Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player named to College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was announced Friday as the first player in Florida Gators history to be named to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson remains first in school history in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224) and is second in four more categories including home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson (the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft) spent three years in the minor leagues and eight in the majors. Some career highlights include earning Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hitting 32 home runs in 2004, smacking the last home run in Expos team history, jacking the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hitting for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hitting three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson will be officially inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, in a ceremony set to take place in Lubbock, TX from June 29-30. He is one of four members of a 2012 class that also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

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2012 Florida Gators lacrosse primer: Title or bust?

Entering the program’s third year, No. 4 Florida Gators lacrosse is looking to continue their record pace and become the fastest team in the sport’s history to win the NCAA Championship. The Gators progressed from new kids on the block in 2010 to one of the elite teams in the country in 2011 and hope to continue that progress.

Florida opens their 2012 campaign on the road Saturday at No. 3 North Carolina for the second-straight year and is looking to avenge a tough 10-9 overtime loss.

Following the defeat in their 2011 opener, the Gators went on 14-match winning streak that spanned two months. Florida lost their final regular season game 9-6 to Cornell; however, UF still finished 11-0 at home and captured the 2011 ALC regular season title. The Gators then fell in the conference’s tournament to Northwestern and were ousted in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament by a talented Duke team.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators lacrosse primer: Title or bust?

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SIX BITS: Guy, Koch, Bennett, Bullard, Meyer

1 » While the Florida Gators wait to figure out which scholarship quarterback to bring in as part of their 2012 recruiting class, the team has offered a preferred walk-on role to three-star Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL). According to the Tampa Bay Times, Guy has scholarship offers from Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan and is also being considered by Memphis and Miami (OH). He is unlikely to make a decision before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, probably in order to see how the situations shake out at all of his potential destinations.

2 » Former Florida golfer Gary Koch will be inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 class on March 19-20 in Tampa, FL. He is one of 14 athletes to be included in the ceremony and will be inducted alongside names like Charlie Ward, Alonzo Mourning and George Smith. A four-time All-SEC first team member, three-time All-American, two-time SEC Champion (1973-74) and NCAA Champion with the Gators, Koch won six PGA Tour events but never finished better than tied for fourth at a Major Championship (The Open Championship, 1988). He also spent time on the other tours and has worked for both ESPN and NBC Sports as a sportscaster.

3 » Five-star power forward Anthony Bennett, Florida basketball’s lone remaining target for its 2012 recruiting class, is not any closer to making a decision where he will play next year. In an interview with SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria, Bennett said that his mom is favoring UF and Kentucky but that UK has told him they expect to lose up to seven scholarships next year so he could come in and start right away. With the Gators, Bennett notes that head coach Billy Donovan is telling him that he will be able to develop his inside-out game better than any other school. His top five also includes Oregon, Washington and UNLV.

4 » In a feature by The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu, Florida 2012 commitments five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) and three-star defensive back Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) discuss their long-time friendship and a trick Bullard played on his buddy before committing to the Gators. “We’re going to be roommates at Florida. We talk about it a lot, how much fun it’s going to be,” Ledbetter said. “It’s just going to be real nice to have an extra few years with my best friend, playing on the same team. It’s crazy.” Bullard added, “I’m glad it worked out the way it did. Maybe it’s a sign that we need to be together and achieve our goals together to win championships. It’s exciting. We’ve got a strong bond. We’ve been best friends since the sixth grade. I see him as a brother now.”

5 » Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer committed last October to be the keynote speaker at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner on Feb. 7. However, just a month before the event was sent to take place, Meyer has now notified the organization that he “could no longer honor his commitment,” according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal. The chamber has been selling advance tickets ($100 apiece) to the event for a while but luckily as of Jan. 24 has not had anyone request a refund. Meyer has since been replaced as the keynote speaker by a pair of political analysts, CNN’s Paul Begala and FOX News’ Tucker Carlson.

6 » Florida announced Wednesday that Paul Spangler, “a 10-year assistant track and head cross country coach at The Virginia Military Institute,” will be the new assistant coach for distance and cross country with the Gators. His responsibilities include being the head cross country coach during the fall and an assistant for the distance track and field athletes during the indoor and outdoor seasons. “I’m really looking forward to this outstanding opportunity to get back to the SEC and contribute as a coach at the University of Florida,” Spangler, a former Alabama cross country runner, said. “I’m excited to be in a position where I can work with the Gator student-athletes one-on-one to help them reach their full potential and work towards a common goal of bringing another national championship back to Gainesville.”

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FOUR BITS: Donovan, Chandler, Tebow, Trail

1 » For the second-straight year, Florida Gators head basketball coachBilly Donovan is participating in the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, a charitable contest where coaches are vying to win money for an organization they choose to represent. Donovan, who is in the contest for the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, could win $100,000 for the organization just as he did one year ago when Florida fans cast the most online votes for him and the foundation. The eight-week-long contest began Jan. 18 with a winner being announced March 9. There were only 14 participants in 2011 but that number has increased to 48 this year. For more information and to vote for Donovan and the foundation (which supports Shands Hospital at UF), go here and click on South Region. Former Gators assistant coach Anthony Grant (Alabama, The Sweet Home Fund) and head coach Lon Kruger (Oklahoma, Coaches vs. Cancer) are also participating though Grant is also in the South Region with Donovan.

2 » Former Florida wide receiver and 11-year NFL veteran Wes Chandler has agreed to be the WR coach at California, the school divulged Wednesday evening. Though it will be just his second stint on the college level (Central Florida, 1994-95), Chandler has coached receivers in NFL Europe (1995-1999), the NFL (2000-2008) and the UFL (2009). He was a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC player with the Gators who made it to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams in his NFL career. Chandler was also inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in 1989 after catching 92 passes for 1,963 yards and 22 touchdowns in his four years at Florida. He was the team’s leading receiver for three-straight years from 1975-77.

3 » On ESPN’s Jim Rome Is Burning Wednesday, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was asked about quarterback Tim Tebow, the impact he had on the team this year and how good he can be in the future. “I think Tim has a lot to prove still,” Bailey said on the show. “He’s proven he can win some tough games. Now it’s just being consistent. One thing about him, he’s going to work at it, and I’m behind him 100 percent.” Bailey also said “the sky is the limit” for Tebow and believes that he will have plenty of time to improve his arm starting this offseason, Tebow’s first as the primary signal caller with the club.

4 » Another former Gators player has found a new home with defensive end Lynden Trail enrolling at Norfolk State this week. Trail, who transferred following the 2011 regular season, transferred for playing time reasons after failing to dress most games and not stepping on the field once this past year.

Extra BIT » You want Tebow pizza? You got it.

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FOUR BITS: Sturgis, Tebow, transfers, Humphrey

1 » Though he has been garnered similar honors by other outlets, Florida Gators redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis was awarded a spot on the 2011 Associated Press All-American Team on Wednesday. Sturgis was placed on the second team while Texas A&M K Randy Bullock earned the first-team nomination. He was similarly given a second-team nod on the 2011 Walter Camp All-American list and recently was a finalist (but did not win) the 2011 Lou Groza Award, as announced last Thursday. Named unanimously to the All-SEC first-team by coaches and AP voters, Sturgis accounted for 91 points this season, going 21-for-25 on field goals and 28-for-28 on extra points.

2 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow appears to be going head-to-head with a former teammate every week. After taking on Minnesota (with wide receiver Percy Harvin) two weeks ago and Chicago (with safety Major Wright) last week, Tebow will play the New England Patriots on Sunday, where he will square off with linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. The latter told the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport on Thursday that he still supports and believe in his former teammate. “He keeps plays alive, and he’s winning,” Hernandez said. “[He was] a leader. I’m sure he still is. He brought a lot of energy to the game. When someone has energy, you take from it.” Tebow shared his admiration for Hernandez as well. “He makes any quarterback he’s with look at lot better,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of those guys when you need competitive excellence and you need someone to step up and make a big play, he’s always ready and willing. I’m just proud of him for what he’s done as an NFL player and what he did with me at Florida.”

3 » Two former Gators are on their way to Louisville, KY and could be one step closer to playing with former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, now head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. According to a number of reports, transfers tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark will be visiting the school beginning Friday as they search for a spot to spend their final two years of eligibility. Each will have to redshirt the 2012 season and will be eligible to resume playing college football in 2013.

4 » Back in the United States, former Gators guard Lee Humphrey is now playing for the Rio Grande Vipers of the NBA Development League. The official minor league team of the NBA’s Houston Rockets (which drafted forward Chandler Parsons this year), the Vipers are nine games into the season and have Humphrey playing 29.1 minutes per game, second-most on the team. Though he’s had some big moments already this year, Humphrey is averaging just 11.8 points and 3.1 assists per game. He is shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from downtown.

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FOUR BITS: All-Americans, Tebowmania, Hillier

1 » Five Florida Gators baseball players were named to the 2012 NCBWA Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-American Team on Wednesday. Juniors catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson earned first team recognition, while senior infielder/outfielder Preston Tucker and junior P Austin Maddox were named to the second team. Sophomore P Karsten Whitson, coming off of a stellar freshman season (8-1, 2.40 ERA), was given a third-team nod.

2 » A pair of Florida senior volleyball players – right-side/setter Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel were named Wednesday to the 2011 AVCA All-American Team. Murphy, who according to UF “started every match and set of her career,” earned first-team recognition; her cohort Jaeckel was named to the second team. Murphy and Jaeckel led the Gators to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament this year.

3 » If you were thinking Tebowmania was going to slow down any time soon, then you were obviously kidding yourself. According to the Denver Post, Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, CO will be releasing a brand new beer inspired by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow called the Tebrew Sunday Sipper. The company explains that the beer will be made available to the masses once the signature 10 oz. glasses it ordered arrive. It is expected to sold locally only, so chances are that you’ll have to contact Bonfire directly if interested in sampling some of their brew.

In other Tebow-related news, Fathead on Tuesday released a “Tebowing” edition of their signature product, which quickly became the site’s No. 1 seller. The No. 2 Fathead sold Tuesday? The normal version of Tebow.

4 » Florida midfielder Janine Hillier, the lacrosse team’s fourth leading scorer one year ago, has decided to transfer to Stony Brook for her junior season. Hiller, a part of the Gators’ inaugural recruiting class, scored 34 goals along with six assists in 2011. She chose to transfer due to “personal reasons,” as cited by Inside Lacrosse, which notes that Stony Brook is “closer to Hillier’s hometown and her sister, Kim Hillier” is an assistant coach on the team.

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Nat Moore: “I’m a Gator…that’s my No. 1 love.”

The Miami Dolphins will be hosting a special Gator Day celebration on Sunday to honor the 2008 national champion Florida Gators football team that won the 2009 BCS Championship 24-14 over the Oklahoma Sooners on Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami Gardens, FL. To commemorate the occasion, OGGOA sat down with Dolphins vice president Nat Moore, who had much to do with setting up this unique celebration.

Moore played for the Gators and head coach Doug Dickey from 1972-73 after transferring from a junior college. He played running back for two years and earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference as well as honorable mention All-American awards in 1972 after running 145 times for 845 yards with nine touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 351 yards and four more scores. A Gator Great who was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, Moore earned his degree from Florida two years after entering the NFL.

After the 1973 season, Moore was selected by Miami with the No. 78 overall pick in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft. He joined a Dolphins team coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl wins including the perfect season of 1972. Miami moved Moore to wide receiver, and he rewarded them with a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro season in 1977, when he hauled in a league-high 12 touchdowns. Moore retired from football after spending his entire 13-year career with Miami. He broke nearly ever Dolphins receiving record at the time of his retirement, concluding his career with 510 catches for 7,547 yards and 74 touchdowns and earning him a spot in the team’s Honor Roll.

Since retiring from football, Moore has been involved in a variety of activities. He serves as a vice president with Miami, runs the Nat Moore Foundation and at one point was a broadcaster with Sun Sports for Gators football. He now does preseason broadcast work with the Dolphins in addition to his other duties.

OGOGA had the opportunity to speak to Moore for a half hour about his time at Florida, experience in the NFL, idea for a celebration of the Gators and opinions about some players he has come across throughout his career as a broadcaster.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: What was it that led you to the University of Florida considering you were born in Tallahassee and went to high school in Miami?
NAT MOORE: “As a kid growing up in Miami, I felt like I really wanted to get away to focus on my studies and have less distractions. You go to Gainesville and basically you’re there for two things. One – to get a good and solid education, and two – a chance to develop your craft in whatever athletic endeavor it is. For me, it gave me a chance where all my friends would be new friends unless they were up there from Miami or Tallahassee. It was close enough that I wasn’t too far away from home if I got homesick. It was a university that my basketball coach in junior college had played baseball with Doug Dickey, so that was the entry into attending the University of Florida. It was always the right place for me, and they were an up-and-coming program in the SEC.”

Read the rest of our interview with Nat Moore…after the break!
Continue Reading » Nat Moore: “I’m a Gator…that’s my No. 1 love.”

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Youngblood: “That’s when I heard the snap.”

With two weeks ago being the two-year anniversary of ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive and considering he released a brand new book the very same day, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood sat down with us recently for an exclusive and extensive hour-long interview about his life and career.

Click here to read an OGGOA exclusive excerpt from Because It Was Sunday: The Legend of Jack Youngblood while learning more about the book.

The first University of Florida student-athlete to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Youngblood is also a member of Florida’s Ring of Honor, the College Football Hall of Fame and the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. He has as accomplished of a career as any player who has put on the orange and blue of the Gators after being named first-team All-SEC and All-America in 1970 and also being selected as the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft.

Youngblood went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and be selected as a first-team All-Pro five times while also winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1975-76) and the Los Angeles RamsMost Value Player award three times (1975-76, 1979). He played in five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl and had his No. 85 retired by St. Louis prior to being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 2001.

Since retiring for the game of football, Youngblood has done some acting work, served as an analyst with numerous media outlets, and co-hosted Wal-Mart’s Great Outdoors program, which used to air on ESPN on Saturday mornings. He also wrote a biography, has held a number of football administration jobs and continues to work to this day.

OGGOA’s three-part interview with Youngblood covers his college days and professional career while also highlighting some interesting stories and moments in his life and his take on today’s game. This is part three of that interview..

Part I – Youngblood: A career of life-changing moments
Part II – Youngblood: “He doesn’t know how crazy I am.”

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s talk a little bit about the new book. It obviously covers all of the people who have inspired you in your life. Outside of your family and coaches, who would you say is the one person who really lit a fire under you and helped you realize how good of a football player you were or how dominant you could be?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “From a football perspective, I would have to say the number one influence had to be Merlin [Olsen]. The life-changing moment for a young kid coming out of the University of Florida, a defensive linemen drafted into what was left of the Fearsome Foursome – one of the dominant forces in the 60s in the National Football League. When I got there in 1971, two of them had moved on and I was trying to find a way to figure out how I could fit into the picture. I knew that I definitely wasn’t going to play inside, but how do I fit in next to Merlin Olsen? I thought it was going to be a short trip. Merlin certainly was a tremendous influence on helping me understand how you played at that level.”

AS: Some will say that the best story in the book is about one of the scariest moments of your life, when you had a gun in your eye. The trigger was pulled but luckily for you the chamber was empty. Everyone will be reading about that in detail in the book, but how did you get in that situation in the first place and what happened when you heard the click and nothing happened?
JY: “It was really an innocent situation. We were at a club in Logan, Utah one evening just having a quiet beer. I had a buddy with his girlfriend with him and we had work the next morning so we called it early around 9:30 or 10:00 and went to our cars parked out behind the establishment there. I walked out along with one of my old wrestling buddies from Idaho. These two guys were hassling one of our friends and the girl. I saw it and walked up and said, ‘What’s the problem here?’ These two little loudmouths kind of turned around and tried to get in my face a little bit. I said, ‘No, no, no. Just go on. Leave these kids alone.” I broke it up. Nothing physical, just stepped in between and said we should go our separate ways. This one guy, he takes off and it’s kind of dark in the place without a whole lot of light but enough. I didn’t think anything of it. The other guy was standing there and I said he should go on and get about his business.

“My buddy had gone ahead of me and he was at the car. He hollered at me, ‘Look out, Jack! He’s got a gun!’ [The gunman] had slipped between two cars and I didn’t see him. He came up behind me, and by the time I was hollered at, he was sticking the gun in the back of my head and when I spun around, it was in my eye. That’s when I heard the snap. At that moment the pain was excruciating. My first thought was that he just put my eye out. The next thing I remember – because you go into a state of shock to a certain degree – was [my friend] Darrell going ‘Don’t kill him Jack! Don’t kill him!’

“I got him by the throat on the hood of a car, and I’ve got the gun. I took the gun away from him and pinned him and do not remember any of that. And then I looked down as I’m over him, I notice that there’s blood gushing on him. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s nasty. That’s my blood.’ I was bleeding all over everything. Fortunately, there again, divine intervention. You don’t catch an empty chamber by chance.”

Read the rest of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!
Continue Reading » Youngblood: “That’s when I heard the snap.”

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