LB Stewart becomes Florida’s 16th commitment

It became apparent earlier in the week, when it was reported the Florida Gators were making a late push for his commitment, that four-star linebacker Graham Stewart (Middleton, CT) may ditch the maroon and gold of the Boston College Eagles for the orange and blue. That is exactly what happened Friday as Stewart decided to decommit from Boston College and become the 16th member of Florida’s 2011 signing class.

“Yeah, I did verbally commit tonight,” Stewart told the Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hays on Friday. “It was always my dream school, but with the coaching change, that had deterred me a bit. But just the overall energy of the place and, of course, it being Florida, it just seemed to be the best place for me to become a better student and a better athlete.”

Head coach Will Muschamp visited Stewart in his home Friday and quickly earned the player’s commitment. OGGOA reported Thursday, via The Hartford Courant, that Stewart was heavily considering a switch.

“It’s a hard situation but also a good one,” Stewart told the paper. “I took two unofficial visits to Florida this summer. I have an offer from them. It’s a great honor that they believe you can play for them.”

Considered the top recruit in the state of Connecticut by Rivals, Stewart is ranked as the service’s No. 16 linebacker in the country. ESPNU lists him as a three-star player and their No. 53 overall linebacker.

Lockwood’s fight with cancer comes to an end

If you look at the Florida Gators player roster or ledger of support staff, you will not find the name Ian Lockwood. Check the history books and box scores and you will come up empty. But in head coach Urban Meyer and senior safety Ahmad Black’s final season with the team, Lockwood stood as an inspirational figure who the Gators rallied behind.

With the season now over, the 2011 Outback Bowl game ball (the one Black intercepted to seal the game) in his possession and cancer haven taking over his body, Lockwood passed away Friday evening at the all too young age of 18.

A patient at Shands Hospital in Gainesville FL, Lockwood was receiving treatments for brain cancer and underwent a second procedure shortly before the Outback Bowl. He was a passionate high school football player who had to stop playing suddenly on Oct. 8 due to an aggressive brain cancer that doctors tried to thwart and Lockwood himself attempted to fight to the best of his ability.

That fight ended Friday, a day his family, friends and extended University of Florida family prayed would never come. Survived by his mother, father and sister, Lockwood spent the last few months of his life cheering on Florida and hoping the team would find success in what was otherwise a down season.

“The young man, his love and passion for football is second-to-none,” Meyer said during his Outback Bowl press conference. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch; we spent a lot of time together.”

Black, who befriended Lockwood while visiting Shands, immediately became enthralled with his fight and passion and was touched by his perseverance. “I love the fight he has. A lot of people would have given up, but he’s still fighting,” Black told the Pensacola News Journal earlier this week.

“RIP Ian Lockwood. He was a great brother, friend and son,” Black wrote via his Twitter account Friday evening. “I’ll forever miss u bro and I thank god that u impacted my life.”

Lockwood, given a chance to speak when he was handed the game ball, was thankful for the honor and support that Florida showed him in his time of greatest need.

“This means a lot to me. Coming into Shands for treatments, [they were] always there from the beginning,” he said. “Football is definitely life to me. It is good to always have an organization there for you to support you whenever you need it.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Lockwood family.

FOUR BITS: Quinn, Black, Strong, Rosario

1 » Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has mostly been out on the road recruiting since the Seattle Seahawks were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, has been assigned the Jacksonville, FL area as his primary recruiting grounds, according to The Florida Times-Union. The Times-Union’s Hays Carlyon reports that Quinn visited a number of area high schools on Friday and notes that Florida could be interested in two Yulee High School players over the next two seasons – tight end/linebacker Kelvin Rainey in 2012 and running back Derrick Henry in 2013.

2 » When former Gators safety Ahmad Black presented the game ball from the 2011 Outback Bowl to Ian Lockwood, it was obvious the two (and then-head coach Urban Meyer) had formed a special bond. In Mobile, AL for the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, Black spoke with the Pensacola News Journal about his friendship with Lockwood and how the two became so close so quickly. “He opened the door to the Florida football program,” said Lockwood’s high school football coach Chad Lashley. “That has meant the world to Ian. It just shows the unbelievable character of Ahmad and his concern for other people. With him getting that interception, it was just the perfect ending.” You can read more thoughts from Black and Lashley by clicking here.

3 » Taking the Louisville Cardinals to a 7-6 record and earning Big East Co-Coach of the Year honors in 2010, head coach Charlie Strong appears to be in line for a new contract with a substantial raise, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, which spoke with athletic director Tom Jurich. “We want to do [give him a raise], but this staff has been busy and they’re doing a great job, so when signing day is over and we get some time, we’re definitely going to address that,” Jurich said. “It’s been great that he’s been able to keep his staff together to this point, and I can tell you those guys are really getting after it and they’re having a great time. They’re on a rocket ship right now, and it’s fun to watch.” Louisville doing what it can to keep Strong now may prevent him leaving until a significantly better job is available a few years down the road. He currently earns $1.6 million per season.

4 » Redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario is biding his time helping Florida improve during practice while he waits out a NCAA-mandated transfer season. An article written for CNN profiling Rosario’s hall of fame high school head coach Bob Hurley, Sr. notes that the player once the star of one of Hurley’s teams and describes him as a “hot-tempered kid who used basketball as a refuge from the life in a housing project.” Rosario recounted his time playing for Hurley. “He started disciplining me like I was one of his sons,” he said. “It was to the point where I was like, ‘Wow, I had never been pushed like this in my life.’ I learned how to be a man and not a boy.”

ESPN College GameDay in Gainesville on Feb. 5

As reported by OGGOA in December, ESPN College GameDay will emanate from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Feb. 5 prior to the No. 23/24 Florida Gators taking on the No. 16/14 Kentucky Wildcats later that evening at 9 p.m.

The University of Florida announced on Friday that the show will air live from Gainesville, FL next week, noting that it is the first time since 2008 and third time overall that the television program will be broadcast from inside the arena.

In addition to the two hours College GameDay airs in the morning (beginning at 10 a.m. on ESPNU and 11 a.m. on ESPN), there will be a one-hour pre-game show live from the O’Connell Center at 8 p.m. The program features host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Bob Knight. Feature reporter and former Gators dazzler Erin Andrews will not be in attendance. However, head coach Billy Donovan will likely be interviewed at some point during the second hour of the show.

The first 500 students in attendance will receive complimentary breakfast, the first 3,000 fans will be given rollbannas courtesy of State Farm, and one lucky student will shoot a half-court shot for a chance at $17,500. College GameDay also wants to see more “big heads” in the crowd. Every student who brings one will win a prize with one being awarded a “VIP prize pack.”

Photo Credit: ESPN

1/27: Donovan on Georgia win, rest of season

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 Thursday.

STRUGGLES AFTER JANUARY

Over the previous three seasons, Donovan’s Gators are a combined 18-24 beginning on Feb. 1. Asked about his team’s ineffectiveness when trying to close out the Southeastern Conference slate and head into the postseason, Donovan pointed to the schedule as the main culprit, noting that Florida often plays many of its best opponents (read: SEC East) toward the end. The same goes for this year.

“You got to look at the scheduling and the way it falls,” he said. “We still have to play Kentucky twice. We still have to play Vanderbilt twice. We still have to play Tennessee again, Georgia again, South Carolina again. Not to say that our first five or six games were easy games, because I do not think that was the case in this league. There’s no question the teams that we’re playing going forward, I think everybody would say are probably better than the teams we’ve played up to this point in time.”

RECOUNTING THE DOUBLE-OVERTIME WIN

Looking back on UF’s double-overtime victory against Georgia, Donovan pointed out that – in the grand scheme of things – it may have been emotional but it was just a single win in a very long season.

“It’s only one win. They come pretty quickly from the standpoint of we have to go play a difficult game on the road Saturday,” he said. “I thought we had a great opportunity to win the game in regulation. We made some plays and missed some free throws to really put the game [within their reach].

“We left the door open for them. Our guys were teetering a little bit just emotionally. The game going into overtime, we found a way to get through it and keep it close. When Erving [Walker] made the three, it put them in an emotional thing where they thought the game was over with. We were able to capitalize and go on a little bit of a run.”

PLAYING IT SAFE VS. BEING AGGRESSIVE

Asked about the Gators propensity for taking three-pointers early in the shot clock, especially toward the end of games, Donovan dismissed the notion that it always angers him. Recounting some of the shots Florida took on Tuesday, he explained why quick shots – especially when they are good looks – are not always a negative thing.

“You have to maintain a level of aggressiveness,” he said. “There is a point in time in the game where you’ve got to look at the clock. Two minutes to go in a two possession game, you got to maintain a level of aggressiveness because there’s probably going to be another eight possessions in that game. […] There is a balance and a fine line there. I want our guys to maintain a level of aggressiveness. I’d rather have us being aggressive rather than trying to passively hold on.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 1/27: Donovan on Georgia win, rest of season

FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Westbrook, Stewart, Shands

1 » Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey was found to have a broken bone in his left ankle in addition to a high ankle sprain and is unlikely to play in Super Bowl XLV, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Though the Steelers refuse to completely rule out his participation in the game, chances are Pouncey will be watching from the sidelines along with fellow former Gator left tackle Max Starks, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this season with a neck injury. In the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Pouncey had started each of Pittsburgh’s 18 games this season.

2 » While Florida awaits commitments or denials from a number of top recruits, head coach Will Muschamp is making the rounds and getting in the ears of plenty of other players. Muschamp was in South Florida on Thursday meeting with three-star defensive end Tevin Westbrook (Coconut Creek, FL), who plans to make a decision Monday, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Westbrook is also considering South Florida, Connecticut, North Carolina and Purdue but will be in Gainesville, FL for an official visit this weekend.

3 » The Hartford Courant is reporting that the Gators are also after four-star linebacker Graham Stewart (Middletown, CT), a current Boston College commitment. Apparently “Florida has made a late push” for Stewart, and Muschamp is expected to fly up for an in-home visit on Friday. “It’s a hard situation but also a good situation,” Stewart told the paper Thursday. “I took two unofficial visits to Florida this summer. I have an offer from them. It’s a great honor that they believe you can play for them.”

4 » What did Gators redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus do after arriving back in Gainesville following a double-overtime victory against the Georgia Bulldogs? They headed over to Shands Children’s Hospital and visited 19-year-old cancer patient Victor Wheeler, who is constantly undergoing chemotherapy for a recurring form of cancer known as rhabdomyoscarcoma. For more pictures of their visit, check out this Facebook link.

FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Williams, Blakely, baseball

1 » With speculation surrounding Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey’s ability to play in Super Bowl XLV with a high ankle sprain, one of his teammates has apparently let the cat out of the bag on Pouncey’s status. “We are definitely sad that he won’t be able to be with us in the Super Bowl,” guard Chris Kemoeatu told the Pittsburgh Tribune. “Definitely I feel bad for him. We just have to win it for him. It’s definitely a huge loss for us. We know how big this is for him and him not being able to play is definitely motivating for us to go out there and get that ring for him.” Since first suffering the injury Sunday, Pouncey has steadfastly denied that he will miss the game, saying he knows “how to attack” the injury because he had a similar one during his time with the Florida Gators.

2 » Third and sometimes fourth on his team’s depth chart at the position, former Florida point guard Jason Williams was waived by the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. Williams, who averaged 2.1 points, 1.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game, is the least productive he has been in his 12-year NBA career. There are early expectations that he will be picked up by a team in need of a back-up ball handler.

3 » As initially reported by OGGOA on Jan. 17, four-star running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, FL) has officially undergone arthroscopic shoulder surgery and will miss spring practice. An early enrollee already on campus at the University of Florida, he will likely be able to return to the field in the summer.

4 » Baseball America delivered some high praise to the Gators baseball team on Thursday, ranking them No. 1 in their 2011 preseason top 25 poll. The publication notes that Florida returns eight everyday starters (including four first-team freshman All-Americans), features a power trio in the heart of the order, has two speedsters who can swipe bases, plays great defense, is “absurdly deep on the mound,” has the deepest bullpen in college , offers an excellent coaching staff and “has no discernible weakness.”

Noting that a disappointing postseason performance is the crux of the Gators’ motivation for 2011, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt also published a feature story on the team. “For all they accomplished in 2010, the Gators’ lasting memory of the season would be the hollow feeling of playing two flat, uninspiring games in Omaha and getting ousted by arch-rival Florida State,” he writes. “After going from a regional in 2008 to a super regional in 2009 to the College World Series in 2010, the next step is for Florida to take home its first national championship.” You can read the rest by clicking here.

Photo Credits: University of Florida

Ohio State hires Stan Drayton away from Florida

Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, has officially been hired by the Ohio State Buckeyes as the team’s new wide receivers coach, the school announced on Thursday. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp, Drayton will leave Florida before National Signing Day and begin work with Ohio State on Monday.

“Stan Drayton first and foremost is a fine person and family man. He is a Buckeye born and bred, and will add a tremendous dimension to our football family,” Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said in an official statement. “We are fortunate to gain one of the finest coaches in America to serve our kids, school and community.”

Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and has spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He was on Florida’s staff when the team captured the 2007 BCS National Championship by defeating Ohio State 41-14.

In addition to his duties as WR coach for the Buckeyes, Drayton is also expected to coordinate Ohio State’s recruiting for the state of Florida.

Muschamp addressed the topic late Thursday. “Our focus will always be on the staff that are here, current players and the prospective student-athletes,” he said.

With the 2011 recruiting cycle coming to a close on Feb. 2, Muschamp will likely wait until it has concluded to hire Drayton’s replacement. New wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, who coordinated recruiting for the Miami Hurricanes in 2010, may be at the front of the pack to take on those responsibilities for 2012 and beyond.

Position20102011
Offensive coordinatorSteve AddazioCharlie Weis
Quarterbacks coachScot LoefflerCharlie Weis
Defensive coordinatorTeryl AustinDan Quinn
Defensive line coachDan McCarney*Dan Quinn
Assistant: Bryant Young
Running backs coach
Recruiting coordinator
Stan DraytonBrian White
Offensive line coach
Running game coordinator
Steve AddazioFrank Verducci
Wide receivers coach
Recruiting coordinator
Zach AzzanniAubrey Hill
Tight ends coachBrian WhiteDerek Lewis
Linebackers coach
Special teams coordinator
D.J. DurkinD.J. Durkin
Defensive backs coachAustin/Chuck Heater*Travaris Robinson
Strength & conditioningMickey MarottiMickey Marotti

*McCarney was also assistant head coach; Heater held the role of co-defensive coordinator. Muschamp has not named an assistant (or associate) head coach as of press time.

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