Into the fire: Jemison resident thrust into Osceola role

Published 9:46 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drake Anderson was set to join a rodeo team at Troy or Mississippi State when the opportunity of a lifetime came along.

Anderson still rides a horse for a college, but instead it’s as part of one of college football’s most famous traditions.

As Seminole Chief Osceola, Anderson inspires more than 80,000 Florida State fans before and during home football games at Doak S. Campbell Stadium.

Anderson, an FSU freshman from Jemison, was supposed to take over the role for the second game of the season, against Jacksonville State on Sept. 12. But last year’s Osceola, Chris Gannon, got the flu the night before the first game of the season, against the rival Miami Hurricanes.

So, Anderson got his introduction to college football (he had never seen a game in person) and Chief Osceola during one of the most pressure packed games of the year.

“It was really unbelievable; it’s so intense,” Anderson said. “Holding in the tunnel was the most nerve-wracking part, then you run onto the field.

“All I could see was a sea of red. You can feel the people yelling; it’s almost like the bass in a car.”

Anderson admitted he was nervous, but it wasn’t for lack of preparation. Anderson has been riding since he was about 10, and he arrived in Tallahassee, Fla. with two months of the summer left to familiarize himself with the Osceola and his Appaloosa horse, Renegade.

On game days, Anderson wakes at about 5 or 6 a.m., drives to the farm, practices the routine and helps wash the horse. The 10-20 person Renegade Team arrives at the stadium four hours prior to kickoff, and the routine is run again. It then takes about 45 minutes for Anderson to have his face painted and get dressed in authentic Seminole regalia.

The authenticity is important. Bill Durham, the man responsible for beginning the Chief Osceola tradition, sought and received permission from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for the portrayal of Osceola in the 1970s.

Durham’s son, Allen, now heads up the Renegade Team and takes the responsibility to the actual Seminoles just as seriously as his father (the family also provides the Appaloosa horses).

Anderson was schooled on Seminole history and, before being offered the position, had to report on the book “Light a Distant Fire,” about the mid-19th Century Seminole Indian Wars and the life of Osceola.

Forced into the Everglades by U.S. forces, the Seminoles never surrendered and style themselves the “Unconquered People.”

“The whole purpose is to represent the unconquered spirit of the Seminole nation and to portray it accurately,” Anderson said.

In one of college football’s most recognized traditions, Osceola rears Renegade and plants a flaming spear into the turf at midfield a few minutes before kickoff.

The chief and his horse also perform after FSU touchdowns.

“This is the fifth year this horse has been Renegade, and he gets very excited and into the game,” Anderson said. “When they score a touchdown and the crowd gets loud, he knows what’s coming.”