FOUR BITS: baseball, McCray, violations, Macklin

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (11-1) continued their early season dominance, thrashing the visiting Florida Atlantic Owls (8-5) on Tuesday evening at McKethan Stadium. Florida topped FAU 16-1 in the contest, taking a 9-0 lead through two innings and cruising the rest of the way. Freshman left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner got the spot start and picked up the first victory of his young career, striking out three batters while allowing one run (unearned) on three hits in four innings. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (3/3, 5 RBI, 2 R) smacked two home runs in the game, hitting a two-run shot in the first and a three-run bomb in the second. Senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2/4) added a homer of his own and matched Zunino with five RBIs and two runs. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, 2 RBI, 3 R) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (2/3, RBI, R) were also efficient from the plate, adding to the Gators’ impressive total. Florida will step back on the diamond Wednesday night when they host Florida A&M at 7 p.m.; the game will air live on Sun Sports (check your local listings).

In other baseball news…freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. Gushue hit .400 with two homers, four RBIs and three runs over the weekend in Coral Gables, FL.

2 » The New Orleans Saints are currently under investigation by the NFL league office for maintaining a bounty for hard hits and knockout plays maintained by former defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Williams, a member of the team’s coaching staff from 2009-11, was with the squad for their Super Bowl XLIV season. Also on the team that year was former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray, who had incredible postseason and wound up hitting a pair of veteran quarterbacks – Minnesota’s Brett Favre and Arizona’s Kurt Warner – exceptionally hard in their respective matchups during the playoffs. The NFL fined McCray $25,000 for some of his hits on Favre, including one which caused an eruption on the Saints’ sideline. According to Sports Illustrated, “an on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, ‘Pay me my money!’” following the play.

3 » Florida has self-reported a total of 12 secondary violations to the Southeastern Conference since April 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Tuesday. Spread amongst the football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming programs, 10 of the 12 violations included some form of impermissible contact with four instances being incidental pocket dials. Most punishments, whether mandated by the school or convergence, included lengthened non-contact periods with the particular recruits. One notable exception was the women’s basketball team taking part in an “off-campus, team-building exercise” with each player forced to pay $12 for participating and coaches losing two hours of instruction per student.

4 » Power forward Vernon Macklin has not seen much court time this season with the Detroit Pistons as he stuck depth-wise behind four/five other players, but he told the Detroit Free Press this week that he has kept a positive disposition in spite of his not being able to play on a nightly basis. “It’s tough, but it’s not hard to stay focused because I got guys like Ben Wallace and Greg [Monroe] and those guys talking to me a lot and telling me to get my work in,” he told the paper. “It’s not really hard to stay focused. I just got to understand that I’m going through a bump in the road right now. But I’m going to get better and keep on learning, and one day I will be able to play.”

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Ran Carthon: “I never run away from competition.”

Growing up watching his father play professional football, Ran Carthon found a passion for the game and knew he wanted to follow in his dad’s profession but blaze his own path to glory. So when his family moved from Osceola, AR to Key West, FL and he began playing high school football, Carthon hoped to be recognized for his efforts on the field rather than his father’s famous last name.

He received that recognition from the Florida Gators and committed to wear orange and blue throughout his college career. After working hard to earn time on the field and being given a second chance to shine under head coach Ron Zook, Carthon led Florida in rushing in 2003 with 595 yards and six touchdowns (he also caught 21 balls for 185 yards and another score).

He played in 48 games with 11 starts over his career, running for over 1,300 yards on 270 carries and scoring 12 total touchdowns.

Now a professional scout with the Atlanta Falcons, “The Mayor” (a nickname he was given in college for knowing everyone in Gainesville, FL) is not only still involved in football but also constantly working on ways to give back to the community.

Carthon sat down with OGGOA last week for a 45-minute exclusive interview that touches on his life growing up, advice for recent Gators commits, time at Florida, playing in the NFL and the newest charitable venture he is involved in, the Florida Players Network.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: What was it like playing high school football in Key West? Did you find it was hard to get recognized?
RAN CARTHON: “Living in Key West was awesome and amazing; we had a lot of community support. Kind of like most football stories you hear, it was a small town community that really rallies around their high school sports. In terms of being recognized, honestly it was something we never thought about. We played a lot of Miami schools – and those schools had talented players – so we knew if we wanted to get on scholarship that we had to dominate those guys in order to get our recognition.”

AS: Did you feel any added pressure either living your life as the son of a well-known NFL player (New York Giants and Super Bowl-winning fullback Maurice Carthon)?
RC: “For me it was always like I wanted to create my own identity. Earlier on I fought against everything you read about – ‘son of former Giants player’ – and I wanted to establish myself and let people know that I can play this game. That was the initial thing. As I got older, I realized that I was fighting a losing battle. My dad is who he is and my talents would be recognized because of him because of the gene pool. After a few years, I gave up on that fight.”

AS: Florida has Bryan Cox, Jr. committed for 2012 and just earned a verbal pledge from Kelvin Taylor. Do you have any advice for those guys on how to live and play in the “shadow” of their respective fathers?
RC: “I would just say be who you are. The player that you are has gotten you to this point, gotten you recognized by elite schools. I’ve been following Kelvin since his eighth grade year as a senior at Glades Day. I’m very familiar with him and that’s just more so because of how much of a fan I was of Fred [Taylor]. Fred and Terry Jackson were probably two of the main reasons why I selected to go to UF. I thought under [Steve] Spurrier they were allowed to show everything they could do as backs. I had offers from schools that were predominately running the ball, but I felt like I was more versatile than that. For those guys – Bryan Cox, Jr. and Kelvin Taylor – those guys need to embrace who their father is but at the same time continue to do what got them to where they are.”

Read the rest of our interview with Ran Carthon…after the break!
Continue Reading » Ran Carthon: “I never run away from competition.”

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FOUR BITS: Jacobs, Pouncey, den Dekker, Tebow

1 » Florida Gators incoming junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, joining the team as a JUCO transfer out of East Mississippi Community College, had minor but successful surgery on a finger Thursday but should be available for the start of spring practice. He enrolled early at Florida and is expected to make an impact on the team right away considering his size (6’3” 295 lbs.) and experience.

2 » Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on Thursday at a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Center, which helps impoverished and underprivileged children in Southwest Florida. “We sponsored a couple games for the guys to come to and gave away tickets,” he said. “I love giving back to kids. I remember growing up in their shoes always wanting somebody to look up to.” While at the event, Pouncey spoke to the News-Press about a number of topics including his team’s coaching search, his brother’s recovery from ankle surgery and the fact that both of them own a condo together in Tampa, FL where they are currently spending time together. Pouncey is working out and staying in shape while his brother is doing post-surgery rehab work.

3 » A fifth-round pick of the New York Mets in the 2010 MLB Draft, former Gators centerfielder Matt den Dekker has been invited by the team up to their spring training camp. He spent the last two years playing for four different Mets organizations, ending the 2011 season with the AA Binghamton Mets in the Eastern League. For his short career, den Dekker is hitting just .278 with an .807 OPS over 171 games played with 17 home runs, 88 RBI, 126 runs, 62 walks and 27 steals.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow crossed over from football player to celebrity this season, which in part means that his every move will be traced by media outlets like TMZ. The gossip website reported Thursday that Tebow was in Las Vegas, NV taking in a Cirque du Soleil show (“O”) with a few friends while hiding the relevant note of the story which is that he was in town to do a new photo shoot and/or commercial for Nike. Tebow was signed by Nike prior to the start of his rookie season and has already been a part of television commercials and magazine ads for the company. Though he does not have a clothing line per se, Tebow did release a limited edition sneaker and T-shirt through Nike last year.

Extra BIT » As OGGOA mentioned this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made it a priority to re-sign their free agents including breakout defensive end and former Florida player Jeremy Mincey. However, according to The Florida Times-Union, Mincey will not be giving the team a hometown discount so the Jaguars will likely have to ward off other suitors with a solid offer in order to keep him in North Florida. Mincey’s eight sacks in 2011 were the most since former Gators DE Bobby McCray had 10 in 2006.

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FOUR BITS: scrimmage, Sheppard, soccer

1 » Those who follow us on Twitter saw a retweet from CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman Monday morning noting that the Florida Gators basketball team held a “secret” scrimmage against the Central Florida Knights over the weekend. OGGOA inquired about the scrimmage and learned that Florida head coach Billy Donovan was pleased with his team’s effort following the game. The Gators’ starting five consisted of senior point guard Erving Walker, guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Brad Beal, junior forward Erik Murphy and sophomore center Patric Young.

Beal, as noted by Goodman, was the standout performer in the scrimmage, but redshirt junior transfer G Mike Rosario also played quite well. Florida earned a double-digit “victory” at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, a nice prelude to their exhibition game against Catholic University on Thursday.

2 » Eight full weeks into the 2011 NFL season, former Gators cornerback Lito Sheppard was finally signed by a team. The Oakland Raiders picked up Sheppard, who they cut just before the season after signing him as a free agent, on Monday and hope to have him ready to play as soon as this upcoming weekend. Sheppard was one of three notable ex-Florida veterans available on the free agent market. Defensive ends Alex Brown and Bobby McCray remain unsigned.

3 » Every year, the Gators women’s soccer team holds a special practice on Halloween with all of the players going through the motions in full costume. The annual tradition gives the team a boost each year before they begin playing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Florida had an opportunity this past weekend to earn a share of the 2011 SEC regular season title but failed to do so dropping a 2-1 decision to the SEC champion South Carolina Gamecocks. SEC Tournament action begins Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. when UF faces Georgia in Orange Beach, AL.

4 » The Gators soccer team received good news Monday when the SEC announced its women’s soccer awards. Junior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and redshirt junior defender Kathryn Williamson were named to the All-SEC first team, while senior D Jazmyne Avant and junior MF Holly King garnered second-team honors. Florida also had two picked as All-Freshman – MFs Havana Solaun and Annie Speese.

Extra BIT » Below is the Thriller video put together by a number of UF student-athletes for Gator Growl in 2009. Happy Halloween!

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4 NFL BITS: Brown, Lemmens, Spikes, Black

1 » In a surprising move on Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints released former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown. A nine-year NFL veteran who spent the first eight years of his career with the Chicago Bears, Brown was signed by New Orleans as a free agent in 2010 and notched 39 tackles (32 solo) with a forced fumble and two sacks as a 16-game starter. He held the same position through the first three preseason games and worked with the first-team defense in every practice this offseason. “It saddens me to say that I have been released from the Saints because [they're] a first class organization and I will miss it,” he wrote on Twitter. “Good luck to the guys and Who Dat Nation keep roaring… My family and I had a blast here.. Thanks.” Brown joins DE Bobby McCray and offensive tackle Max Starks as big-name free agents currently available with Florida ties.

2 » Also receiving bad news was former Gators linebacker Duke Lemmens, an undrafted free agent who found out Tuesday that his contract with the Arizona Cardinals had been terminated. Lemmens played in the team’s first three preseason games and made a number of tackles but was one of many players the team released in this round of cuts.

3 » New England Patriots LB Brandon Spikes had not practiced or played with the team since Aug. 4 but finally returned to the field on Tuesday according to reports from numerous media outlets. Spikes has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury but is expected to see some time in the team’s preseason finale at home on Thursday. He played in 12 games with eight starts during his rookie season and was fifth on New England with 71 tackles (41 solo) and an interception. He was suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

4 » Another player out for an extended period of time was former Florida safety Ahmad Black, a fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2011 NFL Draft. Black suffered a high ankle sprain in the team’s preseason opener and has missed numerous practices and both subsequent preseason games since. There are rumors that Black could be cut soon because the team is only planning to keep four safeties and he has not had much of a time to make an impression, but head coach Raheem Morris has said previously that he believed Black was one of the steals of the draft. “I know he’s going to try to go this week,” Morris said, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “But it’d be hard right now for him to go out there and do some things, especially with the way Larry Asante’s playing, and Corey Lynch. Those guys played their butts off this preseason, not to mention our starters. It’ll be tough. You’d like to see him out there.” Black could always be a candidate for the practice squad in a worst-case scenario.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Wild Card

With the 2010-11 NFL regular season having come to a close, a number of Florida Gators participated in Wild Card Weekend action during the NFL Playoffs. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished during the first week of the playoffs.

DE ALEX BROWN, New Orleans Saints: Six tackles (five solo, two for loss), pass def.
RB DeSHAWN WYNN, New Orleans Saints: Played but did not record statistics.
WR RILEY COOPER, Philadelphia Eagles: Two receptions for 18 yards (targets: 4)
DE BOBBY MCCRAY, Philadelphia Eagles: Played but did not record statistics.

NOTES
– Wynn was released by San Francisco and signed with New Orleans on Monday.
– McCray, a free agent this season, was signed by Philadelphia on Dec. 30.
– Both teams featuring former Gators lost this weekend in the wild card round.

ACTIVE FOR REMAINDER OF PLAYOFFS
Linebacker Mike Peterson (Atlanta Falcons); safety Major Wright (Chicago Bears); LB Jermaine Cunningham, tight end Aaron Hernandez, LB Brandon Spikes, running back Fred Taylor, defensive tackle Gerard Warren (New England Patriots); center Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh Steelers)

REGULAR SEASON: Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

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DE Bobby McCray signed by Philadelphia Eagles

It has been a tough year for former Florida Gators defensive end Bobby McCray. Shining in the playoffs last season for the New Orleans Saints, McCray was unexpectedly released by the defending Super Bowl champions after the team acquired fellow former Florida DE Alex Brown via free agency in the offseason.

McCray was initially cut because he was due a $1.25 million roster bonus even though he wrecked havoc on then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in 2009 and compiled 59 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three defended passes and a forced fumble in his two years in New Orleans. The team re-signed him in July but cut him just a month later; he has yet to play in 2010.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to release DE Derrick Burgess and tabbed McCray for their playoff run. He is expected to join the team immediately and could play as soon as Sunday at home against Dallas.

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NFL cuts deliver good and bad news for ex-Gators

NFL teams were required to trim their active rosters to 53 men on Saturday, which meant a number of former Florida Gators were on the fence about whether or not they would make their respective teams going into the 2010-11 season.

GOOD NEWS

» As expected, all nine Gators selected in the 2010 NFL Draft made it through training camp and the preseason.

» Former Florida wide receiver David Nelson, who signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills after the draft, was told Saturday afternoon that he made the team. “Officially a Buffalo Bill,” Nelson wrote to his Twitter account. “Thanks to everyone for the support and prayers through this long but rewarding process!”

» Though it is not believed he was in complete danger of making the cut, former Gators safety Reggie Nelson got what he will likely consider his own form of good news Saturday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to trade him to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals, in need of safety help after losing Gibril Wilson to a season-ending injury, decided to trade cornerback David Jones and a conditional draft pick to the Jaguars. Nelson will be reunited with wide receiver Andre Caldwell and defensive end Carlos Dunlap in Cincinnati.

BAD NEWS

» Tight end Cornelius Ingram has faced plenty of adversity since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during his senior season with Florida. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 153 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Ingram proceeded to tear the same ACL again as a rookie during training camp. Finally back at near full speed, he had been playing well for the Eagles this offseason until a baker’s cyst in his knee kept him out of action. Ingram was released by Philadelphia on Saturday but will be a candidate to land on the team’s practice squad should he go unclaimed.

» Even though he scored three touchdowns in the Indianapolis Colts‘ final preseason game, former Gators kick returner Brandon James did not make the cut with one of the top teams in the AFC. Instead, the team elected to sign Devin Moore for that job. James did muff a punt that was returned for the touchdown during the preseason and will likely be picked up as a practice squad player with either the Colts or another team.

» One of the team’s most valuable defensive players throughout the 2009 playoffs, former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray was cut by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, just over a month after the team brought him back (they originally let him go on June 21). In the offseason, the Saints signed fellow former Florida DE Alex Brown, who will be a starter for New Orleans this season.

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