FOUR BITS: Evans, Reed, Strong, Kitchens

1 » Florida Gators redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio (knee), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) all underwent arthroscopic surgery on Monday, according to the school. All are expected to be healthy enough to return to the field by March for spring practice.

2 » Florida senior safety Josh Evans told OGGOA on Tuesday that he has received an invitation to the 2013 NFL Combine as well as a projection from the league of being selected anywhere between the third and fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Evans is currently in Boca Raton, FL training for both the combine and the 2013 East/West Shrine Game. He has signed with agent Malik Shareef of Dimensional Sports, Inc. Friend of OGGOA Darren Heitner also reported Tuesday that redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed has signed with agent Mike George of SFX Sports Group.

3 » One player who will not be on the field for the Gators this spring is senior offensive/defensive lineman Nick Alajajian. After fracturing his right knee back in August, Alajajian missed the entire 2012 season. He has spent most of the year tweeting about returning to football, but a Florida spokesperson told GatorCountry.com’s Mike Capshaw that Alajajian did not apply for a medical hardship and therefore he has no more eligibility and his career is over. He earned one start in 32 games over four years, the first three of which he spent on the offensive line before transitioning to defense prior to the 2012 season.

4 » Just moments after the conclusion of the 2013 Sugar Bowl, Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong was swarmed by family, friends, reporters and his players as he celebrated his team’s victory. Also stopping by to congratulate Strong after the game were some of his Gators including redshirt senior left guard James Wilson, redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, redshirt senior linebacker Lerentee McCray and senior LB Jon Bostic (likely among others). Check out the video below.

Extra BIT » Friend of OGGOA Whitney Holtzman snapped the below picture of junior LB Darrin Kitchens staying on the field to sing the alma mater with the band at the conclusion of the Sugar Bowl. We retweeted the picture moments after Holtzman posted it on Twitter and within a short period of time it went viral with her shot being picked up nationally. Kitchens himself quickly found out that his actions meant a lot to Florida fans and took to Twitter two days later to express his gratitude for the kind words that were sent to him via the social networking service. “I’m touched. I didn’t think my gesture would impact so many people. I’m honored to have made so many of you proud. God is to be praised ,” he wrote.

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12/28: Sugar Bowl importance, Lewis’s return

No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and a handful of players met with the media after practice on Friday to preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals and provide thoughts on the team heading into the game.

NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED

On Thursday, Muschamp discussed why it was critical for the Gators to win their 12th game of the 2012 season. One day later, he explained when Florida hit rock bottom one year ago and how the program has pulled itself up by the bootstraps.

“The month of October [2011] wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” he said. “Two games – Alabama and LSU – we got physically dominated. We had our opportunities in some other games. We didn’t make enough good decisions as coaches or players to put ourselves in position to win those games.”

Senior left tackle Xavier Nixon acknowledged that the coaching staff identified the problem soon after those losses and began working to put the Gators back together. “We had a problem with complacency and we found out how to deal with that, and we’ve become a better team,” he said.

Now Florida is back at the top of the heap, a great accomplishment for a second-year coach like Muschamp but one he promises that the program is not taking for granted.

“Certainly when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, at a place like the University of Florida, it makes you appreciate things a little bit more,” he said. “That’s something where you’ve got to stay grounded in your approach as a player and a coach to understand you don’t just roll the hat out there and win football games. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes recruiting, it takes development, it takes strength program, it takes character building, it takes all of those things to encompass to have the type of program you want to have at Florida.

“We understand that every day. I understand getting out of bed every day knowing that just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. You got to make it happen and that’s what I think these players understand a little bit more.”

That never-say-die attitude has defined the Gators’ season. Including the awful performance against Georgia, in which Florida was perhaps a play or two away from potentially winning the game, it always found a way to make lemonade out of lemons.

Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins pointed to a strip-fumble made by junior safety Matt Elam on a deep pass during the LSU game as one play in particular that was a paradigm of the entire 2012 campaign.

“I think that play defined our season. It just showed that we won’t quit,” he said. “Every game we’ve showed it. That’s one play that’s come out that’s shown it. He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip.”

That is why Wednesday’s game is so critical. In addition to giving the Gators the 12th win they are pining for, it also shows that the turnaround is complete.

“This is a very important game for the program. I believe it’s a statement game,” redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “Coming out of the season last year, we had to make a statement versus Ohio State going into the season of what it was going to be. Ohio State finished undefeated. We beat them last year and we finished 11-1. It’s a big statement to finish strong in your bowl game.”

Read the rest of what the Gators had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 12/28: Sugar Bowl importance, Lewis’s return

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Cummings, Brown, Moore to sign letters of intent

Three of the eight early enrollees scheduled to join the Florida Gators as part of the 2013 recruiting class signed and submitted their National Letters of Intent to the school on Wednesday.

Four-star JUCO defensive tackle Darious Cummings (Scooba, MS), three-star JUCO offensive tackle Trenton Brown (Milledgeville, GA) and four-star transfer OT Tyler Moore (Clearwater, FL) signed and faxed in their letters as they prepare to enroll and join the Gators for spring practice.

None of the three players will be forced to take a redshirt season in 2013 as Cummings and Brown are junior college transfers and Moore spent 2012 at St. Petersburg College, a community school without a football program.

Moore started some games as a true freshman at Nebraska and would have started at left tackle this season had he not decided to take the year off for personal reasons.

All three will be competing for playing time right away at their respective positions.

Cummings, a member of the Rivals250 in 2009, will benefit from the likely departure of junior DT Sharrif Floyd as he looks to follow in the footsteps of JUCO teammate junior DT Damien Jacobs and make an impact right away as a member of the rotation.

Brown and Moore (Rivals100 in 2009) will try to find their places in a suddenly crowded and deep group of talented offensive linemen. Redshirt juniors center Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio are entrenched as starters at center and right guard, respectively, but the other three positions are certainly up for grabs.

What Brown holds as an advantage over other players is his huge frame (6’8”, 350 lbs.). Moore has experience playing major college football but will have to work his way back after a semester off.

At least six other offensive linemen already on the roster will be competing for major playing time up front in 2013. Freshman D.J. Humphries, junior transfer Max Garcia and redshirt sophomore Chaz Green are the early favorites to start at left tackle, left guard and right tackle, respectively.

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TWO BITS: football awards, less Tebow on ESPN

1 » The Florida Gators football team participated in its annual banquet on Saturday in which members of the team are presented with a number of awards for everything from on-field performance to working hard in practice and how courageous a particular player may be throughout the season. Below are the 2012 award winners, according to the University of Florida, along with some award explanations and additional details.

Coaches’ Choice Awards
President’s Academic Award: Jeff Driskel, Michael McNeely, Caleb Sturgis
* Second-straight year that Sturgis won the award.
Gene Elleson Community Service Award: Jon Bostic, Jeremy Brown, Caleb Sturgis
Iron Gator Strength and Conditioning Award: Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison, Omarius Hines, Lerentee McCray, Sam Robey
Chris Patrick Courage Award: Dominique Easley, Chaz Green, Jon Halapio, Ronald Powell, James Wilson
Most Valuable Offensive Scout Team Award: Max Garcia, Mark Herndon | Defensive: Alex McCalister, Jeremi Powell | ST: David Campbell, Rhaheim Ledbetter

Players’ Choice Awards
Rex Farrior Most Team Spirited Offense: Xavier Nixon | Defense: Dominique Easley, Matt Elam
* Second-straight year that Easley won the award.
Greg See Tenacity Award Offense: Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison | Defense: Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd
Most Valuable Player Offense: Mike Gillislee | Defense: Matt Elam ST: Loucheiz Purifoy, Caleb Sturgis
* Second-straight year that a running back won the award for the offense (Chris Rainey). Second-straight year that Elam and Sturgis won the award for defense and special teams, respectively.
James W. Kynes Award (Best Mental/Physical Toughness): Jon Bostic, Matt Elam
* Presented to the “player who best exemplifies the mental and physical toughness and ‘iron-man’ determination.’ The award is traditionally won by offensive linemen.
Ray Graves Award (Team MVP): Mike Gillislee
* Second-straight year that a running back won the award (Chris Rainey).
Fergie Ferguson Leadership Award: Jon Bostic, Josh Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Frankie Hammond, Jr.
* Presented to the “player who displays outstanding leadership, character and courage.”
Captains: Jon Bostic, Matt Elam, Mike Gillislee, Jon Halapio, Omar Hunter

2 » New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has barely seen the field since being traded last offseason. Now the head of ESPN is promising fans that they will see much less of him on their television sets as well. In an conversation with John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal, ESPN President John Skipper said he recently told his production staff to reduce the amount of coverage that the networks give to Tebow and his exploits. “I said, ‘Guys, we didn’t handle this very well. Going to training camp wasn’t a problem. We just stayed on it relentlessly and too long,’” Skipper explained. “Training camp was fine. The guy’s very popular. In our business, we want to drive ratings. You’ve just got to keep long-term, short-term in mind.”

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QB Jeff Driskel slated to start at Florida State

After missing a full week of practice and the Jacksonville State game with an injured left ankle, No. 4 Florida Gators sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel is slated to return to his starting role on Saturday against the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles.

Gators head coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday on the weekly SEC teleconference that Driskel looked like he was back to his normal self when he returned to practice on Tuesday and should start Saturday barring an unforeseen setback.

“Jeff Driskel looked very good in practice [Tuesday], and he’ll be ready to go,” he said. “He would [start] at this time. Obviously we still got a couple more days of practice, but he looked good enough to me that he’ll be fine. … We’ll go from there but right now Jeff looks good.”

Muschamp continued, “He looked fine. We did everything we normally do. There was nothing limited within the package of what we do with him when we normally prepare for any game. Again, looked very good yesterday. Unless something just unheard of happens in practice [Wednesday] or [Thursday], he’ll be ready to go Saturday.”

Driskel’s experience (nine starts, four against BCS top-10 teams) and mobility are big advantages he brings to being behind center for Florida. He is the Gators’ second leading rusher with 424 yards and four touchdowns and has also completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

Though Driskel’s injury may have been the most important to the team, he is not the only player expected to return this week.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose (knee), sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (thigh) and redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) all looked good in practice Tuesday, Muschamp said. He added that redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) looked a bit slow as he tried to return but cautioned that he still has a few days to work that out.

Florida will look to win its fourth game against a BCS top-10 opponent on Saturday when it takes on Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. Should the Gators win, a BCS bowl game would be assured and a trip to the national championship would be plausible with some help.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said the punt and kick return positions, as of now, are not settled. Debose is in the mix to start again at both but is not assured of his role. Sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson is also competing for the punt return job, while redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines and sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy are also working at kick returner.

» On the tough SEC schedule: “Certainly playing in the SEC, it’s a playoff every week. We have an eight-game playoff to go to the [SEC] Championship Game. At the University of Florida, you’re going to play Florida State every year, and next year we play Miami. So you’re looking at 10 so-called “good” games, I guess as the media would say it. We have an eight-game playoff every year to go to Atlanta.”

» On if junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was injured in practice and/or will be able to play Saturday: “Yeah, he looked good yesterday.”

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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11/19: Driskel will play, Florida no longer “soft”

No. 4 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s shutout victory over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks and preview Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, who sprained his ankle two weeks ago and did not see the field against Jacksonville State, “will play” on Saturday against Florida State. Muschamp said Monday that Driskel could return to practice but will be held out until Tuesday for precautionary reasons and so he can get additional treatment. From there, he will see how well Driskel can play and how comfortable he is on his ankle, which will determine how much field time he sees Saturday.

“He will play in the game. To what degree? The week will determine that on how his health continues to improve,” he said. “We’re going to see how the week goes. I don’t know. I know right now, based on [Sunday], that he will play in the game. How much he’ll play, whether he’s going to start, I don’t know that right now.”

Muschamp was careful not to name Driskel the starter but that does not mean the designation will not come later in the week. He has yet to see Driskel practice on his injured ankle and is hedging his bets right now. If Driskel practices in full this week, especially towards the end of the week, there should be no doubt that he will start and be active for the full compliment of plays on Saturday.

Also coming off the injury report are redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle), redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) and sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (thigh), all of whom will take Monday off as a precaution before returning to practice on Tuesday. Each is expected to be healthy enough to take on FSU in six days.

Muschamp said Saturday that sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders and redshirt sophomore guard Ian Silberman (shoulder) are out for the season, though no specifics were provided on Saunders.

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 11/19: Driskel will play, Florida no longer “soft”

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11/17: Florida vs. Jacksonville State post-game

No. 6 Florida Gators football (10-1) concluded its seven-game home schedule with a 23-0 victory over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (6-5) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday. Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided some of his thoughts after the game.

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida finished 7-0 at home in a season for just the third time in school history. The 2006 and 2009 UF teams also accomplished that feat.
» The Gators are 14-1 against unranked opponents under Muschamp.
» Florida is 11-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards, 14-3 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points, 10-1 when an opponent rushes for fewer than 100 yards, 11-3 when scoring first and 13-1 when leading at the half.
» The Gators were once again subpar on third down, converting just 2-of-11 opportunities. UF is now 54-of-153 (35.3 percent) on third down this season.
» Florida is +13 in turnover margin through 11 games after being -12 in 2011. UF has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (342) since 2000.
» The Gators have grabbed 16 interceptions so far in 2012 and has doubled its 2011 total of eight picks. UF has registered at least one pick in eight-of-10 games and has also forced eight fumbles.
» Florida’s senior class consists of 19 players who have spent either four (10 players), five (eight) or six (one) seasons wearing the Orange and Blue. The true senior class is 23-5 in The Swamp. It went 7-0 as freshmen in 2009 and as seniors in 2012.

PLAYER NOTES

» Senior running back Mike Gillislee registered his third-highest yards-per-carry average of the season (6.1) and rushed for 100+ yards for the fourth time in 2012. He is now 36 yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard plateau and becoming the first Gators running back to do so since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Gillislee also scored his ninth touchdown of the season and first rushing score since Oct. 6.
» Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturigs made three field goals, bringing him just one away from tying Jeff Chandler’s school record of 67 in a career. Sturgis is also three made field goals away from tying Bobby Raymond’s single-season UF record of 23.
» Senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic registered the first interception return for a touchdown of his career. Bostic’s registered the pick early in the third quarter, bringing it back seven yards for the score.
» Senior safety Josh Evans led Florida with seven tackles including two solo takedowns and 1.5 for a total loss of two yards. He also had a half sack.

OPENING STATEMENTS

On Florida’s senior class:

“I just want to thank the 19 seniors and the job they’ve done for the University of Florida. All of those guys have represented our university in a first-class manner. Last night was really a special night. The guys got up and talked about their experience and told some great stories … I really appreciate them going through a coaching change, going through a 7-6 campaign, certainly questioning a rookie coach and his staff and where we were headed with the program. Certainly could have walked the plank, so to speak, on us, and certainly never did. I’m very appreciative of this bunch and last year’s bunch as well for going through a very tough season, a very difficult season.”

On the lack of production in the second half:

“I felt like, in the second half, we had the game under control defensively. We could have done some more things offensively, and I just told Brent, I said, ‘Let’s go win the game. Let’s get out of here and win the game.’ That’s what we needed to do. That wasn’t on Brent; that was on me.”

Read the rest of what Muschamp and the players had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 11/17: Florida vs. Jacksonville State post-game

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10/22: Muschamp on injuries, awards, turnovers

No. 2 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s big 44-11 win over the then-No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks and preview Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp said that junior cornerback Cody Riggs (foot) and redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (pectoral) are once again out for Saturday’s game. Freshman wide receiver Latroy Pittman (ankle) will return to practice Monday before being evaluated again, and junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (hamstring) will sit on Monday but return to practice on Tuesday (probable for Saturday).

PLAYER AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Game: junior running back Trey Burton
“Trey does a lot of things for our football team offensively, special teams, really a lot of things go through him. We have a package for him in every game, and we certainly were able to use it Saturday and it was very efficient.”

Big Plays: redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed, redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar, junior WR Solomon Patton

Scrap Iron: redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green

Defensive Player of the Game: junior defensive end Dominique Easley

Ball Hawks: Burton (two), Patton, sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy (two), redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray, junior DT Sharrif Floyd, sophomore CB Jabari Gorman, sophomore RB Chris Johnson

Special Teams Player of the Game: Purifoy and sophomore punter Kyle Christy
* Christy was also named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Big Plays: Burton, Patton and Johnson

Scout Team Players of the Week: Special Teams – freshman LB Jeremi Powell, Defense – freshmen DL Alex McCalister and Quinteze Williams, Offense – freshman walk-on RB Mark Herndon

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 10/22: Muschamp on injuries, awards, turnovers

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