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: Harvin, transfers, track & field, O’Day

1 » According to Mike Max of Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin is on the Minnesota Vikings’ trading block. As was speculated previously, Max reports that “the No. 1 reason Percy Harvin left the team this season was not his injury, but it was motivated by a blowup he had with Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.” Harvin, who reportedly got in a verbal argument with former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress and once reportedly attempted to choke former Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales after the two got in an argument during practice, supposedly “had an embarrassing tirade directed towards Frasier, disrespecting the coach during the season when Harvin was sidelined with an injured ankle.” Shortly thereafter, the Vikings put him on injured reserve. A MVP candidate during the 2012 season until he got injured, Harvin is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He will likely command a second-round pick with some additional compensation but not the first-round selection his talent deserves as front offices have concerns about his injury history and demeanor within a team environment. Harvin can be traded when free agency begins for the 2013 league year on March 12.

2 » Two players Florida would love to have in uniform right now while the team’s roster is under siege by injuries are transfers junior center Damontre Harris and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Unfortunately for the Gators, the two are sitting out their NCAA-mandated redshirt season; fortunately for UF, the duo is forming a close bond and preparing to contribute in 2013-14. Harris, who is still recovering from surgery he had on a torn labrum, told Florida’s school website that “the worst part” of the whole situation is “put[ting] in the work everybody else puts in, but you don’t get to show or perform or demonstrate all that work.” He added, “I think about it every day…actually wearing a Gator uniform. I’ve even had dreams about it but then I wake up knowing I still have to wait ‘till next year.” Finney-Smith is equally anxious. “I just wish I’d signed with Florida out of high school,” he said. “Can’t do nothing about it now, though, but practice hard and wait for my time to get here.”

3 » Gators track and field was split up over the weekend with half of the No. 2 men’s team and No. 7 women’s team participating in the 2013 Husky Classic (Seattle, WA) and 2013 Virginia Tech Elite Meet (Blacksburg, VA). In the latter meet, sophomore Marquis Dendy posted a 7.99m/26-2.75 in the men’s long jump, becoming the new NCAA leader in the event in the process. Also making noise in Blacksburg was junior sprinter Eddie Lovett, who matched his own Florida school record with time of 7.66 in the men’s 60-meter hurdles. Dendy and Lovett had their success on Friday with Saturday being all about sophomore Taylor Burke, who participated in the same meet and broke the school record in the women’s high jump with a personal best of 1.86m/6-125. Burke, a dual-sport star who started at goalkeeper for the soccer team this season, is expected to continue her track career as a professional after graduation.

4 » Headed for arbitration with the Baltimore Orioles, right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day agreed to a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the club, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. As a reliever in Baltimore last season, O’Day went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 4.9 K/BB ratio. He was a contributor to the Orioles’ huge turnaround in 2012 and certainly a piece that management wants to have around for the foreseeable future.

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FOUR BITS: Evans, O’Day, Taylor, McDonald

1 » Florida Gators senior safety Josh Evans opened up to the New York Post recently about the difficulties he faced after losing his mother over six years ago while still in eighth grade. In fact, Evans had to come to grips with the situation head-on considering he was the only one in the house at the time of his mom’s passing. “I was actually there. My mother had been dealing with cancer for a couple of years, and I had no clue, I didn’t know she had cancer because I was young, my parents didn’t want the baby boy to know that she was sick to that magnitude,” he explained. “It was toward the end of the school year, graduation was coming up, eighth grade, I had a day off from school. So my father went to work and he said, ‘Make sure you check on her every 10-20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I will.’ After he left, 10, 15 minutes went by, I walked back in the room to check on her and that was it. I saw something that changed my life forever.” Read more.

2 » Two former Florida baseball players began the 2012 MLB Playoffs late last week though only one remains past the wild card qualification weekend. Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day has already seen action as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles as the team got past the wild card stage and is now engaged in a five-game series with the New York Yankees. Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross, on the other hand, hit a two-run homer in his team’s game but is now out of the playoffs due to the Braves losing.

3 » Former Florida jumpers Christian Taylor and Will Claye – who took home gold and silver, respectively, in the triple jump at the 2012 London Olympics over the summer (Claye also won bronze in the long jump) – are two of six male athletes nominated for 2012 Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year, an award that recognizes track & field’s best male and female athlete. The award will be officially presented on Dec. 1. with fans receiving the opportunity to vote for their favorite.

4 » San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald may not post the gaudy stats like some of his contemporaries, but he is just as integral to his team’s success as any of the top players at his position in the NFL. Speaking with the 49ers’ team website last week, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio raved about what McDonald brings to the table each day. “He has a tremendous impact on any game and on our defense,” he said. “When teams have a hard time running, he’s right in the middle of that. Whether he’s being credited with a tackle or not is irrelevant.” After playing sparingly as a reserve in his first few seasons, McDonald was signed to a starter’s contract in 2011 (five years, $20 million) and moved into that role last year. He is more than living up to his end of the bargain and could be in line for a raise before his deal expires in 2015.

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Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators pitcher Darren O’Day, currently a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles after spending time with three other MLB teams, was pranked by MLB Fan Cave and his manager Buck Showalter. Watch him get chewed out and completely fall for it:

» Former Gators striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach sat down for an in-depth and informative interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts and discussed a number of topics including the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Wambach became an extremely popular sports figure after leading the Americans to the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup with some incredibly clutch goals and is now the face of the sport in the United States.

» Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte spoke with NBC‘s Bob Costas when he was done competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials over the weekend. Lochte speaks about the Olympics, his rivalry with Phelps and learning how to become a better athlete and competitor (Video).

» The Detroit Pistons did not extend a qualifying offer to former Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin over the weekend, officially making him an unrestricted free agent just one year after the team selected him with the No. 52 overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Despite not being tendered, Macklin will still play with Detroit’s summer league team in hopes of being re-signed or catching the eye of another squad. He was sent down to the NBA D-League during the season but dominated the competition by averaging 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds in the games he played. He should be picked up by a team at some point sooner than later.

Read SIX more Gator Bites on Nelson, Cooper, Hill and Beal…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

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FOUR BITS: Jenkins, MLB, basketball, CWS

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was kicked off the team by head coach Will Muschamp following multiple brushes with the law, has officially signed a scholarship with the North Alabama Lions, where he will play under head coach Terry Bowden. “I talked to everybody that I could possibly talk to at Florida, who had a relationship with him,” Bowden told ESPN.com. “From Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to Jeremy Foley, they all said he is a guy who made a mistake. But it does not represent his character or his time at Florida. They all thought he deserved a second chance.” North Alabama actually represents Jenkins’s fourth chance.

2 » A pair of former Florida baseball players are in the process of being removed from the disabled list by their respective MLB teams. Oakland Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis (hamstring) came off the 15-day list Wednesday and will continue to serve as a utility player with the squad. Texas Rangers relief pitcher Darren O’Day (hip) has been out much longer after having surgery in late April. He was placed on the 60-day list and will likely rejoin Texas on Tuesday.

3 » With the NCAA recently coming down hard on the Kentucky Wildcats for celebrating head coach John Calipari’s “500th” victory, the Gators have decided to adjust their men’s basketball record books due to sanctions levied against the team for the actions of former head coach Norm Sloan. “According to the NCAA infractions report, Sloan paid child support to keep one of his players out of jail and paid transportation from Gainesville to Boston to allow one of his players to work as a counselor at a summer basketball basketball camp,” The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway explains. The player in question is presumed to be Vernon Maxwell, who has his final two seasons with the team erased from the media guide. Florida has placed asterisks next to NCAA Tournament games and adjusted their books .

4 » Already 4-1 against the No. 6-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores this season (2-1 on the road, 2-0 at neutral sites), No. 2 Gators baseball will once again take on their Southeastern Conference East division rivals in the semifinals of the 2011 College World Series on Friday at 2 p.m. Florida (52-17) is one win away from advancing to the Championship Series, while Vanderbilt (54-11) would need to defeat UF twice in order to move forward. OGGOA will have complete coverage of the upcoming CWS game, including a full preview, throughout the day on Friday.

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Gators to begin MLB season; softball’s draftees

With Opening Day for MLB beginning at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday, the Florida Gators boast six former players on rosters across the league.

2B Mark Ellis – Oakland Athletics
A nine-year veteran, Ellis is Oakland’s opening day starter at second base. He will bat in the lower half of the order seeing as he finished the 2010 season batting .291 with five home runs and 49 RBI in 436 at bats.

1B Matt LaPorta – Cleveland Indians
Praised by the coaching staff for his defensive prowess in the infield, LaPorta is still trying to improve his hitting at the professional level. An offensive force coming out of UF, he only batted .221 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 46 walks in 376 plate appearances in 2010 but will start for Cleveland this season.

RHP Darren O’Day – Texas Rangers
A force for Texas during the playoffs, O’Day struggled with his command this spring. He made a team-high 72 relief appearances last season and will likely be the primary reliever in 2011. O’Day finished 2010 with a 6-2 record and 2.03 ERA in 62.0 innings.

RHP Bryan Augenstein – St. Louis Cardinals
Augenstein pitched in seven games (two starts) for Arizona in 2009. He will likely be St. Louis’ long reliever out of the bullpen in 2011.

C David Ross – Atlanta Braves
A nine-year veteran like Ellis, Ross will be the back-up behind home plate for star catcher Brian McCann. He played in 59 games for Atlanta in 2010, batting .289 with a pair of homers, 28 RBI and 20 walks in 121 at bats.

OF Ryan Raburn – Detroit Tigers
Played at UF as a freshman before transferring.
In his seventh professional season, Raburn will be Detroit’s opening day starter in left field. With the Tigers supporting a large number of outfielders on their roster, Rayburn may not start every day but will be given as many at bats as possible. He ended the 2010 season batting .280 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 371 plate appearances.

Three of Florida’s senior softball players were drafted in the 2011 National Pro Fastpitch Draft on March 18. Left fielder Kelsey Bruder and first baseman Megan Bush were picked in the second round, while second baseman Aja Paculba was selected in the fifth. Bruder (No. 5 overall) will play for the USSSA Pride in Orlando, FL where former Gators outfielder Francesca Enea was picked last year and won a title in 2010. Bush (No. 6 overall) is joining the Akron Racers in Akron, OH, and Paculba was picked by the NPF Diamonds of Hermitage, TN. Florida head softball coach Tim Walton also leads the Pride and won the league’s title in his first season.

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FOUR BITS: Drayton, Hilliard, Dwyer, O’Day

1 » Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, will leave the team to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes as early as next week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has confirmed. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp when he took over the program in early January, Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He will likely coordinate the Buckeyes’ recruiting for the state of Florida, a job held by the team’s preceding wide receivers coach. Drayton was on Florida’s staff when they defeated Ohio State and captured the National Championship in 2006.

UPDATE: UF has released the following statement on Drayton’s status: “Coach Muschamp is on the road recruiting and our coaching staff remains intact at this time.”

2 » Former Gators wide receiver Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran who officially retired last July by signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants, will join the Miami Dolphins as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career. He has coached receivers for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL since 2009. Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first title. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns. His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

3 » Though it is looking more and more like four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) will eventually head elsewhere, he is still considering traveling to Florida for his last official visit (his other choice would be Miami). Either way, Dwyer High School head football coach Jack Daniels isn’t sure Brissett, or four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) – who the Gators are also recruiting heavily – will announce their commitments on or before National Signing Day. “I think at best it’s 50-50,” Daniels told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg. “We are going to sit down [Wednesday], have lunch and talk about it. I don’t think they will be ready. We need to talk about it and try and get a feel for where they are both at.”

Brissett and Maggitt both have Florida and Wisconsin in common as schools they are considering; the former is also weighing offers from Miami and Washington, while the latter has Tennessee vying for his services as well. The goal is for both players to commit on or before Feb. 2, if possible. “I am not going to make them do it if they are not ready but it’s not looking that good,” Daniels said. “When they get back for this weekend’s visits we need to sit down and work it out if we can.”

4 » Former Gators pitcher Darren O’Day has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Texas Rangers. O’Day, a reliever for Texas during their World Series run, posted a 6-2 record with a 2.03 ERA in 2010 and has been with the club since 2009.

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