FOUR BITS: Noah, McDonald, Haden, Andrews

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has had a star-studded last few days. In addition to being introduced along with the rest of his team by comedian Will Ferrell before Wednesday night’s game (“He’s a Scorpio and a horrible dancer,” Ferrell said of Noah), he was also name-dropped during the latest episode of the sitcom Whitney on NBC. Following a Chicago-Philadelphia game last week, Noah met up with champion eater Takeru Kobayashi, a greeting that was captured by his YouTube channel.

2 » Speaking of Noah, the Bulls’ star center told the Chicago Tribune last month that his rough start to the 2011-12 season was in part due to the pressure he felt after signing a five-year, $60 million contract extension in 2010. “Sometimes you feel like because you’re given so much money you’re expected to do things. That’s not the right mentality to have as a player,” he explained. “I have to play my game. I have to have fun out there. If I don’t, I’m not the same player.” Without an offseason to work on some of the kinks in his game, Noah started exceptionally slow, shooting poorly and turning the ball over more often than he should be. Now back into the swing of things, he has posted double-digit points in eight of his last 10 games (including five-straight double-doubles from Jan 23-30). “I’ve always been a player who reacts well to criticism and doubters,” Noah said. “I feel my teammates were always behind me. But I knew as well as anyone how poorly I was playing. And not only wasn’t I playing well, but I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I wasn’t playing loose out there. I was playing tight. In the beginning of the year, I was overthinking a lot. I was going through a lot of things personally. I feel a lot more comfortable now. I have to stop overthinking and just play.”

3 » San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who was a full-time starter in 2011 for the first time in his career and played exceptionally well throughout the season, was arrested early Wednesday for an outstanding warrant after being pulled over by police for a traffic violation. McDonald had been arrested in 2010 for suspicion of driving under the influence to which he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation that included a fine and a requirement to complete a first offender’s DUI class. With no proof of that class having been completed, a warrant was issued on Aug. 9, according to the Sacramento Bee. Police said McDonald was cooperative with authorities upon being pulled over and arrested and was released early the next morning. He is not expected to face any additional discipline from the NFL or his team.

4 » Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is a unique guy both on and off the field. In addition to being one of the best secondary players in the NFL, he has also found a soft spot for the city of Cleveland and has embraced his fans nationwide through his Twitter account. Below are a few pictures he has tweeted recently (clockwise) of him shooting pool on a table filled with his sneakers, hanging out with Erin Andrews (“We should have done the @TimTebow pose!), “Tebowing” in front of his Rolls-Royce Phantom and showing off his newest draft day tattoo. He did not tweet the final picture, which has been spread online via a variety of sports blogs.

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FOUR Super Bowl XLVI BITS: Spikes, Hernandez, Warren, Cunningham and Trattou

1 » On a lighter note than the story from Thursday about Super Bowl XLVI being a dream come true for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and his mother comes this story about Spikes’s preplanned attire for the occasion. As he did before the 2009 BCS National Championship, Spikes donned his all-pink suit as the team left New England and may very well rock it again on Sunday before the game. “Brought the lucky suit out again!” Spikes tweeted, adding that it is his lucky championship game suit. Below are a handful of pictures Spikes has taken over the weekend while in Indianapolis, IN including two with teammates and fellow former Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.

2 » Spikes is not the only one taking in the special occasion. Hernandez told Katherine Smith, in a special for Florida’s website, that being able to play in the Super Bowl is something he will never forget. “I was with Spikes the other day and we were just sitting there in the car and we were like, ‘Wow, we are really playing in the Super Bowl.’ I know it will really hit me when we walk into the game and all those cameras will be flashing and we’ll notice this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is a dream come true. I never thought I would be in this position or have this experience, but I’ll definitely take it all in and hold this for the rest of my life.” With Rob Gronkowski seeing most of the touches at tight end this year for the Patriots, Hernandez’s role has been altered. Not only does he play a true tight end role, he also splits out as a wide receiver and takes handoffs in the backfield, too. With Gronkowski nursing a high-ankle sprain and undoubtedly limited heading into the contest, Hernandez may be counted on more than ever on Sunday. “You dream of stuff like this since you’re a little kid,” he continued. “You never really actually see yourself in this position because obviously it’s always a dream, but to be here seems surreal. I remember doing the media day in college. I was looking around then just thinking how crazy that was, and now I’m in the Super Bowl and thinking how crazy this is. It’s crazy.”

3 » Lost with Spikes and Hernandez in the spotlight is the path of Warren, an 11-year NFL veteran still searching for his first Super Bowl ring. After being selected with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Warren was labeled a bit of a bust, something that saw him see time in two more stops at Denver and Oakland before finally arriving in New England in 2012. Since joining the Patriots, Warren has been the consummate team player. He’s done the dirty work in the trenches and even began this season off of the team’s roster when the coaching staff promised they would bring him back after veteran contracts were no longer guaranteed. They did. “Gerard has been very professional,” head coach Bill Belichick said of him on Tuesday. “He’s been with us for two years, and his career has had its own path. But I really feel like he’s settled into our team and our program. He’s one of the most respected guys on the team. He works hard. He’s tough. He wants to be on the field. Gerard’s not a big-ego guy. He just wants to do his job and help us, and I have a lot of respect for that. I really do.”

4 » Spikes, Hernandez and Warren may be the big names Florida fans recognize on Sunday but there are two other Gators also involved with the teams competing. Jermaine Cunningham, a linebacker with New England, is out for the season with a hamstring injury and listed on the team’s injured reserve. He did see the field this year but just sparingly. For the New York Giants, rookie defensive end Justin Trattou in on their roster though he has been inactive recently, last seeing action in Week 16. No matter which team wins, a former Florida player will be going home with a ring.

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TWO BITS: Tim Tebow DVD, Haden’s stock up

1 » The DVD version of the documentary Tim Tebow: Everything in Between, directed by Chase Heavener and originally released as part of ESPN’s Year of the Quarterback television series, is already available for pre-order and is scheduled to go on sale on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, according to ordering pages from stores like Amazon.com, ChristianCinema.com and Walmart.com. The DVD has a run time of 90 minutes and is expected to feature a longer cut of the documentary as well as some special features. Click on the cover below to pre-order through OGGOA via Amazon.com.

2 » Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who along with his team will play a road game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, said he is so impressed with second-year cornerback Joe Haden that he has been following the former Florida Gators star all offseason. “A young guy like that, he’s very talented,” Marshall said, according to ESPN. “He’s hungry. He puts a lot into it. I followed him on Twitter just to keep up with him and see what he’s doing. When I got on Twitter in February, he was one of the first guys I followed, just to check him out and for this weekend here. I have my work cut out for me. He’s pretty good.” Haden finished his rookie campaign with 64 tackles and six interceptions including five in his last eight games. He is already off to a fast start in 2011 and hopes to continue proving he is one of the top coverage corners in the NFL.

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FOUR BITS: Martin transfers, Haden, Caquatto

1 » For the third time in his post-high school career, former Florida Gators defensive end/linebacker Chris Martin is putting on a different uniform. According to the Palm Beach Post, Martin joined the Navarro College Bulldogs over the summer and is set to play defensive end for the team this fall. The former five-star recruit, who first enrolled at California before transferring to Florida and choosing to leave the team following his redshirt season in June, will likely look to go the Cam Newton-route and spend a year at Navarro before moving on to a more prominent program.

2 » The word “fan” is derived from the longer term “fanatic,” and perhaps no individual can stake a greater claim to that title than Don Crews, who was profiled by Florida Today in a piece over the weekend. Set to attend his 500th Florida game on Sept. 3 when UF takes on Florida Atlantic, Crews lives 171 miles away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but has managed to attend nearly every game since 1963.

3 » Much has been said about Cleveland Browns second-year cornerback Joe Haden truly embracing the city of Cleveland, OH ever since he was selected by the Browns with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. A recent story by The Cleveland Plain Dealer dives into the topic even deeper. “What else would I be doing — sitting at home by myself?” Haden joked when asked why he does so much for his fans. “It’s all about giving back, and at the same time, it’s so much fun. [...] It’s really easy to do, honestly. Even if I didn’t play football, I’d be doing all this stuff. I’m just trying to have a good time and make sure everyone knows I care about this city and appreciate the fans.”

4 » Congratulations are in store for Florida sophomore gymnast Mackenzie Caquatto, who finished in fourth place at the 2011 Visa Championships in the senior all-around competition and second place in the uneven bars on Saturday. Due to her placement in the all-around portion of the event, Caquatto earned a spot on the U.S. Senior National Team for the fourth-straight time.

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DE Lynden Trail goes on a planking spree

Most of the stories one hears about athletes and their usage of social media are negative in nature. The headlines are usually outlandish things they have said, inappropriate pictures that have been taken and fights they have started with others.

However, services like Twitter and Facebook can also be used for other things. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden sponsored a little league team because a fan asked him to. He has also taken groups of fans out to lunch and happy hour simply because he can. Other former Gators have raised money for charity (Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson), given away free stuff to fans (Atlanta Hawks power forward Al Horford) and even had open discussions about Florida’s Ring of Honor qualifications (New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Brown).

So when Florida Gators redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail started tweeting pictures of himself planking on various surfaces and objects late Monday evening, Gator Nation undoubtedly noticed – and laughed.

“Planking,” for those of you uninitiated to the recently popular practice, is defined by Wikipedia as “an activity […] consisting of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. The hands must touch the sides of the body, and having a photograph of the participant taken and posted on the Internet is an integral part of the game.”

Trail, who himself was subject of what turned out to be false claims about his persona due to picture uncovered on the Internet during his recruitment, has been an active tweeter for quite some time. He took his game to another level on Monday with the planking pictures you can view by expanding the post.

All pictures above are courtesy of Trail’s Twitter account.

A married man, Trail is already more responsible than most college-aged students and, though the activity may not necessarily hit everyone’s funny bone, it is some good-natured, harmless offseason fun that is nice to see for a change.

He also offered up an open challenge to the rest of the University of Florida. “Planking just got real,” he wrote, “I challenge my fellow gators to participate lol.”

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FOUR BITS: Two days of ESPN, Pitino’s new job

1 » The Florida Gators were all over ESPN on Wednesday with Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and senior C Mike Pouncey making appearances. Below are videos of the interviews conducted with Haden and the Pounceys on First Take by Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson:

2 » The Gators-on-ESPN theme will continue Thursday with head coach Will Muschamp being put through the “car wash” ringer in Bristol, CT. His Thursday schedule, according to the University of Florida is as follows:

10:20 a.m – SportsCenter (LIVE, ESPN)
11:05 a.m. – First Take (LIVE, ESPN2)
11:45 a.m. – The Herd (LIVE, ESPN Radio)
1:00 p.m. – ESPN U College Football podcast with Ivan Maisel
3:30 p.m. – College Football Live – (taped, ESPN2)
4:00 p.m. – SportsNation (taped, ESPN2)
4:10 p.m. – SportsCenter (LIVE)
1-4 p.m. – Scott Van Pet Radio Show (taped, ESPN Radio)

3 » Though former Florida assistant basketball coach Richard Pitino will indeed be leaving the Gators for a job under his father with the Louisville Cardinals (if a deal can be worked out), he will not be named the head coach-in-waiting, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s C.L. Brown. “That’s not the way I operate,” athletic director Tom Jurich said. “I would never put that kidn of pressure on him, and I don’t think Rick [Pitino] would want that kind of pressure on him.” The older Pitino said his son rejoining his staff is” far from official” though it is in the works.

4 » Former Florida basketball assistant Lewis Preston will be named head coach at Kennesaw State Owls, according to FOX Sports. Preston has been an assistant with the Penn State Nittany Lions since 2008.

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TWO BITS: Haden sponsors team; scholarships

1 » It wasn’t an April Fools joke when Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden agreed to sponsor a baseball team on April 1. The rookie responded to a Twitter request from the manager of a youth team who asked him if he would be interested in fronting the money after the team’s sponsor dropped out. Haden responded immediately and, $325 later, Haden’s Nation in the Plain Local Baseball and Softball Association was born. “The boys seem pretty excited,” team manager Mike Clapper told the Canton Repository. “Joe said he hopes to come down to a couple of games.” Now Haden has something else to keep him busy during the lockout.

2 » With wide receivers Chris Dunkley and Javares McRoy deciding to transfer away from the Florida Gators, the football team has been left with 10 available scholarships under the NCAA maximum of 85, according to numbers crunched by InsideTheGators.com. Because 10 seniors on scholarship will be moving on after the 2011 season, Florida will have at least 20 scholarships (likely more) to hand out to recruits for 2012. Nine verbal commitments have already been made for 2012, leaving approximately a dozen (give or take a few) spots left to be filled.

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TWO BITS: Baseball falls, Haden goes all out

1 » Starting hot out of the gate, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (21-5) was outscored 5-0 from the fourth inning on and defeated 5-2 by the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles (19-5) on Tuesday in Jacksonville, FL in front of a crowd of 10,078. Florida rallied for runs in the first and third as junior right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani tossed three scoreless frames. Then, to start the fourth, he gave up back-to-back hits and sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (1-1) failed to keep them on base. Tied at two runs a piece, Florida State scored what would be the game-winner when senior second baseman Josh Adams dropped a popup in the sixth; FSU added two more on a home run in the bottom of the eighth. The Seminoles now lead the season series with the Gators 2-1. UF has a chance to even things up when the teams face in Tallahassee, FL on April 12. Florida has lost three of their last four games.

2 » The Cleveland Cavaliers may have lost forward LeBron James, but they have gained a major supporter in Cleveland Browns and former Gators cornerback Joe Haden. Appearing at a number of games this season, Haden has shown his support with a variety of jerseys and by cheering hard from the front row. He took his game to another level Tuesday, dressing up like point guard Baron Davis from head to toe…including a fake beard. A for effort; D for the toy basketball.

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