The Power of Believing in Yourself: The Story of Gator Great Chris Doering

Paul and Cheryl Doering were boarding a small airplane in Gainesville, Florida, on a sunny Saturday morning. The year was 1993. They were surrounded by folks wearing orange and blue everything. They were surrounded by prestigious Gator boosters.

No one knew who they were, but they, too, were headed to Lexington, Kentucky.

As they made their way down the narrow isle toward their seats people asked them who they were and why were they were there.

Paul responded stating that his son was on the football team.

The Gator boosters were, then, curious as to who the couple’s son was.

When Paul told them, “Chris Doering,” the boosters let out a chuckle and said, “Never heard of em’.”

Before the night of September 11, 1993 not many people knew the name Chris Doering. A game-winning touchdown catch at the University of Kentucky forever changed that. It forever changed Chris’ career.

He grew up just miles down the road from the University of Florida. Both of his parents were Gator grads, and his dad was a pharmacy professor at the college. To say Chris was raised a Gator would be an understatement.  

The Doering’s went to not only all the football games, but the basketball games, the softball games, the baseball games and the gymnastics meets.

“I dreamed of playing football in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium,” Chris said. “Chris Collinsworth, who played at Florida in the 80’s, was my hero.”

              Paul said that when Chris was born, they had no doubt he would pursue sports.

              Along with one of his buddies, Paul would take his 2-foot son out front and play catch with a full-size, leather Gator football in the street. Chris could not have been more than three years old at the time.

              Imagine a toddler’s hands trying to grasp a football.

              “Sometimes the ball would knock him over,” Paul said. “We’d yell, “C’mon, Chris. Get up. Catch it.””

              Chris, then, would hop right up, catch the ball and smile big.  

              He loved it, Paul said.

That was the beginning. That was the seed that later blossomed. As the calendar days passed, “Here, catch it,” became a realization.

Chris was a three-sport athlete at PY Yonge Developmental Research School. He played basketball, baseball and football.

His senior year arrived, and it was supposed to be the most exciting time in his life. It was a crucial recruiting period. It was a chance to turn his childhood dream of playing college football into a reality.

But that is just the thing. It was not any of those things for Chris.

One word sums up Chris’ recruitment: disappointing, Paul said.

“Chris was not on the top of people’s lists or the bottom,” he said. “He wasn’t anywhere.”

This could be for a variety of reasons. One of which, is that PK Yonge was a small, up and coming school. People did not know about it. People did not give the school or its’ athletes much attention, former PK Yonge basketball coach Randall Leath said.

Paul admits he was, and still is, a doting, somewhat of a control-freak father.

He decided to take matters into his own hands.

After sending hundreds of emails and tapes to recruiting coordinators and coaches across the nation, he was told rosters were full and positions were taken. The responses, if any, were all the same – except one.

Florida State University was interested, of all places.

According to the recruiting coordinator at FSU, they thought Chris was a slam dunk at UF. Their roster was full, but they wanted Chris as a preferred walk-on.

After taking a visit to Tallahassee and meeting some gracious people, Chris thought he would go there, walk-on and become a Seminole.

That was the plan.

Well, plans changed.

Chris and his father were sitting in the stands of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium watching the Florida baseball play the Seminoles when out of the clear, blue sky Chris said, “Dad, I can’t do it.”

              That was that. Chris was not going to go to FSU anymore. Paul put his doting, control-freak father hat back on and went to work – sending emails, sending tapes.

              Finally, after a lot of back-and-forth, Chris’ tape got in front of a recruiter at UF. Then, eventually, it made its way in front of the Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier.

              They, too, said Chris could be a preferred walk-on.

              “It takes a special kind of person to walk-on any sport, more so with football,” Leath said. “Chris was that person.”

              And so that is exactly what Chris did.

              “From the start, you could tell he wanted to prove himself,” former UF wide receiver’s coach Dwayne Dixon said. “Any drill I put up, he wanted to be the best at it.”

              The turning point, Dixon thinks, for Chris at Florida, was in 1993.

              The Wildcats were beating the Gators, and with three seconds left in the game, backup quarterback (at the time) Danny Wuerffel threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to the walk-on to get a 24-20 victory on the road.

              No one expected that.

              “That was the moment we realized, okay, we need to give this kid more opportunities,” Dixon said.

              As Paul and his wife, Cheryl, boarded an airplane to head home from Lexington the next morning, they received fist bumps and heard numerous people say, “We always knew Chris was going to be great!”

              Well, the thing is they did not.

              That did not matter though. The only thing that mattered was that he believed. Chris knew he was going to be great.

“It seemed to be a reoccurring theme in my life where everyone doubted me,” Chris said. “I never doubted myself.

              He went on to set records at Florida.

Chris holds the record for most touchdowns in school history, 31, and up until 2020, that was the best in conference history. DeVonta Smith of Alabama surpassed 31 touchdowns back in November.

“I would have been happy as a kid to score one touchdown,” Chris said. “To have scored 31 – I don’t think many people thought a skinny, slow kid out of Gainesville would ever have those accomplishments.”

He holds the sixth best record for career receptions at Florida with 149 receptions for 2,107 yards. During Chris’ four seasons as a Gator, the team won three straight SEC Championships (1993, 1994, 1995). Chris was a team captain in 1995 and received first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American honors.

Although Chris became a star at Florida, Dixon said he is more proud of the man Chris was and still is. He was never arrogant but always confident. He is the type of guy you wanted to coach.

With success, some people change. Chris did not.  

He credits the HBC along with all his coaches for believing in competition, for letting him compete and prove himself.

Chris was projected to be a first or second rounder in the 1996 NFL Draft. He was not. The Jacksonville Jaguars took him in the sixth round as the 185th overall pick.

Again, he was doubted.

Chris went on to spend 10 years in the NFL and was cut 10 different times.

“My whole journey has showed me what it means to persevere,” Chris said.

Now, he is a mortgage broker, an ESPN analyst and a father. Let’s not forget, he’s also a Gator great.

You are going fail in life. You are going to have setbacks. The important thing is that you do not deter. Continue to push. Chris did just that.

One-on-One interview with Chris Doering

ASIDE: I met Chris Doering back in high school. I was in Gainesville for a game with my family. We were sitting at The Swamp eating lunch when I saw Chris and another Gator Great, Kevin Carter, sitting a couple of tables away from us. I grabbed a napkin, wrote my blog name on it and name. As they were leaving, I stopped Chris, introduced myself, explained my dream and handed him the napkin.

A few years later, I got accepted into UF, where I will graduate from in just a few short months. I shadowed Chris and Kevin Neghandi, ESPN host/announcer, my freshman year during Florida’s Orange and Blue game.

He has been someone who I have kept in touch with and whose advice has always stuck with me. He was not always given chances. He created them. “MAKE THE CHANCE.”

That’s what I am trying to do for myself as I chase my goal of becoming an on-air sports reporter/host…. make chances for myself – not wait on them.

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