1 » FOXSports.com college football columnist Bruce Feldman believes the Florida Gators face the third-toughest road to the 2014 College Football Playoff, only behind Arkansas and California. With Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State on the schedule – plus a rebuilding Tennessee and improving Kentucky along with a Vanderbilt team that snapped its 22-year losing streak to UF – Feldman believes the Gators will wind up facing up to five top 15 opponents by the time the regular season has concluded. As a means of comparison, the Razorbacks will take on Auburn, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and LSU with games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State peppered in there as well.
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.
» A rough senior season at the center position made many Florida Gators fans skeptical that Mike Pouncey could play the position as well as his twin brother. But after one year as the starting center for the Miami Dolphins, those questions no longer exist as Pouncey has proven that he can perform at a Pro Bowl level (though he did not make it to the game in 2011). Now he is focused on getting even better and told the Sun-Sentinel it all starts with eating better. “I can get away with [eating fast food], but I changed it up this year just trying to eat more leaner stuff,” he said. “I hired a chef, so it’s been working well for me.” Pouncey also feels the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins will be employing in 2012 and beyond will benefit him and the offense; he expects a breakout season for himself. “They say your second year is supposed to be your best year,” he said. “I’m hoping for big things. I’m coming out as hard as I can. I want to take on more of a leadership role this year.”
» Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan has been working with the United States U18 National Team over the last few weeks and began action in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship with his squad on Saturday. Donovan’s young squad is already 2-0 in international competition with a 105-42 victory over the Virgin Islands on Saturday and a 110-59 win over Mexico on Sunday. The U.S. will take on Brazil on Monday to conclude first-round action with the semifinals taking place Tuesday and the championship being held on Wednesday. Donovan’s squad needs to place in the top four teams at the end of the event in order to advance to the 2013 FIBA World Championship next summer. “I told them there are three things we want to accomplish. First and foremost, win a gold medal. Second, we’ve got a lot of guys on our team going into college and we want them to get maybe a bit more prepared than some other incoming freshmen for what they’re going to face in college. And third, we want to help them get better as players,” Donovan told the Sporting News before leaving for Brazil.
» Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, who missed the entire 2011 season after a blood vessel burst in his brain and he was diagnosed with a hereditary vascular condition, was officially cleared to participate in all football activities by team doctors on Friday. Ball had previously announced on March 1 that he had medical clearance from doctors to return to action, but head coach Will Muschamp cautioned in April and May that while he had returned to work out with the team that he was not a full participant and was still awaiting an additional clearance. Now that Ball is good to go, he will compete for immediate playing time at Buck linebacker, a position with a major depth issue now that junior Ronald Powell is out until at least mid-October with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
» Florida track & field coach Mike Holloway was awarded his first Coach of the Year honor for the outdoor season by the USTFCCCA on Thursday. He had previously won the award in consecutive years for the indoor season (2010-11). Holloway’s men’s team swept the 2012 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships this season.
Read six more Gator Bites…after the break!
1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has yet to find a permanent team to play with as a professional. After playing only one preseason game in the NFL, he has spent the last four years in the CFL with three different teams. His running around in the great white north has finally coming to an end if a report from the Florida Times-Union is to be believed. According to the paper, the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL are planning to sign Leak to be the team’s new starting quarterback. The ArenaBowl XXIV Champions, Jacksonville will be losing its 41-year-old veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia to another team and is looking for someone to come in and take his place. Should Leak sign with the Sharks, he will be the third former Gators player on the team in as many years, following cornerback Dee Webb and wide receiver Dallas Baker.
2 » After missing one day of practice last week due to a stomach illness supposedly caused by the flu, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin ended up playing in his team’s game on Sunday but did not last the entire contest. After getting hit in the gut during the fourth quarter, Harvin sat out the final five minutes of regulation as well as the overtime period as he watched his team fall to Detroit. Before leaving, Harvin caught three passes for 47 yards, returned two kickoffs for 47 yards and ran the ball twice for 41 yards. He is expected to return to practice this week and should not suffer any further setbacks.
3 » Out of work all season after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers just after the NFL lockout ended, former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks continues to look for a new team. According to 1500 ESPN Radio out of Minnesota, the Vikings met with Starks on Monday as they need to fill a reserve tackle position on their team. Starks, who recovered all offseason from a neck injury that he suffered in November, apparently had weight and conditioning issues when he reported to Steelers camp.
4 » Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked like a MASH unit Sunday evening after a bunch of starters and reserves were injured throughout the course of their game at Indianapolis. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who moved into a starting role with the team due to an injury to another player, hurt his shoulder during the game and was sent to the sideline. When the reserve left tackle was forced to leave the game, an injured Gilbert wound up reentering for the remainder of the contest. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Gilbert “looks like he’ll be OK” to play next week barring any setbacks. Even though the team is in need of another reserve tackle, NBC Sports reports that Starks has been ruled out as a possibility.
1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Dee Webb, who spent a portion of 2010 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the revamped AFL, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for the 2011 season. A former draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Webb tried out for the Miami Dolphins last year but did not make the cut. He will be playing in the CFL for a second time after previously trying out for Toronto (in 2007) and joining the Calgary Stampeders (in 2009).
2 » Though Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney is getting up there in age (he turns 31 next season), it appears that he will remain an integral part of the team’s receiving corps in 2011. With two starters recovering from surgeries, The Denver Post expects Gaffney to have the opportunity to capitalize on their absences. Posting career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010, Gaffney thrived under quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and is not costing the team much money with a $2.4 million salary set for next season.
3 » Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, who left Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after getting hit in the head, stayed overnight for concussion tests and will miss at least one game. It is the second time in as many games Miller sustained a blow to the head, though the first did not appear to cause any damage necessitating further tests.
4 » Just over two weeks ago, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks clashed in a heated contest that ended with a 111-102 victory for Atlanta. During the game, a fight broke out between the teams. Forward/center Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks took exception after Hawks F/C Al Horford was “particularly vocal and demonstrative,” according to ESPN. Now Stoudemire is looking forward to going up against his NBA All-Star teammate in a rematch between New York and Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very intense game after what happened in Atlanta,” he said. “[Horford] don’t want to see me. I watched him play in Florida, and I’ve seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We’ve got two different games, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Horford responded Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t understand what he means by that, ‘He don’t want to see me,'” he said. “Like we’re supposed to be scared of [Stoudemire]. Ain’t nobody scared of him. We’re all grown men, so it’s all good.”
Details are scarce right now, but a source close to the team has informed OGGOA that former Florida Gators safety John Curtis, 24, passed away Wednesday. His death has been ruled a suicide by authorities.
A special teams standout, Curtis joined the Florida scout team in 2004, missed the 2005 campaign with a knee injury and finally played on the kickoff return and punt teams during the Gators’ 2006 National Championship season. He blocked a punt against South Carolina in 2007 but unfortunately tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2008, an injury that would end his football career.
UPDATE: Curtis passed away after jumping off of a fourth-floor railing above a Lincoln Square Center restaurant in Bellvue, WA, at 8 a.m. Thursday. Police attempted to talk him down at first, but Curtis could not be swayed from taking his life; the local cops continue to investigate the matter.
“It’s tragic when a young life is lost,” head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement on Friday. “I’m not sure how you describe the loss of life in words. John was a great young man who was a proud member of our Gator family. We grieve for him, his friends and his family and pray for their comfort.”
Co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater shared a similar sentiment. “What do you say? He was a real likable guy here, a lot of players really liked him a lot,” Heater said. “He had, unfortunately, a lot of knee injuries here. He probably could have had a chance to play some football here, more than he did. He played but I’m sure not as much as he would like to. It’s sad and unfortunate. He was a good guy, well-liked team member. Players really liked him. He was a friendly guy with the team, and just dealing with the frustrations of the injuries, which were always hard for him to deal with and accept those things, just the disappointments of all of that. But he was a respected member of our team, that’s for sure.”
One of the first to respond to the news, Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden took to Twitter Thursday. “You never know how much you truly love someone until they are gone. R.I.P. John Curtis #24! You will be missed,” Haden wrote. “Everyone please don’t be afraid to say you love someone! Life is too short! Losing someone special to you makes you realize what’s important in life.”
Jacksonville Sharks CB Dee Webb provided a similar message. “R.I.P. to my former teammate John Curtis 24,” he tweeted. “We [will] miss you homey.”
OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Curtis family.
1 » Former Florida Gators wide receiver Dallas Baker, most recently waived/injured by the NFL‘s Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 6, 2009, has signed on with the Jacksonville Sharks of the newly revamped AFL. The Sharks are one of two new franchises being introduced to the league this year, and Baker joins fellow Gators cornerback Dee Webb on the team. The Sharks are 1-0 already this season with a 54-38 victory over the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz last week.
2 » Each year, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association hands out The Bowerman award which recognizes the most outstanding collegiate men’s and women’s track & field athlete. Three current Florida student-athletes are on The Bowerman’s watch list as of April 7: women’s senior thrower Mariam Kevkhishvili, men’s freshman sprinter Jeff Demps (new addition) and men’s sophomore jumper Christian Taylor. The Gators also boast women’s senior jumper Shara Proctor and women’s junior/senior distance runner Charlotte Browning as honorable mentions at this time. The award will not be handed out until December.
3 » Sourcing NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt, Jerry McDoanld of InsideBayArea.com says the Oakland Raiders have a high level of interest in former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. According to Brandt’s story, Tebow was asked by the Raiders’ coaching staff to break down a play. He replied, “This is how it’s called with Florida, this is how it’s called with your organization and this is how it’s called with West coast teams.” Brandt went on to say, “I think that when you get a quarterback and he reacts that quickly, you know that the guy is not only pretty smart, but he does have that mental quickness to adjust very fast.”
4 » Apparel and shoe company Nike has officially announced its partnership with Tebow. Click the link below to read the full press release.
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Baker, The Bowerman, Tebow, Nike