Former Gators FB Larry Dupree, 71, passes away

Former Florida Gators fullback Larry Dupree, one of the best players in program history and a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, passed away from a heart attack on Sunday at the age of 71.

The sixth player in Florida football history to be named an All-American, Dupree earned the honor as the lone team captain in 1964, the same year he became the third rusher in Southeastern Conference history to receive three career first-team All-SEC nods.

He was also revered by his teammates that same season as the recipient of the Fergie Ferguson Award, given by the Gators annually to honor a senior “who displays outstanding leadership, character and courage.”

According to The Gainesville Sun, Dupree never missed a game in his collegiate career.

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Sophomore CB Hargreaves focused on leadership

Hauling in a pair of interceptions in the first two games of his career, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III raised his already-high expectations basically the very moment he stepped on the field as a freshman for the Florida Gators.

A five-star recruit, he may have started that first game had Florida not had three NFL-caliber corners returning, but he basically outplayed each of them as the season went on and wound up as a first-stringer for the final 10 games of the campaign.

His 11 pass breakups tied Janoris Jenkins for most by a freshman in school history, and his lockdown defense made him a national name in no time at all.

As a result, Hargreaves was named a third-team Associated Press All-American, first-team Freshman All-American by a number of organizations and got chosen unanimously to the first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman teams.

To him though, it was all a blur.

“My first year was kind of fast. It went fast. I had to learn quick cause they told me I was going to play early. But I enjoyed it, it was fun. Had a lot of great guys behind me showing me the ropes. I enjoyed it,” he said.

“All that [award] stuff, it was good. I guess I was proud of myself for it, but I’d much rather win games than have all of that stuff for myself.”

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2014 Florida Gators gymnastics primer: Repeat?

By Scott Barr – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Coming off last season’s historic performance, which included the first NCAA Championship in program history and its second overall national championship (1982 – NAIA), No. 4 Florida Gators gymnastics team opens the 2014 season seeking to defend the title they and head coach Rhonda Faehn worked so hard to achieve.

Florida, which became just the fifth team in NCAA history to win the national title in 31 years, opened its 2014 schedule last Saturday with a tight 196.650-196.625 victory on the road against then-No. 4 UCLA, a perennial power in the sport. UF will travel to Auburn this Friday for its first Southeastern Conference meet of the season.

The Gators schedule is always supremely challenging and 2014 is no different with home meets against three teams that competed at in the 2013 NCAA Championship: Oklahoma (second), Georgia (sixth) and Arkansas (10th). Road meets include the win over UCLA and a meet against rival and 2012 national title-winner Alabama (third in 2013).

This challenging schedule provides Florida with an excellent opportunity to measure itself against top-notch competition as it prepares to defend its crown.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Wuerffel, Winslow, Culpepper

1 » Offers are coming in fast and furious for quarterback Tim Tebow – just not from NFL teams. Last week an AFL team, the L.A. KISS, offered Tebow a three-year contract that could be “worth millions” Yes, the KISS are owned by the band of the same name. No, Tebow will not be playing there. Also an unlikely destination for Tebow is Russia, though he did receive an offer of $1 million to play two games with the Moscow Black Storm. “We have offered him $1 million for two games,” team owner Mikhail Zaitsman told Russia Beyond the Headlines. “I talked with him personally and he wanted to go.” Well, yes and no. “[Tebow’s agents are] thinking of using him as a motivational speaker. They don’t want him to play football,” Zaitsman admitted.

What Tebow has actually been doing as of late is working out in Southern California. He first spotted outside a USC gym on Sept. 10 and was then captured on film throwing on a baseball field just days later. Videos at the bottom of this post. A friend of OnlyGators.com spotted Tebow at a Los Angeles, CA, restaurant Wednesday evening. Tebow has not spoken with the media since being released.

2 » The Florida Gators officially announced Thursday that former quarterback Danny Wuerffel will serve as the honorary Mr. Two Bits ahead of Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers. Wuerffel, who OnlyGators.com first reported will be honored at the game for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, is the second former player to serve in this role after running back Errict Rhett did fantastic job prior to the season opener against Toledo. Check out OnlyGators.com’s interview with Wuerffel from Aug. 29 and conversation with Rhett following his performance.

UF writer Scott Carter spoke with the real and original Mr. Two Bits, George Edmonson, who said he approves of the new tradition. “That’s great,” he said. “I was pleased to hear about it. They wanted to check with me before they did it and I told them I think that’s a great idea. I feel honored that some of these celebrities would portray me out there on the field before the game.”

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Gators RB Errict Rhett: “Hard work pays off.”

The only player in school history to lead the Florida Gators in rushing and all-purpose yards for four-straight seasons, running back Errict Rhett is one of the most accomplished players ever to wear the orange and blue.

Not only did he help lead Florida to two Southeastern Conference Championships in three seasons (1991, 1993), he was also a First Team All-SEC selection those years and a First Team All-American in the final season of his collegiate career.

A member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame, Rhett concluded his Gators career with a school-record 4,163 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 1,230 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions.

His 873 career rushing attempts are also a school record, as are the 41 carries he registered in a single game against Georgia in 1993. He is third in the Florida history books in touchdowns scored (36) – behind a pair of fellow Gator Greats in Tim Tebow (57) and Emmitt Smith (37) – and is second all-time to Smith in both average rushing yards per game (90.5) and career 100-yard games (20).

Rhett is also fourth on Florida’s career receptions list with 153 – the only running back in the top 10 – and holds another Gators mark for most receiving yards by a running back. The 5,393 total yards he gained over the course of his career is tops among Florida student-athletes and nearly 600 more than the next player (Brandon James).

He then went on to the NFL as a second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he compiled 2,218 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns during his first two seasons. Rhett stuck around the NFL for seven years, rushing for a total of 4,143 yards and 29 touchdowns while also spending time with Baltimore and Cleveland.

To put it succinctly, Rhett is the personification of success.

Though he has never stopped influencing the Gators football program, he returned to Gainesville, FL, last week to participate in a new tradition, becoming the first “Florida celebrity” to embody the role of Mr. Two Bits ahead of a home game.

OnlyGators.com caught up with Rhett for 45 minutes on Wednesday to discuss his motivation to succeed, storied Gators career and his epic performance last Saturday.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s start off by talking about what happened most recently – you performing as Mr. Two Bits ahead of the Toledo game. What was that like for you?
ERRICT RHETT: “It felt real good to actually follow in a guy’s footsteps – Mr. Two Bits – he’s been a legendary part of the program. His motivational chant got guys so fired up and fired up the fans. I studied that guy. All I could tell is he did it different every time. But the one thing I did notice was that he just put so much passion and enthusiasm into it. I knew those are two attributes that I would have no problem bringing to the table, and I think I showed that off.”

AS: When you were a player, do you remember hearing the chant before the game even though you guys weren’t out on the field just yet?
ER: “You do hear it but you really don’t get into the wording because you’re so focused on the game. But you definitely hear loud yelling sounds. At first, I never knew what they were really saying. I just knew it was something that got the crowd so pumped up. It just vibrated the stadium.”

AS: Did you request to dress up like George Edmonson or was that something that went along with the whole ceremony?
ER: “I actually requested that right there because I definitely wanted to honor him with the loud yellow shirt with the exact same tie with the towel hanging out. I really, really studied him because that’s not a pretty easy thing to do. I really, really studied him for hours and hours. I knew I had the enthusiasm, but his hand movement to his feet movement to the way he moves his legs and his energy… I really studied him and I really wanted to do it the way he’s always done it. I wanted to follow tradition; I didn’t want to try it a different way. That’s what the University of Florida really believes in – tradition – and I wanted to keep it going the same way he did it.”

AS: You also got the chance to run out of the tunnel leading the team, probably the first time you’ve done that since the late 1990s. What was it like to do that again?
ER: “Oh, man, it is just a feeling that I wish that everybody in the entire world could actually run through a tunnel like that in front of 90,000 people. The adrenaline is unreal. It took me hours to calm down off that high. That’s just a high. I wish everyone could do that at least once a year. It’s unbelievable adrenaline that you have when you run through that tunnel. You can literally run through a wall. That’s the power that you feel when you run out there into a crowd 90,000 strong with your teammates. It’s a wonderful feeling. Very exciting.”

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Florida removes Hernandez All-American brick

The Florida Gators on Thursday decided to publicly erase former tight end Aaron Hernandez from their past when they removed his All-American brick from the front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and later announced other reminders of Hernandez have already been taken down throughout the team’s facilities.

Hernandez, currently jailed in Massachusetts and awaiting trial on six charges including first-degree murder for the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, was named a First Team All-American by the Associated Press in 2009 after leading the Gators with 68 receptions for 850 yards and five touchdowns that season.

He also won the John Mackey Award, handed out to the nation’s best tight end, for his efforts during that campaign.

Florida’s University Athletic Association released the following statement on Thursday:

We didn’t feel it was appropriate to celebrate Aaron Hernandez. We put together an immediate plan after the initial news broke to remove his likeness and name in various private and public areas in the facility, such as the South Endzone team area, locker room, football offices, Heavener Complex Kornblau Lobby and the brick display entrance to the football facility.

We were able to implement some of the changes immediately and this (brick removal) was a more complex process to complete with our vendors.

The plan was to have everything completed before the end of July.

What do you think? Did the school act too soon or was the brick removal appropriate?

Below are pictures of the Hernandez brick being removed and replaced courtesy of University of Florida professor Ted Spiker (first), Gainesville Television Network‘s Julie Quittner (second, third):

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FOUR BITS: Meyer, Merklein, Harvin, Miami

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for a question-and-answer session with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler (believe it or not) that was published on Friday. In the piece, he mentions the Florida Gators on a few occasions, the highlights of which are below. Check out the other topics by clicking here.

On why ‘no question’ he would still be at Florida if health issues never surfaced
“I realized not too long after [around February 2011]. I called Jeremy [Foley] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ Once I felt like everything was under control, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ I just told Jeremy as a friend in conversation. The talk was more about one day getting back into it. He was very supportive. Then I started at ESPN and had a ball with that, but is that enough? Is that what I was called to do? I planned to take more than a year [off] though.”

On regrets for the way his Florida tenure ended
“I didn’t at first. I thought we did a good job. We did our best. I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I’ve always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way, do it ethically and for the best interest of the student-athlete — check, check, check. I’ll always be associated with the school, and my great friends are there and all that. Absolutely none with that. It just wasn’t a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit.”

2 » Florida brought back a huge name in Gators tennis on Friday when the school announced that Mark Merklein has returned to the program as an assistant coach with the men’s team. Merklein, a two-time national champion (doubles in 1993, singles in 1994) and the 1994 SEC Player of the Year, earned four All-American nominations and three All-SEC nods while at Florida and was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. Considered by many to be the best men’s tennis player in school history, Merklein wound up competing as a professional for 12 years and even serving as a volunteer assistant for the Gators from 1998-2002 while he was on the tour. He was the head coach of the USTA Player Development Center for six seasons (2006-11) before being hired by Michigan as an assistant coach for the past two years (2012-13). “When I left I even said to everyone, including Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, that it was a goal of mine to one day come back and coach and win national championships,” Merklein said in a school release. “I’ve said it so much now, it’s time to actually do it and put the work in. I’m excited to do that alongside [head coach Bryan Shelton].”

3 » Wide receiver Percy Harvin has only been employed by the Seattle Seahawks for a few weeks now, but he is already turning heads at the team’s facility. According to The Seattle Times, Harvin’s teammates and coaches have already begun taking notice, and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson is ecstatic about the potential of Seattle’s offense this season. “His talent level is unbelievable, off the charts,” said Wilson of Harvin. “He brings an explosive mentality to the game, which a lot of our guys already have. But to have him is truly tremendous. He’s a guy that’s been one of the best football players in the National Football League for the past several years.” Harvin also told the paper that he expect to play some running back on occasion and will likely be back for kickoff returns.

4 » ESPN’s decision to kick-off Florida second football game of the season, on the road against the Miami Hurricanes, at noon has caused quite a stir amongst fans over the past 24 hours. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off on Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, FL at Sun Life Stadium in a game which everyone involved assumed would be played at night, likely at 8 p.m. Instead, Florida-Miami will take place under the extreme heat of the South Florida sun with kickoff just after noon, earlier than any UF-UM game has been played since at least 1987. The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro did some digging to learn why ESPN chose that time slot.

According to the network, ABC will be airing a NASCAR race at 8 p.m. while ESPN is broadcasting Notre Dame-Michigan. The 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC will be used for regional games (those in Florida will see Oregon at Virginia). Hurricanes AD Blake James apparently tweeted that Miami “requested and lobbied” for the 8 p.m. slot, while ESPN spokesman Mike Humes pointed out that the network values its noon window. “We average probably around three million viewers for that time slot. So it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put the worst game on at noon.’ The noon window does really well with fans,” he said. “We view this as a great matchup. Scheduling games is like putting together different puzzles with different time zones and commitments, and this was the best window.”

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FOUR BITS: Davis, lacrosse, Miami, Wambach

1 » For the second time in as many offseasons lighthearted comments from a Florida Gators football coach have been turned into some sort of controversy by the national media. Last year it was head coach Will Muschamp poking fun at College Station, TX (as a former coach at Texas, Muschamp is quite familiar with Texas A&M and its town). This time around it is offensive line coach Tim Davis joking about Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his demeanor while participating in a Gator Gathering speaking event. (Saban, Muschamp and Davis all worked together at the Miami Dolphins.) “Will coached under the devil himself [Saban] for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is different than Nick,” Davis quipped, according to 24/7 Sports, while comparing the coaches. He later added: “[Muschamp’s] like the other guy, only he’s got a personality. He’ll smile at you. He’ll talk to you.”

2 » Five Gators lacrosse players were named to the 2013 IWLCA All-American teams on Wednesday. Seniors attacker Kitty Cullen, midfielder Brittany Dashiell and goalkeeper Mikey Meagher were all given first team honors. Cullen is Florida’s first three-time All-American while Dashiell and Meagher earned first team honors for the second-straight year. Senior defender Sam Farrell and sophomore M Shannon Gilroy were named to the second team.

Check out two more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
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