For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2010 (check out our post tomorrow), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players signing huge contracts to current team members being a part of some of the biggest news stories in sports this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 Off the Field Stories of the Year.
10 » FIVE BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2010 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon and suddenly in all but one case. Lamar Abel (21), a walk-on defensive lineman, suffered cardiac arrest while volunteering at a roadside cleanup event with his fraternity in Gainesville, FL. Former safety John Curtis (24) committed suicide in Bellvue, WA. Hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams (45) passed away after an acute asthma attack. Former Gators basketball player and friend to the program Augie Greiner (76) died in his home. And long-time donor and Bull Gator George Steinbrenner (80), most famously known as the owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in a Tampa, FL, hospital. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.
9 » ERIN ANDREWS GETS JUSTICE, STARS ON TV, RE-SIGNS WITH ESPN
Former Florida dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews had a much better go of it in 2010. Though her stalker plead guilty to his charges in court in December 2009, she spent a good portion of 2010 making sure he was brought to justice (27-month prison term) while also spreading word across the country that violence against women from sexual predators cannot and should not be tolerated. Simultaneously, Andrews participated in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and even dropped a few Gator Chomps along the way. She ended up finishing third in the competition but parlayed her talent on the sidelines into an enhanced gig with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Andrews signed a new two-year deal with ESPN, which included a role hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU, appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and more of a presence on the family of networks. She also spoke with OGGOA on two occasions, first in a wide-ranging interview that received significant publicity and later to share her thoughts on the resignation of head coach Urban Meyer.
8 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER FOOTBALL PROGRAM
Like 2009, Florida football could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2010. It started just as the year began with former cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis and defensive lineman Gary Brown being arrested in January and February, respectively. Things calmed down until the summer when San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald and former fullback Eric Rutledge were charged in June. Making more of an impact to the team was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr.’s June arrest for driving under the influence, something that hung over the program’s head through the start of the season. Piling onto Hammond’s mistake were allegations in July that former Gators center Maurkice Pouncey, who just began workouts with the Pittsburgh Steelers, had received $100,000 from the runner for an agent while still a student at UF. Pouncey denied the report wholeheartedly and no proof has been found connecting him in any way. It was later revealed that freshmen safety Matt Elam and wide receiver Solomon Patton were also arrested over the summer for underage possession of alcohol, minor offenses for which they did not receive much punishment. Florida thought it was out of the rough waters once again until redshirt junior WR Chris Rainey was arrested in September on counts of aggravated stalking and suspended for the first half of the season. As if all of these legal issues were not enough, New England Patriots draft choices tight end Aaron Hernandez (marijuana use in college) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (streaming sex exploits on the Internet) also made the news for unsavory reasons. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2010, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.
7 » AL HORFORD NAMED TO NBA ALL-STAR TEAM, BIG DEALS FOR GATORS
Drafted No. 3 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, expectations were high for Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford. In only his third year in the league, Horford was selected to the NBA All-Star team after averaging 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds during the first half of the 2009-10 season. Then-New York Knicks F/C David Lee, who was not honored initially, ended up participating in his first All-Star game as well after being selected as a replacement. When the season ended, Horford, Lee and Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah were all in the position to receive new contracts. And boy did they. Horford and Noah each agreed to similar five-year, $60 million extensions with their respective clubs, while Lee agreed to six-year, $80 million sign-and-trade deal with the Golden State Warriors. Guard Mike Miller and power forward Udonis Haslem both signed with the Miami Heat; Miller for five-years, $29.8 million and Haslem for five-years, $20 million.
6 » PERCY HARVIN NAMED ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, COLLAPSES AT PRACTICE
Though his rookie season included injuries and the continued peskiness of his chronic migraine headaches, former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin performed at a high level for the Minnesota Vikings, who selected him No. 25 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Harvin played so well, in fact, that he was named as the starting kick return specialist for the NFC in the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl and won the 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year…in 2010. Things were not so cheery for Harvin in August, however, as he was rushed to the hospital after he started vomiting and then collapsed while observing practice from the sidelines. It turns out Harvin had a number of factors complicating his collapse including an adverse reaction to medication, dehydration and low blood pressure. He was able to recover after undergoing some tests and – as of press time – has already out-performed his 2009 numbers with 63 receptions for 799 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games (three missed due to migraines/injury).
5 » GATORS HAUL IN TOP RECRUITING CLASS, THREE SIGNEES ON ONE DAY
With Meyer stepping down for the first time just before the 2010 Sugar Bowl, the Gators’ coaching staff and recruits rallied to keep the incoming signing class together. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, filling in as interim head coach as Meyer took a sabbatical, was instrumental in retaining many of Florida’s recruits, but Elam was bothered my Meyer’s resignation and flipped to Florida State. Everything would change back in Florida’s favor on January 9 when Elam, along with five-star defensive end Ronald Powell and five-star defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, all committed to the Gators during the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Florida would go on to corral arguably the No. 1 recruiting class in the country including 11 early enrollees – the highest number in school history. The class included four 2010 Parade High School All-Americans, both MVPs from the 2010 Under Armour All-American Game, the 2009 National High School Player of the Year and the 2009 Gatorade Football Player of the Year and Mr. Football for the state of Florida.
4 » RYAN LOCHTE EMERGES AS
NATION’S WORLD’S BEST SWIMMER
Coming off two gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games, former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte has climbed the mountain as not only the best in the United States but the best in the world in 2010. Lochte’s journey between Olympics has been marred with some injuries and obstacles, but he began breaking through in August when he captured the 400-meter individual medley title at the 2010 ConcoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships with the fastest time in the world this year. He would go on to compete in the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships where he would win six gold medals (200m freestyle, 200m IM, 400m IM, 200m backstroke, 400m free relay, 800m FR) in the biggest international meet of the year. Named Male Athlete of the Year for the second-straight year during the 2010 USA Swimming Foundation’s Golden Goggle Awards in November, Lochte hoped to end the year on a roll. Competing at the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in December, Lochte set two world records (200m and 400m IM), won six gold medals and earned a silver medal, too. He is expected to compete in eight events with hope of matching 2008’s big victor Michael Phelps at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England where he will be led by current Florida head coach Gregg Troy, who was tabbed to lead the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team.
3 » EMMITT SMITH INDUCTED INTO PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME, SNUBS UF
Gator Nation stuck its collective chest out with pride when Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February. It felt the same way in August when Smith was officially inducted. That is until Smith gave his enshrinement speech, one which completely skipped over his time at Florida. Et tu, Emmitt? Gators fans everywhere were instantly enraged, especially considering almost every player inducted always thanks his college and at the very least his fans. Rumors started that Smith’s omission was purposeful, though others believed it was accidental. The next day, Smith apologized to Gator Nation via his Twitter account and then later on television during an interview with Al Michaels.
2 » NINE FLORIDA STARS SELECTED IN 2010 NFL DRAFT, THREE IN FIRST ROUND
In addition to winning plenty of football games and two BCS National Championships, Meyer has excelled at sending his players to the NFL during his tenure as Florida head coach. That trend continued as nine Gators – the most of any program this year – were selected in the 2010 NFL Draft including three in the first round. UF set a school record with six players taken in the first two rounds and tied its record with three first-round picks. Florida’s draftees included CB Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns, No. 7 overall), Pouncey (Pittsburgh, No. 18 overall), quarterback Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos, No. 25 overall), DE/LB Jermaine Cunningham (New England, 2nd round No. 53), DE Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati Bengals, 2nd round No. 54), Spikes (New England, 2nd round No. 62), S Major Wright (Chicago Bears, 3rd round No. 75), Hernandez (New England, 4th round No. 113) and WR Riley Cooper (Philadelphia Eagles, 5th round No. 159). After the draft, kick returner Brandon James (Indianapolis Colts) and WR David Nelson (Buffalo Bills) were picked up and eventually signed as undrafted free agents.
1 » URBAN MEYER RESIGNS, WILL MUSCHAMP HIRED
There is no questioning what Meyer has accomplished as head coach of the Gators. After six seasons in which he won two National Championships, three BCS games and two SEC Championships while posting three 13-1 seasons in four years, Meyer resigned from his position for the second time on December 8 in order to spend more time with his family. Though there were rumblings that Meyer would be leaving the program all season long, his retirement still came as a shock to Gator Nation, especially after promising numerous times throughout the year that he would be back in 2011 with hopes of turning the program around. Promising to act fast in replacing Meyer, athletic director Jeremy Foley delivered by bringing Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp into the fold just 72 hours later. With many fans expecting an experienced head coach to take over, Muschamp’s hiring was certainly a surprising one. How the program’s future will unfold is something to look forward to in 2011…
Photo Credits (in order of appearance): Patrick Fraser/Vanity Fair, Unknown, Unknown, Erica Brough/Gainesville Sun