being part of a family.
"I just made so many friends outside of gate three," said Steinfeldt. "Countless hours there and it’s one of the best decisions I made at UF.”