Peterson, Emrick highlight 2011 Hall of Fame class

Seven letterwinners, including Gator Greats Mike Peterson (football) and Bob Emrick (men’s basketball), will be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame 2011 class on Friday. The F Club and Gator Boosters, Inc. will hand out these prestigious honors to the group of Florida Gators at the Hall of Fame Banquet on April 8, 2011, in the Holloway Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

According to UF, “inductees are divided into three different categories: Gator Greats, Distinguished Letterwinners and Honorary Letterwinners.” The remainder of the induction class includes Gator Greats Dawn Buth (women’s tennis), Judd Davis (football), Michelle Freeman (women’s track & field), Mimosa McNerney (women’s swimming), Distinguished Letterwinner Keith Tribble (football), and Honorary Letterwinner Dr. Richard Shaara (team physician).

More about each inductee and their career accomplishments after the break.
Continue Reading » Peterson, Emrick highlight 2011 Hall of Fame class

TWO BITS: Johnson coaching, Lewis’s journey

1 » Former Florida Gators defensive back Todd Johnson was hired Wednesday as the new head football coach of Riverview High School in Sarasota, FL. In the works for a year, Johnson’s hiring came after 30-year coaching veteran John Sprague announced his retirement in March. Johnson, who played seven years in the NFL for Chicago and St. Louis, was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference player who helped Florida win the 2000 SEC Championship. He attended and played for Riverview as a youngster and hopes to continue taking the football program to new heights.

2 » It took Gators tight ends coach Derek Lewis a long time to get from his hometown of New Orleans, LA to Gainesville, FL. He played college football for Texas, spent two seasons in the NFL, went back home to drive a city bus, returned to his alma mater as an intern, took a coaching job with Minnesota and eventually caught head coach Will Muschamp’s eye. University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter caught up with Lewis for a feature on the coach’s journey.

Q: What makes an ideal tight end in your view?
A: A guy who is willing to give up tags. I get overly concerned with guys who only want to be a pass-catching tight end or only want to be a run-blocking tight end. We gave you a title from the beginning: tight end. It’s encompassing. You’ve got to combine the beauty and grace of a wideout with the meanness and nastiness and toughness of an offensive lineman. You try to become Beauty and the Beast. So the first thing I would say is the mentality. You have to be willing to put everything out there. You’ve got to be willing to do all those things at a high level and not box yourself in.

FOUR BITS: Miller, Young, Bre. Beal, J. Powell

1 » When Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James came together over the summer and decided to play for the Miami Heat, each made concessions in their maximum contracts in order to sign two others players – former Florida Gators power forward Udonis Haslem and guard/forward Mike Miller. Haslem, who injured his foot early in the season, has yet to play since and is a much-needed piece for Miami in the middle. Miller, who recovered from an offseason injury and has been seeing plenty of minutes with the Heat, is simply not playing up to snuff. His 5.6 points per game, 39.9 field goal percentage and 69.7 free throw percentage are career lows, and he is also hitting only 36.4 percent of his three-point attempts (second-worst of his career). What Miller has done is stepped up his rebounding and defense, but Miami will need his shooting stroke to improve if they hope to make a title run.

2 » There is no doubting Florida defensive line coach Bryant Young’s 14-year NFL career. He’s played in the Super Bowl, been named to multiple Pro Bowls and has garnered numerous other honors throughout his career. But as a football coach? Young is just getting started and told University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter that he specifically wanted to coach in college rather than the pros. “Being on this level, you really have a chance to help shape and mold a young man,’’ Young said. “That was really intriguing to me. The game is a little different but still competitive. We are all trying to win, but the message could be a little different in terms of steering a young man in the right direction and helping them realize they have a bright future ahead of them. They are able to go to school and their athletic ability has afforded them a free education. I think the message that needs to be clear is that it’s important that they understand that they need to secure their future by getting their degree.’’

You can check out the rest of the feature story by clicking here, though some choice quotes from Young have been republished below:

Q: What have you learned in your first two years as a college coach that’s different from the NFL?
A: Definitely patience [laughter]. I think on any level you need patience, more so in high school than in college, but on the college level you still have to have patience. In the league, you expect the guys to know it a little bit more. But in college you are really teaching them some things they may not already know or reinforcing some things they might know a little.

Q: What’s your initial impression of the Gators’ defensive linemen?
A: Young and not a veteran group. The guys are eager to learn and they are doing everything that you ask them. They are coachable and they want it. I’m excited for them. It’s a fresh start for them and just learning each guy in the group and understanding who I am and building that trust. It’s a fun group.

3 » Transferring from the Gators after last season, linebacker Brendan Beal immediately found a home with the Minnesota Gophers and is getting ready to finally step on the field this fall. In an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Beal said his experience at Florida will help him at Minnesota. “I was around the best,” he said. “I’ve been around guys like [Tim Tebow] and Brandon Spikes. I was there for the national championship. I know what it takes. I know we have the ingredients to be successful. I just want to fill that middle linebacker role and be the quarterback of the defense.” He also spoke about trying to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Gainesville, FL. “I had never experienced a traumatic injury like that; I never got hurt in high school,” Beal said. “I was doubting myself. I didn’t know what I was going to do. So, yeah, a sports psychologist helped me out a lot. I took a whole new different approach to life.”

4 » According to Rivals Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee, the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban are heavily pursuing Gators four-star 2012 linebacker commitment Jeremi Powell (Largo, FL). Powell is also receiving a lot of interest from the Tennessee Volunteers and will probably take trips to both schools even though he remains solid to Florida at this time.

Late Wednesday, Powell spoke with Mark Wheeler of InsideTheGators.com and had this to say about his commitment: “I’m about 99% committed to Florida. I’m going to go to Alabama to see a game, because they want me to, but like I told them, I’m Florida, I’m all Florida. I’ve never been out of the state of Florida in my life. Ever. I’m going to go on my visits if they are going to pay for them. Why wouldn’t I go on a free trip? It’s an opportunity to travel and see other places.”

4/5: Dunkley suspended, consistency an issue

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media after the day’s activities were completed on Tuesday. Maintaining a serious and balanced demeanor, Muschamp discussed a number of topics including the team’s level of consistency in practice, who is shining in the secondary and what the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut will look like on Saturday.

DUNKLEY SUSPENDED FOR ACADEMICS

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Dunkley, who hobbled through most of 2010 with a hamstring injury and has been relatively silent so far this spring, has been suspended from the team for academic issues. Muschamp remained vague about the situation, saying that “academically he needs to handle some things,” but noted that he has not sat out the entire time and can earn his way back on the field if he gets his grades up.

TIME TO BE CONSISTENT

Muschamp wants to trust the guys he puts on the gridiron and has maintained that the best way for players to prove themselves is by showing consistency both on and off the field. “I really challenged the players after practice to [find] consistency in their performance. We’ve done some really nice things at all positions at times, but the consistency of it is not what it needs to be,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of improvements, but we have tremendous strides to make. […] The inconsistency is the frustrating thing, but there’s been bright spots at a lot of positions in what we’re trying to do.”

Asked to compare the base level of talent that Florida has with what he left at Texas, Muschamp noted that ability is not the issue. “We have talent. I’m excited about the players we have,” he said. “It’s what we have and we’re going to be fine. Depth is an issue, but that’s something that [can be fixed with time].”

He spent a lot of time talking about two position groups in particular, noting that once they become consistent and cohesive as individual units, the team’s overall performance will be more impressive. “The two tightest knit groups on the team need to be the offensive line and the secondary,” Muschamp said. “They’ve got to play together. They’ve got to have great communication. They’ve got to be on the same page in what they do and how they do it. We’ve got to be tied together well in those two areas. There’s been times we have been, and there’s been times we haven’t been.”

PLANS FOR ORANGE & BLUE DEBUT

The Gators will be in the hot Florida sun on Saturday for the team’s spring game, but due to lack of depth along both lines and injuries on both offense and defense, the format will be different than years past. Florida will split up into Blue and Orange teams with Blue groupings representing the first-team players and Orange groupings representing the second-team players. However, the offense will wear the color blue throughout the afternoon, while the defense will stick with white. All that really matters to Muschamp is that the team gets better when Saturday’s scrimmage comes to a close.

“What we want to do is go out and have a very functional scrimmage. We want to execute on both sides of the ball. We need to see guys play in front of people, I think that’s important to see how they respond in front of a good crowd,” he said. “It’s important for us to go out and play fast, play physical and play with toughness.”

He also cautioned that the game is “not gonna be real flashy” and joked that he may have to strap on the pads one more time to help out. “We’ve got who we got; I may line up at left tackle,” Muschamp quipped.

NOTES & QUOTES

» On how sophomore Gerald Christian is faring at tight end and linebacker: “He’s battling [at LB], but he’s playing on both sides. [His] head’s spinning a lot. He’s working awful hard. I’m very proud of his effort and what he’s trying to do. He’s done some nice things for us at tight end, and we continue to rep him in at linebacker. After spring is over, we need to sit down and make some decisions about where we go with this, but he’s done some good things on both sides of the ball.”

» On the standout play of sophomore safety Matt Elam: “We’ve done some really nice things at times. Matt Elam’s really made a lot of plays; I think he’s had a really solid spring. I want his leadership ability to step up; he’s a guy that can provide more of that and bring that more to our football team. He’s really made some nice plays on the ball in coverage and in run support.”

» Muschamp said that junior Josh Evans and sophomores Josh Shaw and Jaylen Watkins are all performing well at safety. Watkins is listed on the spring roster as a cornerback and played that position in 2010. He also noted that sophomore Cody Riggs has played nearly every defensive back position in the spring.

» Evaluating the CBs in particular, Muschamp said redshirt junior Jeremy Brown is consistent day-in and day-out and “has had a very solid spring” overall. However, redshirt senior Moses Jenkins has been just the opposite, “inconsistent in his performance” including at the point of attack and on the line of scrimmage.

» On the emergence of freshman CB De’Ante Saunders, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury: “He’s going to be a good football player for the Gators. This guy’s got a lot of ability. For a guy that hasn’t played a lot of corner in his life, he’s got some natural instincts on the back end. He’s got the critical factors of being a good defensive back: toughness, he can play the ball down the field, he can play with range, he can cover man, he’s got zone instincts. He’s got all the attributes you want at that position.”

» Muschamp repeated much of what has been said about the offensive line recently. Redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison is doing well after being moved to center, redshirt sophomore Jon Halapio is impressing at guard and junior Xavier Nixon has looked good at tackle. He announced that sophomore Ian Silberman has permanently moved from tackle to guard, and that redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green has played on the left and right. “It’s a little bit of a luxury for him to be able to play both sides.”

» On if he’s coached players who don’t perform well in practice but do during games: “I don’t believe in that. You’re going to play like you practice. The guys that practice well play well. I think that carries over. I’m young, but I’m old fashioned in that regard.”

» On sophomore athlete Trey Burton’s importance with so many players being injured: “He’s a football player. He’s got natural instincts. He’s a guy that really gives a defense problems from the standpoint of, ‘What is he?’ Because he can play in the slot, he can play in the backfield, he can be in protection, he can free release. He does an awful lot of things, and Charlie [Weis] does a really nice job of putting him in those situations and really gives the defense some issues.”

» On if the Heisman Trophy winners on-site for the statue ceremony will speak to the team: “Anytime we have an opportunity to have some of the great Gators come through and speak, [we will]. Tim [Tebow] and Danny [Wuerffel] , we want them to be a part of that as well. Fred Taylor should be here on Friday, so we’re excited about Fred speaking to our football time. Anytime that you have guys that have been in this program and been a part of the great tradition and really built this place to what it is, that’s an exciting thing for our players to ask questions, to interact with them and find out what it was like to be a gator when they were here. I think that’s really important to our football team.”

Florida gains ninth 2012 commit in CB Bailey

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and his staff are on a roll, gaining their ninth commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle on Tuesday when three-star cornerback Willie Bailey (Miami, FL) decided to wear the orange and blue next year.

Bailey, who decommitted from Miami (FL) in order to switch to Florida, attends the same high school as Gators redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. At 6’1″ and 165 lbs., he is best suited to play either nickel corner or safety.

“He’s always been a Florida fan,” Bailey’s high school coach Dameon Jones told InsideTheGators.com. “He’s always liked the Gators, but I guess he’s never been there. Once he saw the campus and got to talk to Frankie and see how it fit him – because they are both pretty much the same. They are both quiet kids who run track and are really more laid back and polite type of kids. When he saw how that atmosphere fit him, he started thinking about committing. That’s something he couldn’t pass up.”

Bailey spent the last two weekends in Gainesville, FL and came to his decision at least in part because of the relationship he built with WR coach/recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.

OGGOA will be updating this story shortly.

TWO BITS: gymnastics in NCAAs, Hill returns

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators gymnastics will begin semifinal action in the 2011 NCAA Championships on Friday evening at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. Competing in Semifinal II along with Alabama, Kent State, Nebraska, Oregon and Utah, Florida hopes to finish in the top three in order to advance to the NCAA Super Six – the final stage of competition for a national title.

2 » Back wearing orange and blue for the first time since 1994, new Gators wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill is happy to be back home. Calling his return to Gainesville, FL a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hill told University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter that he is the one who reached out to head coach Will Muschamp about joining his first staff. “When he got the job, I sought him out,’’ Hill said. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity to be able to come back home to your alma mater and to be able to give back to the players, give back to the community, and give back to this wonderful Gator Nation.” Muschamp explained why having Hill on board can help the team be successful. “I think having someone on the coaching staff who attended the University of Florida is really important when dealing with the players,’’ he said. “Aubrey has walked in their footsteps. He has been on their practice field, was in their classrooms and knows the culture of the Gator Nation. He’s accomplished what a lot of these players want to accomplish – he has been part of championship teams.”

You can check out the rest of the feature story by clicking here, though a choice quote has been republished below:

Q: You are the recruiting coordinator. How do you approach recruiting?
A: I really, really enjoy recruiting. Why do I enjoy recruiting? I look back when I was recruited and how important it was in picking a school. As an assistant coach, we have to give them all the information that can help them make a decision. They can pick it for several reasons: football, academics, proximity to home. What we try to do as coaches is try to tie them all in. There is no way I can do my job without the head coach. Sometimes I can’t do my job without the area coach. We all collectively work on getting a kid here. Recruiting is just selling what you believe in, and it’s an easy sell when you are talking about the University of Florida.

4/4: Easley shining as defense beings to solidify

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice in full swing, a number of the team’s defensive players were made available to the media to begin the fourth week of action. The defensive front seven seemed like a more cohesive unit than they were one year ago, as evidenced by some of the news and quotes provided on Monday.

EASLEY BECOMING EXPLOSIVE

Asked to pick a defensive teammate shining this spring, everyone pointed to sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who barely played last year and was in the dog house due to alleged attitude and personal problems. The story is quite the opposite this season, with players raving about how dominant he has been coming off the line.

“This defensive line I can definitely say is a big difference from last year. Easley – that’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen somebody get off the ball,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic said. “As soon as the center says ‘hut,’ Jon Harrison is two yards in the backfield. His get-off is crazy. Sometimes when you pause the film and just look, every other defensive lineman is taking half a step or one step and he’s taken two or three.”

Sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell concurred. “Easley is so explosive off the ball. His get-off is just ridiculous,” he said. “It makes it hard for guys to block him because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”

Not only has Easley’s play improved, his attitude has as well. Part of the reason he is still wearing the orange and blue is because his classmates picked him up when he was down. “I was one of the guys that was sticking with him, talking to him,” Powell said of Easley’s struggles in 2010. “Coming into this thing, we all chose to come here together, so we decided to stay here together.”

Fellow sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd deferred the attitude talk but spoke about Easley’s ability on the field. “Maturity-wise, I guess that’s a good question for him,” he said. “On the field he takes care of his stuff and he’s doing a great job of firing off the ball. He’s gotten more explosive than last year.” He also said that the duo can cause “a lot of problems” if they work at it. “He’s got that get-off-the-ball penetration, and I’ve got the power. [It’s a] great combination, going to cause a lot of havoc,” he said.

OFFENSE TOUGH TO DEFEND

The Gators’ defense may be ahead of the offense at this point, but Bositc said Monday that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving his unit fits during practice. “Just all the different looks they’re giving us. They run a lot of different combination routes with the receivers, the way they’re running routes,” he said. “[It] is actually helping us out as a defense [because] we may need to change this, may need to change that.”

Floyd believes the offensive line as a whole is “starting to come together more” even though they are dealing with a massive amount of injuries. Powell agreed, pointing out two players in particular who impress him on a day-to-day basis. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough. […] Chaz Green is a great player. Definitely going to be an outstanding tackle for the Gators.”

DEFENSE MORE DETAILED BUT ALSO MORE FUN

For a young group of players, having to learn a brand new defense from the ground up can be difficult. Florida’s front seven seem to be adapting to it well overall.

“I wouldn’t say the concepts are too hard, it’s just really a lot of plays – a lot more plays than in the past,” Bostic said before discussing the style of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “I like it. I know a lot of the younger guys like it, too,” he added. “He sits down and makes sure you understand the concepts and what’s going on out there on the field. He talks everything through with you.”

Powell shared Bostic’s opinions about the coaching staff’s teaching methods. “I love the way the coaches are getting after us and making us better,” he said. “If you want to be great, you got to be pushed.” He also commented about his new hybrid position on the defense. “I love it. I think it’s good for me, definitely gives me an opportunity to make some good plays and do big things for the Gators this year.”

With such limited time in the spring, Floyd realizes what matters now is doing the best they can on a practice-by-practice basis. “We’re making great progress and learning more each day, just getting better and doing what we can do,” he said.

QUOTES

Easley on his struggles in 2010*: “I was just a freshman going through a phase. I’m over it now and I’m going on to the season. […] Almost every freshman gets homesick. I went through it. Now, this is my home.”

Easley on what the team is trying to accomplish*: “We’re playing as a team. Everybody wants one goal – to win a national championship. Everyone is striving for one thing. That’s what you want on a team.”

Easley on if he was going to transfer*: “I never thought different. I never thought I was going anywhere else.”

Powell on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel’s personality: “He’s a funny dude – real funny. Definitely serious about his plays and his books and stuff like that, but he’s real funny off the field.”

Powell on the defense coming together: “I knew a lot of these guys had it in them. It was just a matter of when we were going to start showing our talent.”

Powell on the best hit he’s seen this spring:Matt Elam came down and hit Mack Brown – one of the biggest hits I’ve seen.”

Quotes marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun.

Gators C Mike Pouncey will attend NFL Draft

Planning to follow in his brother’s footsteps of being a first-round selection, former Florida Gators center/guard Mike Pouncey has accepted an invitation from the league to attend the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY.

Pouncey has let it known that his goal is to be picked ahead of his brother Maurkice Pouncey, who was selected No. 18 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He is considered the top interior offensive lineman in the draft and has been projected by analysts to potentially go as high as No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins.

Since showcasing his talent for coaches and scouts at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN and Pro Day in Gainesville, FL, Pouncey has been conducting private workouts with teams potentially interested in drafting him and will continue to do so as draft day approaches.

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