SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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Three Gators sign undrafted free agent deals

Former Florida Gators quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green each signed undrafted free agent contracts hours after the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft on Saturday.

Brantley and Thompson, each of whom had an outside shot of being drafted but were ultimately passed over in the seven-round event, both signed with the Baltimore Ravens. It is the second-straight year that Baltimore penned a former Florida player to an undrafted free agent deal after picking up DE Terron Sanders a year ago (he was eventually released).

“I’m excited,” Brantley told the Ocala Star-Banner. “I was expecting the worst after the last two years (at UF). I just want to get a shot and that’s what I got. The Ravens started showing interest in the middle of the second round. There’s an opportunity there.”

Green will join former Florida cornerback Joe Haden on the Cleveland Browns.

Additionally, center/guard Dan Wenger told OGGOA on Sunday that he has been invited to participate in the New York Jets‘ team mini-camp. He had interest from three others teams but New York ultimately became his destination.

Cornerback Moses Jenkins has yet to sign an undrafted free agent deal or receive/accept any invitations as of press time.

2012 NFL DRAFT
» DT Jaye Howard – Round 4, No. 114 – Seattle Seahawks
» RB Chris Rainey – Round 5, No. 159 – Pittsburgh Steelers
» CB Janoris Jenkins – Round 2, No. 39 – St. Louis Rams

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Florida Gators 2012 NFL Draft viewer’s guide

The Florida Gators may not have a proverbial dog in the race when it comes to the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft on Thursday but a handful of former Florida players still hope to see their childhood dreams come true this weekend.

As fans of the 32 NFL teams look on nationwide, those supporting the Gators may not be as excited about the event this time around considering there will be yet another a significant drop-off from the nation-leading nine players that were selected in 2010 (including a school-record three in the first round and six in the first two rounds). In fact, Florida is not expected to have a first-round pick for the first time since the 2006 draft when Chad Jackson was an early second-round selection by New England.

Few things are certain when it comes to the NFL Draft – trades can occur at any moment and each team views its most pressing needs and what each player brings to the table differently than analysts do. Rather than try to predict the unknown variables and tell you what could happen, we will stick with what likely will happen Thursday-Sunday.

» Cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be the only player with (close) ties to Florida to be selected in the first two rounds – probably in the latter part of round one.

Unless a team falls in love with running back Chris Rainey’s potential, Jenkins is the only name Gators fans can hope to hear on Thursday or early Friday. He has early first-round potential but what many teams apparently consider undraftable off-the-field character concerns. Reports coming out this week state that some teams have removed Jenkins from their draft boards entirely while others recognize that his talent may be too good to pass up. Many analysts even believe he has a higher upside than LSU’s Morris Claiborne, who is expected to be the first cornerback selected (somewhere in the top 10) on Thursday. With such a rush of anti-Jenkins reports, it appears as if a number of teams are trying to create a major smokescreen in the hopes that he falls to them late in the first round. Marijuana arrests and multiple children out of wedlock may matter to some front office executives, but they are not considered to be on the same level with felony arrests, for example. It is likely that someone takes a chance on Jenkins Thursday and does not let him slip into the second round where he would be an absolute steal.

Continue Reading » Florida Gators 2012 NFL Draft viewer’s guide

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Florida adds Maryland transfer OT Max Garcia

Sophomore offensive tackle Max Garcia told Rivals.com‘s Ryan Bartow on Saturday that he has decided to transfer to the Florida Gators ending weeks of speculation about where he would play his final two seasons of college football.

“Once a Terp always a Terp, but it is a great day to be a Florida Gator!! #GatorNation,” he wrote on Twitter later in the day.

Garcia, the Norcross, GA product and 2010 three-star recruit who decided to leave the Maryland Terrapins in order to play closer to home, chose Florida over Georgia and USC. He had called UGA his leader one month ago.

Despite his age, Garcia has plenty of on-field experience after starting all 12 games for Maryland in 2011 and drawing positive reviews while doing so. He will be forced to sit out the 2012 season per NCAA rules but will retain two years of eligibility beginning in 2013.

Garcia is the second offensive line transfer that the Gators have received in as many years after the team picked up center/guard Dan Wenger from Notre Dame last season.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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C/G Dan Wenger: “I’m so thankful for…Muschamp”

It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.

His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Check out Part One of my interview with Dan Wenger.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Going into the bowl game there appeared to be two main motivations for the team: finishing the season above .500 and sticking it to Urban Meyer. Some guys were a bit vocal about this to the media but for the most part it was kind of it in the background. Which motivation do you think fueled the team more – avoiding the losing season or showing Meyer that Florida was still the better team?
DAN WENGER: “For me that whole Urban Meyer thing wasn’t an issue. I know guys that were upset about the situation and wanted to kind of prove their point – whether it be that they didn’t want Urban to leave or they had something against him for leaving. Whatever the case may be that was never an issue for me. It was one of those things that’s talked about in the locker room but it was a conversation I didn’t get involved in. I had no experience playing under him. He recruited me but at the same time I didn’t spend five years at Florida before Coach Muschamp came in. That was not even a thought in my head. As far as the whole losing season, I’ve been 6-6 going into a bowl game at Notre Dame – once we went to a bowl game and won and the other time we didn’t go to a bowl game. There’s something about going into a bowl game and winning and coming out at that 7-6 and ending with a winning season. That sparks the fire again and the drive and the energy to be better and work harder going into the offseason. When we were 6-6 at Notre Dame in 2009, we didn’t go to a bowl game. Staying stagnant at 6-6, knowing that we couldn’t do anything else about it was terrible. We felt deflated. It was only the second time I had a full winter break. It was something I wasn’t used to and I didn’t know what to do with myself with that time. I was used to watching film and getting ready to prepare and fight that fight one more time. To me, it’s very important and I think that was mostly my motivation going into that game against Ohio State. To come out on top and more than anything I wanted to do whatever I could to help the other guys be ready and prepare them for the game.”

AS: Well I know it wasn’t a motivation for you, but Meyer taking the Ohio State job before that bowl game had to be on the mind of a lot of the other players. Was it something they just brought up here and there or was it a topic that you heard plenty about and thought was a real motivator for the other players?
DW: “You could say there was all of that going on. It was on everyone’s mind. Guys wanted to see if he was going to be there or on the sideline. It was very evident that it was going on in the locker room, all of that talk. A lot of those guys just had a point to prove. That’s fine. Everyone is motivated by different things. Whatever gets you going and gets you ready to give your best effort in a game, by all means use it. It might not be what motivates me, but hell, if it motivates you then let’s go into this game together both highly motivated and play to the best of our abilities.”

Read the rest of Part Two – for FREE – on InsideTheGators.com.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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C/G Dan Wenger: “I loved my time at Florida.”

It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.

Wenger, who suffered a pair of concussions that forced him to miss what would have been his redshirt senior season and was not cleared to play for Notre Dame this past year, was cleared by Florida doctors and joined former coaches Charlie Weis and Frank Verducci on the Gators.

With Florida badly in need of healthy bodies on the offensive line and both Weis and Verducci vouching for him after his concussion tests came back clean, head coach Will Muschamp granted Wenger a spot on the Gators for 2011.

He wound up starting 11 of 13 games for Florida (including 10 at left guard and one at center) while also serving as a mentor and leader for a young unit trying to learn Weis’s complicated pro-style offense.

His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

ADAM SILVERSTIEN: The way you came into the program was unique. Not only did you join a very young unit, but you happened to be the most experienced player based on the years you spent in the system at Notre Dame. As it turned out, your teammates looked to you in many ways as a leader and a teacher even though you were one of the team’s newest players. How strange was that situation for you?
DAN WENGER: “Yeah. It wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but it was something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect the guys would respond so well to me. The reason for that is you see guys transfer most of the time and for a lot of guys it’s a tough transition, whether it be guys on the team worried about this new kid taking their position or just not fitting into the new environment and trying to figure out how everything goes. I kind of thought that’s how it was going to be when I got there. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t; the guys responded well. As we did our player practices in the summer, I definitely saw kind of the lack of knowledge, the lack of understanding of what we were going to do with the new offense. Being my last go-around, I bought into everything and said whatever happens, that’s what my role is going to be. I’m going to do my best, starter or scout team, to help these guys understand this so we’re all on the same page to help us be as good as we possibly can be. Those guys responded great to it. I helped with film in the summer and explaining stuff in practice like some of the drills. I did whatever I could so these guys had a really good comfort level going into the season so we weren’t picking up any slack and actually made progress from where they had left off in the spring. That was my whole goal of trying to come in and teach and be a little bit of a coach to those kids.”

AS: For someone stepping into the program for a relatively short period of time who has worked with other head coaches and “been around the block” so to speak, what did you think of Muschamp’s style, the way he ran things in his first season and what he’s trying to do at Florida?
DW: “In my honest opinion, I couldn’t have been happier to have played for a head coach like Coach Muschamp. He was exactly what I want in a head coach. He’s a blue collar guy. He’s hard-nosed. He expects a lot out of his players, expects us to work hard. There’s a genuine caring for his players. You can tell that. It was just an awesome experience to play for him. In all honesty, I loved my time at Florida. I loved playing for Coach Muschamp and being a part of the Florida Gators. It was probably one of the best things – if not the best thing – that could have happened to me in my college experience.”

Read the rest of this interview – for FREE – on InsideTheGators.com.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Mel Kiper on Florida Gators in 2012 NFL Draft

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. spoke on a conference call Thursday, taking an early look at the 2012 NFL Draft and where he expects players across the nation to be slotted.

Asked about players coming into the league from the Florida Gators this year, Kiper expects running back Chris Rainey to be the highest pick but says he is unlikely to be selected before the fourth round.

“Florida right now is looking at guys that are figuring on day three of the draft,” he said. “Rainey is an interesting guy because he has speed and has got some versatility. He certainly could fit what a team is looking for in the fourth round area.”

The rest of available Gators – notably defensive tackle Jaye Howard and quarterback John Brantley – Kiper believes will be picked in rounds 5-7 depending how they perform at Pro Day and the 2012 NFL Combine.

“Howard right now I have as the 12th highest-rated defensive tackle and that was before the juniors came in,” he said. “That would push him down between say 17 and 23, which pushes him into the late-round category.”

Kiper has Brantley as the No. 15 quarterback overall and says that his inability to show any major strides this season is the reason he will not be picked higher if at all.

“He never developed into the quarterback he was hyped to be,” he explained. “We all heard about John Brantley coming through. He was going to be coming over off of [Tim] Tebow. He was going to be the pure passer. He was going to be the guy that was going to get that passing game going. You never saw any indications of him being an early round pick. He just didn’t perform to that level.

“Obviously he did not have great talent around him to the level that Florida has had in past years. We know that. The guys up front and certainly the guys at the skill positions even though they did have [Jeff] Demps and Rainey and some other kids that have ability. You never saw any indication that Brantley was going to take that next step and put himself in the mix with the first-second-third-round quarterbacks.”

Other UF players available for selection in the draft include defensive end William Green, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and center/guard Dan Wenger.

Kiper’s highest-rated player with any ties to Florida is North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He believes Jenkins “looked like a first-rounder” while playing for the Gators and continued to play up to that level this season.

If there were no character concerns, Kiper thinks Jenkins could have been selected in the middle of the first round. Now he will have to fight to be among the first 32 picks.

“When you look at Jenkins, I’d say right now early- to mid-second with a chance of moving into the late first if he maximizes the next three months,” Kiper said. “But right now I’m projecting him as a kid that goes between 33 and 42.”

Kiper, who had thrown some positive comments Tebow’s way during the 2011-12 NFL season, found an opportunity to reaffirm his original stance on the Denver Broncos quarterback when discussing why he never wavered from believing Robert Griffin III would be a quarterback at the next level.

“I know I’ve debated that with different people, about him being a wide receiver. I never saw that. I thought he was a quarterback all along,” Kiper said of Griffin. “I didn’t think that about Tebow. I still think Tebow’s an H-back. And I said that about Pat White, I thought he should have been a receiver and a return man. He wanted to be a quarterback and now he’s out of the league.

“Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t on these guys. But I always thought Griffin was a quarterback and not a projection. I think Denard Robinson’s a projection, a wide receiver coming out of Michigan. I didn’t think that about RG3.”

No matter how things unfold for Florida, chances are the Gators will not have a first-round pick to their name for the first time since 2006. Florida has had 43 players selected in the first round of the draft all-time including 12 in the last 15 years.

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12/27: Muschamp on Gator Bowl, hiring coaches

Head coach Will Muschamp met with the media Tuesday to answer some questions and look ahead to the Florida Gators‘ next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Florida and Ohio State will go head-to-head in the 2011 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from Tuesday’s availability.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

Four Florida starters were notable absent or hobbled during the team’s first practice since Christmas break on Monday. Muschamp explained that senior running back Jeff Demps had a “personal matter” to attend to and will be with the team Tuesday morning. Additionally, redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson was missing from the field due to being stuck in the hotel with an illness.

Two Gators – redshirt senior offensive lineman Dan Wenger (ankle) and redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray – are injured heading into the game. Wenger is “still struggling,” according to Muschamp, who said that he took some practice reps in Gainesville, FL and is expected to play in the game. McCray, on the other hand, is doubtful for the contest with a bad shoulder. “We’ve exhausted about every measure we can as far as the shoulder is concerned, trying to work to get total range of motion and strength back,” he said.

NO JOBS OFFERED, NO HIRINGS COMPLETED

Despite a report that Muschamp has zeroed in on his next director of strength and conditioning, the coach said Tuesday that nothing could be further from the truth at this time. “I haven’t hired anybody. I’ve talked to a lot of people at the strength position and the offensive coordinator position, and when I make the hire everybody will know,” he said. “No one has been hired. No one has been offered a job yet. So that’s it.”

The primary reason Muschamp indicated for not having made a hire is that he is not done with the interview process. Though he has spoken with a number of candidates for both positions, he plans to continue doing so throughout the week and insisted that Florida will not make an announcement until after the bowl game.

“I still have people I want to talk to. I’ve talked to probably six, seven, eight people so far and some people over Christmas and some people this week I plan to talk to and then after the bowl game,” he said. “I’ve never put a timetable on it because it’s [what is] the right fit for Florida. It’s going to be the best decision for Florida. It’s an important hire – obviously both of them are – and I’ve talked to multiple people [for] both situations.”

One candidate for offensive coordinator is current running backs coach Brian White, who will be the team’s playcaller against Ohio State next Monday. Muschamp said he has not learned anything new about White as he’s watched him in his interim role but maintained that he continues to be impressed with him as a coach.

“I know he’s a good football coach, and he’s just reassured my confidence in him as a football coach. He’s done a nice job of preparing our football team. It’s all about situational football and being prepared for situations when they occur in the game. As a playcaller, he’s got a knack for that,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that being a playcaller for a long time, to have somebody in the room that has done it before [is a positive]. Everybody’s got great ideas until they’ve sat in that chair, and then they understand the difference and see the big picture. They understand all the things that go with running an offense or running a defense. There’s no question that his experience, I thought, was very critical in our growth as an offense to be a part of our offense as we move forward.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said the team spent the first 4-5 days of bowl practice working on fundamental football and used the final four before Christmas break doing normal game week preparation. He decided to have Florida run, stretch and once again familiarize themselves with the game plan because there is an extra day of preparation.

» On the 2011 season as a whole: “It’s been a disappointing season from the standpoint of what our record is. It’s been very frustrating. It is what it is at the end of the day. We need to prepare well for this football game. We’re playing a good football team, and we need to play well.”

» On redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard’s play this season: “I thought Jaye played well. Jaye’s played himself into a decent situation there for April. He really has. He’s played well. He’s played blocks well. You talk to a lot of the people who’ve played us, they all compliment how he’s played and how much better he’s played, his pad level, his hustle to the ball, finishing plays. He’s done a nice job.”

» On if he’s spoken to Urban Meyer since he took the Ohio State job: “A couple times, more than anything about hiring coaches and stuff that he was looking at. He called for my opinion on a couple and that was about it.”

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