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Pasco commission candidate says football righted his path

If you've seen any of Bill Gunter's campaign materials, you probably know he's a former Florida Gators football player.

He sent voters an orange and blue flier with an endorsement from a certain Heisman-winning quarterback. Another mailer from an outside political committee is even more direct, showing an action shot of Gunter in his college days.

The mail piece reads: "When Bill Gunter was on the line at UF, the quarterback got sacked!" If elected, it says, he'll do the same to "bad government."

But football is more than just a way to attract votes as he tries to unseat two-term Commissioner Jack Mariano in Tuesday's primary election. He said the sport turned his life around and turned him toward his life calling as a pastor.

Gunter, 42, grew up in Bradenton, a tall kid with a bad attitude. He was always big for his age, so at 10 he was hanging out with kids in high school. He started drinking, doing drugs and getting into fights early on. "I was a jock, and at the same time I could hang out with what they called the burnouts," he said.

When he arrived at UF on a football scholarship, he hoped to turn his life around. Didn't happen. He and a friend were known as the "bruise brothers." One night he went to a series of fraternity parties and got into six fights.

"I was one of those idiots," he said. "I was the party ruiner. I still regret to this day doing that."

The next day, a teammate invited him to dinner at a Christian family's house. They shared the gospel with him, and he had what he calls an "Augustinian conversion."

"It was just literally instantaneous," he said. "I just knew that something had changed in my heart and my life."

Shortly afterward, he began preaching in the middle of campus as students walked by.

He's been involved with some form of ministry since 1988.

He quit school for a year because he got injured, was disillusioned with the religion classes offered at UF and was getting serious with his girlfriend, Heather. The two married in 1990 and have two children.

Newly installed coach Steve Spurrier gave Gunter a second chance and reinstated his scholarship. He remembers starting in the Sugar Bowl after the first-string lineman was injured. Then, in his senior year, he met this "young dude," Danny Wuerffel.

Shortly after he was drafted to the NFL, Wuerffel agreed to pay for Gunter's studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. (Gunter said the two only had a casual relationship, but that Wuerffel told him he watched Gunter's sermons and had long admired him. "He apparently was looking up to me, and I didn't even know it," Gunter said.)

After two years at a church in the Dallas area, Gunter moved to what is now known as Redeemer Presbyterian Community Church, in the River Ridge area. The congregation has about 150 members.

George Nicholas, a church elder, said he attended the church as a visitor during Gunter's first sermon. He said Gunter "cuts through a lot of the religiosity of church."

"He doesn't put on any acts," Nicholas said. "He is what he is. He doesn't hold back his thoughts sometimes."

Gunter said he is running for office to improve the county's business climate by lowering impact fees on new development and reducing regulation. In a shot at Mariano, he says Pasco deserves a "team player that does consider the whole of the county."

Gunter has attracted support from several politically connected developers who are unhappy with Mariano, and he's also received significant campaign help from a Tallahassee political group.

But Mariano says his opponent isn't familiar enough with county issues. He cites Gunter's lack of specifics on a pledge to increase money for public safety and his criticisms of the SunWest park and development.

"You're looking at a guy who doesn't know what's going on in this county," Mariano said.

Gunter said that if he's elected, he understands "very clearly" that there's a separation between church and state.

"Personally, I can pray every day and ask for wisdom," he said. "But when I go out there I have to base my job on what's good for the whole county, what's legal, what's constitutional."

Pasco commission candidate says football righted his path 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:40pm]
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