FOUR BITS: Grant, Manuel, Henry, OL transfer

1 » The No. 12/14 Florida Gators pulled off a 61-52 win Tuesday night against the Alabama Crimson Tide mostly due to an explosive start to the second half in which Florida scored 16-straight points. Though the Gators were without two primary reserves in the game, the Crimson Tide had two starters indefinitely suspended, a move that head coach Anthony Grant felt he had to make. As Grant and Florida head coach Billy Donovan communicated both before and after the game, suspending players is a hard decision for a coach to make but usually a smart run because the long-term health if the team is much more important than shot-term gains. The Associated Press’ Jim Litke gave Grant kudos for his decision in this column on Wednesday.

For the price of a ticket Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, you could see something rare in college sports anymore: a coach putting his foot down. [...] Grant is doing exactly what the NCAA high-handedly promotes as its core mission – holding himself and his players accountable – but the selection committee isn’t about to cut him any slack for doing the right thing. Every loss still counts as a loss, never mind that it occurred because the coach volunteered to tie one hand behind his back. Grant gets that, too. He won’t change a thing because of it.

2 » Former Florida safety Marquand Manuel, an eight-year NFL who spent last year as an intern with the Gators, has been hired as the Seattle Seahawks’ new assistant special teams coach. A two-year starter for Seattle, Manuel also played in the Super Bowl with the Seahawks and is obviously hoping to begin his climb up the coaching ladder with this move.

3 » Former Florida forward Aneika Henry was signed to a training camp contract on Monday by the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. Currently playing in Poland and ranking fifth in the EuroLeague in rebounding and eighth in double-doubles (averaging 13.6 points and 9.1 boards per game), Henry spent two years with the Gators and tallied 110 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. Should she be added to the squad for the regular season, Henry will be just the second former Florida player currently playing in the league, joining DeLisha Milton-Jones of the Los Angeles Sparks.

4 » As they did a year ago, the Gators are hoping that an experienced offensive lineman will decide to transfer to Florida and boost the team’s unit. In fact, UF is currently pursuing a pair of players looking to continue their careers at a different school. The Gators are one of a number of top teams going after three-star JUCO guard Fehoko Fanaika (San Mateo, CA), who visited the school recently and has also received offers from Georgia and LSU. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Florida is also interested in Maryland transfer three-star tackle Max Garcia (Norcorss, GA), who is leaving the program but restricted from transferring to any ACC school, Connecticut, Temple, Vanderbilt or West Virginia. Unlike Fanaika, Garcia would be forced to redshirt the 2012 season before joining any team in 2013. A Georgia native, it is believed that he would strongly consider playing close to home if he gets an offer from UGA.

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Stefon Diggs spurns Florida, commits to Maryland

Many believed the Florida Gators failed to close the 2012 recruiting cycle strong by not securing an uncommitted prospect on National Signing Day, but the potential to add a five-star player a position of need remained a strong possibility heading into Friday evening. Unfortunately for Florida, wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) announced that he would not be travelling down to Gainesville, FL to play college football and would instead stay in his home state and play for the Maryland Terrapins next fall.

Having narrowed his choices down to Maryland, Auburn, Florida and Ohio State, Diggs decided to hold off on making his destination known on National Signing Day (Feb. 1) in order to see more campuses and allow himself additional time to consider his options.

He took an official visit to OSU two weeks ago and checked out his hometown school last weekend before sitting down with his friends and family to make a final decision.

The Gators were happy to wait for his answer, knowing that landing a player of Diggs’s caliber at a position of need was of paramount importance, especially seeing as the team had already lost five-star WR Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL) to USC.

The No. 8 player in the nation and second-best at his position according to Rivals.com, Diggs possesses a great combination of size and speed and would have been the third wide receiver in UF’s 2012 recruiting class.

Florida already has four-star Latroy Pittman (Citra, FL) and three-star Raphael Andrades (Tallahassee, FL) committed for 2012, though the former may be moved to the secondary and the latter is a candidate to redshirt his freshman season.

The Gators, in dire need of a game-breaking pass catcher, chose to focus their efforts on Diggs and Agholor rather than continuing to also press wide receivers like four-stars JUCO transfer Courtney Gardner (Roseville, CA) and Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, FL) for a commitment. Either could have been a nice addition to Florida’s class, but they are instead headed to Oklahoma and LSU, respectively.

Diggs jumped onto the scene for the Gators during the 2011 Friday Night Lights camp in Gainesville. He impressed Florida’s coaches his fellow participants with his great play, and he immediately became a target for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

When Weis left the team after the regular season, UF lost ground with Diggs, but new coordinator Brent Pease picked up the slack and promised the recruit that the Gators would continue to run a pro-style offense that would best utilize his talents.

In the end Florida’s pitch was simply not enough to pull him out of his home state, where he will have the opportunity to play good friend four-star running back Wes Brown (Olney, MD) as well as a number of other players he has known throughout his life.

The Gators are close to shutting the doors on recruiting in 2012 with 23 commitments including 14 on defense, eight on offense and one on special teams. Florida, however, is still in play for three-star JUCO offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika (San Mateo, CA). UF addressed their issues on both lines of scrimmage but failed to land the caliber and number of offensive playmakers they desperately needed heading into next season.

Chomp Away: Do you think the Gators failed to close out the 2012 recruiting cycle properly or was Florida’s inability to secure late commitments simply a string of bad luck? Provide your thoughts and discuss this latest development in the comments section.

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