FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Williams, Blakely, baseball

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits: University of Florida

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FOUR BITS: Drayton, Hilliard, Dwyer, O’Day

1 » Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, will leave the team to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes as early as next week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has confirmed. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp when he took over the program in early January, Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He will likely coordinate the Buckeyes’ recruiting for the state of Florida, a job held by the team’s preceding wide receivers coach. Drayton was on Florida’s staff when they defeated Ohio State and captured the National Championship in 2006.

UPDATE: UF has released the following statement on Drayton’s status: “Coach Muschamp is on the road recruiting and our coaching staff remains intact at this time.”

2 » Former Gators wide receiver Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran who officially retired last July by signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants, will join the Miami Dolphins as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career. He has coached receivers for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL since 2009. Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first title. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns. His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

3 » Though it is looking more and more like four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) will eventually head elsewhere, he is still considering traveling to Florida for his last official visit (his other choice would be Miami). Either way, Dwyer High School head football coach Jack Daniels isn’t sure Brissett, or four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) – who the Gators are also recruiting heavily – will announce their commitments on or before National Signing Day. “I think at best it’s 50-50,” Daniels told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg. “We are going to sit down [Wednesday], have lunch and talk about it. I don’t think they will be ready. We need to talk about it and try and get a feel for where they are both at.”

Brissett and Maggitt both have Florida and Wisconsin in common as schools they are considering; the former is also weighing offers from Miami and Washington, while the latter has Tennessee vying for his services as well. The goal is for both players to commit on or before Feb. 2, if possible. “I am not going to make them do it if they are not ready but it’s not looking that good,” Daniels said. “When they get back for this weekend’s visits we need to sit down and work it out if we can.”

4 » Former Gators pitcher Darren O’Day has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Texas Rangers. O’Day, a reliever for Texas during their World Series run, posted a 6-2 record with a 2.03 ERA in 2010 and has been with the club since 2009.

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SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

1 » The No. 2 Florida Gators baseball and softball programs found out Thursday that each would have four games featured live on the ESPN family of networks during their respective 2011 regular seasons. Florida baseball – which will be featured on ESPNU’s Thursday Night Baseball Game of the Week with their contest at Arkansas on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. – will also face Georgia (away) on April 16 at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, Alabama (home) on April 23 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, and Arkansas (away) on May 7 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Gators softball will have four home games aired live. Their back-to-back games against Alabama on April 23 (4 p.m.) and April 24 (1 p.m.) will air on ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively, while their consecutive contests against Tennessee on May 7 (12 p.m.) and May 8 (3 p.m.) will be featured on ESPN and ESPNU. All games airing on ESPN or ESPN2 will also be simulcast on ESPN3.com.

2 » Florida softball also found out Thursday that their incoming 2011 recruiting class has been ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN/RISE. The Gators are bringing in six freshmen including pitcher Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, FL), third baseman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, FL), infielder Jessica Damico (Gray Summit, MO), shortstop Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, FL), utility player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, AZ), UTL Briana Little (Middleburg, FL) and SS Katie Medina (Downey, CA). Wrote ESPN: “The Gators had a lot of pressure to bring in a dynamic recruiting class with the group they have leaving this year, and they certainly pulled it off. They bring in a big class of seven athletes that includes two dominating pitchers in Lauren Haeger and Alyssa Bache, power at the plate with big hitters like Bailey Castro and Briana Little, and speed in the infield with tough players like Jessie Damico, Sami Fagan and Katie Medina. The Gators have the best recruiting class of the year, hands down.”

More on Tim Tebow, UF basketball and Jacoby Brissett…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

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Top 10 for 2010: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2010, the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From game-winning baskets to displays of pure emotion, Florida experienced some unique athletic moments in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 On the Field Moments of the Year.

OGGOA RELATED: Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

10 » FLORIDA WINS INAUGURAL LACROSSE GAME (2/20/10)
When Florida decided it wanted to start another women’s athletics program, the University Athletic Association did extensive research and found out that women’s lacrosse would be the perfect fit. In preparation for their first season, the Gators and head coach Amanda O’Leary secured the country’s No. 1 recruiting class (according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine). All the hard work and preparation to get the team ready paid off on Feb. 20 when lacrosse debuted in the brand new Donald R. Dizney Stadium to a boisterous crowd of 2,114 spectators. Florida defeated Jacksonville 16-6 behind four goals and four assists from freshman sensation Ashley Bruns. All-in-all the Gators faced 16 championship-caliber teams and played so well that they reached the 2010 ALC Tournament semifinals. In just their second year of existence, Florida women’s lacrosse is ranked as the No. 17 team in the country going into the 2011 season.

9 » NEAR VICTORIES/HEARTBREAKING LOSSES (5/25/10 * 3/18/10 * 10/9/10)

It is rare for teams to go undefeated and even less likely that an entire athletic program can go through a season without its share of close losses and nail biting finishes. Such was the case for the Gators in 2010. On May 25, No. 3 women’s tennis was barely defeated by the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal for the 2010 NCAA National Championship. Stanford won 4-3 after Florida rallied when they were just two individual games away from being defeated. The Gators forced third sets in two singles matches; sophomore Joanna Mather took down her opponent but senior No. 65 Marrit Boonstra was not as lucky. Losing her first set 6-4, Boonstra fought back to even her match with No. 33 Mallory Burdette by taking the second set 6-7 (4). Down 2-0 in the third, she pushed ahead with a valiant effort to take a 5-4 lead but ended up losing her final three games, the match itself and the championship.

Returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons, No. 10-seed Florida got in a bit easier than some might have expected. Matched up against the No. 7-seed Brigham Young Cougars in the event’s opening game, the Gators fought hard but could not stop Cougars star guard Jimmer Fredette. Allowing BYU to jump ahead 59-46 in the second half, UF came back behind freshman G Kenny Boynton and junior forward Chandler Parsons. Florida missed potential game-winners during regulation (Parsons) and the first overtime (Boynton) and eventually fell to Brigham Young 99-92 in a double-overtime heartbreaker with Fredette adding to his game-high 37 points.

Though losing a national championship and NCAA Tournament game are both difficult, Gators fans will probably look back on No. 12/14 Florida’s shocking loss to the No. 9/12 LSU Tigers on Oct. 10 as the worst near-victory of the season. Wearing orange jerseys for the first time since 1989, the Gators came back from a 12-point deficit when freshman wide receiver Andre Debose returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, sophomore running back Mike Gillislee rumbled in for a touchdown and redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley completed a two-point conversion to sophomore WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. All Florida wanted when its defense came out was a stop, but LSU put together a 62-yard game-winning drive that included numerous third down conversions and a converted fake field goal attempt on fourth down from UF’s 36-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. Back-to-back passes to WR Terrence Toliver (of 28 and 3 yards, respectively) and the Tigers left The Swamp with a 33-29 victory. Players have noted that the loss was a negative turning point in the season, one that may or may not have led to the team dropping their third-straight game one week later at home to Mississippi State.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: On the Field Moments of the Year

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FOUR BITS: Addazio, baseball, lacrosse, Tebow

1 » According to OrangeBloods.com, the Texas Longhorns have decided to hire current Florida Gators offensive coordinator Steve Addazio as the team’s new offensive line coach. Addazio, who has struggled calling plays for Florida for the last two seasons, is a terrific offensive line coach and recruiter and should do quite well at Texas if the report is accurate. He was named ESPNU‘s recruiter of the year after helping corral the Gators’ 2010 recruiting class and served as interim head coach for Urban Meyer after he briefly stepped down and then during his recovery last offseason. It is worth noting that OrangeBloods.com previously reported that current Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had been hired to the same position at UT; however, that has neither been confirmed nor denied since it was initially mentioned two weeks ago.

Addazio was recently named one of three head coach candidates for the open Temple Owls job. He reportedly interviewed for the position on Monday.

2 » Gators baseball has earned a No. 2 ranking in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason poll, which the organization released on Monday. Florida is coming off a season in which they finished 47-17, won the 2010 Southeastern Conference Championship and participated in the 2010 College World Series in Omaha, NE. The Gators are returning eight starters, 11 pitchers and 22 total letterwinners and begin their 2011 season with a three-game series against South Florida from Feb. 18-20.

3 » Participating in its inaugural season last year, Florida lacrosse is already making national waves after being ranked No. 17 in Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason poll. The Gators, who finished the 2010 season 10-8, reached the finals of the 2010 American Lacrosse Conference Tournament and was only the sixth team in Division I history to have 10 or more wins in its first season. Inside Lacross ranked Florida’s 19-person 2010 recruiting class No. 1 in the nation; every player is returning the team this year.

4 » Denver Broncos interim head coach Eric Studesville plans to start former Gators star quarterback Tim Tebow for his team’s final two games this season, according to numerous reports. Similarly, Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has decided to start former Florida signal caller Rex Grossman for his team’s two remaining games after Grossman’s strong performance on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Tricia Coyne/Gainesville Sun

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TWO BITS: All-Americans for volleyball, baseball

1 » Florida Gators junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy was named a first-team All-American by the AVCA on Wednesday. Three of her teammates – middle back Lauren Bledsoe, outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel and OH Callie Rivers – were given honorable mention recognition by the AVCA. Murphy was also the 2010 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. She, Bledsoe and Rivers earned 2010 All-SEC first-team honors, while Jaeckel was selected to the second team.

2 » Three Gators baseball players – sophomore third baseman/designated hitter Austin Maddox, junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis and junior first baseman Preston Tucker were named to the 2011 NCBWA and Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American Teams on Friday. Maddox earned second-team honors from the NCBWA and third-team honors from Louisville Slugger. Panteliodis and Tucker were awarded third-team honors by the NCBWA but were placed on the second and third team, respectively, by Louisville Slugger. Florida’s 2011 baseball season begins with a three-game home stand against South Florida from Feb. 18-20.

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SIX BITS: soccer-NCAA, volleyball-SEC, Whitson

1 » Opening up the 2010 NCAA Tournament at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL, on Friday, No. 5 Florida Gators soccer (19-2-2, 9-1-1 SEC) scorched the Mercer Bears (10-9-1, 7-3 A-Sun) 3-0. Redshirt sophomore midfielder McKenzie Barney (15’, 73’) and junior MF/forward Tahnai Annis (48’) scored Florida’s three goals as the Gators out-shot the Bears 16-7. Unfortunately…

2 » Florida was not so fortunate in second-round action, taking the Duke Blue Devils (11-7-4, 7-3 ACC) into penalty kicks after the teams were held scoreless through regulation and two overtimes. In PKs, the Gators (19-2-3, 9-1-1 Sec) fell to the Blue Devils 4-2. Duke made all of its attempts while Florida only received goals from Barney and redshirt senior goalkeeper Katie Fraine with Annis’ saved and junior F Lindsay Thompson’s attempt going wide. The Gators end the 2010 season having won both the Southeastern Conference Championship and regular season title.

3 » In better news for the University of Florida, the No. 1 Florida volleyball team (24-1, 17-0 SEC) clinched at least a share of the 2010 SEC regular season title on Sunday by defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide (10-17, 2-15 SEC) 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-17) on Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy was impressive once again, leading the Gators with 10 kills and no errors along with 15 assists and seven digs. She notched her 12th-straight double-double and has been having an impressive season. Florida’s seniors also got in on the action with OH Callie Rivers, middle-back Lauren Bledsoe and libero Erin Fleming combining for 18 kills, 15 digs and six blocks on Sunday. UF has three more regular season matches – all on the road – before the 2010 SEC Tournament begins.

Three more BITS including an interesting piece on a Florida baseball commit…
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: soccer-NCAA, volleyball-SEC, Whitson

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Tebow, Nike, Eckstein

1 » Facing his hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey continued his next-level play as a youngster stuck right in the middle of a veteran team. He was excited to play so close to home and showed it with how he played all game. “It felt amazing,” Pouncey told The Lakeland Ledger of playing Tampa Bay. “I’m 20 minutes from Tampa, and pretty much all of Lakeland came up here to support me.” Also having Pouncey’s back is veteran wide receiver Hines Ward, who thinks the former Florida Gators star will truly be something special. “He’s had a lot of help from all of the veterans. Right now, he’s learning on the run,” Ward said. “When Maurkice gets three or four years into the league and finally figures this whole thing out, look for a lot of Pro Bowls. […] When the game slows down and he starts seeing the defense and making the calls, he’s going to have Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl.” As far as how the two get along? “I love everything about the kid – the tenacity, he doesn’t quit. Unfortunately, I hate him because he’s a Gator,” said Ward, a Georgia Bulldog, “but I love everything about him.”

Also… Asked by the paper about his brother, senior center Mike Pouncey‘s, snap problems earlier in the season, Maurkice had the following to say: “When I first moved over, I had the same thing. I had the horrible snaps, snaps everywhere. He is such a high profile player, everyone’s going to notice it. Even the commentator said it last night that he’s still one of the best linemen in college football. The snaps will get better. They’ve been getting better all along.” Has he given him any advice? “Nah, I’ve always thought my brother was a better player than me. Don’t tell him that, though.”

2 » For the first time in his short career, Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow was the team’s No. 3 quarterback and technically listed as inactive for its game Sunday. he reason? Head coach Josh McDaniels‘ game plan did not call for Tebow. “[We] didn’t have anything [in the game plan] relative to Tim being in the game and playing a role in it, and we’ll try to do that the best we can each week,” McDaniels said.

3 » Tebow may not have seen the field Sunday, but he has been hitting television screens as one of two players prominently featured in Nike‘s newest commercial. Check out this trailer where he and Detroit defensive tackle Nndamukong Suh watch a Manny Pacquiao fight while getting fitted for suits.

4 » Check out this feature story on former Gators now San Diego Padres second baseman David Eckstein put together by the Los Angeles Times on Monday. Eckstein has become an instrumental part of the resurgent Padres in his two years with the club.

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