February 23, 2007
Leesburg - When he left for Gainesville, Florida five years ago, Chris Hetland didn't have a scholarship.
Just an opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream of kicking for his favorite college team the Florida Gators. C
hris made the most of his chance in earning a scholarship and was the starting place kicker on the Gators national championship game last season.
Chris football career started at Lee County where Friday was officially proclaimed Chris Hetland Day in his hometown.
The Florida Gator star given the royal treatment with a stretch limousine ride that carried to several stops including Lee County Hiigh school where Chris was a standout kicker on the football team and all-region in soccer.
Chris was welcomed by the cheerleaders doing the Gator Chomp at the front door.
He also got the chance to see many of his former teachers.
Lee County students also gave Chris a big hand.
Students who learned that Chris Hetland had to overcome many obstacles to achieve his dream of not only kicking for the Gators but earning a scholarship and SEC and national championships.
Chris was originally going to the University of Georgia where he was not going to play football.
But then newly hired Florida coach Ron Zook asked Chris to walk-on with the promise of a scholarship if Hetland became the Gators place kicker.
It looked like that was going to happen until Zook was fired in the 2004 season.
New head coach Urban Meyer didn't think much of Chris Hetland's abilities and signed a kicker in his first recruiting class.
Chris Hetland though went out and won the starting kicking job in 2005 where he also earned all-conference honors and a scholarship from Urban Meyer.
2006 was a nightmare with missed field goals.
Chris had to battle for his starting job every week in practice and he kept it.
And ended his college career with a 40 and 43 yard field goals in the Gators win over Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship game.
The highlight of Chris Hetland day was Lee County principal Kevin Dowling announcing that the school will retire Chris's high school jersey.
The first time in Lee County history that the Trojans have retired a number in football.
It was a moment that caught Hetland by surprise.
But he says when he was struggling on the field this past season, it was the support from back home that enabled him to keep going and was a big reason he made those two big field goals in the national championship game against Ohio State.
Chris Heltand said "This year was a little struggle. But ended up strong. To end it like I did was just real fulfilling. And to know that I had all the support. In the middle of the season when I thought I was alone, I realized I wasn't quite alone as I thought with all the support from people back home and stuff."
Chris Hetland was also a standout soccer player at Lee County and will be honored between the girls and boys soccer games Friday night in Leesburg.