BRADENTON -- Cacophonous laughter coursed through Bradenton Christian School's Wichers Auditorium early during the 35 minutes Danny Wuerffel spent speaking on stage at Bradenton Christian's Heart's Desire Gala on Friday. The first few anecdotes he shared were straight from his playing days at Florida, complete with an impression of former head coach Steve Spurrier.
The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback used one lighthearted story as a roundabout way to introduce the message he wanted to share with the more than 200 patrons who went to see Wuerffel speak in Bradenton.
Early during his NFL career, Wuerffel was a quarterback for a bad Saints team. He remembers one sack particularly well because people didn't let him forget -- it became a classic football blooper. A pass rusher blew by the left tackle for a free run at Wuerffel. The rusher nailed Wuerffel's helmet, spinning it around and leaving the quarterback blind.
"At that moment I was a quarterback standing in the pocket, holding the ball looking for a receiver. Receivers were out still running their routes. Linemen were all still blocking, except for the guy on the left," Wuerffel said, drawing more laughs. "Just one thing was off, and it happened to be a significant thing. The thing that was off was I couldn't see the thing I needed to see."
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"What do you see?" was
a question Wuerffel wondered throughout the evening at the gala. In an auditorium decorated with faux brick facades and graffiti to imitate the New Orleans neighborhoods Wuerffel helps through his Desire Street Ministries organization, "What do you see?" was scrawled on the wall.
Wueffel sees the faces of everyone who was important to him early in his life -- parents, teachers, coaches, principals, pastors -- and it helped keep him on track for a historic college football career, even if he didn't realize until nearly a decade after it ended.
Wuerffel set out to write a book in the mid-2000s and had trouble thinking about how to share his life advice in a unique way. "What differentiates your soul from the others," he remembers the publishers asking him.
"I began to think about my life in maybe a weirder way," Wuerffel said. "There's this voice kind of inside me and I remember hearing this at key moments in my life."
"For instance," he continued, "first grade. Field Day."
Wuerffel was a competitive 6-year-old and he desperately wanted to win the 100-yard dash. He wasn't the fastest kid in the grade, but he remembered a voice talking to him all morning.
"You are fast it," it told him.
He'd hear the same voice when he'd take a test and get desperate enough to cheat. "Don't cheat. You're a good kid," it told him, even if he did ignore it from time to time.
He'd hear the voice on the football during his career with the Gators and it always kept him grounded.
"It was the voice of all these people," Wuerffel said. "Before I had thrown a touchdown or an interception, I was loved. It wasn't based on my performance."
Wuerffel spent about four hours at BCS on Friday, beginning with a meet-and-greet at 6 p.m., and concluding with the actual gala.
Between Florida State and Georgia disses, Wuerffel said three a handful of things stood out about his visit to Bradenton. First was all the blue and orange on BCS' campus -- the Panthers and UF share the same color scheme -- but also the tight-knit community of the school.
Before BCS finished the night with an auction, the Panthers' state runner-up basketball team came to the stage.
Trevor Sikkema, the emcee of the event and a 2010 alumnus of the school, introduced them.
"Just to see that in person again was awesome," said Sikkema, who was at Bradenton Christian for its last state semifinal trip, "just to see the way it brings the whole school together."