FOUR BITS: Dwyer, Holloway, baseball, watch list

1 » The second day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships, held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, was just as exciting for the No. 5 Florida Gators men’s team as Wednesday’s opening day. Senior Conor Dwyer, who set two SEC records in one race (800-yard freestyle relay) a day ago, broke yet another on Thursday by swimming the 500-yard freestyle in 4:11.36. The No. 8 women also had some celebrating to do as junior Sarah Bateman set the school record in the 50-yard freestyle. The men’s team jumped up to second place overall after day two (70 points behind leader Auburn), while the women’s team took a hold of first place with a new total of 291 points (five above Georgia).

2 » Florida head swimming coach Gregg Troy was named the head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team on Dec. 8. Joining him as a Team USA coach in England for the 2012 London Olympics is Gators head track & field coach Mike Holloway, who was picked as an assistant coach for sprinters and hurdlers on Thursday. “It’s an incredible honor to be chosen by my peers to coach on the United States Olympic staff,” Holloway said, according to the University of Florida. “It’s something that I am very proud of, and I look forward to serving my country.”

3 » No. 1 Florida baseball will begin the 2011 season over the weekend with a trio of home games against the South Florida Bulls. The Gators have announced starters for the series but will be without last year’s ace, junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis (11-3, 3.51 ERA), as the team is being cautious with his return from offseason hip surgery. Sophomore LHP Brian Johnson (6-4, 4.03 ERA) will start the season on the hill. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (8-4, 3.24 ERA) takes over Saturday, and freshman RHP Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, will start his career in the orange and blue on the mound Sunday.

4 » Johnson and junior first baseman Preston Tucker received nominations to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list on Thursday. The award, presented to the top amateur player in the country, is sponsored by Major League Baseball but has never been presented to a Florida player in its 33-year history. Both Johnson and Tucker are preseason All-Americans according to Baseball America.

LB Neiron Ball improving but still hospitalized

Updated Feb. 18 at 12:15 a.m.

Florida Gators freshman linebacker Neiron Ball continues to receive treatment in the Intensive Care Unit at Shands Hospital after a blood vessel ruptured in his brain on Monday but will be moved out of ICU and into a standard hospital room on Friday, his high school coach told The Gainesville Sun.

Ball, a special teams standout this past season who registered 10 tackles in 13 games, has been ruled out of spring practice. The severity of his condition and the amount of recovery time doctors deem necessary for him to be 100 percent healthy will determine if and when Ball can return to the field. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The University of Florida’s University Athletic Association, which disclosed on Monday that Ball was in the hospital being treated for a congenital vascular condition, has yet to release any additional information. However, the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser has been updating his condition all week and the Sun’s Robbie Andreu filed an additional report Thursday evening.

On Wednesday, the Post reported that doctors were able to stop the bleeding and have prevented his brain from swelling. Though it is currently unknown what – if any – aftereffects there may be from the health scare, Ball’s family and friends have noted that his condition has improved.

“He’s out of life-threatening mode,” Mike Parris, Ball’s former head coach at Jackson High School, told the Post. “There isn’t any imminent danger. They’re just trying to let it heal.” Parris also spoke with the Sun. “He’s doing OK. He’s having headaches. He’s scared more than anything,” Parris said. “Other than that, he’s doing pretty good. I think he’s going to be fine. The doctors told his family he is out of a life-threatening situation.”

Natalie Myricks, Ball’s older sister, is hopeful that he everything will be OK. “He’s doing fine; he’s doing better,” she said, according to the Post. “The people at Florida and Shands have been 100 percent helpful and great to us.” Myricks sent an e-mail to the Sun further praising the assistance from Shands and UF. “We appreciate the care that the doctors at Shands Hospital are providing. The support of the coaching staff at the University of Florida has been phenomenal,” she said.

“Thank you for your prayers and concern.”

A continuous stream of friends, teammates and coaches have been visiting Shands to check on Ball, OGGOA has learned from a pair of readers who work in the hospital but wish to remain nameless. It will likely be quite a while before anything definitive is known about Ball’s health one way or another. We continue to wish him a speedy recovery.

Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

DE Trattou: “I’m glad we went out the right way”

Having returned home to New Jersey now that his Florida Gators career has come to a close, defensive end Justin Trattou took some time out from training for upcoming NFL workouts to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging interview.

Trattou, who plans to return to Gainesville, FL to showcase his talents for NFL scouts and coaches at Florida’s Pro Day, recounted his collegiate career and looked ahead to his future during our conversation. Check it out below!

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You made all-state as a junior and senior and won the New Jersey state title in your final season. What was it like to see four years of hard work pay off?
JUSTIN TRATTOU: “It was definitely a huge accomplishment. My senior year, me and those guys, we went to the state championship in my sophomore and junior year and lost both times. That senior year we went 12-0, ran the table and then blew out St. Peters 41-0. That was a great way to go out. And then I ended up going to the All-American game and did well there, so it was definitely a good way to go into college.”

AS: For a while you were committed to Notre Dame, but you eventually switched to Florida. What made you change your mind, and how did all that come about?
JT: “After my season ended, I kind of just committed to get it out of the way and concentrate on my senior year. I didn’t want to be bothered by people. After I won the state championship and everything was all good, I started looking around again. Took a visit down to Florida and immediately fell in love with the place – The Swamp and the whole atmosphere. I knew that was the place for me.”

AS: Was it tough telling Notre Dame that you had switched?
JT: “At the end of the day, I’m the one that has to live it out. I didn’t owe anybody anything, so it was definitely my choice.”

AS: During your recruitment, Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head coach. Obviously he’s now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Can you talk about the type of recruiter he was – his demeanor in your home, how he spoke to you, etc?
JT: “It was always good. Obviously I ended up committing there, so… He was definitely good. For me personally, I just wanted to go to Florida.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Justin Trattou…after the break!
Continue Reading » DE Trattou: “I’m glad we went out the right way”

FOUR BITS: Jones, SEC records, softball, lacrosse

1 » Though he announced his commitment on Monday, four-star 2012 running back recruit Matt Jones (Seffner, FL) solidified it Wednesday night at a news conference at Armwood High School. Donning Florida Gators gear, Jones not only affirmed his commitment but also promised that nothing would change over the next year, before National Signing Day on Feb. 1 (or earlier if he decides to enroll in the spring). “I’m a Gator for life,” Jones said emphatically, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “Any other coaches are not going to get no feedback or stuff like that, only if they’re saying ‘Good luck’ to our players or stuff like that. I’m truly a Gator. […] I truly believe I’ll rock the Gator Nation.” Jones’s coach, Sean Callahan, praised his student-athlete’s early decision, noting that it is as firm as can be. “He understands what a commitment is now,” Callahan said. “We need to bring some honor in recruiting. Matt’s word is good, our word is good and I honestly believe the University of Florida‘s word is good, too.”

2 » Competing in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, the No. 5 men’s team broke two SEC records while capturing a pair of gold medals in relay races. The foursome of seniors Conor Dwyer, Brett Fraser, Balazs Gercsak and sophomore Sebastien Rousseau were victorious in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a record time of 6:13.74; within that race, Dwyer’s 200-yard freestyle split of 1:31.73 also set a conference mark, one once held by former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte (2005). Florida’s other event victory was the 200-yard medley relay, which was won in a time of 1:24.94 by Dwyer, Fraser, redshirt sophomore Marco Loughran and freshman Marcin Cieslak. The men’s team is in third place overall after day one, while the No. 8 women’s team holds on to second place (Auburn leads both standings).

3 » No. 5 Florida softball (6-0) continued their hot start to the season with a 7-0 drubbing of the Jacksonville Dolphins (2-3) in their first road game of the year. Senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (4-0) tossed five innings of one-hit ball, striking out eight and walking one. Supporting her effort was senior second baseman Aja Paculba, whose grand slam in the fifth inning (the team’s third of the season) solidified the victory. The Gators will face their toughest test of the season over the weekend when they host No. 22 North Carolina for a three-game series including a doubleheader on Saturday.

4 » Also in Jacksonville on Wednesday was No. 17 Florida lacrosse (1-1), which won their first game of the season after suffering a tough overtime loss to No. 3 North Carolina over the weekend. The Gators took down the Dolphins in impressive fashion, 18-9, behind stellar offensive play by sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen (four goals), junior attacker Caroline Cochran (three goals) and sophomore M Caroline Chesterman (three goals).

Donovan gets commitment from F/C Pitchford

With five-star guard Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) seemingly the only member of the Florida Gators 2011 signing class, head coach Billy Donovan made a splash Wednesday by gaining a verbal commitment from former DePaul singee forward/center Walter Pitchford (East Lansing, MI).

“I really like the coaching staff,” Pitchford told Scout. “I like the players a lot. The relationship that they have is so strong. [I like] the campus and the students on the campus and I like how everybody gets involved on campus. They recruiting me hard and they didn’t sugarcoat anything.”

Between 6’9″ and 6’10” and 210-220 lbs., Pitchford originally signed a National Letter of Intent with DePaul in 2010 but asked for and was provided with a release when the school switched head coaches. He has spent the last year playing prep school basketball and is averaging approximately 17 points and nine rebounds per game.

Rated as a three-star athlete by Rivals, Pitchford is listed as a two-star by ESPNU and was widely considered one of the best uncommitted post players in the country.

Pitchford visited the University of Florida last week and obviously came away impressed. Like most of Donovan’s big men, Pitchford runs the floor very well and is quite athletic. His jump shot is solid, but he has plenty of growing to do both as a defender and back-to-the-basket scorer.

In addition to Florida, Pitchford considered and received significant interest from Arizona State, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa, among others.

Size is a much-needed attribute for the Gators in 2011 as redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus will all be graduating.

Pitchford’s decision was first reported by Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com.

FOUR BITS: Webb in CFL, Gaffney, Miller, Horford

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Dee Webb, who spent a portion of 2010 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the revamped AFL, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for the 2011 season. A former draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Webb tried out for the Miami Dolphins last year but did not make the cut. He will be playing in the CFL for a second time after previously trying out for Toronto (in 2007) and joining the Calgary Stampeders (in 2009).

2 » Though Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney is getting up there in age (he turns 31 next season), it appears that he will remain an integral part of the team’s receiving corps in 2011. With two starters recovering from surgeries, The Denver Post expects Gaffney to have the opportunity to capitalize on their absences. Posting career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010, Gaffney thrived under quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and is not costing the team much money with a $2.4 million salary set for next season.

3 » Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, who left Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after getting hit in the head, stayed overnight for concussion tests and will miss at least one game. It is the second time in as many games Miller sustained a blow to the head, though the first did not appear to cause any damage necessitating further tests.

4 » Just over two weeks ago, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks clashed in a heated contest that ended with a 111-102 victory for Atlanta. During the game, a fight broke out between the teams. Forward/center Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks took exception after Hawks F/C Al Horford was “particularly vocal and demonstrative,” according to ESPN. Now Stoudemire is looking forward to going up against his NBA All-Star teammate in a rematch between New York and Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very intense game after what happened in Atlanta,” he said. “[Horford] don’t want to see me. I watched him play in Florida, and I’ve seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We’ve got two different games, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Horford responded Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t understand what he means by that, ‘He don’t want to see me,'” he said. “Like we’re supposed to be scared of [Stoudemire]. Ain’t nobody scared of him. We’re all grown men, so it’s all good.”

LB Neiron Ball in hospital with vascular condition

Florida Gators freshman linebacker Neiron Ball is currently in Shands Hospital being treated for a congenital vascular condition, the University of Florida’s University Athletic Association disclosed on Monday.

Ball, a special teams standout this past season who registered 10 tackles in 13 games, was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.

The Cleveland Clinic defines vascular conditions as any that affect the circulatory system. “This ranges from diseases of your arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation,” the clinic notes. Due to it being congenital in nature, the condition has existed since birth though it may not have developed until recently.

The Palm Beach Post reported on Wednesday that, according to Ball’s older sister Natalie Myricks, his hospitalization occurred after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured. Though doctors have stabilized him, he is currently in the Intensive Care Unit being monitored. His family is hopeful Ball will make a full recovery with Myricks saying in an e-mail to the Post that “he should be in the clear in three days.”

OGGOA will update you when more information is made available.

Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Is a huge turnaround ahead for John Brantley?

Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley decided to finish out his career in the orange and blue once he learned offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Charlie Weis would be the one providing him the opportunity to turn everything around. The “Football Scientist” KC Joyner believes Brantley was not as abysmal as he appeared in 2010 and has the opportunity to be elite in 2011.

Citing evaluations he made during Brantley’s performances against three FBS top-31 defenses of Tennessee, Alabama and LSU (all games that came before Florida moved to a QB rotation), Joyner concludes that the signal caller “had very little to do with the terrible state of the Florida offense in 2010.”

Read Joyner’s analysis of Brantley and the offense…after the break!
Continue Reading » Is a huge turnaround ahead for John Brantley?

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