Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

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Zunino wins Florida’s first Golden Spikes Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his fourth major national honor in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the nation’s premier amateur baseball player, on Friday.

Zunino is the first player in school history to win the award and achieved that same benchmark when he captured the Dick Howser Trophy (college baseball’s “Heisman Trophy”) on June 15 and the Johnny Bench Award (best catcher) on June 29.

He joins Buster Posey (2008) as one of only two players to complete the trifecta and like Posey was also named Baseball America‘s College Player of the Year on June 22.

Zunino played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). He also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

Selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in school history and recently signed a contract with the team that includes a $4 million bonus. He was also honored as a member of the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year.

Zunino is nominated for an ESPY award for Best Collegiate Athlete.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Zunino wins Florida’s first Johnny Bench Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his third major national award in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Johnny Bench Award on Thursday evening.

He is the first player in school history to earn the honor.

Zunino, who brought home the Dick Howser Trophy (considered to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball) also the first time in school history on June 15, was named Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year on June 22.

He played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). Zunino also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in team history. He was also named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year and is a finalist this season for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player), which will be announced on July 6.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Zunino is Baseball America’s Player of the Year

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his second major national award in the last two weeks after being officially named Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year and a first-team All-American on Friday.

Zunino, who also brought home the Dick Howser Trophy (considered to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball) on June 15 for the first time in school history, had an outstanding season for the Gators in which he batted .322 and led the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). He also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

His combination of offensive production, quality defense, superb leadership and remarkable durability (he started all 66 of Florida’s games, including 62 at catcher) made Zunino the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and it makes him the 2012 Baseball America College Player of the Year.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino was the highest-drafted player in team history. He was also named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year and is a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (college baseball’s top catcher) as well as a finalist this season for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player).

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Florida C Mike Zunino wins Dick Howser Trophy

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino became the first player in team history to be presented with the Dick Howser Trophy after being announced as the recipient of the 2012 award by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Friday.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as the top player in college baseball,” Zunino said. “I just want to thank the Dick Howser committee, the college baseball writers, the University of Florida, Coach [Kevin] O’Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to play here, my fiancé Alyssa, my dad and mom. Thanks for everything. I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity, and it is something I am always going to remember.”

The Dick Howser Trophy, which was created in 1987 and is presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year, is considered by many to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball. It had not been won by a Southeastern Conference player since Vanderbilt pitcher David Price took home the honor in 2007.

Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners and highest-drafted player in team history, is batting .322 on the year and leads the Gators with 19 homers and 64 RBIs. He has also registered 53 runs, 28 walks, stolen nine bases in 10 attempts, and is fielding his position at a .994 clip.

“This is an unbelievable honor [for him to be] named the best player in the country,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s the first winner at the University of Florida, and we’re awfully proud as a university and a program. We can sit here all day and talk about Mike’s stats and how he has performed on the field – that’s obviously evident. Mike has been a tremendous player for us since day one. [...] There’s so much more that he gives to our program – the leadership, the day-to-day work ethic – it’s just off the charts.”

The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, Zunino did not capture the award this season (that honor went to LSU’s Raph Rhymes) but was named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year. He is also a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (college baseball’s top catcher) as well as a finalist this season for the Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player).

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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SIX BITS: Noah, Pouncey, Cooper, Zunino, Embree

1 » Like any good player, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to work extensively on his game over the summer. In order to do just that, Noah will enlist the help of Hall of Famer, six-time Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player said Wednesday while on a visit at a high school in Chicago, according to RealGM.com. Abdul-Jabbar has worked with a number of prominent NBA big men over the last few years so it is certainly no surprise that Noah would seek his advice. It will be one of the many things he plans on doing this summer as he is also scheduled to play for the French Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics and work with trainers to improve his strength and conditioning heading into the 2012-13 season.

2 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on NFL Network this Thursday where he discussed new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the team’s quarterback competition and the Dolphins’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. He also spoke highly about new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey when asked if there were any more Pouncey brothers on the back burner who could make an impact in the NFL in the future. “No, but we got a step brother in Chris Rainey who the Steelers selected in the fifth round. We’re hoping for big things out of him up there this year. He’s a great football player, and I think the Steelers made a great selection,” he said.

3 » Another year older, another year wiser and hopefully another year more polished, wide receiver Riley Cooper hopes he can make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. “I’ve only had like [five] starts the whole time I’ve been here. It’s just game experience. The more game experience you get the better you get,” he told the team’s website. He also hopes that his first real offseason with the coaching staff will help him make major strides on the field. “I haven’t had an offseason, so it’s helping out a lot. I get one-on-one work with [senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David] Culley. We’re doing a lot of routes, getting a lot of work in. It’s benefiting me a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a bunch of things I want to get better at and that’s what the offseason does.”

4 » ESPN’s baseball scouts are not the only ones heaping praise on Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino. Just like the Worldwide Leader, MLB.com has Zunino listed as their No. 3 overall player available in the 2012 MLB Draft and notes that he is both the best bat and best player currently playing college baseball. Just two days after being named a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, Zunino learned that he is also a semifinalist for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year. Considered the “Heisman Trophy” of college baseball, the Howser Trophy has never been won by a Florida baseball player. Zunino is one of 35 semifinalists for the award.

5 » ESPNW.com continues its countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years following the adoption of Title IX and has added two more former Gators to their list. Following striker Abby Wambach (No. 33), come swimmers Tracy Caulkins (No. 25) and Dara Torres (No. 23). Caulkins is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time NCAA Champion, while Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist (four golds) and three-time NCAA Champion. Torres is also the first United States swimmer to compete in five separate Olympics and is also the oldest swimmer to ever compete for the U.S. There are 20 spots still unannounced as part of ESPNW‘s countdown so there is an opportunity for additional former Florida student-athletes to find a spot on the list.

6 » Gators junior tennis player Lauren Embree, the ninth-ranked woman in the world according to ITA, has been writing a blog for the USTA over the last week. In her latest entry, submitted following Florida’s big round of 16 win over Michigan on Thursday, Embree talks about waiting out a rain delay, pulling out a come-from-behind doubles victory and advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. “I think everyone was really anxious and excited to get things going, and most of us got out to really good starts, which helped the momentum of the team,” she wrote. “I guess it’s good we have the day off [Friday] since we have had such a long night. Our team is also so thankful we have fans that stay up and cheer for us. They really helped us pull through tonight, and we could not have done it without them!”

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