The only player in school history to lead the Florida Gators in rushing and all-purpose yards for four-straight seasons, running back Errict Rhett is one of the most accomplished players ever to wear the orange and blue.
Not only did he help lead Florida to two Southeastern Conference Championships in three seasons (1991, 1993), he was also a First Team All-SEC selection those years and a First Team All-American in the final season of his collegiate career.
A member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame, Rhett concluded his Gators career with a school-record 4,163 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 1,230 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions.
His 873 career rushing attempts are also a school record, as are the 41 carries he registered in a single game against Georgia in 1993. He is third in the Florida history books in touchdowns scored (36) – behind a pair of fellow Gator Greats in Tim Tebow (57) and Emmitt Smith (37) – and is second all-time to Smith in both average rushing yards per game (90.5) and career 100-yard games (20).
Rhett is also fourth on Florida’s career receptions list with 153 – the only running back in the top 10 – and holds another Gators mark for most receiving yards by a running back. The 5,393 total yards he gained over the course of his career is tops among Florida student-athletes and nearly 600 more than the next player (Brandon James).
He then went on to the NFL as a second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he compiled 2,218 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns during his first two seasons. Rhett stuck around the NFL for seven years, rushing for a total of 4,143 yards and 29 touchdowns while also spending time with Baltimore and Cleveland.
To put it succinctly, Rhett is the personification of success.
Though he has never stopped influencing the Gators football program, he returned to Gainesville, FL, last week to participate in a new tradition, becoming the first “Florida celebrity” to embody the role of Mr. Two Bits ahead of a home game.
OnlyGators.com caught up with Rhett for 45 minutes on Wednesday to discuss his motivation to succeed, storied Gators career and his epic performance last Saturday.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s start off by talking about what happened most recently – you performing as Mr. Two Bits ahead of the Toledo game. What was that like for you?
ERRICT RHETT: “It felt real good to actually follow in a guy’s footsteps – Mr. Two Bits – he’s been a legendary part of the program. His motivational chant got guys so fired up and fired up the fans. I studied that guy. All I could tell is he did it different every time. But the one thing I did notice was that he just put so much passion and enthusiasm into it. I knew those are two attributes that I would have no problem bringing to the table, and I think I showed that off.”
AS: When you were a player, do you remember hearing the chant before the game even though you guys weren’t out on the field just yet?
ER: “You do hear it but you really don’t get into the wording because you’re so focused on the game. But you definitely hear loud yelling sounds. At first, I never knew what they were really saying. I just knew it was something that got the crowd so pumped up. It just vibrated the stadium.”
AS: Did you request to dress up like George Edmonson or was that something that went along with the whole ceremony?
ER: “I actually requested that right there because I definitely wanted to honor him with the loud yellow shirt with the exact same tie with the towel hanging out. I really, really studied him because that’s not a pretty easy thing to do. I really, really studied him for hours and hours. I knew I had the enthusiasm, but his hand movement to his feet movement to the way he moves his legs and his energy… I really studied him and I really wanted to do it the way he’s always done it. I wanted to follow tradition; I didn’t want to try it a different way. That’s what the University of Florida really believes in – tradition – and I wanted to keep it going the same way he did it.”
AS: You also got the chance to run out of the tunnel leading the team, probably the first time you’ve done that since the late 1990s. What was it like to do that again?
ER: “Oh, man, it is just a feeling that I wish that everybody in the entire world could actually run through a tunnel like that in front of 90,000 people. The adrenaline is unreal. It took me hours to calm down off that high. That’s just a high. I wish everyone could do that at least once a year. It’s unbelievable adrenaline that you have when you run through that tunnel. You can literally run through a wall. That’s the power that you feel when you run out there into a crowd 90,000 strong with your teammates. It’s a wonderful feeling. Very exciting.”
AS: It actually looked like you could run through a wall that day, and it seems like you’ve stayed in pretty great shape since retiring.
ER: “It’s something I always did. I believd in really keeping myself fin pretty good shape. The best way to get in shape is just always stay in shape. Genetically, my father is 94 and my mother is in her 80s and they still look good. They look very good. [Laughing]”
AS: Did you get the opportunity to talk to the team on Friday night?
ER: “I actually did have a chance to talk to the guys Friday evening after practice. I just talked about bringing the passion and the enthusiasm and realizing where you’re playing at is your home field. This is how you establish yourself. This is a place where no one comes into The Swamp. They will be defeated if they come in here. You create this feeling for your home fans, the excitement, the tradition, the players that came before you. You are following in some great footsteps and how exciting it is to play in The Swamp.
“That’s basically what I wanted to talk to them about is really bringing the passion into the game. It really doesn’t matter when you’re going in the game, where you’re at in the game. If you only play one snap, when you get your opportunities, you make the best of it. If you’re a cheerleader on that sideline, you be the best damn cheerleader you can possibly be. Everyone on that team has to get every win this year. We talked about our one goal – our one goal this year. We’re going to take one game at a time, but our ending goal is ‘N.C.’ – that’s our final destination – N.C.: National Championship.”
AS: It doesn’t seem like your love for the game or competition has waned at all over the years. Did you ever consider getting into coaching after you retired?
ER: “You know what? I love assisting and helping out, motivating kids. I believe I have the energy for it. But I love family. I love my kids, and I think that’s the sacrifice that you do have to make. I go crazy when I got to come home at 5 o’clock. That’s how much I love being with my kids, so I can’t imagine coaching. I admire those coaches for dedicating their time like that for 17, 18 hours a day, but it’s just not me, man. I love family just too much. I love my kids. I’m not saying they don’t love their kids, but I really enjoy being with mine and watching them grow. That’s priceless. You can’t put a money value on that.”
AS: I’m told you have a mini version of yourself running around – Errict Rhett, Jr. – and that he’s a running back right now. How is he doing – following in dad’s footsteps?
ER: “I’m not saying he’s looking like dad. He likes the game. I don’t know if he loves the game as much as I did because I don’t know if he’s in a position where he has to. I literally had to love the game because I had that compelling reason. My mother slept on that couch for 19 years and we were very poor. I knew football was my only way of getting her off the couch and building her a nice house one day, helping her live in a better neighborhood. That was my only goal in life and I knew football was my only way out. A lot of kids now, they grow up not having that same attitude where they have to love something. They want to do something but it’s not a need. They have a good little while before they have a compelling ‘why’ – why they have to do this. I think my success has actually made it so they don’t have to work so hard like dad did. I paved the way and I worked so hard. Just like people before us definitely paved the way for us to be here right now.”
AS: What was the first thing you did for your mom when you were financially stable enough to support her? How did that make you feel?
ER: “The first thing that most players do – if you grew up in the projects and you’re living in the ghetto, the inner city housing, government housing – the first thing you want to do is you want to get your mother into a better living condition. That’s what every young man living there wants to do. That was my compelling reason to succeed and nothing distracted me from that goal. She slept on that couch for 19 years and we did everything in our might to make it comfortable – putting blankets and boxes underneath. I watched her work two jobs, never really saw her because she was working. When I did see her, she was so tired. That became my ambition, my dream, my motivation – to take care of my mom and make it so that she would have a better life where she doesn’t have to work so hard and she can walk down the street and not have to worry about gun shots and stuff like that. That was my main goal. When I first got my signing bonus, it felt good to go over there and buy her almost a 4,000 square foot home. Now she can walk around the neighborhood and enjoy life. The only thing now is she didn’t want me to leave the house once I bought it!”
AS: Growing up in South Florida – even though you knew you had to play football to be successful for your family – was it tough to go all the way and play in Gainesville instead of just committing to Miami and playing for your hometown team? Was it difficult to leave your mom and be so far away knowing how hard she was working?
ER: “It wasn’t really tough because I knew my only option was to get away. There was no other option. It was only one option. I had to leave South Florida. Not saying that the Miami Hurricanes wouldn’t have been a great fit for me. Sure, football-wise it probably would have been. But at the time there was a lot of controversial things going on with that university although they were winning national championships. There were several people from my school and various schools that stayed, should’ve gone off to others schools, but they decided to stay home.
“I believe when one guy – Darius Frazier – when he got kicked off the team at the University of Miami and then they had some other disciplinary problems with other inner city players from where I lived at, my coach immediately said I was not going there. When [head coach] Jimmy Johnson came on the campus on the school yard to see me, my coach said ‘No, he won’t be going there. You might as well not even recruit him. This young man has to get away. He has to leave South Florida. I want him to see a college-type atmosphere.’ I’m not saying the University of Miami is not a college atmosphere, but Gainesville is a real college town. Gainesville was, by far, the best fit for me and the best thing I could have done for my career.”
AS: You never got the opportunity to play the Hurricanes when you were a member of the Gators. Would it have been special to go up against your hometown team?
ER: “It’s always great to play against your hometown rivals or players you know, for people to see you that have never seen you play before like teachers and people from the neighborhood. It just didn’t work out that way. It would have been interesting because we dominated all of college football offensively when I was at UF. And they obviously had a destructive defense. It would have been really exciting to play against Ray Lewis sand Warren Sapp and all those guys that went on later to be my teammates in the NFL. Competition makes you better, and we were always excited to play against each other in the NFL.”
AS: Any trash talk between you and those guys this week?
ER: “There actually hasn’t been too much trash talk. The guys are very mature and we just want to get out there and see an exciting game. The tradition is not there – we just don’t play enough – for there to really be a heated back-and-forth with those guys. I think the Miami-Florida State game is more of a bigger rivalry. It would be exciting to play them a little bit more. Hopefully it will be a really good game.”
AS: I’m assuming you plan to be at that game. On the field?
ER: “Oh yeah, no doubt, I will definitely be there. I bleed orange and blue, so I’ll definitely be at that game on the sideline supporting my team. Hopefully we’ll pull out a victory. It’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be nice entertainment for both sides and that’s the important thing.”
AS: Thinking back on your Florida career, which is the game that truly stands out to you? Is it the 1993 game against Georgia that everyone asks you about or something else you remember?
ER: “Honestly, all the games really stand out to me. Hell, the practices also stand out to me because I worked every day as though it was my last day on Earth. That’s the way I practiced if you actually knew me. Come game day, the games were kind of easy because I put in so much work preparing for every game. I went in knowing that I refused to accept being average or ordinary as a running back. I wanted to be special. A lot of people remember that 1993 Georgia game [school-record 41 carries] but there were a lot of great memorable games. The Florida State game in 1991, the last second dropped ball for us to win [14-9]. Every play meant something.
“I remember the Auburn game that we lost [35-38 in 1993]. Unfortunately, you remember the games that you lost because you always wish you could get those games back. That game really stopped us from probably playing in the national championship that year. That game meant a lot to me because all of Dillard High School, their star players, all went to Auburn. They had just beat up on me four years before that in the last second in high school. I finally got a chance to play all those guys again when those guys were starters and the exact same thing happened – almost the exact same score. [Laughing] all the games are memorable.
“Just being a Gator, playing in The Swamp, on the road travelling with the team. It’s just been a great journey. No regrets. Win or lose, no regrets. Sugar Bowl in 1993 [W 41-7 vs. West Virginia] and 1991 [L 28-39 vs. Notre Dame], 1992 Gator Bowl [W 27-10 vs. N.C. State]. All of them are great memories, man, and I’m sure it’s the same thing players will say now when they look back on it. Don’t go on to play pro ball and forget about your journey. Enjoy the journey while it’s here. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy this little bit of time while you’re in college because soon today will be yesterday.”
AS: You were a second-round pick by Tampa Bay after college and were incredibly productive during your first two years with the Buccaneers. How were you able to maintain that success from college into the pros?
ER: “What I’ll tell you is that, on a college level, the professional guys don’t nearly work as hard as the college guys. But what they do different is they work a lot smarter. They know their personnel. They know their competition, who they’re going against. They know how to satisfy the coaches. It’s a game where you have to know how to put on a business suit and at the same time know when to take it off and put on the pads and do some damage. It’s something you learn. One thing I’ve always known is that hard work pays off. I continued to work hard. I took that same tradition I learned at high school and at Florida to the pros. I wanted to run every ball into the end zone no matter how long it takes for me to get back to the huddle. Before I knew it, my conditioning took over. Once you’re in top-notch shape, you feel like you can do anything. That played a major part in me coming out and being NFC Rookie of the Year because my conditioning – I was in great shape from college training. The hard work pays off. It goes to show you that hard work is hard work. If you’re not working hard, you won’t see the results out there.”
AS: After playing seven years in the league and being around football all your life, why did you decide to get out of the game when you retired and not stay around the game in some fashion. Instead you opened up Errict Rhett Custom Homes and run the Errict Rhett Foundation.
ER: “You try so many things while you’re in college and the pros. I literally tried so many different things. Something might come along where you can find your passion, and I did. I love it when a plan comes together. I’m enjoying the retirement life, but I invested in myself just like I did when I was a football player. I invest in me. That’s the one attribute that I learned after losing so much investing in other people. I figured out what I wanted to do and that’s when I really saw things paying off. I was doing real estate, wholesale, importing. I even do charitable things such as running my foundation. It feels good to finally invest in me. All players should invest in themselves.”
AS: What do you think about head coach Will Muschamp and what he’s been able to do with the program through his first two seasons?
ER: “He is a special coach, man. You have to be a special guy to be a coach in the SEC, especially to coach at Florida. There’s a lot of pressure on you to coach at Florida. You’re following in the footsteps of Urban Meyer – two national championships in three years – what Steve Spurrier did for 12-13 years of winning and winning big, revolutionizing offense. This guy steps right in there, unafraid, changes the program and wins. He knows his defense, knows what he can do as a coach.
“He’s a player’s coach, and it feels good to really have a true player’s coach. He’s a gentleman, too. He’s got class. That’s the good thing. You don’t have to worry about trying to speak to him. He’ll find you immediately. He’ll spot you out in a crowd and make it a point to talk to you. He wants all of the former Gators involved because he knows it takes a whole family to win this thing. He’s the kind of coach that you don’t have to worry about. He’s going to always stay humble. You love seeing someone humble win, like Tim Tebow when he was successful at Florida. You love when a guy like that comes along and is successful. You can’t find better guys than those two with better character, with so much intensity and integrity for the game.”
AS: Do you see any similarities between Muschamp and Spurrier?
ER: “It’s kind of hard to compare them because Spurrier was a great coach but you really didn’t know him the way you know Muschamp. Spurrier was a football coach and he’s a genius at calling plays. I’ve been around 10-20 different coaches in my lifetime, but I’ve never met anybody like Spurrier that can really own a game. He doesn’t do it in a fundamental way. He’s a technician. He doesn’t really care whose out there because he believes in his formula. Muschamp, he does it with energy. I’m not saying he’s not a great football-minded coach too, he is, but that energy, wow. When you see your coach putting that much energy into the game, wow. I told him when I met him, ‘If this team had half of your enthusiasm for the game, oh my goodness.’ This guy is emotional. He wants the best out of his players. He doesn’t want to see silly mistakes. There is nothing these players aren’t prepared for.
“Just like Spurrier though, there is no such thing as favorites. He wants the best for his players and just wants to succeed. He also seems to know how to win right away with less talent, just like Spurrier did. I can’t imagine what Muschamp could do if you gave him a whole team of talent like Spurrier had in 1996, when he had four or five first-round draft picks and future hall of famers on that team. It was unreal. I’d love to see Muschamp with that kind of talent, and I think eventually he will have it the way he’s recruiting now. He’s definitely going to continue to dominate. But to see what he did with a team that we just hoped would be a decent, average season – he surprised us all last season. He surprised us all. Now he’s raised the bar and everybody is expecting him to repeat that success and do even better. We want to move forward. We don’t want to go backwards at Florida.”
AS: Some former players I speak with have a funny story or two about Spurrier. Does anything stick out to you from your playing days?
ER: “Spurrier…oh boy…he was just a different cat. He’s such a genius. I probably spent more time amazed at how calm he would be with 35 seconds left and we’re on our 50-yard line – we’re about to lose our opening game against Kentucky. We’re so calm in the huddle because we know we have a genius over there calling plays. He puts us in a position to win the game with no time left on the clock. That’s just something you jump around for joy because of the stuff this guy had in his back pocket. His creativity during a game for calling plays is unlike anybody else. I’m not saying on a pro level, but on a collegiate level, you almost need to put in time as you do in the pros to stop his offense.
“It goes to show you what he did with mediocre teams at South Carolina and turned that whole program around, which is just unreal. It’s completely unreal. It’s not like going to Alabama where Alabama’s always won. I’m not saying Saban’s not a great coach, but Alabama has been winning forever and ever and ever. It’s like you’re not doing nothing new. It would be like Saban going to Vanderbilt and turning that program around. Hats off to Spurrier. It’s unreal to see him, to see how far that program has come. He even laughs about it. Imagine South Carolina competing for an SEC Championship? Wow.”
Photo Credits: Sugar Bowl Committee/UF Communications