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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FOUR BITS: Dwyer, Holloway, baseball, watch list

1 » The second day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships, held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, was just as exciting for the No. 5 Florida Gators men’s team as Wednesday’s opening day. Senior Conor Dwyer, who set two SEC records in one race (800-yard freestyle relay) a day ago, broke yet another on Thursday by swimming the 500-yard freestyle in 4:11.36. The No. 8 women also had some celebrating to do as junior Sarah Bateman set the school record in the 50-yard freestyle. The men’s team jumped up to second place overall after day two (70 points behind leader Auburn), while the women’s team took a hold of first place with a new total of 291 points (five above Georgia).

2 » Florida head swimming coach Gregg Troy was named the head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team on Dec. 8. Joining him as a Team USA coach in England for the 2012 London Olympics is Gators head track & field coach Mike Holloway, who was picked as an assistant coach for sprinters and hurdlers on Thursday. “It’s an incredible honor to be chosen by my peers to coach on the United States Olympic staff,” Holloway said, according to the University of Florida. “It’s something that I am very proud of, and I look forward to serving my country.”

3 » No. 1 Florida baseball will begin the 2011 season over the weekend with a trio of home games against the South Florida Bulls. The Gators have announced starters for the series but will be without last year’s ace, junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis (11-3, 3.51 ERA), as the team is being cautious with his return from offseason hip surgery. Sophomore LHP Brian Johnson (6-4, 4.03 ERA) will start the season on the hill. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (8-4, 3.24 ERA) takes over Saturday, and freshman RHP Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, will start his career in the orange and blue on the mound Sunday.

4 » Johnson and junior first baseman Preston Tucker received nominations to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list on Thursday. The award, presented to the top amateur player in the country, is sponsored by Major League Baseball but has never been presented to a Florida player in its 33-year history. Both Johnson and Tucker are preseason All-Americans according to Baseball America.

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FOUR BITS: More Tebow, Tucker, tennis honors

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow has been lining up speaking engagements left and right since graduation, and he has recently agreed to be the keynote speaker for Union University’s second annual Roy L. White Legacy Golf and Gala on April 19. Tickets to the event, which will be held at the Carl Perkins Civic Center, are at least $50 per seat. More information can be found here.

2 » Gators sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker has been named to the Preseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List. The award, which honors the best college baseball player each year, is sponsored by Major League Baseball. Tucker was the 2009 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and earned a triple crown for Florida by leading the team in batting average (.364), runs batted in (85) and home runs (15). His RBI mark set a University of Florida single-season record.

3 » Speaking of Florida baseball, the preseason No. 7-ranked team will open its 2010 season against the South Florida Bulls on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium in the first of a three-game series. The second and third games will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday, respectively. The Gators have also earned preseason rankings of No. 9 by two services and No. 10 by another. Baseball finished 42-22 in 2009 and won the SEC East Division title for the first time since 2005.

4 » Sophomore Nassim Slilam and freshman Allie Will were named to the 2010 ITA All-Tournament Team for their performances at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships last week. Slilam and Will each went 3-0 in their respective performances, and Will improved her singles record to a team best 27-3 this season.

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