Three’s a charm: Wright to enter NFL Draft, too

After conflicting reports surfaced early Monday about his status for next season, Florida Gators junior safety Major Wright told Joe Schad of ESPN that he has decided to forgo his final year of college eligibility and declare for the 2010 NFL Draft. “I’m going to the NFL,” Wright said in a text message to Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald.

“I enjoyed my time in Gainesville, they were some of the best years of my life,” Wright said in a University of Florida release. “Beyond winning championships, I will take with me some great memories of personal friendships from my teammates and lessons learned from the coaching staff. I will always be a Gator and look forward to watching them play from the sidelines in the future.”

Wright is the third Florida junior to declare Monday, joining defensive end Carlos Dunlap and center Maurkice Pouncey whose announcements were made earlier in the day. Five juniors in total are making themselves eligible for the draft – cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Aaron Hernandez are the other two.

“Major will be missed in our secondary and by his teammates,” said head coach Urban Meyer. “He was a physical player who had a presence on the football field and was someone our players looked up to and gravitated to. They enjoyed being around him both on and off the field. We wish him the best of luck.”

Fellow junior S Ahmad Black, Wright’s 2008 running mate and one of three starters at the position in 2009, has “decided to stay in school and get his stock up in next year’s NFL Draft,” his father Bruce Black told the The Miami Herald Saturday night. Black will likely start at safety along with sophomore Will Hill.

The Gators’ 2010 starting secondary will likely consist of Black and Hill along with sophomore CB Janoris Jenkins and redshirt freshman CB Adrian Bushell on either side. That is, of course, unless one of Florida’s four incoming freshman at the position do not usurp one of their roles.

Take a moment and enjoy the best play of Wright’s Gators career:

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Carlos Dunlap also declares for 2010 NFL Draft

Following the trend set by juniors cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Aaron Hernandez and center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive end Carlos Dunlap has decided to forgo his senior season with the Florida Gators and make himself eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft. Dunalp, who was at one point projected as a top-five pick, saw his stock fall after a shocking DUI arrest the Monday before the 2009 SEC Championship.

“This took a lot of thought and prayer between me and my family, and we decided that this was the best direction for me to take,” Dunlap said. “I’ve loved having the chance to play at Florida for Coach [Urban] Meyer, and playing for Coach Charlie Strong. I wouldn’t be the person or the player I am today without them and the other coaches who have helped me along the way.”

Already close to graduating, Dunlap received a promising grade from the league’s Draft Advisory Board – two factors that likely led to his decision. “The feedback that he’s gotten is that he will go late in the first round or early in the second round,” Dunlap’s father told Rivals last Tuesday. “Staying to get a degree isn’t going to be an issue because he’s on track to graduate in December. He’s close enough to getting his degree that he can do it anytime. So does he want to come back to finish up his education and maybe be the top overall draft choice next year or does he want to come out right now and start working on his NFL career?”

Obviously Dunlap, the defensive MVP of the 2009 BCS Championship and an almost unanimous All-SEC team selection, chose the latter. He closed his Florida career by earning two of the Gators’ three sacks in the Sugar Bowl against the Cincinnati Bearcats and finished with a team-high nine this season.

“Carlos has all of the physical tools to be successful at the next level,” Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. “I believe if he continues to grow and mature he will have a very long career in the NFL. He provided matchup problems for opposing teams and was a big part of our success during the last several years. We wish him the best of luck.”

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Pounceys Split: Maurkice to NFL, Mike to center

Florida Gators offensive linemen and twin brothers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey have been inseparable since birth. Playing next to each other on the line at Lakeland High School and then with the Gators for three seasons, both knew that they would have to go different directions at one point or another. Though it was assumed that the separation would likely come when different teams picked them in the draft, it was always a hope that they would at least be able to leave school at the same time. Instead Maurkice, who plays center, has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2010 NFL Draft while Mike, a guard, remains in the Orange and Blue for one more year, according to Joe Schad of ESPN.

“This is one of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life,” Maurkice said. “I am glad that my brother and I made the decision to be Gators. God gave us the knowledge, strength and ability to be great players, but it is now time for my brother and me to part ways. I would like to thank my family for standing behind me in the decision that I have made and my coaches for believing in me as a true freshman and helping me achieve everything that I have as a Gator. I would like to thank all the fans for cheering us on and getting us hyped up for the games. I am going to miss the Gator walks and the Gator Nation.”

“I’m very excited to come back and wear the Orange and Blue for the 2010 season,” Mike added. “I’m looking forward to being a leader on this team, having the opportunity to play center and continuing to learn from Coach Steve Addazio. It has been an honor to play here, so I can’t wait to run out into The Swamp for another year.”

Before the 2010 Sugar Bowl, the brothers both submitted paperwork for evaluations by the league’s Draft Advisory Board. It was decided long ago by the Pounceys and their mother Lisa Webster that each brother would only declare if his grade was determined to be a first- or second-round selection. Maurkice, who was awarded the 2009 Rimington Trophy for best collegiate center and plays a more specialized position, likely received this grade while Mike has decided to wait and improve his next season. Both Pounceys received honorable mentions in OGGOA‘s Florida Gators All-Decade Team and were unanimous All-SEC team selections.

“These are two guys who we’ve been able to build our program around for the last several years,” said head coach Urban Meyer. “They have both provided an unbelievable amount of leadership and energy to our team. These guys embody the toughness and physical style of play that we want Florida to be known for. We wish Maurkice the best of luck, and we’re looking forward to having Mike continue to be a leader on the team and anchor our offensive line.”

OGGOA previously reported that Mike intends to attempt playing center and could very well end up starting for the Gators at that position in 2010. Schad confirmed this report. Succeeding at such a move would make him a more valuable commodity at the end of next season and likely raise his draft stock as well.

“Maurkice has all the tools to succeed in the NFL,” interim head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Addazio added. “There is no doubt in my mind that he will be a great player at the next level. I wish him nothing but the best because has been like a son to me. I also know that Mike has a great future ahead of him. I believe he will be the top returning offensive lineman in America. Coming back just gives him another opportunity to grow as a player and as a leader and will help him increase his positional versatility. Without question, Mike’s future is very bright.”

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SIX BITS: Dunlap’s future, QB offered, DT Floyd, Big Board, Smith and Holliday, Lewis

1 » Though juniors cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Aaron Hernandez have declared for the 2010 NFL Draft, the decision is not an easy one for defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Once considered a top-five talent, Dunlap’s arrest and subsequent suspension for DUI prior to the 2009 SEC Championship had him fall down draft boards. “The feedback that he’s gotten is that he will go late in the first round or early in the second round,” Dunlap’s father told Rivals on Tuesday. “Staying to get a degree isn’t going to be an issue because he’s on track to graduate in December. He’s close enough to getting his degree that he can do it anytime. So does he want to come back to finish up his education and maybe be the top overall draft choice next year or does he want to come out right now and start working on his NFL career?” Dunlap’s father will also consult former Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong for advice. “We value Charlie’s opinion. We value Charlie’s evaluation. We value Charlie’s leadership. So if Charlie tells us this is how he thinks it should be, I trust he is going to tell us what is best for Carlos based on the evaluations and feedback he has received.”

2 » JC Shurburtt of ESPN is reporting that Gators quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has extended an offer to five-star 2011 QB recruit Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL). “I was real excited about the offer,” Driskel said. “I have been talking to Coach Loeffler just about once a week, and he told me that he was ready to offer me. When I got it, obviously I was real excited.” He has also received offers from Auburn, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and Florida International. Driskel also told Shurburtt that while he does currently live in Florida, location won’t factor much in his final decision. “When I was younger, we moved around a lot because my dad was in the Navy,” he said.

Four more BITS including recruiting and NFL Draft news after the jump!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Dunlap’s future, QB offered, DT Floyd, Big Board, Smith and Holliday, Lewis

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Haden, Hernandez declare for 2010 NFL Draft

Juniors cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Aaron Hernandez have both announced this week their intention forgo their final season of collegiate eligibility and declare for the 2010 NFL Draft. Haden, who started all 40 of his career games and was the first true freshman to start at CB in school history, made his declaration on Sunday while Hernandez, who was the first TE in Southeastern Conference history to win the John Mackey Award, let his decision be known Wednesday.

Finishing his career with eight interceptions and 218 tackles, Haden was a consensus first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC coaches selection and first-team All-SEC Associated Press selection as well as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009. “This was a tough decision, and I spent a lot of time with my family talking about it,” Haden said. “I’m so proud that I had the chance to be a Gator. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. Coach [Urban] Meyer and Coach [Vance] Bedford have helped me in so many ways. I’ll always be thankful to them for everything, and I know I’ll never forget the fans in Gator Nation.”

Hernandez, also a first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC coaches selection and first-team All-SEC AP pick, led his position group in the nation with 68 receptions and 850 receiving yards in 2009. He started 27 games with the Gators and finished with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns while setting school records for most catches by a tight end in a season (68) and career (111). “After much deliberation with my family and coaches, I am declaring myself eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft,” Hernandez said. “It is really special for me to take this first step toward my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL on the fourth anniversary of my father’s passing. I know he would be proud of not only me, but of my whole family, whose love and support are the only reasons I am where I am today.

“My three years at Florida provided me with the foundation I need to succeed as a player and a person. I am eternally grateful to Mr. Foley, Coach Meyer and the entire Gator coaching staff for bringing me to Florida and serving as my family away from home. They were constantly pushing me to become a better player and – more importantly – a better person. I am so grateful for their guidance and support. I also want to thank my teammates for their help on the field and their friendships off the field. I was fortunate to have been a part of three great Gator teams with many great players who I know I will see at the next level. Finally, I will never forget Gator Nation. You all are the reason I wanted to come to Florida and I look forward to returning to Gainesville to cheer on future Florida teams with the best fans in the country.”

Five remaining juniors including defensive end Carlos Dunlap, offensive linemen Maurkice and Mike Pouncey and safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black are still deciding whether or not to leave school. This year’s NFL Draft will be held from April 22-24 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY. OGGOA will offer live coverage of the event both on this Web site and via twitter.

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Grading the Florida vs. Cincinnati game

Each week following a Florida Gators game, ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive grades the team position-by-position based on each unit’s performance. This week, we look at how the Gators fared against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the final game of their season, the 2010 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

QUARTERBACKS: A+
When the best player in school history plays the best game of his career in the final game of his career, it is tough not to give him an “A+” grade. And that is exactly what senior quarterback Tim Tebow has earned – not just for his outstanding performance Friday evening but for his career in the Orange and Blue. Pick your poison: was it the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award he was given before the game, the Sugar Bowl record 12 consecutive completions, the career-long 80-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Riley Cooper, the Sugar Bowl and BCS bowl game record 533 yards of total offense, the Sugar Bowl/BCS record 482 passing yards, the 31 completions which set a new Sugar Bowl record, the Sugar Bowl high four touchdowns or the 88.6 completion percentage that set a BCS record? The answer, of course, is “all of the above.”

RUNNING BACKS: A-
Tebow was once again the leading ball carrier for the Gators with 14 touches for 51 yards and a touchdown, but both redshirt junior Emmanuel Moody and redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey came up big throughout the game. Moody rushed eight times for only 14 yards but scored two touchdowns on the ground (he also had four receptions for 19 yards) while Rainey caught four passes for 71 yards and ran four times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Mike Gillislee cleaned up at the end of the fourth quarter and took a ball 52 yards for a final line of five carries for 78 yards. Sophomore Jeff Demps, the true starter, left the game after he dislocated his elbow on his third rush of the game. Though the attempts and yards were not there, three rushing touchdowns brought this unit up a half-grade.

Read the rest of Florida’s grades from the Sugar Bowl after the jump…
Continue Reading » Grading the Florida vs. Cincinnati game

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Gator Bites for Saturday, January 2nd

» Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong coached his last game in the Orange and Blue Friday before heading to the Louisville Cardinals as the team’s new head coach. UF cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford, who was expected to join Strong as his defensive coordinator, has yet to say one way or another though Strong said on Thursday and Friday that an agreement was in place. Bedford continues to claim he will be recruiting for Florida next week but at least one recruit (four-star CB Demar Dorsey) says Bedford is gone. “I’m open to working with Coach Strong,” Bedford told the Miami Herald. “He’s one of the reasons I’m here. My opportunity to stay is also good, and I’ve talked with Coach Addazio about that.” Strong told the Gainesville Sun after the game that Bedford is joining his staff.

» Running backs coach Kenny Carter is another staff member who is rumored to be joining Strong in Louisville. Even though Strong has already hired an offensive coordinator, Carter could be given an expanded role on the offensive staff. When asked after the Sugar Bowl about his future, Carter said “I’m not talking about anything but this game. I’m not talking about any of that crap. It doesn’t mean anything to me.” When asked about Carter joining his staff, Strong told the Sun, “He hasn’t told me that.”

» Quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told reporters he will be returning next season. Loeffler’s name was thrown around for a few head coaching jobs in recent weeks.

» As OGGOA reported yesterday, three Gators experienced major health issues on Friday. Junior center Maurkice Pouncey spent five hours in Tulane Hospital before the game with kidney stones, played in the game but left after the half to pass another stone. Sophomore running back Jeff Demps dislocated his elbow in the first quarter on his third carry of the game and redshirt junior left guard Carl Johnson injured his right shoulder during the second quarter – both did not return.

» After the Sugar Bowl, Johnson announced that he will be returning for his senior season. However, juniors cornerback Joe Haden, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez and center Maurkice Pouncey are all expected to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft. OGGOA believes that junior safety Ahmad Black will also declare while junior S Major Wright, junior right guard Mike Pouncey and redshirt junior right tackle Marcus Gilbert have yet to decide.

» Senior quarterback Tim Tebow was followed around with a “Tebow Cam” during FOX’s Sugar Bowl broadcast. The camera shot, available via FOXSports.com during the game, was on Tebow the whole time – from focusing on him while on the field to every single thing he did on the sidelines. OGGOA believes this will be included in the Sugar Bowl DVD to be released by FOX.

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Too sweet! No. 5 Florida Gators savor Sugar Bowl

Coming of a week filled with seemingly endless questions and distractions, the No. 5 Florida Gators (13-1) eased tensions and erased any doubts (at least temporarily) with a dominating 51-24 victory over the No. 3 Cincinnati Bearcats (12-1) in the 2010 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome.

In the final game of his college career, Gators senior quarterback Tim Tebow went 31-of-35 for a career-high 482 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air. He also carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Completing his first twelve passes in what was arguably the best performance of his entire career, Tebow finished with 533 total yards – more than anyone in both BCS and Sugar Bowl history. Tebow’s three touchdown passes went to senior wide receiver Riley Cooper, junior tight end Aaron Hernandez and redshirt sophomore WR Deonte Thompson.

“It was incredible,” Tebow said of his third BCS bowl game victory. “Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn’t get any better than this.”

Cooper caught seven passes for a career-high 181 yards, Hernandez brought in nine balls for 111 yards and Thompson snagged five for 63 yards. Redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey caught four passes for 71 yards; he also rushed four times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt junior transfer RB Emmanuel Moody had the first two touchdown game of his career though freshman RB Mike Gillislee ended up as the team’s leading rusher (79 yards) after taking a hand-off for 52 yards in the fourth quarter.

Defensively, junior cornerback Joe Haden once again shut down his assignment, allowing Bearcats senior wide receiver Mardy Gilyard to gain only 41 yards. Florida’s pass rush and blitzing was on-point all night, holding Cincinnati senior QB Tony Pike to 27-of-45 passing for 170 yards. Pike, however, completed three touchdown passes after the game was out of hand. Junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap earned two of the team’s three sacks on Pike, the secondary had numerous interception opportunities and senior linebacker Brandon Spikes was flying around the ball all evening.

The Gators outgained the Bearcats 660-to-246 in total yardage, though the time of possession battle was close to even because Florida scored quickly. The Gators’ 660 yards was also a Sugar Bowl record. With the win, Florida became the first school in Football Bowl Subdivision history to win 13 games in consecutive seasons.

Going into the game, the Gators were without senior kick returner Brandon James (foot), redshirt junior LB A.J. Jones (knee) and redshirt junior defensive tackle Terron Sanders (hip), though additional injuries piled up before and during the game. Junior center Maurkice Pouncey spent five hours in the hospital earlier in the day passing a kidney stone and left the game in the second half to pass another. Sophomore RB Jeff Demps dislocated his elbow early on and redshirt junior left guard Carl Johnson hurt his shoulder. Sophomore CB Janoris Jenkins and redshirt senior LB Ryan Stamper were both down on the field for a while but would return to action.

Gators head coach Urban Meyer, who resigned on Saturday before changing his mind and deciding to take a leave of absence instead on Sunday, said at the trophy presentation after the game that he hoped to return to the sidelines for the 2010 season. “I plan on being the coach of the Gators,” Meyer said. On Tebow, Meyer said he “will go down as one of the great players, if not the greatest player, in college football [history].” Tebow won the game’s Most Outstanding Player Award, thanking the coaches, his teammates and Gator Nation while accepting it on the podium. He took a moment to specifically thank Meyer for making him a Gator, telling him that he loved him and hugging him.

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