Donny Hiebert in his Buchholz Bobcats uniform. Photo courtesy of Tim Hiebert.

From the Orange and Blue to the Garnet and Gold

With one minute left to play in the first playoff game of 2022, the Bobcats are trailing the Pace High School Patriots 34-27. It’s 3rd-and-5, and the Patriots have the ball.

Defensive back Donny Hiebert is set up to his right. His eyes are on Patriots sophomore quarterback Nick Simmons, and fellow sophomore running back Ben Tyner behind him.

Simmons hands it off to Tyner, he splits the offensive line, then the defensive line. But Hiebert reads the play the entire time and, as if a blazing cheetah running into a brick wall, stops Tyner just short of the first-down marker.

“It was one of the best open-field tackles I have seen,” said legendary Buchholz football head coach Mark Whittemore, who coached his sons Trent and Creed who are both on college football rosters.

The tackle forced Pace to punt the ball, where Buchholz then marched 95 yards down the field for a touchdown and two-point conversion to win the game 35-34.

Before his high school career, before that moment could have ever been dreamt, Hiebert could be found throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball or swinging a baseball bat in a Gainesville park or ballfield any given weekend. He’d usually be with his father, Tim; his sisters Aubrey or Lindsey; or any of his other three siblings.

A boy who loves sports living in Gator Nation. He’s gone to Gator games as a child, wearing the Orange and Blue with his family with pride—a typical Gainesville childhood story.

He attends Buchholz High School, one of the best high school football programs in the state of Florida, playing football, baseball and, at one point, soccer and basketball. A multi-sport athlete thriving in every sport whilst maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA.

You might be wondering, what is so different about this young man?

This Gainesville golden boy is doing something only three from the heart of Gator Nation have done before in the last decade. Donny Hiebert is a ‘Nole.

On Feb. 1, National Signing Day, the talented defensive back tweeted his commitment to the Florida State Seminoles as a professional walk-on.

“I chose FSU because they’re a top-10 program right now,” said Hiebert, “and they’re just going to keep getting better. And then obviously it’s a great academic school. So both of those things led me to choose to attend there.”

Heading into the final stretch of his high school career, the future for Heibert was uncertain. He got overlooked in the recruiting process, and only smaller Division II or Ivy League schools fought for his interest.

Coach Whittemore said he did not receive much interest until his “impressive senior season.”

This impressive senior season for Hiebert consisted of 103 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, according to Mainstreet Daily News.

Hiebert impressed the FSU staff with his final season, but it’s safe to say the staff impressed Hiebert as well.

“I first met with FSU’s defensive coordinator Coach [Adam]Fuller when he came to recruit our school,” Hiebert said. “The following weekend, I met the rest of the staff up in Tallahassee. I specifically liked how thorough they are with everything in the program and how no small detail goes unnoticed. The staff goes above and beyond in everything they do.”

He especially created a strong connection with two FSU staff in particular.

“FSU’s defensive coordinator, coach Fuller, and FSU’s director of player personnel, coach [Chuck] Cantor, had the biggest influence on me,” said Hiebert. “Both of them showed how great FSU is and the direction in which they continue to move towards.”

Very few Gainesville local high school football players become impressed enough with the Seminoles to commit. Since the 2013-14 college football season, only three ‘Noles came from Gainesville.

Quarterback Jared Armstrong joined FSU in 2013 out of Oak Hall High School. He never played a snap.

Bryan LaCivita was a wide receiver out of St. Francis High School. He last played in the Seminoles’ 2017-18 season. He had one reception for six yards that season. Now, he’s a senior player personnel assistant for the Texas A&M football staff.

Greg Turnage came from Eastside High School and played alongside LaCivita in Tallahassee. He was an offensive lineman and only appeared in two games.

It’s hard to say how Hiebert will adapt to college football, but his leadership and toughness will make him a valuable asset to any team.

“Donny wore No. 1 for a reason,” said Whittemore about the captain of both the Buchholz football and baseball team. “He was the heart of a very successful three-year Buchholz run.”

According to his older sister Lindsey, Donny is a protector.

“He has a younger sister,” said Lindsey, who was in sixth grade when Donny was born. “He’s pretty much her protector and always looks out for her. And I think he approaches a lot of his relationships on sports teams from that way, where he’s just really respected and everyone considers him a friend and enjoys playing with him. And I think that just allows him to become a leader, and people trust him and [he] builds those relationships that make the team successful.”

Grit is what stands out about Donny, as well.

“I think what stands out [about Hiebert] is the amount of injuries he’s had, fighting through that and not missing a game,” said Buchholz baseball coach Ron Brooks, whom Hiebert plays outfield for. “He had a torn calf muscle and kept playing and didn’t take any time off from the season. Most people would’ve come off the field. Donny didn’t miss a snap.”

Hiebert played with that torn calf throughout the state playoffs, along with a broken hand.

But Donny has never let pain get in the way of doing what he loves. Donny’s father, Tim Hiebert, recounted a memory of Donny’s early high school basketball days.

“He had a tooth knocked out, front tooth,” said the Hiebert father of six. “Very traumatic for a kid, traumatic for anybody. And he virtually, as soon as he could, he went right back into the next game.”

Throughout the adversity of his injuries, being overlooked by college programs, playing multiple sports and being a straight-A student, he could not have done it all without his family and friends.

“I obviously wouldn’t be here without my family,” he said. They’re a huge support system for me, and they’ve helped me every part of the way. And then my friends, I’m with them the most. They’re who I train with, who I work with. Without them, I wouldn’t be nearly the player that I am today.”

And even though Hiebert is playing for an enemy of The Swamp, he’s gotten all the support from his friends.

“I didn’t feel any pressure in committing to FSU being a native of Gainesville, Florida,” he said. “Growing up, I did go to Florida games here and there, but when FSU gave me the opportunity to be a part of what they have, it was a no-brainer, and I felt like it was the best decision I could make.”

Hiebert is excited and honored to represent his hometown and high school while wearing the Garnet and Gold, a combination that some in the Orange and Blue may find sacrilegious.

“I think just having the opportunity to go up to FSU as a walk-on and represent Buchholz and Gainesville means a lot,” said Hiebert. “Especially considering I was an under-recruited guy, it means a lot and is a great opportunity to show what I’m about.”

About Aileyahu Shanes

Journalism student at the University of Florida. Contributor for WRUF and WUFT. You can reach Aileyahu at a.markellshanes@ufl.edu or 786-316-5878.

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