Donovan, former assistants share common bond

During a media availability in November, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan discussed how a common bond will unite him forever with two former assistants – Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.

“Not to get too personal or morbid, but I lost a daughter. Anthony Grant lost a son. John Pelphrey lost a son. They’re all buried out on 43rd [Street] together. All their graves are right there together,” Donovan explained. “So there are things that have happened over a 13-14-15-year period for the four of us that, no question, we will be ever interwoven in terms of relationships, things that have happened.”

Yahoo! Sports’ Jason King ran with the topic and put together a fantastic feature story published in the organization’s new online magazine on Wednesday.

“No staff,” Grant says of the trio’s related struggles, “has ever experienced what we experienced. What happened with all of us … I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

King takes a deeper look at the story behind each coach’s loss and how the pain helped bring them together in a way few things in life can. Below are selections from the story.

November 2, 2000

Donovan stopped at a red light.

“I’m sitting there,” Donovan says, “and I look over at this church, and there’s a sign on the marquee that says, ‘God is Good All of the Time.’ I kind of shook my head and thought, ‘What’s good about this?’
“But then I sat there a little longer, and I said to myself, ‘I’ve got an incredible wife, and right now I’m going home to three healthy kids.’ A lot of times, when bad things happen in your life, you fail to remember all the good things that are in your life, too.

“At that moment, a calm came over me, a peace that made me realize that, although this was a terrible loss, I was still very, very blessed.” […]

February 6, 1999

“When you’re young, you think it’s easy to have a baby,” says Grant, who was 29 at the time. “Your wife gets pregnant and you assume there aren’t going to be any issues. Then something happens like what happens to us, and your whole world changes.”

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” Grant says. “All things work for the good. All things happen for a reason. Maybe what I went through enabled me to help Billy.”

Indeed, nearly two years later, Grant was in his office when Donovan’s secretary notified staff members about Jacqueline’s death. Grant said he darted to his car, picked up his wife at the tennis court and drove straight to the hospital to offer support. […]

August 22, 2003

But it certainly helped to have friends like Donovan and Grant. Other than his own father, Pelphrey calls Donovan the most influential male in his life. His daughter’s full name is Anne Marie Grace Donovan Pelphrey. And his oldest son, Jackson, was born on the same day as Brian Donovan, Billy’s youngest son.

“My wife and his wife were in the hospital at the same time,” Donovan says. “John and I drove up there right after my first SEC game (as Florida’s head coach) and they induced labor on both of them at the same time. We’ve been through a lot. We were together when life was brought into this world. And we’ve both experienced tragedy, too.” […]

Under the shade of a large pine tree, in graves about 50 yards away from the noise and traffic on NW 23rd Avenue, rest the children of three Division I head basketball coaches, three SEC competitors, three best friends forever bound by the most tragic of circumstances.

When Jacqueline died in 2000, Donovan suggested that Grant move his son, Brandon, from a different part of the cemetery to an available grave just a few feet away. Three years later, it seemed right for Pelphrey to bury John Patrick in the same location.

“I’m not sure what term to use,” Pelphrey says, “but it’s certainly humbling when you walk out there and see all those headstones so close together.”

Grant says: “It’s special to have them all together like that. It’s very special.”

Read on ThePostGame: Billy Donovan’s Secret Sorrow

Team effort propels Florida to OT win in Knoxville

The Florida Gators won their fifth-straight game and eighth in their last nine contests with a 81-75 overtime victory against the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN, Tuesday evening.

The Gators (13-3, 2-0 SEC), who had all five starters score in double figures and only four points from their bench, held off rally after rally from the Volunteers (10-6, 0-2 SEC) on the way to winning their first overtime game in two tries this season.

Senior forward Alex Tyus, who scored a team-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots in his best performance of the season. Classmate F Chandler Parsons was equally efficient for Florida, hitting 4-of-5 attempts from downtown and 5-of-7 overall for 16 points.

Down five early, UF used a 10-1 run to take a 19-15 lead thanks to two stellar dimes from freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin. Tennessee responded with a 14-2 run to take a game-high eight-point lead (29-21) with over five minutes remaining in the half.

Back-to-back threes from Parsons fueled an 11-0 run for the Gators, who held the Volunteers to one basket in the final 5:46 of the half and took a 32-31 lead at the break.

Florida jumped ahead to their own game-high eight-point lead on Parsons’ third trey, though a 7-2 run by Tennessee tied the game at 64 with less than four minutes to go.

Tyus, stepping up to the line for a one-and-one with 42 seconds remaining, missed his free throw and the chance to put UF ahead late in the game. He redeemed himself with a game-saving block on the next possession.

Junior PG Erving Walker received an inbounds pass from Parsons with five seconds left but air-balled a fadeaway three with time running out to send the game into overtime.

The Gators put their foot on the pedal in the extra period, scoring six-straight points to open overtime and using a 9-2 run fueled by a pair of three-pointers by sophomore guard Kenny Boynton to take a 77-70 lead with 45 seconds left. Florida missed three free throws during the stretch but held off five quick points by Tennessee to prevail.

Parsons added six rebounds to his point total, while redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin contributed 11 points and five rebounds as the team’s third frontcourt starter. Boynton and Walker finished with 17 and 15 points, respectively.

UF’s starters scored 77 of the team’s 81 points on Tuesday, but freshman C Patric Young posted a stellar performance with seven rebounds including four off the offensive glass and all four of the Gators’ bench points. Wilbekin added three dimes and three steals, played stellar defense and did not turn the ball over once.

Volunteers Gs Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson combined for 41 points on 50 percent shooting with eight total rebounds. Tatum turned the ball over a game-high five times but also handed out four assists. Tennessee also benefited from a strong presence inside the paint as F Tobias Harris accounted for a double-double with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds.

UT was without head coach Bruce Pearl, who was suspended from participating in the first eight Southeastern Conference games of the season after being caught committing numerous recruiting violations.

Florida’s fifth-straight victory set a season-long streak and was their first in Knoxville since 2005. The Gators have scored 71 points or more in each of their last four games after failing to do so in their seven prior contests.

Photo Credit: Wade Payne/Associated Press

Florida Gators at Tennessee Volunteers Gameday

Location: Thompson-Boling Arena – Knoxville, TN [Capacity: 21,678]
Time: 9:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Sirius/XM: None
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

FLORIDA GATORS TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Bruce Pearl
Record: 12-3 (1-0) Record: 10-5 (0-1)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Tennessee -3.5; O/U: 136.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Tennessee leads the all-time series against Florida 69-49, is 10-3 in the last 13 meetings and is 5-0 in the last five games played in Knoxville. However, UF won the last contest between the two teams 75-62 at home in Gainesville. Donovan is 13-15 against UT with a 4-10 record on the road.
» Struggling offensively most of the season the Gators have scored an average of 77.3 points per game over their last three games while shooting a hot 46.9 percent (23-for-49) from three-point range.
» Florida has out-rebounded 13 of 15 opponents this season – including in its three defeats – and is doing so by a +7.9 rebound per game advantage.
» UF is No. 1 in the NCAA in fewest personal fouls per game (13.6). They have made more free throws (199) than their opponents have attempted (197).
» The Gators and Volunteers each best each other in two of four major statistically categories nationally. Florida holds advantages in assists 74th-136th (14.9-13.7) and field goal percentage 60th-152nd (.466-.443), while Tennessee scores more points 72nd-149th (75.1-70.7) and grabs more boards 29th-73rd (39.9-38.1). The Gators rank 14th in RPI (.6449) and 8th in strength of schedule compared to the Volunteers being 22nd (.6152) and 3rd, respectively.
» Tennessee will be playing without Pearl manning the bench. The Volunteers’ head coach received an eight-game suspension due after findings revealed that he committed a substantial number of recruiting violations.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.3 points and leading the backcourt in field goal percentage (46.5%), free throw percentage (76.9%) and three-point percentage (44.9%). He has single-handedly accounted for 35 of Florida’s 86 treys this season. Walker became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points, accomplishing the feat during Saturday’s game.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who back to averaging double-digit points (10.4) while leading the Gators with 6.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-high 58.1 percent this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 10.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but has been marred in a slump this year. Boynton is only shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc. He is second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game and hits 73.2 percent of his free throws. Boynton has had a four-point play in three-straight games. He is 4-for-4 on those opportunities this season and 6-of-6 for his career.
» Tennessee G Scotty Hopson and F Tobias Harris…who combine to score for 31.8 of their team’s 75.1 points per game. The duo also contributes by posting combined averages of 10.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
» Volunteers G Melvin Goins…who is fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game but is shooting almost 45 percent from downtown. Goins also contributes three rebounds and assists per contest.

1/10: Donovan discucess team’s highs and lows

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability on Monday.

“AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING” KEYS TO RECENT TURNAROUND

After failing to score at least 70 points in seven games, Florida has done so in each of its past three contests (71, 84, 77) and has had what some would consider an offensive resurgence since Dec. 31. Donovan attributes the improvement to the team’s overall understanding and execution of the game plan.

“Our guys are always willing to make the extra pass. When things happen inside of a game and plays happen very, very quickly and you have to react, I felt like earlier in the year we were not taking advantage of each other’s strengths and talents,” he said. “Nothing more than probably a lack of awareness or understanding of what’s open, what’s available and what they should be looking at.

“As time has gone on, they have gotten better at seeing some of those things. We needed to do a better job taking advantage of each other’s skill set. Hopefully we can continue to get better because as you start to play, teams are going to take away different things and you’re going to have to adjust and adapt to counters and different things preparation-wise.”

Just because the Gators are improved does not mean the team has taken their game to another level. “When the ball goes in the basket, it gives the appearance that you’re playing better,” Donovan added. “There’s no question that when the ball goes into the basket for any team – that helps. It can’t get to a point where, if we’re not shooting the ball well, it bleeds into and affects the other things that they’re doing on the floor. We can’t be a team that, when the ball is not going into the basket, it affects those minutes we’re not shooting the ball.”

UNHERALDED CONTRIBUTIONS KEEP TEAMS IN GAMES

“On ESPN they don’t show great block outs or a guy stepping up and taking a charge. They show high-flying dunks, a guy who scored 40. Instinctively, people will say, ‘How did you do? How many points did you score?’ And a lot of times it has nothing to do with that,” said Donovan when discussing some of the other priorities he trying to instill.

“If we don’t shoot the ball well and we don’t do the other things I’m talking about, we have no shot at winning. I don’t think any team has a shot at winning. So what you really try to do as a coach is control the things you have control over as a team. And then what you try to do is unselfishness, extra pass, high assist total, guys taking shots that they have a chance and an opportunity to make. If you don’t shoot the ball well, you still want to give yourself a chance to win in a grind-out game. We got to offset some of that stuff because not every team every game is going to shoot great. For our team sometimes we have more off nights shooting it than we do [on nights].”

That message has gotten through to the team, especially freshman center Patric Young. “Basketball’s way more than just scoring on the offensive side,” he said. “You have to block out and play defense. What are [coach's] favorite words? Block out. Step up. Take a charge. Move the ball.”

Read more from Donovan and the centers…after the break!
Continue Reading » 1/10: Donovan discucess team’s highs and lows

Gators win Outback Bowl but finish unranked

Though the Florida Gators (8-5) completed the 2010 season with an exciting 37-24 victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2011 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL, the team was once again unranked as the season’s final polls were released on Tuesday.

WeekResultBCSUSA TodayAssociated Press
Preseason--No. 10 (930)No. 10 (894)
2W 24-6 vs. Toledo-No. 9 (974)No. 12 (875)
3L 16-21 at Miami-No. 20 (410)No. 18 (405)
4Open-No. 18 (398)No. 19 (412)
5W 31-17 vs. Tennessee-No. 19 (449)No. 20 (414)
6W 24-7 at Kentucky-No. 19 (515)No. 18 (481)
7W 30-10 vs. Arkansas-No. 17 (574)No. 17 (536)
8L 6-17 at LSU-No. 22 (240)No. 22 (249)
9L 17-36 at Missouri-NR (4)NR (17)

USA TODAY
Last Poll 1-25: Oregon (34*), Auburn (24*), TCU (1*), Wisconsin, Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Boise State, Virginia Tech, LSU, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nevada, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Alabama, Utah, South Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi State, Florida State, Central Florida, Hawaii

This Week 1-25: Auburn (56*), TCU (1*), Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Boise State, LSU, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Arkansas, Nevada, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, Central Florida, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Utah, Maryland, N.C. State
+ Florida received 10 voting points, good for 32nd overall

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Poll 1-25: Auburn (36*), Oregon (23*), TCU (1*), Wisconsin, Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Boise State, LSU, Virginia Tech, Nevada, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Utah, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida State, Hawaii, Connecticut

This Week 1-25: Auburn (56*), TCU (3*), Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, LSU, Boise State, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Missouri, Texas A&M, Missouri, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Central Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Tulsa, N.C. State
+ Florida received 19 voting points, good for 31st overall

* Numbers represent first-place votes.

Bills WR David Nelson: “…it changed my career”

Usually we have to convince our interview subjects to sit down and talk with us for a half hour. When it came to former Florida Gators now Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson, he had nothing but time while in the middle of a 22-hour drive from Buffalo, NY, to Dallas, TX, and in desperate need of some entertainment.

Catching up with him 14 hours into his trip somewhere in Memphis, TN, OGGOA spoke with Nelson about everything from his family growing up to what he thinks about new Gators head coach Will Muschamp and the future of quarterback John Brantley. He was honest and candid, as expected, and gave us a good look into the journey from high school star to solid college contributor to NFL undrafted free agent.

Nelson hauled in 46 receptions for 630 yards and seven touchdowns during his Florida career. As a rookie with Buffalo in 2010, he matched half that total with 31 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns (in consecutive games).

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You’re one of eight children…where do you fall age-wise and what was it like growing up with so many siblings?
DAVID NELSON: “I’m actually the oldest of eight. Growing up there was only three of us – me and two of my younger brothers. My mom and dad were together and it was just us three. We were always real close, always competed and always playing sports and video games and trying to beat each other. We would fight and argue like brothers do, but looking back I cherish those times with my brothers more than anything. I always had a friend and brother to play with, always a partner to go out and do stuff with. It wasn’t until my mom and dad got divorced and both of them got remarried and had extra kids. My mom had three extra kids and my dad had two extra kids. My youngest sister right now is like three years old.”

AS: Christmas and Thanksgiving must be interesting then…
DN: “It is. It is. It’s a lot of fun though. It keeps it interesting and it keeps it fun.”

AS: What was it about Florida that made you decide to attend there over Notre Dame or staying in-state with Texas?
DN: “Growing up I never really knew much about Florida. I had seen them on TV every once in a while, when they were playing a bowl game or playing Florida State or something like that. I was never really a big fan growing up. I was from Big 12 country, so I grew up a huge Texas Longhorns fan, I watched all the Big 12 teams. When the recruiting process started, I didn’t hear anything from Florida. [Ron] Zook was there, didn’t hear anything from him or from his staff. Florida wasn’t even a consideration for me, never crossed my mind.

“When the whole issue with Tyrone Willingham getting fired [from Notre Dame]… I talked to Urban Meyer a little bit while he was at Utah, liked him a lot, but didn’t really feel comfortable going to Utah. When he accepted the job to go to Florida, he called me up and said, ‘Hey, I know you didn’t like it at Utah. What do you think about Florida?’ I was like, ‘I’ll research it, see what it looks like.’ The more I researched it, the more I learned about it, the more I liked it. I got a good feeling about it. [It happened] kind of late in the process, because it wasn’t until after the All-American game I started talking to him and took a visit up there. Got in town with my family, my family loved the community.

“I felt right with the coaching staff. I felt comfortable with the offense they were putting in. I knew that there was going to be something special that was going to happen there, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be one of the first recruiting classes to come in with them, because I knew Coach Meyer was going to be successful.”

AS: What were the first three years with the Gators like with you not getting much time on the field? Did you feel discouraged at all?
DN: “It was tough. It was real tough. An 18-19-20-year old kid coming in from high school, being heavily recruited, you automatically assume you are going to come in and you feel like you should be up for the Biletnikoff Award your first year on campus. When you’re a young kid, you buy into all the hype. You’re just really excited of what is going to happen. You come in and redshirt, the next year you sit on the bench, the year after that you sit on the bench again and you do get discouraged. You have all these people telling you how good you are, all these people from different angles saying you should be doing this…and you start to believe all the hype and all the cousins and the uncles calling you and you start to agree with them. You start to get these negative thoughts.

“The thought had crossed my mind of transferring; we actually pursued it a little bit. My dad and I sat down and looked at some options. Coach Meyer told me to just think about it and get back to him. The more I thought about it, the more we researched, I realized I came here for a reason – I came here to be a part of something special. At that moment we were on the cusp of being a great program. We had just won the National Championship in Arizona, and we were on the cusp of being great. At that moment, I knew I came here, I started something. I’m going to see it all the way through. I’m going to stick to my word and I’m going to ride this out, see where it goes and where it takes me.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with David Nelson…after the break!
Continue Reading » Bills WR David Nelson: “…it changed my career”

Florida basketball stuck outside Top 25 polls

Florida Gators (12-3, 1-0 SEC) dropped out of the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press Top 25 polls three weeks ago and have since been stuck in limbo. Though they won two games (one in impressive fashion, the other hard-fought) over the last week, Florida did not find themselves back in the polls when they were released on Monday.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 10 (1,048)No. 8 (550)-
2W 77-69 vs. North Florida1-0No. 11 (995)No. 10 (535)-
3L 53-59 at No. 20 Wisconsin
W 86-56 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
2-1No. 16 (619)No. 14 (359)-
4W 67-53 vs. Southern
W 79-59 vs. MTSU
4-1No. 15 (729)No. 13 (395)-
5W 86-60 at Jacksonville
W 67-66 vs. Florida State
6-1No. 15 (758)No. 12 (426)-
6L 64-65 at No. 12 UConn6-2No. 19 (434)No. 19 (258)-
7W 67-61 vs. No. 13 Kansas7-2No. 16 (699)No. 17 (296)-
8W 77-75 vs. Memphis
W 66-49 vs. Fresno State
9-2No. 13 (881)No. 14 (383)-
9W 76-34 vs. Savannah State10-2No. 12 (915)No. 13 (413)-
10W 67-58 vs. Richmond11-2No. 10 (1,052)No. 11 (473)12
11W 74-58 vs. South Carolina
W-OT 84-82 at Arkansas
13-2
(2-0 SEC)
No. 7
(1,205)
No. 7
(573)
8
12W 72-50 vs. Georgia
W 68-61 at Auburn
15-2
(4-0 SEC)
No. 6
(1,303)
No. 6
(639)
8
13W 68-62 at Alabama
W 67-41 vs. Tennessee
17-2
(6-0 SEC)
No. 3
(1,436)
No. 4
(694)
5
14W 62-51 at Mississippi State
W 69-36 vs. Texas A&M
19-2
(8-0 SEC)
No. 3
(1,482)
No. 4
(720)
3
15W 68-58 vs. Missouri
W 78-69 vs. Alabama
21-2
(10-0 SEC)
No. 3
(1,477)
No. 4
(711)
5
16W 67-58 at Tennessee
W 69-59 at Kentucky
23-2
(12-0 SEC)
No. 2
(1,543)
No. 2
(752)
4
17W 71-66 vs. Auburn
W 75-71 at Ole Miss
25-2
(14-0 SEC)
No. 1
(1,606)
No. 1
(791)
3
18W 57-54 at Vanderbilt
W 79-61 vs. LSU
27-2
(16-0 SEC)
No. 1
(1,606)
No. 1
(793)
3
19W 72-46 at South Carolina
W 84-65 vs. Kentucky
29-2
(18-0 SEC)
No. 1
(1,610)
No. 1
(793)
2
Post-
season
W 72-49 vs. Missouri
W 56-49 vs. Tennessee
W 61-60 vs. Kentucky
32-2
(18-0 SEC)
(3-0 SECT)
No. 1
(1,610)
No. 1
(794)
1
FinalW 67-55 vs. Albany
W 61-45 vs. Pittsburgh
W 79-68 vs. UCLA
W 62-52 vs. Dayton
L 53-63 vs. UConn
36-3
(18-0 SEC)
(3-0 SECT)
(4-1 NCAAT)
-No. 3
(735)
-

ESPN/USA TODAY
Last Week 1-25: Duke (31*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Missouri, Connecticut, Purdue, Kentucky, Texas, Georgetown, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Central Florida, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Memphis, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati
+ Florida received 9 voting points, good for 34th overall

This Week 1-25: Duke (31*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Purdue, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisville, Washington, Georgetown, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Central Florida, Temple, Michigan State, Minnesota
+ Florida received 20 voting points, good for 33rd overall

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Week 1-25: Duke (65*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Connecticut, Missouri, Kentucky, Purdue, Texas, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Michigan State, Central Florida, Illinois, Memphis, Vanderbilt, Washington, Cincinnati, UNLV
+ Florida received 35 voting points, good for 31st overall

This Week 1-25: Duke (65*), Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Purdue, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Missouri, Illinois, Washington, Louisville, Temple, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Georgetown, Central Florida, Georgia, Cincinnati
Florida received 110 voting points, good for 29th overall

* Numbers represent first-place votes.

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Jenkins spurns NFL for another year with Gators

Florida Gators junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, arguably the team’s best defensive player in 2010, has officially decided to return for his senior season rather than begin his professional career declare for the 2011 NFL Draft.

“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to return to school for my senior year. I spent some time with my family and Coach [Will] Muschamp and came to the conclusion it was in my best interest to return to school,” said Jenkins, according to a University of Florida release. “Coach Muschamp was very supportive throughout the whole process, regardless of my decision, but he wanted to make sure I had all of the facts. I’m looking forward to working towards my degree, completing my rehab and getting back on the field with my teammates.”

Jenkins, who has totaled 106 tackles, eight interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), two sacks and two forced fumbles in three seasons at Florida, earned All-SEC honors from both the Associated Press (first team) and Southeastern Conference coaches (second team) this year for his stellar play.

“I’m excited that Janoris has made a decision to come back to school,” Muschamp said. “I would have supported him in whatever decision he made, but I commend him for making a mature decision. It would have been real easy for Janoris to make an emotional choice and leave early, but with our contacts in the NFL, we were able to assist him in understanding his draft status and he made an educated decision that will be beneficial to him in the long term.”

Projected to be a first-round pick as a junior before the season began, Jenkins was considered the third-best cornerback and No. 11 overall player available in this year’s draft, according to ESPN and Scouts, Inc.

He was ready to declare for the draft before sitting down with Muschamp.

With his return, Muschamp and young secondary coach Travaris Robinson have a reliable senior to champion an otherwise inexperienced unit. Florida will likely be starting sophomores at both safety positions (Matt Elam, Josh Evans) and may do the same at cornerback depending who wins the position battle in the offseason.

Jenkins sent Gators fans into a frenzy Sunday evening with the innocuous tweet “Gator Nation I’m back…” and did not follow up with any additional information. He confirmed his decision Monday morning with another tweet, “Headed to class with nothing but ‘joy.’ Gator Nation I’m back…”

OGGOA learned on Sunday that Jenkins has long had a desire to earn his degree and staying in school was always a strong consideration for him. He is pursuing a degree in anthropology and is believed to be on track to graduate next year.

He is only the second true freshman in school history to start at cornerback on opening day (Joe Haden) and was named to the 2008 SEC All-Freshman Team. Jenkins helped the Gators win the 2009 BCS National Championship by totaling five tackles in the game. He was equally effective in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, recording five solo tackles (one for loss) and a pass break-up in Florida’s win.

Jenkins registered 43 tackles, three interceptions and one sack as a junior in 2010 while playing most of the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He had surgery after the regular season to correct the injury and missed the Gators’ 37-24 victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

After speaking with two sports medicine experts, OGGOA has learned that Jenkins’ injury would not have prevented him from working out for NFL scouts before draft day should he have decided to play in the league next season.

Fellow junior, safety Will Hill, will declare for the draft though his intentions have not been made official yet. UF will release a statement if and when Hill’s decision to pursue a professional football career is official.

OGGOA RELATED 1/5: Will Hill to forgo senior season, enter NFL Draft

Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
 

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