Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

Continue Reading » Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

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Ross hits game-winning RBI in World Series win

Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross, a spot starter for Game 5 of the 2013 World Series, came through in the clutch with an RBI double in the seventh inning that later became the difference maker for the road team on Monday evening in St. Louis, MO.

Tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh, Boston jumped ahead by a run when Ross hit a ground rule double to left to score what would become his team’s game-winning run. He was thrown out at home two plays later after trying to tack on an insurance run for the Red Sox following a single to center by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ross has become left-handed pitcher Jon Lester’s personal catcher and led the hurler, from behind he plate, to a terrific performance on Monday (7.2 IP, 4 H, ER, 7 K).

He only spent one year as a member of the Florida Gators baseball team, joining the program as a junior transfer in 1998 after two seasons with Auburn.

Following the 1998 College World Series (the Gators were the No. 1 overall seed but lost in the first round), Ross decided to forgo his final year of eligibility. He was subsequently selected in the seventh round of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ross has played for seven different teams over his 12-year MLB career and is currently in his second stint with Boston (2008). A .237 hitter who has spent most of his career as a reserve, he played in his 13th postseason game on Monday, seven of which have come this season with the Red Sox.

After the 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Ross was interviewed on the field by FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews, who was a sophomore at Florida in 1998.

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Red Sox sign Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel

Florida Gators junior quarterback Jeff Driskel will enter the 2013 season as the starter after leading Florida to an 11-2 record last year, but should his football career turn south on the college or professional level, he now has a fallback option.

According to WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday signed Driskel, the franchise’s 29th round selection (No. 863 overall) in the 2013 MLB Draft.

His mother, Mary Driskel, initially denied that her son inked an MLB deal, telling the Orlando Sentinel that “he hasn’t done anything since he was drafted.” However, his father, Jerry Driskel, later told the Sun-Sentinel‘s Dieter Kurtenbach that his son has indeed signed with the Red Sox but will still play for the Gators next season.

On Thursday, Driskel confirmed the decision himself via his Twitter account. “Yes I signed with the Red Sox. Nothing changes,” he tweeted. “I am still a full time student athlete at UF, fully committed to playing football. #GoGators”

He later released a statement through Florida.

“I plan on focusing on football and finishing my college career with the Gators,” Driskel said. “After my college football career is over, I want to pursue a professional career in the NFL. If I ever decide I want to play baseball, I want to play with the Boston Red Sox, who drafted me in the recent draft.”

Boston understands that he will continue playing football at UF and not immediately join the Red Sox’s farm system.

By signing Driskel, Boston owns his MLB rights for six years. Should he choose to play baseball after college or not succeed in the NFL, his back-up plan is in place.

He is not be the first college quarterback to take this action.

Continue Reading » Red Sox sign Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel

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Five current Gators, 10 baseball commits selected in 2013 MLB Draft; Florida QB Jeff Driskel, too

Florida Gators baseball had five current players selected in the three-day, 40-round 2013 MLB Draft, though it is unknown as of press time how many of the players that were selected will wind up leaving the program.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford, selected by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 20 pick in the first round on Thursday, tweeted Saturday that he be leaving Florida and collecting the $2 million assigned value to his draft spot. “Excited to be apart of @tigers organization,” he wrote. “Looking forward to getting to work. Truly an honor and a blessing to be a Tiger!”

A Gators football player was also picked on Saturday as junior quarterback Jeff Driskel was nabbed by the Boston Red Sox with the No. 863rd overall pick in the 29th round of the draft. Boston retains Driskel’s rights until the 2014 MLB Draft next June and will only have its pick pay off should the player choose to give up football after the 2013 season. Driskel, who initially planned to play football and baseball at Florida, was a talented outfielder in high school who would have been drafted in 2011 had he not been dead-set on playing college football.

Below are the current Gators, 2014 Florida commitments and other notable players selected during the draft from Thursday-Saturday.

CURRENT PLAYERS

Round 7 – No. 210
Daniel Gibson, LHP
Arizona Diamondbacks


Height: 6’131″ – Weight: 220 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Junior

The Gators’ top lefty reliever, Gibson will likely remain in the bullpen on the next level as he does have four solid pitches but is most effective when throwing his fastball and slider. Some teams view him as a potential starter, however. He appeared in 32 games for Florida in 2013, finishing the year 2-1 with a 4.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. As a sophomore, Gibson went 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. He was originally drafted with the No. 789 overall pick in the 26th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers but instead chose to go to college. It appears likely that Gibson will leave college, at least according to the Twitter account he established after being drafted. “So excited to be an Arizona Diamondback!” he wrote. “Ready to get out and play! #dreamcometrue”

Continue Reading » Five current Gators, 10 baseball commits selected in 2013 MLB Draft; Florida QB Jeff Driskel, too

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FOUR BITS: Hernandez, Nelson, Young, Yeguete

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who underwent minor shoulder surgery back in April, was originally supposed to miss a few weeks of action before rumors popped up that he could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Instead, according to reporters in attendance, Hernandez was already back on the field catching passes (non-contact) during organized team activities this week. In other words, he should be healthy enough to be fully cleared for practice during training camp over the summer. With teammate Rob Gronkowski looking like he will not be able to start the season on time, Hernandez has the opportunity to once again be a big-time playmaker for New England’s offense.

2 » Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson is also working his way back from an injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that kept him out the entire 2012 campaign. Nelson, signed by Cleveland in early April, will be competing for a roster spot during training camp and told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he will be good to go by the time it opens on July 26.

3 » Florida Gators senior basketball players center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete often participate in charitable work both on behalf of the school and on their own. The duo, which are close friends off the court, recently befriended a three-year-old named Kaedyn Ballew who was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 10 months old. This story from the Florida Times-Union takes a look at the friendship forged between Ballew, Young and Yeguete and how it has extended well past the players’ initial visit. “Some [people] are impressed by our size,” Yeguete told the paper. “Kaedyn is not. He thinks that he’s stronger than us. He’s really confident. That’s pretty cool.” Ballew, who has been given a 50 percent chance at a full recovery, hopes to watch the Gators play in person next season while eating “nachos with lots of cheese.”

4 » OGGOA mistakenly overlooked the start of the 2013 MLB, forgetting to put together a short preview of former Florida baseball players on big league rosters. Therefore, here is a listing of the five Gators playing in MLB on Opening Day and how they have fared just over two months into the season.

Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles): GP (27), W/L (3-0), SV (1), ERA (1.78), WHIP (1.11), K/9 (1.04)
Catcher David Ross (Boston Red Sox): GP (18), AVG (.189), OBP (.283), SLG (.453), OPS (.736) – Hit .125 in May.
Left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde (Los Angeles Angels): GP (3), W/L (0-0), ERA (11.57), WHIP (2.14), K/9 (0.95) – Sent down to the minors.
Second baseman Mark Ellis (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (35), AVG (.270), OBP (.319), SLG (.352), OPS (.671)
Left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (27), W/L (1-2), ERA (2.75), WHIP (0.71), K/9 (1.04)

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Macklin, Pouncey, Foley

1 » Former Florida Gators left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, a first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, took a line drive to the face on Saturday while pitching during the Futures at Fenway doubleheader that showcased the team’s minor leaguers. The organization announced shortly after he arrived at the hospital that Johnson has multiple orbital bone fractures on the left side of his face but neither suffered a concussion nor lost consciousness. Eye-witness reports noted that Johnson waved to the crowd when he was carted off the field. Boston’s Short-Season A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, posted a Facebook update on Sunday that said he “popped by the park today after leaving the hospital and is in good spirits.” Fellow former Gators pitcher Tommy Toledo took a similar line drive to the face on March 14, 2009 during a game against Charleston Southern.

2 » Free agent forward/center Vernon Macklin, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft but did not receive a qualifying offer from the team following the season, has chosen to sign with Gaziantep of the Turkish Basketball League. “Vernon decided to turn down three NBA camp invites,” agent Greg Nunn told HoopsHype. “He feels he needs to play to showcase his talents and return to the NBA next year.” Macklin averaged 5.9 minutes of action in 23 games last season, registering 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds. He was invited to Detroit’s summer league team but not picked up by the organization for the main roster.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey recently answered four questions for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and gave this gem of a reply when asked about taking Bowling at the University of Florida:

“Oh yeah, it went great. It went awesome for me. Passed that one with flying colors. [My average] was terrible. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to play that game. I couldn’t do the spin thing – I’m usually a gutter ball type of guy.”

4 » Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley recently told GatorZone.com that he is pleased with the progress that the football team is making as well as the job that head coach Will Muschamp is doing in year two at the helm of the program.

“I just met with the football staff and I see it building. Like anything, it doesn’t get built overnight. All coaches want that and all fans want that. I get that, but if it’s going to be something substantial, and it’s going to be built to last, it’s got to be built the right way. I see that in terms of what is happening with our team: discipline, the weight room, academically. I see the buy-in from the players. I see the way the staff works. At the end of the day, you’re judged on winning games in any sport, but I see it building to where Gator fans want it to be and where Will wants it to be. I think that’s very exciting. If we’re going to build it, we’re going to build it the right way. Will has said that a thousand times. He’s building a program here and that’s what you want – a program built to last.”

It also would have been extremely interesting to read Foley’s answer to a potential follow-up question (Was the program previously not built the right way?) to that response.

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Jenkins, Walker, Hill

1 » Florida Gators junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson, who has signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, was presented with the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award on Saturday night. Johnson became the first player in team history to bring home the award and added yet another honor to the numerous postseason recognitions earned by Gators juniors who will play professionally next season. He finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record, 3.90 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 90 innings along with a .307 batting average and 41 RBIs.

2 » According to sources close to the team that spoke with Yahoo! Sports’s Jason Cole, the relationship between cornerback Janoris Jenkins and the St. Louis Rams (which selected the first-round talent with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) is “off to a rocky start because of a verbal pre-draft agreement” that is not permissible but is also not being honored. One reason why Jenkins has not signed his contract with St. Louis yet, Cole reports, is because head coach Jeff Fisher wants him to be financially advised by Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group while Jenkins and agent Malik Shareef seem “content” with the management team in place. Pre-draft agreements of this kind are not allowed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, something that Cole reports both parties are aware of, but what appears to be one looks to be the reason why Jenkins is not yet an official member of the Rams organization.

3 » The No. 6 overall recruit in the class of 2013, five-star power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL) continues to be the apple of Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s eye. Not only is Walker an extremely talented player at a much-needed position for the Gators, he is also a local product and friend of current Florida commit five-star point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), the No. 7 overall recruit in the country. Walker recently told SLAM Online that he plans to schedule seven visits and make a decision at the end of the summer. “My plan is to commit either right after this summer or towards the beginning of the school year; I’ve always wanted to decide early in the process, to get comfortable and just enjoy my senior year of high school without all the distractions,” he said. Many analysts believe Walker is truly between UF and Kansas; each school has a current teammate of his already committed. “Me and Kasey talk about [playing at Florida together] all the time, and to be honest, I would love to play with him,” Walker said. “Kasey is the truth – he can score, find the open man and create for others. It would be really good to play with him.”

4 » The AAU team that Walker and Hill currently share – the Florida Rams – made headlines on Thursday when it was one of four summer league teams officially banned from NCAA-certified events by the organization. The NCAA announced their ruling after it was determined that the Rams and three other teams had associations with a sports agency called ASM Sports. Though the teams will not be able to participate in events this summer, the players will retain their eligibility and be able to play as long as they join different teams or have their team recreated in a brand new form. Walker and Hill will both be affected by this, and it will be interesting to see if they find a way to remain together and continue playing this summer.

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FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

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