FOUR BITS: Pouncey’s stock, Crowder, Eckstein

1 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey, expected to be the only member of his team picked in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, told the Sporting News on Monday that he will attend the event if invited regardless of what the NFLPA asks rookies to do. “I haven’t been invited yet, but I’m hoping to get invited,” Pouncey said. “I’ll bring my brother up there and a couple of my family members. I’m going if I’m invited. I just feel like it’s a dream I’ve wanted my whole life. We’ve busted our tails to be in the draft, and it’s a dream come true.” He understands this might ruffle the feathers of some veterans but explained that the day is about the rookies. “I’m not too worried about [any backlash],” he said. “I respect their feelings because they’re great players. But as far as them keeping us from going to the draft, I’m totally against it.”

2 » Speaking of Pouncey, former NFL head coach Brian Billick – who also spoke highly of safety Ahmad Black – praised his versatility on his daily blog published for WNST AM1570 in Baltimore, MD. Below is a portion of what he wrote:

When you watch Pouncey play, you see a good athlete that plays light on his feet, but can anchor down and get physical when needed. That athleticism is on display when you watch him pull on counter and trap plays. He runs a tight line through the hole and gets to the second level quickly to clear a path for the running back. His initial punch is powerful and he keeps good leverage to hold up the defender at the line of scrimmage. […] Late in the game as fatigue sets in, Mike tends to stand up straighter and bend at the waist rather than the knees. He will need to fight off the urge to be a consistent performer in the NFL. Because of his versatility and body of work, Mike Pouncey will be the first interior lineman to be selected.

3 » There has never been any attempt by OGGOA to hide our admiration for Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. Proving our fascination with his ability to make any interview interesting once again, Crowder spouted off on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. on 560 WQAM in South Florida on Monday, nothing that the high-haired analyst cost him a bunch of money coming out of the University of Florida by over-projecting him. “Mel Kiper and all, he messed me over,” Crowder said. “He lied to me, said I was a top-20 [pick] had me go out and spend X amount of dollars and then owe the bank stuff. They’re just guessing like we guess.” Obviously Kiper didn’t force Crowder to spend a penny; he was being facetious in the statement.

4 » A family man first and baseball player second, former Florida second baseman David Eckstein has decided to put his playing career either on hold or on the shelf permanently in order to donate a kidney to an ailing family member. The Ecksteins, who Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame reports have had “five kidney transplants with six more anticipated” as a family, did not ask David to give up his over the years because of a MLB career that earned him millions. He took it upon himself to save a family member’s life this time around. “Everything my family went through gave me a life lesson at an early age that a game is just a game, it’s not life-or-death,” he said. “But along with that, it taught me to never take a day for granted. I’m looking forward to the transplant. I consider it a privilege. I knew at some point it would be my turn.” Also donating a kidney for his family is former Gators player Rick Eckstein, David’s brother. Read the rest of writer Steve Henson’s amazing story on the Ecksteins here.

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Taylor, Bullock, Macklin

1 » Due to his migraines and a coaching change mid-season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin did not end up performing up to where he did when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie one year earlier. When If the 2011 season begins, Harvin will be more involved in the offense, according to head coach Leslie Frazier. “I still think there are more things that can be done with Percy [Harvin],” he told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “We did some things toward the end of the year where we definitely tried to isolate him, and that’s one of the reasons I pulled him off kickoff at times. I wanted to feature him more than we were. I wanted him to be a featured part of our offense. There’s different things we can do with him, and hopefully, Sidney [Rice is] in the fold and he’s healthy and there’s some things that we can do with him. Because of Adrian [Peterson], there are opportunities that we can do on the perimeter that a lot of teams can’t. But you still have to account for him on every single play. So, we have to be able to exploit in that sense and I think what we’re trying to do is build to be able to do that. Adrian creates a lot of good situations for our perimeter people.”

2 » Two months ago, veteran running back Fred Taylor sounded like he was going to call it quits after a 13-year NFL career including 10 as a featured rusher. Having amassed 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns (as well as 290 receptions for 2,384 yards and eight more scorers) over his career, Taylor has noted that being healthy enough to spend quality time with his family is important going forward. On Monday, Taylor told Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that being injured in 2010 may have “bought him some extra years.” At 35-years-old, it remains to be seen if he will decide to continue and what time, if any, would sign him.

3 » Former Florida right-handed pitcher Billy Bullock was traded from the Minnesota Twins – who drafted him in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft – to the Atlanta Braves on Monday in order to complete an long-standing deal. Bullock has spent his time as a professional in the minor leagues and pitched for AA squad New Britain last season, striking out 60 batters in 36 2/3 innings.

4 » Wrapping up Gators basketball for the 2011 season is this story from The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway on a tattoo redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin has on his forearm. Though he has 40+ tattoos, Macklin has one that means a lot more to him the rest – a memorial to his deceased grandmother. Read more about Macklin’s tattoo here.

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Florida ready for Elite Eight game vs. Butler

With the 2011 NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional Final between the No. 2-seed Florida Gators (29-7) and No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs (26-9) just hours away from getting underway, there are a number of storylines being discussed going into the contest. OGGOA has compiled some of the latest news and notes surrounding the Florida-Butler game airing live on CBS Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

DEFENSIVE EFFORT DIDN’T HURT BOYNTON

Coming into the game with questions about a now week-old sprained ankle, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton silenced any worry right away, explaining that he feels healthy and is ready to go again on Saturday. “It feels great. I did some icing last night to help it out a little more, and when we get back to the hotel, I’m going to ice it some more,” he said. “My playing level is good. I got tired a little bit last night because I hadn’t practiced a lot this week. But I think it’s going to come back to me with more running.”

BUTLER IS NO “CINDERELLA”

Carrying a No. 8-seed with nine losses coming out of the Horizon League, Butler has been dealing with the “Cinderella” tag for quite some time. However, as Florida head coach Billy Donovan points out, that tag no longer fits the 2010 NCAA Tournament finalists. “Last year you had Butler making it to the national championship game. I think Butler has proven that they’re as good as any program in the country,” he said. “And you don’t get to a national championship game or the amount of Sweet 16s that they’ve gotten to by just being a Cinderella story. That doesn’t happen year after year.”

BUYING IN TO DONOVAN’s SYSTEM

After a rough start to the season including some dumbfounding losses, the Gators made a concerted effort to buy into what Donovan and his coaching staff were preaching as 2010 came to an end and 2011 began. The players understand now, more than ever, that playing together as a team yields better results than looking for individual glory.

“We relied on [the coaches] a lot. We’ve got all the trust in the world in [Donovan] and he’s done a great job,” junior point guard Erving Walker said. “Out of all of us, he’s the only one who’s been in these situations and moving forward, and we just trust him and the whole coaching staff.” Senior forward Chandler Parsons shared similar sentiments. “Our whole team has totally bought into what they’re saying and what they’re preaching to us,” he added. “We’re just trying to do exactly what they say because they’ve obviously had success and they obviously know what they’re talking about.

Part of accepting Donovan’s plan for the team was relinquishing the potential for high-scoring individual efforts. “We all understand that we’re willing to do whatever it takes for us to win. Any given night, anybody can score,” Parsons said. “I don’t think there’s any selfishness and we just love playing with each other and our chemistry on and off the court is great. We play very unselfish and it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, just whoever is open gets the ball, and we’re not worried about that stuff, we’re just worried about winning.”

PREVAILING IN CLOSE GAMES

One of the main ways Florida has improved in 2011 compared to 2010 is in their ability to pull out tough victories and come through in the clutch. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin explained in detail how the team has changed their mentality in those situations. “For the most part, we come together and we grind it out in the huddles. Chandler does a lot of talking,” he said. “After Coach Donovan and the coaching staff speak, we just get in the huddle again and talk amongst each other. We want to go out there and play as hard as we can and fight until the horn go off.”

Parsons detailed what he talks about at that time. “Just maintaining a level of focus throughout the whole game and understanding that anything can happen on any given play,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted and play until the buzzer stops.” He also discussed the difference in the team’s mentality. “We were confident last year, but I think this year we’re doing a better job of staying focused and keeping our composure and understanding what’s there on offense and not forcing anything,” Parsons said. “And we understand that when we need to get a stop, we have to step up and get a stop together. We’re just very confident at the end of games and very comfortable in those situations.”

QUOTES

Donovan’s opening statement: “Well, we’re playing against a team that is extremely physical, don’t think there’s any question about that, a team that has got a lot of players that know about success in this tournament from last year. […] They’re a hard team to guard offensively, and I think our guys understand that we’re playing against a terrific team that is very talented, physical and gifted and playing terrific basketball right now.”

Donovan on Mike Miller’s buzzer-beater vs. Butler in 2000: “In order to experience something like that, you’ve got to be in the NCAA Tournament. And that group before that experienced a very devastating loss to Gonzaga at the buzzer to go to the Elite Eight. If you look at the best programs in the country and you look at the amount of years and how many times they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, that’s where you have a chance to do something really special. You’ve got to get there often enough to make a run at it, and certainly Mike’s shot and play gave us the opportunity to play another game. And that was the first-round game, but it gave us an opportunity to continue on and move on and advance. When you get a chance to advance and move on in this tournament, it’s always very exciting for your program and for your players.”

Parsons on defending Bulldogs star F Matt Howard: “He’s very difficult to guard. He’s one of the most physical players in the country and he plays smart and just relentless and he doesn’t stop and he’s got a really good motor. So a guy like him, he just battles for 40 minutes and you’re not going to get anything easy with him just because his effort is off the charts.“

Boynton on Donovan recruiting him in high school: “When he was recruiting me in high school, he showed a lot of, I’m going to say — he kept coming at me. He came to all my games in the summer, and I heard that he played at Providence. I watched some tapes on him, and I knew he was a guard, and he let his guards play. I watched Erving Walker his freshman year playing. He just lets his guards play freely and he had great success with the 2006 and 2007 national championship.”

Tyus on if he thinks about pulling his name from the 2010 NBA Draft: “No, I really don’t think about it too much. You know, I just try to stay in the moment, concentrate on what I have to do at that time. I’m really happy about where we’re at right now, and I just want everything to just keep going on.”

Donovan on recruiting Walker: “I kind of followed him because I knew Erving had a strong interest, and then all of a sudden I started to watch the guy and he’s playing against Rice, Kemba Walker, playing against a lot of really good players in New York City and saw him on the AAU circuit and there was something about him that he learned to overcome his size, and then he obviously had a huge growth spurt and he went from about 5’4″ to about 5’8″. [Laughing] But he ended up — I think it’s the internal things that make up Erving Walker. It’s not the physical attributes, it’s the internal things, his mind, his understanding, his competitiveness. He’s had to overcome to be a good player.”

Donovan on Stevens taking “his” title of best young coach: “I’ve never looked at it that way as it relates to age. A lot of times it’s what you’re exposed to and what you have a chance to experience. And Brad has been around a lot of terrific people, a lot of terrific coaches, and he’s a terrific coach himself. And I think a lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don’t think that that’s fair to Brad. Brad has been a terrific coach, you know, before he made it to the national championship game a year ago. And he was a terrific coach before last year started. I think the one thing I respect and admire about Brad in getting to know him is he’s got a great passion and enthusiasm for the game and for coaching, and I also think he has a tireless and relentless attitude to try to get better and improve. And he loves the game. But a lot of times people look at someone’s age and at what point are you past young? Are you calling me old now, because I don’t feel like I’m that old, you know? (Laughter).”

Donovan on Stevens consulting with him in the offseason: “Brad was just talking to me just about his team, and he just wanted to know maybe some experiences. I’ve known Brad for a long time and I would consider him a good friend. He comes down to our clinic every summer, he’s on our campus and we’ve spent a lot of time together. So it was one of those things where he was just reaching out looking to share ideas, and you know what, he shares ideas with me, too. We bounce different things off each other, and it’s great when you get a chance to be able to talk to someone like that.”

Donovan on scouting Butler: “What ends up happening is – and I’m sure this is no different for Butler. Coming to New Orleans on Wednesday or Tuesday night, our staff had basically divided up. We had obviously somebody that was scouting BYU, but our staff had started watching Butler and Wisconsin right after we played UCLA. So the first that these guys really heard anything in depth about Butler was really this morning because it was a late game by the time we got back from the arena and had those guys get some rest and get up this morning. So most of what they started to hear in depth and in detail really started this morning and then obviously continued on at practice today.”

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Taurean Green: “We knew nobody could beat us.”

Overseas in Spain starting every game for C.B. Gran Canaria 2014 of the ACB, former Florida Gators two-time National Championship-winning point guard Taurean Green took some nearly 45 minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging, in-depth interview late Tuesday evening.

Green, one of the four members of the Oh Fours and an integral part to the team’s success from 2005-07, discussed at length his college career and continuing relationship with his Gators teammates and coaches. He also provided some insight into what the current team is going through during their 2011 NCAA Tournament run and how they can improve going forward and make the most out of their opportunity.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: With your father being a former NBA player and college coach as your adviser, what was it about Florida and Billy Donovan that had you winding up playing for the Gators out of high school?
TAUREAN GREEN: “Obviously Coach Donovan was a huge factor, the style of play, Coach [Anthony] Grant was a huge factor, too. It was just basically the style of play, how they get up-and-down [the court], and he’s a guard’s coach. I knew that he played for a great coach in Rick Pitino at Providence, and then he played some years in the NBA. Just from what everybody told me and from what I heard, he’s a guard’s coach and you’ll definitely get better [playing for him]. He’ll give you freedom out there but along with the freedom comes responsibility in running the team.”

AS: Your first year at Florida was obviously an adjustment as there were still a bunch of upperclassmen holding starting roles on the team. How was it walking into a team with established guys like David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson already comfortable with each other and running the show?
TG: “That was good for me. Some guys can adapt – you see freshmen get thrown into the fire right away nowadays. I felt like I needed that year to go against Anthony Roberson and all those guys just to get my feet wet. At the same time, I knew that I was going to be getting better going against Peep every day in practice. They led the way, and we just tried to contribute in whatever way we could.”

AS: You won the SEC Tournament that season and were a No. 4-seed going into the NCAA Tournament. What was it like playing at such a big stage so early in your career?
TG: “It was fun! When I was at Florida, the main thing was we just lived in the moment. We took it game-by-game. We wanted to do stuff that no other team really had done at Florida. We knew that we had David, Matt and Anthony, and we just wanted to contribute in any way we could. The main thing was just going out and playing hard, doing whatever it took to win.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Taurean Green…after the break!
Continue Reading » Taurean Green: “We knew nobody could beat us.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Parsons, Fredette, Larson

1 » With Kyle Orton as a veteran “starter,” and Tim Tebow as a second-year up-and-comer and Brady Quinn as an emergency safety valve, the Denver Broncos will not be drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft…or will they? Denver has been taking a very close look at a number of athletic rookie QBs including Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick…even though they already have one in Tebow on their roster. Asked why they are paying so much attention to the position, Broncos president John Elway said the following to the Denver Post: “We’re always looking for that guy. We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don’t know. We believe in Tim, but he’s not there yet.” Elway and Denver are also taking a look at defensive tackle, a position they will likely end up drafting – or so Tebow should hope.

2 » Speaking with Chris Dortch for an article posted on NBA.com, Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons praised the game of former Boston Celtics star F Larry Bird, someone who the writer brought up in conversation because of the way he impacted games as a facilitator. “Oh, I’m a big Larry Bird fan,” Parsons said of the player’s NBA spread. “I always thought Larry Bird played basketball the way it ought to be played.” Dortch put Parsons up against his “Bill Russell Test” to determine if he has the chance to be successful playing at the next level. He also spoke with NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake about Parsons. “One of his advantage is that he has a number of skills he does well,” Blake said. “He shoots the ball. He’s got size. He passes very well. He’s a rebounder. And he’s a hard worker and has a professional approach.”

3 » Though BYU Cougars guard Jimmer Fredette had his way with Florida in 2010 – especially in the two overtime periods – he is well-aware that the Gators are a much improved team this time around. “They’re just better because they’re more experienced and have played together for two years,” he told the Associated Press. “They won two games in the NCAA Tournament together as a team and they’re used to winning.” He also discussed how Florida might guard him. “I think they’re just going to be really tenacious…run at my ball screens hard, maybe double them and try to get the bal out of my hands,” Fredette said.

4 » Freshman F Cody Larson will be redshirting this season and has spent every game from the bench watching his teammates achieve great success. Donovan praised Larson’s contributions during a media availability at the beginning of March, but assistant Larry Shyatt expanded on those comments to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. “He’s been terrific,” Shyatt said. “He’s helped our frontline get better this year. Great work ethic, improved offensively, inside and out. We’re excited he’s going to be eligible next season.” Though Larson himself says sitting is “tough,” he understands the reasoning. “I’m looking at it like I’m not going to play if I don’t get better,” he said. “I just need to keep improving.”

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FOUR BITS: Demps wins, Young staying, Ball

1 » Florida Gators sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps captured the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championship in the 60-meter dash on Saturday, beating his seven other competitors with a time of 6.53 seconds. Demps, who won the same title in 2010, is the first back-to-back winner of the 60-meter dash since 2004-05.

2 » Before enrolling at the University of Florida, freshman center Patric Young said he had his sights set on earning his degree in addition to improving as a basketball player. He even went as far to say that he could possibly stay all four years. In fact, even though the Gators star youngster is getting plenty of national recognition as a potential first-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Young maintains that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season. “I love being in school right now,” said Young after Friday’s 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals game against Tennessee, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I like getting my education. I’m learning more from Coach [Billy Donovan] and he’s got a lot to offer me. He’s going to help develop me so when I go to the NBA, I’ll already be ready and teams won’t have to worry about developing me anymore.” He also said Saturday that he will “definitely” be back for his sophomore season, quelling any doubters.

3 » Florida sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball suffered a scary episode in February, being rushed to the hospital after a blood vessel in his brain burst. After surgery and plenty of rest, Ball was released after six days in the hospital. The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser spoke Ball’s brother-in-law and find out more about his current condition. “He’s good. He’s fine. You wouldn’t even know he had any trouble,” said Dary Myricks of Ball’s health. He also revealed Ball’s issue was an arteriovenous malformation that will need at least one more surgery to prevent further issues. “He can’t do anything…until they’ve dealt with this,” Myricks said. The Mayo Clinic defines an AVM as:

An abnormal connection between arteries and veins. An AVM is typically congenital, meaning it dates to birth. An AVM can develop anywhere in your body but occurs most often in the brain or spine. A brain AVM, which appears as a tangle of abnormal arteries and veins, can occur in any part of your brain. The cause isn’t clear.

4 » Former Gators wide receiver Cris Collinsworth was one of 83 people rescued from a Kentucky waterfront restaurant that broke from its moorings on Friday and was floating downstream. It took hours for rescue crews to clear the restaurant of patrons and staff, a mission they accomplished with a single-file line and the passing of lifejackets back-and-forth. Check out the Associated Press’ story on the event here.

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Florida spring practice will be closed to public

The Will Muschamp era of Florida Gators football will begin with a measure put in place that even former head coach Urban Meyer did not institute during his time in the orange and blue: 2011 spring practice will be closed to the public.

“With a new coaching staff here teaching our system, we feel like minimizing our distractions is important,’’ Muschamp said in an official statement. “We realize that there is high interest from the fans, and we are extremely appreciative of the support that The Gator Nation gives us. We hope that they understand that this decision has been made in the interest of helping our program be successful on Saturdays this fall by allowing our team to learn and develop together in this type of environment.

“We also respect that the media have a job to do and understand that this creates a challenge for them, so we ask for their patience with us as we work through our first spring practice here at Florida.’’

Fans will be able to get their first look at the new Gators team on April 9 at the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut spring game. The event will air live on Sun Sports beginning at noon. Tickets are free for students, Gator Boosters and members of the Alumni Association and F Club. A limited number of free tickets are available to the public; otherwise the cost is $5 per person.

Florida also announced Wednesday that Pro Day will be held for those players hoping to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft on March 15 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Among those expected to participated, according to UF, are center Mike Pouncey, safety Ahmad Black, punter Chas Henry and guard Carl Johnson.

OGGOA has previously been informed that running back Emmanuel Moody, defensive linemen Terron Sanders and Justin Trattou will also be participating along with a number of other former seniors/graduates.

In the past, Pro Day had been open to both the public and the media. This time around, only the media will be allowed to attend.

“Pro Day is an extremely important day for the career hopes of these players, and they’ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for it,” Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain said in a release.

“We feel that creating a more private environment and minimizing potential distractions will help give them the best chance to perform up to their potential. We also feel like it’s become more important than ever for us to monitor who is around our team and student-athletes, and taking this step provides us an even greater ability to manage that.”

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Pitino, Joyer, Dunker

1 » It is quite obvious that former Florida Gators guard Carl Johnson is a large man. Florida fans have known this for quite some time and NFL folks got to see it for themselves during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine when he weighed in at an event-high 361 lbs. However, Johnson’s size is not solely due to eating habits or not working out but rather the medicine he takes to combat his Crohn’s Disease. “[It’s] like arthritis in your intestines,” he told the Palm Beach Post’s Ben Volin. “Crohn’s patients are known for dropping massive amounts of weight, like 20 pounds in a week. So [the medicine] makes me gain weight. It makes me retain water. But it also keeps me alive, so it’s a double-edged sword.” Luckily for Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (who also has the disease) has been there for him from the beginning. Read more about his struggles with the disease and preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft.

2 » He may be a bit biased due to his son being an assistant on the team and the fact that he coached Florida head coach Billy Donovan while both were at Providence, but Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino tabbed the Gators as his dark horse candidate for a national title during a recent appearance on the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN Radio. “Everybody overlooks Florida,” he said. “Obviously Billy Donovan played for me, but I think Florida’s the type of team with three seniors in the front court with a very quick backcourt. They’re a team that could beat anyone on a given night. I look at Florida. Although they are ranked [12th] in the nation, nobody talks about them as a potential national champion. But they have the experience in their head coach, they have the experience in the frontcourt, the returning backcourt.”

3 » You have to be strong in order to play fullback and linebacker. You have to be even stronger to carry your family on your back when your mother suffers a cerebral aneurysm, undergoes multiple surgeries and has years of recovery ahead of her. Florida freshman FB Hunter Joyer is both after helping his family survive the frightening near-loss of his mom. “To have her there to be able to share in that moment was amazing,” Hunter said of his mom joining him on National Signing Day. “I couldn’t imagine how upset I would be if she wasn’t there. Signing with Florida was one of my lifelong dreams, and she was there to share it and take pictures with me.”

4 » Four-star tackle Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) looks to be one of the top offensive lineman available in the 2012 recruiting class, and the Gators are already making a strong push for him. Having visited Florida for Junior Day already, Dunker was impressed with head coach Will Muschamp, the campus and town; he hopes to learn more about the school as he goes through the recruiting process. “I had a good time while they were showing me around,” Dunker told the Post. “I was driving through [Gainesville] and it seems like a place I could live.”

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