Hardin commiting was a good move for Florida

With 12 players already committed and a ways to go until National Signing Day, the Florida Gators offering and accepting a commitment from a kicker in June may throw some for a loop. “Why use a scholarship on a specialist when so much help is needed throughout the rest of the team?” an OGGOA reader asked in an e-mail.

Rivals.com’s southeast recruiting analyst Keith Niehbur explains why Florida getting a commitment from two-star K Austin Hardin (Atlanta, GA) is a good thing.

“I think it’s a smart move. For starters, this guy can really kick. Not only is he solid on field goals, but he has proven in camps this summer that his leg is strong enough to get most of his kickoffs into the endzone,” Niehbur explains.

“Now, here’s another reason it makes sense. If he is ready to handle kickoffs in 2012 – and coaches think he will be – it will take some of the pressure off [redshirt junior] placekicker Caleb Sturgis, who was injured last season. That would allow Sturgis to focus on field goals, while also limiting the chances of him getting hurt.”

Plus there’s this from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Hardin has one of the strongest legs in state history. He made 13 of 20 field goals last season, and the seven he missed were either attempts of 50 yards or longer, or blocked. He converted every PAT attempt, and blasted every kickoff out of the end zone, except for when Marist was trying a specialty kickoff, such as an onsides kick.

Kicker Hardin is Florida’s 13th commit for 2012

Two-star kicker Austin Hardin (Atlanta, GA) committed to become the newest member of the Florida Gators’ 2012 recruiting class on Wednesday.

“I went in to Coach [Will] Muschamp‘s office this morning and he offered,” Hardin told Keith Niebuhr of Rivals. “I told him I was 100 percent Gator. That’s where I wanted to be.”

According to Niebuhr, Hardin was informed by Florida that he will handle kickoffs immediately; he has been putting “kicks into and through the endzone” all summer.

With offers already on the table from Auburn and Tennessee, Hardin had also been looked at by Ole Miss and Virginia Tech (among others). He chose UF because of a combination of athletics and academics.

ESPNU evaluates him as “one of the top kickers in the nation” who has “huge field goal range” and has an impressive leg. Hardin kicked a game-winning 59-yard field goal for his high school team last season (see video below).

Hardin is ranked as the No. 10 kicker in the country by Rivals and No. 2 in the nation by ESPNU, which also gave him a three-star rating.

The Gators currently have redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis as their starter. Sturgis, who was sidelined most of 2010 with multiple back injuries, is healthy and will likely hold the field goal kicking job for the next two years unless he is beat out by Hardin in 2012.

FOUR BITS: freshmen, Tyus, Sweeting, McDonald

1 » Orientation for freshmen student-athletes is underway as both of the Florida Gators incoming basketball commitments and the remaining 12 football signees are now in Gainesville, FL getting their college careers started. Five-star guard Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) and three-star forward Walter Pitchford (East Lansing, MI) join four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL), four-star defensive back Jabari Gorman (Miami, FL), three-star DB Chris Johnson (Ocala, FL), three-star offensive lineman Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT), three-star fullback Hunter Joyer (Wesley Chapel, FL), four-star DB Louchiez Purifoy (Pensacola, FL), four-star DB Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL), three-star DB Valdez Showers (Madison Heights, MI), four-star linebacker Graham Stewart (Middletown, CT), four-star wide receiver Ja’Juan Story (Brooksville, FL), four-star OL Trip Thurman (Dover, DE) and three-star defensive end Tevin Westbrook (Coconut Creek, FL) as the latest players to don the Orange and Blue hoping to make Gator Nation proud. The players will be meeting with academic advisers, taking physicals, beginning workouts, taking drug tests as they prepare to begin workouts and college life in general.

2 » With the 2011 NBA Draft approaching on Thursday, Florida forward Alex Tyus appears to understand exactly what is likely to happen over the course of the event. “Honestly, for Thursday, I’m not expecting to get drafted,” Tyus told InsideTheGators.com’s Kyle Maistri. “But anything can happen.” Having only worked out for four teams since participating in the 2011 Portsmouth Invitational (where he had a strong showing and was one of the event’s standout performers), Tyus understands that his best bet at earning a spot on a NBA bench may come as an undrafted free agent or by working on his game some more in the NBA Development League or overseas. OGGOA will have extensive coverage leading up to, during and after the NBA Draft.

3 » Down two sets in his opening round match at Wimbledon, former Gators tennis player No. 69 Ryan Sweeting came back to defeat opponent No. 50 Pablo Andujar 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(7-1), 6-1. His reward? Taking on the ATP’s top-ranked player in the world, Rafael Nadal, Wed. at 11:30 a.m. in the second round of the event. Nadal, of course, is 2-0 all-time against Sweeting, last defeating him 6-3, 6-1 at Indian Wells earlier this year. Sweeting won his first ATP World Tour event in 2011 and is 10-9 overall this year.

4 » In a conversation with The Sacramento Bee, former Florida defensive end Ray McDonald expressed his desire to earn a starting job in the NFL. Set to become an unrestricted free agent when a new labor deal is signed, McDonald (currently of the San Francisco 49ers) could re-sign with his current team or look elsewhere. “I know I’m an every-down player, a starter,” he said. “And that’s what I’m looking to do this year. I’m not looking to back up anybody. I’m looking to start this year. […] I’ve been waiting four years for this. [Being a free agent] would make my life. That would change everything as far as me going ahead with my future in my NFL career. So that’s some good news – no, excellent news – for me.”

Danny Wuerffel on the road to recovery

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,

I’m not sure how to begin other than to say how grateful I am for all your love, prayers and support these past few weeks. It’s truly been unbelievable! My family and I feel so loved, and we can literally sense your prayers coming our way.

I seem to get just a little bit better each day, and feel confident that the worst is behind me. I feel so grateful as my experience with Guillain Barre (why couldn’t the Drs that discovered this syndrome have been named Smith/Davis or something) seems to have been on the mild end of the spectrum. While it’s quite scary to literally sense your body moving towards being paralyzed, I was diagnosed pretty quickly and started treatments right away (and like many health issues, I think the tests and treatments caused as much pain and discomfort as the actual syndrome did). I’ll finish the 2nd round of treatment today, then see the Dr this afternoon to find out what’s next. Most likely, I’ll be free to leave Birmingham.

I can currently stand and walk very slowly, and my arms seem to work pretty well (just very weak). I’d say I feel less like I’m paralyzed and more like I’m just very weak. I got a little cocky trying to walk yesterday and was a little humbled. I didn’t pass out, I just got real sleepy while standing (that’s my story :)). My next assignment for the next several weeks will be to rest, recover and start physical therapy. All signs are pointing towards a good recovery. There is a chance my reflexes and coordination may not fully recover. Please pray that isn’t the case.

Pray I will use this time wisely. Pray I will hear God’s voice clearly and that this will be what author Richard Rohr calls “Liminal” time, or time at the threshold where God puts us in a strange situation (usually challenging ones where we aren’t in control) where we are most apt to listen and grow. “Business as usual” usually doesn’t lead to transformation.

I’m grateful for this time.

I look forward to coming back a better man and leader.

I am a blessed man.

God bless,

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.

OGGOA Caption Contest Result: Dogpile

We received a ton of submissions for the seventh ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive caption contest, and a winner has been chosen to receive a FREE Florida Gators Scentsy Warmer with a complimentary fragrance bar!

Reader Dean N. worked hard and came away with the No. 1 spot!

Winning caption: After fighting their way through a must-win game against the Bulldogs and claiming victory, the Gators baseball team found themselves fighting each other to get a free copy of Tim Tebow’s “Through My Eyes.”

Because we had so many good entries, honorable mentions for this contest go out to the following readers and their submissions:

While it is known that Joe Girardi taught New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez how to slide, it is not as well-known that former Florida OC Steve Addazio taught the entire UF baseball team to dive. (Gregory H.)

Pretty sure the guys at the bottom wish there was a Scentsy Warmer nearby. (Morgan)

OGGOA has given away multiple DVDs, a Gators Fathead, Florida Field rug, Game Day purse, Into the Swamp book, pieces of Gators art, T Bow Towels, Gillette Pro Fusion razors, a Turlington Scarf and other goodies throughout our 20 months of existence. There are a number of other giveaways coming up in the near future, so stay tuned!

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In all kinds of weather, Florida storms past Vanderbilt for 3-1 College World Series win

It may have taken two days to complete, but No. 2 Florida Gators baseball returned after a 14-hour weather delay to run through the No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores 3-1 in the winner’s bracket of the 2011 College World Series on Tuesday.

Restarting the contest in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE, Florida (52-17) and Vanderbilt (53-11) combined to retire 19 of the 20 batters who stepped to the plate. Each team walked one but did not allow a single hit in the final 3.1 innings of the contest.

The Gators now hold a 4-1 record against the Commodores this season and are 2-0 when taking on their Southeastern Conference East division rivals in postseason play.

Vanderbilt squandered two opportunities early in the game, stranding a runner 90 feet from home plate in both the first and third inning.

Florida, on the other hand, took advantage of their first real chance to score. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-3, R, BB) earned a one-out walk in the top of the fourth and moved over to third after sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (1-4, R) legged out an infield single and Commodores starter Grayson Garvin committed a throwing error.

Working his way to a 2-1 count, junior right fielder/first baseman Preston Tucker (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) powered a three-run bomb to right to give the Gators a 3-0 lead.

VU would not make the same mistake a third time and finally got the best of Florida freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson. After allowing only two hits through the first four innings of the game, Whitson gave up pair of singles and a walk in the bottom of the fifth, letting Vanderbilt plate their first runner of the game. The Commodores would not continue the rally, however, as Whitson (4.2 IP, ER, 4 H, BB, 5 K) was pulled for sophomore left-hander Steven Rodriguez, who struck out 1B Aaron Westlake to end the inning.

Rodriguez kept on rolling in the sixth, but high wind warnings and severe weather delayed the game for nearly three hours with the Gators looking to get the final out of the inning. Action would never resume Monday evening as the NCAA called the contest for the night around 11:30 p.m., but Rodriguez returned to the mound Tuesday at 11:06 a.m. and struck out the final batter to move the game into the seventh.

Vanderbilt replaced Garvin (13-2, 6 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, BB, 9 K) with Will Clinard when play resumed Tuesday, and he followed the game’s trend by also being dominant on the hill and holding Florida scoreless for the duration.

However, it was Rodriguez (4-2) who stole the show, retiring 13 of the 14 batters he faced with a career-high seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings.

Tucker’s 23rd double of the year in the sixth set a new single-season UF record, and Rodriguez’s 4.1 innings pitched was a career-high. The Gators also set a new single-season wins record with their 52nd victory of the year on Tuesday.

Florida will move on in the winner’s bracket and play their next game Friday at 2 p.m. against either Vanderbilt or North Carolina; those two teams will square-off Wednesday at 7 p.m. in an elimination game. The Gators need one more victory to advance to the CWS Championship Series for the first time since 2005.

POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE AUDIO
Courtesy of Heath Cline (@heathradio)

Weather forces Florida vs. Vandy postponement

Nearly six full innings into the winner’s bracket match-up between the No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores, severe weather forced a stoppage and ultimately a postponement play at the 2011 College World Series. High wind warnings sounded and were heard throughout TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE with one out in the bottom of the sixth, and the players were ordered off the field one out later after NCAA officials consulted about the weather conditions.

The contest is set to resume at 11 a.m. (ET) on Tuesday with the winner one victory away from the Championship Series and the loser one defeat away from elimination.

Vanderbilt squandered two opportunities early in the game, stranding a runner 90 feet from home plate in both the first and third inning.

Florida, on the other hand, took advantage of their first real chance to score. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana earned a one-out walk in the top of the fourth and moved over to third after sophomore catcher Mike Zunino legged out an infield single and Commodores starter Grayson Garvin committed a throwing error.

Working his way to a 2-1 count, junior right fielder Preston Tucker powered a three-run bomb to right to give the Gators a 3-0 lead.

VU would not make the same mistake a third time and finally got the best of Florida freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson. After allowing only two hits through the first four innings of the game, Whitson gave up pair of singles and a walk in the bottom of the fifth, letting Vanderbilt plate their first runner of the game. The Commodores would not continue the rally, however, as Whitson was pulled for sophomore left-hander Steven Rodriguez, who struck out first baseman Aaron Westlake to end the inning.

Rodriguez kept on rolling in the sixth, but high wind warnings and severe weather delayed the game for nearly three hours with the Gators looking to get the final out of the inning. Action would never resume as the NCAA called the contest for the night around 11:30 p.m. (ET), setting the stage for the final 3.1 innings to be played on Tuesday.

OGGOA will continue our coverage of the Florida-Vanderbilt contest early in the afternoon. The remainder of the game will air live on ESPN and ESPN3.com.

2011 College World Series: Florida vs. Vanderbilt

Event: 2011 NCAA Tournament – College World Series
Location: TD Ameritrade Park – Omaha, NE [Capacity: 24,505]
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2 / ESPN2HD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(2) FLORIDA GATORS (6) VANDY COMMODORES
Head Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan Head Coach: Tim Corbin
Record: 51-17 Record: 53-10
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida: Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.45 ERA)
Vanderbilt: Junior RHP Grayson Garvin (13-1, 2.36 ERA)

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 3-1 against Vanderbilt in 2011 including 2-1 on the road and 1-0 in the SEC Tournament. UF is 123-63-1 in the all-time series between the two teams.
» One more victory will give the Gators the school record for most in a season.
» Florida is 38-7 this year when scoring first and 41-3 when outhitting their opponent. The Gators are also 34-6 when hitting a home run and 21-5 when playing error-free.
» UF has scored 205 more runs than their opponents this year.
» Florida is 27-0 when holding opponents to two or fewer runs and 36-1 when allowing three runs or less. The Gators are 7-15 when scoring less than three runs and 2-13 when trailing after seven innings.
» The Gators are 44-2 when scoring four runs or more and 44-0 when leading after seven full innings.
» Florida is making its seventh appearance in the CWS and third since 2005. UF has never won a national championship in the sport of baseball.
» The Gators are one of two teams (South Carolina) to play in the final CWS held at Rosenblatt Stadium and compete in the first one at TD Ameritrade Park.
» UF is in the CWS in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
» Vanderbilt finished the regular season tied with Florida atop the SEC East with a 22-8 conference record. UF topped VU in the SEC Tournament.
» The Commodores are making their first-ever appearance in the CWS.
» Florida and Vanderbilt boast different strengths. The Gators lead the Commodores in hits (723-692), home runs (67-48), RBI (411-403) and slugging percentage (.467-.455). However, VU holds advantages in the majority of categories including batting average (.318-.310), runs scored (449-443), stolen bases (79-56), walks (253-234), ERA (2.39-2.98), strikeouts (541-513) and batting average against (.217-.244).

INJURY REPORT

Sophomore 1B/RHP Austin Maddox (foot) – Able to pitch; hitting to be determined

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino…a powerhouse at the plate who leads the team in batting average (.371), hits (92), homers (18), runs (72), slugging (.677)…and strikeouts (49). He also has 66 RBI on the season.
» Junior right fielder Preston Tucker…who is the Gators’ best run producer with 69 RBI on the season. Tucker is hitting .312 with 84 hits, 54 runs, 14 homers and 27 walks.
» Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana…the strongest fielder on the team who has also broke out offensively. Fontana, as the team’s leadoff hitter, is hitting .295 with 72 hits, 56 runs, 47 RBI and a team-high 50 walks. He had hit safely in 21-straight games.
» Maddox…who has made 19 relief appearances (24.1 innings) and has compiled a 0.74 ERA with 21 strikeouts and only three walks. He is also the team’s starting first baseman when healthy and is hitting .380 with six homers and 35 RBI.
» Junior reliever Nick Maronde (0-0, 1.93 ERA)…who has made a team-high 34 appearances this season and earned two saves in 42 innings pitched. He has amassed 54 strikeouts against only seven walks this season. Just seven of the 26 hits he has allowed over the course of the year have gone for extra bases.
» Senior center fielder Bryson Smith…who leads the Gators with a .556 (15-for-27) average in NCAA play and is currently riding a career-high 11-game hitting streak. Smith is batting .331 with 52 hits, 40 runs, two homers, 22 RBI and 16 walks this season.
» Vanderbilt junior 1B Aaron Westlake…who leads his team’s power surge with 17 homers this year. He is also hitting .349 with 55 RBI, 58 runs scored and has team-highs in walks (47) and slugging percentage (.643).
» Commodores junior third baseman Jason Esposito…who is batting .350 and is just as dynamic offensively as his teammate with nine homers, 55 runs scored, 15 stolen bases and a team-high 59 RBI.
» VU closer Navery Moore (4-2, 1.21 ERA)…who has made 28 appearances this season and amassed 11 saves via 25 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.

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