Former Gators player Chris Johnson passes away

Former Florida Gators football player Chris “Juice” Johnson died Friday night near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the age of 22.

The Ocala Star-Banner was able to confirm Johnson’s death after speaking with Duquesne associate athletic director David Saba and Trinity Catholic High School athletic director Tommy Bond late Saturday night.

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Johnson’s death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. An Allegheny County medical examiner determined that Johnson committed suicide.

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TWO BITS: Scottie Wilbekin, Percy Harvin, Franco

1 » Former Florida Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin, a rookie in Australia’s National Basketball League, continues to lead the Cairns Taipans towards the organization’s first title. With the best record in team history, the Taipans (21-7) defeated the Perth Wildcats 71-64 on Friday in the NBL Semifinals. Wilbekin, Cairns’ Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year, registered game-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds while going 7-for-11 from the field, 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and 6-for-6 at the charity stripe. He also posted four assists and two turnovers in 36:38. Taipans coach Aaron Fearne believes Wilbekin should be under strong consideration for league MVP honors, especially if he leads Cairns all the way to a title. “He’s extremely valuable to us and has been a big focus for opposition teams. For a 21-year-old to come out and have the impact he’s had, he should be a frontrunner (for MVP honors) in my opinion,” Fearne told The Cairns Post on Thursday.

A source close to Wilbekin told OnlyGators.com that the former Gators star will enter the NBA D-League immediately upon returning to the United States. He will join the league’s free agent pool therefore be available to get signed by any team.

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Florida to open 2015 spring practice on March 16

The Florida Gators announced Friday that their 2015 spring practice slate will officially begin on Monday, March 16.

With new head coach Jim McElwain holding his first set of practices with the Gators, they will all be closed to the public. UF will, however, open select periods of each practice to media members, meeting with the media himself after 12 of 15 practices. He will also make a nine assistant coaches available once each.

Florida previously announced that its annual spring game, the 2015 Orange & Blue Debut, will be held on Saturday, April 11 at a yet-to-be determined time. It will be the second-straight year that the Gators will hold their spring game on the second Saturday in April after generally holding it on the first Saturday in previous years.

The 2014 spring game, which ended in a 23-23 tie, did not air live on television and was only available live online for $3.99. The last two spring games have been abnormal in one way or another due to limited rosters and player availability.

As Florida practices, it will be doing so in the shadow of the program’s new $15 million indoor practice facility, which is being constructed during the spring and summer with a planned launch date of Sept. 4.

OnlyGators.com will offer complete coverage of Gators football through the spring.

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Florida Gators extend apparel contract with Nike

A Nike program since 1999, the Florida Gators recently signed a seven-year extension with the industry leader, pushing their contract through April 1, 2024.

According to the Portland Business Journal, which obtained a copy of Florida’s contract the week of Jan. 15, the Gators will receive “$3.1 million in Nike product this academic year, one of the highest product allowances in the country and up from the $2.1 million it was previously due.” That total will increase by $100,000 every two years, concluding with a $3.5 million allowance for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons.

In other words, UF will receive a combined total of $2.1 million more in equipment and apparel over the next two seasons than was originally agreed upon when it last signed a contract with Nike in 2013, along with a total over the subsequent five seasons that will provide it with one of the highest allowances in the country.

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Florida Gators at 2015 NFL Combine: Weekend

For the sixth-straight year, OnlyGators.com concludes our coverage of the nine former Florida Gators participating in the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine (National Invitational Camp) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The event, which is held over a week from Feb. 17-23, consists of more than 300 players being put through a series of drills, tests and interviews while more than 600 NFL personnel in attendance (including coaching staffs, executives, player personnel and medical staffs) look on and evaluate each of them. It amounts to a major job interview for these athletes to participate in ahead of the start of the 2015 NFL Draft on April 30.

Running back Matt Jones (Group: 6 | Camp: RB25), linebacker Neiron Ball (Group: 9 | Camp: LB03), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (Group: 7 | Camp: DL20) and defensive tackle Leon Orr (Group: 8, Camp: DL36) were all scheduled to complete the combine workout over the weekend

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Florida Gators at 2015 NFL Combine: Friday

For the sixth-straight year, OnlyGators.com continues our coverage of the nine former Florida Gators participating in the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine (National Invitational Camp) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The event, which is held over a week from Feb. 17-23, consists of more than 300 players being put through a series of drills, tests and interviews while more than 600 NFL personnel in attendance (including coaching staffs, executives, player personnel and medical staffs) look on and evaluate each of them. It amounts to a major job interview for these athletes to participate in ahead of the start of the 2015 NFL Draft on April 30.

Linebacker Neiron Ball (Group: 9 | Camp: LB03), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (Group: 7 | Camp: DL20) and defensive tackle Leon Orr (Group: 8, Camp: DL36) arrived Thursday but began participating Friday when they got measured, completed medical exams, met with the media and continued the interview process they began the previous day.

Running back Matt Jones (Group: 6 | Camp: RB25) continued interviewing with teams, took the Wonderlic and other psychological tests, and performed on the bench press.

Guard Trenton Brown (Group: 1 | Camp: OL104), punter Kyle Christy (Group: 1 | Camp: PK03), center Max Garcia (Group: 1 | Camp: OL20) and tackles Chaz Green (Group: 2 | Camp: OL25) and D.J. Humphries* (Group: 2 | Camp: OL31) all completed the combine workout.

Players remain on a standardized schedule throughout the week (see below).

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NCAA chooses not to penalize Florida Gators for impermissible recruiting contact violation

The Florida Gators were not penalized by the NCAA on Friday for an incident that occurred on Jan. 23, 2014, when former wide receivers coach Joker Phillips violated a recruiting rule with a “bump.”

A “bump” in college recruiting is when a coach converses with a high school recruit outside of the allowable time periods at a “chance encounter,” whether the interaction was intended by the coach or not. The NCAA and Phillips agreed that he and a recruiting prospect “engaged in a conversation which exceeded a casual greeting” on the athlete’s high school campus that included recruiting conversation and the athlete “entering his social media contact information into the assistant football coach’s phone.”

The NCAA concluded that an unnamed Florida assistant (Phillips) “visited a prospect off-campus before NCAA rules allow for recruiting contact” that gave the Gators a recruiting advantage and “exceed[ed] the boundaries of permissible recruiting and are a serious issue for the membership.”

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NCAA schedules infractions call about decision on Florida Gators, likely Joker Phillips-related

The NCAA will hold a press call on Friday afternoon to discuss an NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions’ decision regarding the Florida Gators football program.

Though the organization would not comment on the nature of the decision other than to note that it will be released one hour prior to the call at 1 p.m., Florida sent out the following statement:

“We have not received the report yet, but we will receive it later today. However, this is a final resolution to a matter that we dealt with last June regarding one of our former assistant football coaches.”

Then-wide receivers coach Joker Phillips resigned on June 11, 2014, after just one year on the job, citing “personal reasons” factoring into his decision to step down.

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