The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (59-50)

With just 50 days to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 football season gets underway, the fifth part of OGGOA‘s new series, The Countdown, takes a look at those players expected to contribute on the field wearing jersey numbers ranging from 59-50.

58 – Nick Alajajian (New Port Richey, FL)
Redshirt sophomore center
6’4” 295 lbs.

Quick Bio: Majoring in sociology, Alajajian saw some time as a back-up offensive lineman in 2009, playing in seven games including the season opener. He was a four-star guard coming out of high school but has since changed positions.

2010 Season: Played in all 13 games mostly on the field goal unit, seeing just a few snaps on the offensive line as a reserve right tackle.

2011 Outlook: Originally listed as the back-up center on the spring depth chart, Alajajian may be back down to third string after tearing his meniscus in practice and seeing redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison take the first-string job. His surgery, which occurred in April, was supposed to keep him out three months but allow him to participate in summer workouts.

55 – Graham Stewart (Middletown, CT)
Freshman linebacker
6’1” 216 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Stewart was ranked as the best prospect coming out of Connecticut by Rivals.

2011 Outlook: Stewart may earn the opportunity to see some time on special teams but could be in line to take a redshirt for his freshman season. Head coach Will Muschamp is excited about what he can bring to the team. “He has all the critical factors. We had him in camp; he has all the good measurable on him,” Muschamp said in February. “He’s a very physical player, plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

54 – Christopher Guido (Altamonte Springs, FL)
Redshirt sophomore long snapper
6’2” 225 lbs.

Quick Bio: A former high school team captain who majors in health science, Guido took a redshirt after dressing but not participating in game action during his freshman season.

2010 Season: Played in all 13 games for the Gators during his third year with the team, starting as the long snapper for the punt unit.

2011 Outlook: With John Fairbanks having graduated, Guido will also take over starting long snapper duties with the field goal team.

52 – Jon Bostic (Wellington, FL)
Junior linebacker
6’1” 240 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit and health education & behavior major, Bostic returns as a veteran defender and team leader. He has appeared in 25 games throughout his Florida career and goes into his third year looking to break out.

2010 Season: After leading all freshmen with 18 tackles in 2009, Bostic started six games in 2010 but was out on defense for the majority of snaps during the season. He appeared in all 13 games and registered 57 tackles (third on the team), 1.5 sacks and three interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Named to the Preseason All-SEC Third Team by the league’s coaches and placed on the watch list for the 2011 Butkus Award, Bostic earned high praise from Muschamp during spring practice for his work ethic and leadership. He is set to begin the season as the starting middle linebacker.

51 – Michael Taylor (Atlanta, GA)
Redshirt freshman linebacker
5’11” 220 lbs.

Quick Bio: The No. 3 linebacker in the country coming out of high school, Taylor was a four-star recruit who currently majors in social and behavioral sciences. Though he dressed for four games in 2010, he did not see the field and took a redshirt.

2011 Outlook: Taylor was listed as Bostic’s back-up on the preliminary spring depth chart but could have that role adjusted as the Gators try to figure out how the final depth chart will look for the middle men on defense. Either way, he should see the field in 2011 and could earn additional playing time if he makes an impact early.

50 – Sam Robey (Louisville, KY)
Redshirt junior center
6’4” 295 lbs.

Quick Bio: A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Robey sat out his freshman year with an injured left knee but played in 13 games in 2009 including the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl.

2010 Season: Played in 10 games, seeing time at center in four contests. Served as an extra lineman in Florida’s goal line package and on the field goal unit.

2011 Outlook: A player who some fans wanted to see get time as a starter at center instead of then-senior Mike Pouncey, Robey looked to finally have the job to himself in the spring. However, after starting as the No. 1 guy on the first depth chart released, he was supplanted by Harrison, who worked at the position for the first time since high school. Robey can still win the job during fall practice, but early word about Harrison is that he is comfortable and succeeding in his new role.

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

Safety Rhaheim Ledbetter picks the Gators

A week before what is expected to be a recruiting surge for the Florida Gators as they host Friday Night Lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on July 22, the team received good news in the form of a verbal commitment from underrated three-star safety Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC), who announced his decision on Friday.

Ledbetter, who said earlier this month that the Gators were recruiting him the hardest, chose Florida over Alabama, Clemson, Miami and South Carolina.

“I just felt better about Florida’s staff and Florida in general as that’s where I have to live for three years,” he told InsidetheGators.com‘s Andrew Spivey.

Rivals has Ledbetter ranked as the No. 25 player at his position, while ESPNU has him listed as a four-star recruit and the No. 9 safety in the country.

He is teammates with five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC), and the duo at one time gave indications that they would like to play college football together.

Ledbetter, whose cousin is former Gators now New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, said he will not be taking any more visits.

Six Gators named to Preseason All-SEC Teams

Six members of the Florida Gators football team were named to the 2011 Preseason All-SEC Teams on Thursday, as previously voted on by the conference’s coaches.

Florida, which had a league-high 10 players elected to the 2010 teams, only had one (redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey) remaining on its 2011 roster due to seven players graduating, one leaving early for the NFL and another being dismissed.

Rainey was left off the 2011 teams, which featured just one senior and five underclassmen from the Gators.

Senior running back Jeff Demps and redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis were honored with All-SEC Second Team nominations, while linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins along with specialists redshirt sophomore Andre Debose and sophomore Trey Burton were named to the All-SEC Third Team.

Florida was one of three teams (Auburn, Mississippi State) not to have a single player on the All-SEC First Team and sported the seventh most nominations overall coming in well behind leaders Arkansas (14) and Alabama (13).

This year’s All-SEC Teams were announced one week prior to the 2011 SEC Football Media Days, which take place next week in Hoover, AL. The Gators will be represented by head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt seniors quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Denote Thompson, and senior defensive end William Green

Abby Wambach wins ESPY award for Best Play

Just days after it occurred on the pitch, the game-tying header scored by former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match against Brazil on Sunday won the ESPY for Best Play as announced during the award ceremony Wednesday evening.

Down 2-1 and facing the earliest elimination from World Cup play in United States history, Wambach converted a beautiful cross from Megan Rapinoe to tie the game and force a penalty kick shootout, which the Americans eventually won 5-3.

With the ESPYS set to air three days later, ESPN‘s producers decided to add the connection between Rapinoe and Wambach to the Best Play category as what they termed an “extra time” nomination on Wednesday. Even with only a short window for fans to vote (it is the only award that can be voted on until the night of the show), Wambach and the USA brought home one of the most prestigious awards from the event.

Defeating France 3-1 on Wednesday, the U.S. advanced to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1999. The Americans will face Japan on Sunday at 2 p.m. live on ESPN.

Wambach’s game-winning goal advances U.S. to 2011 Women’s World Cup finals on Sunday

Minutes away from elimination on Sunday, former Florida Gators soccer star Abby Wambach saved the day by tying the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team’s match against Brazil and forcing a penalty kick finish. With her team looking for another boost Wednesday during 2011 Women’s World Cup semifinal action against France, Wambach came through again with a deft header from the far post to give her team a 2-1 lead and propel the United States to a 3-1 victory that will place them in the finals of the world’s biggest soccer event for the first time since 1999.

Leading 1-0 after Lauren Chaney deflected a goal into the net in the ninth minute, the U.S. coughed up the lead just minutes into the second half. USA goalkeeper Hope Solo, keeping an eye on Gaetane Thiney in the box, was fooled as a beautiful floater from Sonia Bompastor got past her and into the net at 55’.

The Americans made a number of runs trying to get their lead back but were unsuccessful until the 79th minute when Wambach converted Cheney’s corner kick into a dagger header that became the game-winning goal.

Alex Morgan would tack on some insurance just three minutes later, lofting a goal into the net from the left side 82 minutes into the match.

With 12 World Cup goals in her career, Wambach is now tied for the United States record with Michelle Akers. The duo are knotted at third on the all-time World Cup scoring list, and Wambach has at least one more game to play on Sunday before hanging up her international cleats.

The U.S. will face the victor of Japan-Sweden in the World Cup finals on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. The match will air live on ESPN.

Photo Credit: Martin Meissner/Associated Press

FOUR BITS: Beal, Donovan, Kruger at Florida

1 » Named the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year for men’s basketball on April 4, Florida Gators five-star freshman guard Brad Beal accepted his award on Tuesday in Los Angeles, CA. Beal will be recognized at the 2011 ESPYS Wednesday evening, as will former Florida forward Chandler Parsons, who will be accepting the 2010-11 Capitol One Cup for the University of Florida’s men’s athletic program.

2 » ESPN senior college basketball writer Andy Katz mentioned the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan on his blog Tuesday as he discussed how the team will be backcourt heavy for 2011-12. Donovan told Katz that he is excited about the depth on the perimeter (something Florida has lacked for the last few years) but that he will not task all of his guards with scoring the way they might want to. “We want everyone to understand a good shot,” he said. “I’m excited with the challenges of dealing with the guards.” One of those challenges will be reigning in senior point guard Erving Walker, who Katz says Donovan has challenged to “lead the SEC in assists since there will be more than enough offense on the wings this season.”

3 » Excited that former Gators head coach Lon Kruger has been hired to head up their local Oklahoma Sooners, The Oklahoman printed a pair of stories about Kruger’s time at Florida on Wednesday. The first was focused on his decision to send the 1994 UF basketball team to Australia for two weeks of exhibition games before the season began and how that resulted in solid team chemistry. “We didn’t have any superstars or McDonald’s All-Americans,” former guard Craig Brown told the paper. “We were just a bunch of guys committed to playing tough, hard defense. We believed in the coaching staff. After we got back (from Australia), we knew we had a chance to have a special season.”

4 » The second piece centered on Kruger’s penchant for making student-athletes enjoy playing for him while resurrecting a program recovering from two years of NCAA probation. “When Coach Kruger arrived the program was in disarray,” said former student manager Jeff Guin. “It wasn’t just wins and losses. It was NCAA issues. Few people came to games. No one really cared.” Also included in the latter piece is an interesting statement from Gators basketball historian Bill Koss. “(Rick) Pitino told Billy, ‘Absolutely do not take that job. It’s a football school,’” Koss told the paper. “Billy has told me several times he would not have taken the job if Lon hadn’t accomplished what he accomplished.”

Wuerffel’s recovery from Guillain-Barre continues

A few weeks ago, Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with and hospitalized for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which, as the Mayo Clinc puts it, “your body’s immune system attacks your nerves.” Though he is not forced to stay in the hospital overnight, Wuerffel has been undergoing extensive treatment for the disease in an effort to recover from it as quickly as possible.

He continues to receive outpatient treatment and is on the road to recovery. Wednesday morning, Wuerffel released the following message to friends and fans through Desire Street Ministries, of which he is the executive director.

Dear Friends,

My wife and I continue to be blessed by your consistent love and prayers. Yesterday we spent hours going through all the wonderful cards and expressions of love we have received. We feel very loved and blessed. Thank you.

[…]

My physical body continues to make progress and I’m getting stronger. Jessica and I went for a short walk this morning (although it was followed by a 2 hour nap), and I’m doing more and more pushups each day (not too many, but probably more than my friend Hampton). I even left the house last night and went to dinner.

I have experienced incredible physical healing—God is good!

Danny

Wuerffel has requested that any gifts, donations or letters of support be made to DSM rather than him personally. Should you wish to send any of the aforementioned, please direct them to adam@onlygators.com, and I will forward them to the appropriate contact.

TWO BITS: Noah to France, Jenkins moving on

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has decided to play for Team France in the FIBA European Championships in Lithuania, ESPNChicago.com reported on Monday. Noah, who has dual citizenship due to his father being French, will participate in the event from Aug. 31 to as late as Sept. 18. With the NBA lockout in effect, Noah’s is certainly a candidate to play overseas until the 2011 season begins.

2 » Asked why he chose not to enter the NFL Supplemental Draft rather than play his final collegiate season, former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins told The Florence Times-Daily that striking it rich is not his main concern right now. “It’s not all about the money,” he said. “I went three years without money at the University of Florida, so why can’t I do it another year. I’m not in a rush to get the money. I just wanted to come back and rebuild my image.” Attending North Alabama for a year will also likely provide Jenkins with a larger payday when he eventually gets selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, even if there is a rookie wage scale.

He also said that he realizes he was in the wrong and does not harbor any hard feelings for his head coach of just a few months, Will Muschamp. “Everybody makes mistakes; at the end of the day it’s how you rebuild off that mistake,” Jenkins told the paper. “I made a mistake and got kicked out at Florida, but that’s all behind me. There is no issue between me and Coach Muschamp. I texted him like two weeks ago and asked how he was doing and he texted me back. He did what he had to do and I’m not mad at him. I respect him as a man and as a coach.”

Extra BIT » Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam was named to the watch list for the 2011 Jim Thorpe Award on Monday. Handed out to the nation’s best defensive back, the Thorpe Award’s preseason watch list features 37 players, 10 of whom represent the SEC. Former Florida safety Lawrence Wright won the award in 1996.

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