FOUR BITS: Brantley, Tebow, Lin, lacrosse

1 » Florida Gators quarterback John Brantley has faced his fair share of obstacles over the course of his college career but trainer Tom Shaw does not believe that will prevent him from succeeding as a professional. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Brantley has been training at the ESPN/Disney Wide World of Sports Complex since the season ended and has spent much of that time working with Shaw, the acclaimed trainer/coach of big-time signal callers like Eli and Peyton Manning, Michael Vick and most notably Tom Brady. “You saw what he did at the University of Florida, so a lot of people aren’t giving him an opportunity,” Shaw told the Sentinel. “But with what I’ve seen in the time that I’ve spent with John is that he could be one of the best quarterbacks that I’ve ever had.” Shaw believes Brantley is a better athlete than Brady and has a strong arm but most work on his footwork. “I don’t sell kids. If they’re good they’re good. If they’re bad, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’m not saying he’s the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or whoever. I’m saying this kid has the ability, the talent to be a pro football player and be successful at it because he has all the tools.”

The paper also notes that Brantley is being represented by Joel Segal of Lagardere Unlimited, the agent who has also signed running back Chris Rainey for 2012 and boasts a stable of other Gators including Percy Harvin (Minnesota), Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh), Mike Pouncey (Miami) and Ahmad Black. In other words, it may be wise to expect Brantley to be selected somewhere in the late rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft if Segal has anything to say about it (which he will).

2 » With his show Eastbound & Down set to return to HBO on Feb. 19, Kenny Powers recently decided to write an open letter to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow called “The Gifted Young Athlete.” The letter, available unedited on Grantland.com, is uncensored and features explicit language. Below is a very short passage appropriate enough for publication here on OGGOA.

Yet here Jesus is, helping me & Tebow out in sports, just because we’re maybe a little bit cooler in his eyes. It’s a raw deal, plain and simple.

3 » New York Knicks point guard sensation Jeremy Lin is turning heads in Madison Square Garden and the explosion of the aptly-amed “Linsanity” hysteria is drawing comparisons by media types to “Tebowmania” from the fall. In addition to both players being what some consider to be unlikely heroes, Lin (like Tebow) is quite religious and has no problem offering up praise to the man above for his recent success on the court. He also recently told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, CA that Tebow inspires him in a number of ways. “His approach to the game is just unbelievable and I respect him so much,” he said. “I want to be able to do some of the things that he doe sin terms of the amount of charity work and the non-profit work, and the way he impacts people off the field. I think that is what is most inspiring about him.”

4 » Set to officially begin their 2012 season on Saturday against No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Florida lacrosse is eyeing the program’s first national title this year. It was announced Thursday that the Gators were picked to finish second in the conference by ALC coaches, an understandable slotting considering the top team in the league is expected to be defending ALC and NCAA champion Northwestern. Florida actually won the 2011 ALC regular season title before falling to Northwestern 10-9 in the postseason tournament. In the program’s third year of existence, the Gators hope to break the final barrier and win both the ALC and national titles outright this season.

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Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Florida lacrosse ends second season with 13-9 home loss to Duke in NCAA Elite Eight

A dream season for the young No. 4 Florida Gators lacrosse team (16-4) came to an end in the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday as the second-year program was defeated 13-9 by the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (15-4) at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The 2011 ALC regular season champions, Florida became the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAAs in only its second year of existence. The Gators defeated some of the top teams in the country this season, had a 14-game winning streak at one point and were undefeated at home until their loss to the Blue Devils on Saturday.

Florida scored right out of the gate, taking a 1-0 lead as sophomore attacker/midfielder Kitty Cullen put one in the net off an assist from sophomore A Ashley Bruns. However, Duke responded with a 6-2 run and led 6-3 at the half, forcing UF to face its second-largest deficit of the season.

The Gators came out of the break on fire. Bruns scored via an assist from Cullen less than a minute into the second half, and the team took off on a 6-2 run of their own to retake the lead 9-8 with 17:26 remaining in the contest. Cullen added her second goal of the game and M Janine Hillier scored back-to-back goals at the end of the run.

Florida looked to be in control of the match at that point, but Duke would have none of it. The Blue Devils tied the game 9-9 at 14:16, took the lead at 13:13 and ran nine minutes off of the clock before scoring again with 4:13 left. The Gators failed to control the ball in the waning minutes, allowing Duke to score twice more, end the match on a 5-0 scoring run and advance to the Final Four.

The loss was Florida’s third in the month of May; the team had not dropped a single game after falling to North Carolina in their season opener back in February. The Gators lost their regular season finale 9-6 to Cornell on May 1 and fell 10-9 to Northwestern in the 2011 ALC Tournament Championship on May 7.

UF will remain intact heading into the 2012 season as the young team is composed of one junior, 16 sophomores, four redshirt freshmen and six true freshmen.

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Florida lacrosse falls in 2011 ALC Championship

In only their second year of existence, No. 4 Florida Gators lacrosse was hoping to do the unthinkable, not only win the American Lacrosse Conference regular season crown but also take home the 2011 ALC Championship by sweeping through the tournament in which they earned the No. 1 overall seed. Instead Florida (15-3, 5-0 ALC) fell 10-9 on Saturday to the No. 2-seed and No. 3-ranked Northwestern Wildcats (17-2, 3-2 ALC), who they defeated 13-11 just three weeks earlier.

Squaring off at the VU Lacrosse Complex in Nashville, TN, the Gators hoped to knock the Wildcats off their pedestal. Since the tournament began, Northwestern has been the only victors, and Florida failed in their opportunity to take the crown.

Up three goals, 8-5, with 13:17 remaining, the Gators allowed the Wildcats to go on a 5-0 scoring run to jump ahead 10-8 with 2:22 left on the clock. Sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns scored unassisted with 1:25 to go, but an illegal stick call seconds later took the next possession out of Florida’s hands and allowed Northwestern to hold on for victory.

Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen, one of the best players in the country and Florida’s leading scorer, was held without a goal and only notched a single point on an assist. Sophomore A Caroline Chesterman led the Gators with three goals, while Bruns and sophomore M Brittany Dashiell each scored a pair of goals.

The Wildcats were led by M Shannon Smith, who scored five goals and delivered two assists for a game-high seven points.

With Northwestern now in their rear view mirror, Florida looks ahead to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. They were awarded the No. 4 overall seed during the NCAA Selection Show Sunday evening and are set to host Stanford in first-round action.

Whether visiting a lacrosse store or even the official Gator SportShop on campus, there is plenty of fantastic Orange & Blue gear that fans can wear to support the team both on campus or on the road. Support the Gators!

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FOUR BITS: Brantley; lacrosse wins big awards

1 » Taking a second look at spring practices across the country, ESPN Insider’s KC Joyner has come to a conclusion that may surprise some Florida Gators fans: redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played well. Here is what he saw by watching the film. To read the rest of The Football Scientist’s observations, click here (subscription req.).

It might seem a bit odd to be touting Brantley after a 4-for-14, 45-yard performance in the Orange and Blue game, but consider this: In a three-game sample review of Brantley’s 2010 season, he threw a stretch vertical pass (defined as thrown 20 or more yards downfield) only 5 percent of the time. This is a very low number and indicates the Gators were not very effective at even threatening the long pass.

In the spring game, four of Brantley’s aerials fell under the “stretch vertical” designation and one would have been completed for 40 yards had it not been for a very good defensive play. Brantley also did not force any of these downfield passes into coverage, so the downside on these throws was limited. It bodes well for what the Florida vertical game will be able to do in 2011 — not just for Brantley and Charlie Weis’ new downfield passing game, but for the playmakers in the Gators’ running game as well.

2 » No. 2/3 Florida lacrosse (14-2, 5-0 ALC) is getting prepared for the 2011 ALC Tournament set to begin on Thursday, but in the meantime the conference announced its awards on Tuesday and honored seven different Gators. Florida sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen was named Player of the Year and head coach Amanda O’Leary earned Coach of the Year honors. Also singled out by the conference were All-ALC First Team members Cullen, sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns and sophomore defender Sam Farrell as well as Second Team members sophomore M Janine Hillier, sophomore D Haydon Judge and sophomore goalkeeper Mikey Meagher.

3 » Moving on with his professional career, Gators forward Chandler Parsons is currently working out in Los Angeles, CA and training for camps that he will compete in prior to the 2011 NBA Draft on June 23. The University of Florida’s website caught up with him to pick his brain on a number of topics including the realization that his college career has come to an end. “I can’t believe how fast everything went, it feels like I was just a freshman and now I’m graduated and trying to make a career out this,” he said. “It was a great experience; my time at UF was the best four years of my life. The relationships with my teammates and coaches, the entire staff, those memories will last a lifetime. […] A lot of people look at the NBA Draft night as an end point. For me it’s just a starting point. I know I have things to work on, but I’ve gotten good feedback from people, I’m going to work as hard as I can and do everything possible over these six weeks or so to put myself in the best position.”

4 » Another Gator has had a run-in with the law, but this one went head-on with an Alachua County deputy police officer.

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SIX BITS: awards, Tennessee, blog, BCS, SEC

1 » Learning they earned a unanimous No. 3 ranking on Tuesday – earning placement in the top-three for the first time program history – Florida Gators lacrosse continues to celebrate their 2011 ALC Championship while riding a 14-game winning streak. The team finished the ALC schedule 5-0 and completed the regular season 11-0 at home. With all six ALC schools ranked in the top-20, Florida is among great company and only behind Maryland (15-0) and Duke (13-2). The team also received great news as sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen was named National Player of the Week by WomensLax.com, National Offensive Player of the Week by WomensLacrosse.com and Offensive Player of the Week by the ALC. Joining her is redshirt freshman M Hayley Katzenberger, who took home ALC Rookie of the Week honors.

2 » The Gators brought home two other Player of the Week awards on Monday, with the Southeastern Conference recognizing senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder for softball and sophomore Allie Will for women’s tennis. Bruder hit a home run in three-straight games, while Will won two matches (including the 75th of her career).

3 » The Tennessee Volunteers are planning to begin their annual spring tour in Orlando, FL, prompting columnist John Adams of GoVolsXtra to point out that Tennessee fans in general have a number of conspiracy theories about some of their own in regards to connections with Florida.

4 » Former Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, the No. 4 overall pick of the 1999 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks is back with the team after spending two years in Washington and continues to play great. In addition to winning tow Olympic gold medals and a pair of WNBA Championships she is 11th all-time in both scoring and rebounding, sixth all-time in steals and eighth all-time in minutes played in the league. Milton-Jones wrote a guest blog for SLAM Magazine, which you can check out here.

5 » Whether or not you like the BCS is no matter as its existence may be a matter of legality going forward. The United States Justice Department is currently looking into whether or not they should investigate the BCS for violating federal antitrust law, and a University of Florida professor is lending his hand (and signature) to the anti-BCS regime, according to The Gainesville Sun.

6 » For the first time since 1999, the 2011 SEC Tournament for men’s tennis will be held at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gaiensville, FL. The event begins Thursday at 9 a.m. and will continue through the championship game on Sunday.

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Gators rack up five titles over the weekend

The weekend of April 15-17, 2011 was a good one for the Florida Gators as University of Florida student-athletes brought home five separate titles for the school.

No. 3/5 Gators men’s golf won the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, leading after every single round of the event. Florida finished with a combined 848 (+8), five strokes ahead of second-place Alabama to win the school’s 200th all-time SEC title.

Competing for the Gators in the event, redshirt senior golfer Andres Echavarria also won the 2011 SEC Men’s Individual Championship with a three-round total of 209 (-1).

With No. 7 Florida gymnastics failing to advance to the 2011 NCAA Super Six, the team had three student-athletes competing individually. One came through as sophomore Marissa King claimed the 2011 NCAA Championship in the vault on Sunday. King scored a 9.8750 in the vault and became UF’s first NCAA event winner since 1998.

Two other Gators teams clinched outright conference titles over the weekend.

No. 5/6 Florida lacrosse (14-1, 5-0 ALC) defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-7, 1-4 ALC) 8-7 Sunday to continue a 14-game winning streak and take sole possession of the regular season 2011 ALC Championship. No. 1 Gators women’s tennis (22-1, 11-0 SEC) followed suit, shutting out the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-9, 4-7 SEC) 7-0 on Saturday to go undefeated in conference play and capture the 2011 SEC title.

Photo Credit: Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun

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No. 6 Gators lacrosse makes history with 13-11 win over No. 2 Wildcats to win first ALC title

In only the program’s second season, No. 6 Florida Gators lacrosse (13-1, 4-0 ALC) made history by defeating the No. 2 Northwestern Wildcats (12-1, 2-1 ALC) 13-11 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL to capture at least a share of the 2011 ALC Regular Season Championship and the top seed in the 2011 ALC Tournament.

Florida accomplished this feat in front of the second-largest crowd in school history (1,518) just 419 days after beginning their inaugural season while continuing a 13-game winning streak and concluding the regular season an undefeated 11-0 at home.

Gators sophomore attacker and the nation’s leading scorer, Kitty Cullen registered six goals on the evening including a hat trick in each half. She was responsible for three of Florida’s four second-half goals on the way to a signature win for the program.

The Gators started out hot, scoring five-straight goals (including three from Cullen) to take an early 5-1 lead after Wildcats A Erin Fitzgerald notched the contest’s opening score. Florida kept the pressure on Northwestern through the first half, leading 9-4 at the break after sophomore Caroline Chesterman scored with 26 seconds left.

The five-goal deficit was the Wildcats’ largest of the season; Northwestern had only been down at the half on one other occasion all year.

The Wildcats were intense coming out of the locker rooms, with Fitzgerald once again scoring the half’s first goal. She was followed by a pair of scores, giving Northwestern three goals in under two minutes and leaving UF with a quickly reduced 9-7 lead.

Still up two goals, the Gators used a pair of free position shots from Cullen to jump ahead 12-8 with 14:44 left in the game. The Wildcats responded with three more goals to cut their deficit to 12-11 with 6:37 remaining on the clock.

Cullen would have none of it, hitting an unassisted goal with 5:35 to go to give Florida the 13-11 lead that would end the game. Supporting her team-high six goals were scores from Chesterman (three), sophomore Brittany Dashiell (three), sophomore A Ashley Bruns (two) and sophomore A Janine Hillier (two).

“I was just screaming, ‘Oh my God, we just won.’ It was so exciting,’’ Cullen said. “I’m so happy for me and my team. I wouldn’t want to share this with anyone else. This is what we’ve worked so hard for day in and day out.’’

The reigning ALC Defensive Player of the Week, goalkeeper Mikey Meagher was clutch the entire game, saving 10 shots including two in the final minutes with the Gators shorthanded due to a pair of yellow cards given out by the referees. She did not allow the opponent to score a single goal off a turnover and ensured her team was a perfect 22-for-22 on clearances away from the net.

The loss was Northwestern’s first in 2011 and first in the regular season since 2004. Florida never trailed after scoring their first goal and won the turnover battle 10-13.

Leading a team of 20 sophomores, six freshman and only one junior, UF head coach Amanda O’Leary was understandably emotional after the program-defining victory.

“We’re just so excited,” she said with a smile. “I have chills, goosebumps…I just couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished tonight. We stayed focused when they went on runs. We didn’t let down. The team we are today is certainly not the team who played Northwestern last year.”

The Gators were shelled 19-5 in Evanston, IL one year ago, a win the Wildcats used to help propel them deep into the ALC Tournament. This year is Florida’s turn to capitalize. UF will face Vanderbilt (Apr. 17) and Cornell (May 1) before heading to Nashville, TN to begin the three-day event on May 5.

Photo Credit: Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun

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