SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

1 » A pair of Florida Gators will be competing at the 2013 Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club, one of whom is a current University of Florida student and a member of the school’s golf team. Senior T.J. Vogel, a 22-year old amateur, will be playing in his first ever major and has decided to properly take in the moment. Over the weekend, he and his caddie arranged his schedule so he could “bump” into Tiger Woods during an early-morning tee time. “I basically ran into him and we talked for a few minutes,” he said according to the Orlando Sentinel. Vogel has been playing at Augusta as much as possible in preparation for the Masters and will get his big opportunity starting on Thursday. He will be joined in Augusta by former Gators golfer Brian Gay, who has played as a professional since 1994 and has four PGA Tour wins but has never finished better than 20th in a major (2008 PGA Championship).

2 » Former Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the highest-drafted baseball player in school history (No. 3 in the 2012 MLB Draft), is breaking out in a major way while playing minor league baseball for the Seattle Mariners. Currently assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), Zunino is simply crushing the ball. On Tuesday night, Zunino smacked a grand slam and has now hit a homer in three-straight games. He has hit four home runs in five games and boasts a MiLB-high 16 RBI while batting .429 and slugging an absurd 1.238 with an on-base percentage of 1.696.

Read four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

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FOUR BITS: New uniforms?, Floyd, Doering, PGA

1 » Three-star Florida Gators offensive lineman commit Roderick Johnson (Delray Beach, FL) updated the avatar on his Twitter account recently with the picture below (left), which appears to who a modified version of the football uniform with thicker numbers in a different font. As can be seen by the comparison picture next to it (right), the different font is significantly thicker and the design appears adjusted so that there is a thinner outline in both blue and orange around the numbers. To each their own as far as design tastes go, but this number change looks to go along with Florida’s total transition to a new font for the entire sports program. Uniform changes across college football are mostly headed in a modern and streamlined direction; UF looks to be going for the opposite if this big block style has indeed been adopted for the uniforms, too.

UPDATE – Jan. 29: OGGOA has confirmed with a source close to the program and an incoming player that these are indeed the new uniforms for 2013 and are being shown to recruits and players as what they will be wearing next season. The jersey, which appear to feature a sweatbox under the numbers similar to what is used on NFL jerseys, is also made of a lighter more breathable material that Nike uses in its shoes. There are no changes being made to the pants or helmet at this time.

2 » Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is quickly rocketing up the ranks as more and more scouts get a chance to watch his film. Floyd, who was originally thought to be a low first-round pick when he declared early, now has an opportunity to go in the top 15 of the 2013 NFL Draft in April. Former general manager Scott Pioli told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King recently that Floyd is one of the juniors available at this time. King then went on to list him as the third-best overall because of his “position and scheme flexibility,” competitiveness, toughness and ability to be “consistently disruptive in the pass rush” as well as “the type of player who makes those around him better by making the offense concentrate so much on stopping him.”

3 » The Gainesville Sun on Monday published a feature by Robbie Andreu about future Florida preferred walk-on wide receiver Case Harrison and how former Gators walk-on WR Chris Doering, a family friend, is serving as a mentor as he gets prepared to join the team. “Obviously there are a lot of similarities between the two of us,” Doering said. “[Walking on] is a difficult process. There are not a whole lot of walk-ons that are given an opportunity. I think I can certainly tell him some of the valuable things I learned along the way at Florida to be a successful walk-on. I can give him some insight that would allow him to compete immediately. I can help him with advice off the field and tips on the field.” Like Doering was when he joined the Gators, Harrison is a life-long fan and local product. “When you’re talking about guys like me and Case, you’re talking about guys that are already fully invested in Florida football before they even get there.”

4 » Saturday at the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open was University Day with golfers dressing up in school colors before teeing off. Though play was mostly suspended due to rain and fog, former Florida golfers Billy Horschel (who began the day in second place just a few shots behind Tiger Woods) and Camilo Villegas donned orange and blue. Villegas also competed in the University Challenge – which consisted of four players hitting “shots from the North No. 4 tee box at a square grid 40 yards away that included 20 glass panes,” according to The San Diego Union-Tribune – and wound up winning $10,000 for the school as a Gators pane was the only one left remaining at the end of the competition. Horschel posted a third-round 76 on Sunday which dropped him far down the leaderboard as Woods’s advantage grew over the course of the day.

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FOUR BITS: No. 1?, Gay, Senior Bowl, Bonner (plus Haslem and Miller singing karaoke)

1 » No. 7/8 Florida Gators basketball has been getting a lot of love since dismantling Missouri on Saturday. Florida has plowed through the first four games of its Southeastern Conference schedule and is starting to look like one of the most dominant teams in the country. Enter John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus (via ESPN Insider [$]), who contended over the weekend that the Gators are “the real No. 1” team in the country at this point. As he wrote on Jan. 20, Florida is putting forward “an unheard-of 0.42 points per possession [differential]” statistic during SEC play, which is double what some former national title teams have been able to achieve. Despite the Gators playing against some talent-poor teams in the early going, Gasaway notes that “we’ve never seen a number as silly as 0.42 after 254 possessions of conference play.” In other words, when all is said and done, UF may have found the offense necessary to go along with its impressive defense, a combination that could send it blasting its way through the SEC and into a top seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. KenPom.com certainly thinks so, as it has the team as at least a seven-point favorite in every game for the remainder of the regular season.

2 » Former Florida golfer Brian Gay qualified for the 2013 Masters on Sunday when he won the 2013 Humana Challenge by registering a birdie on the second playoff hole. The victory was his fourth on the PGA Tour and at 41-years-old, he will be back at Augusta National for just the second time in his long career. He finished with a nine-under 63 but struggled through his final round. Gay birdied nine of the first 13 holes before registering par on holes 14-18. He had a chance to win on 18 but missed a birdie putt; luckily, Gay’s two playoff hole birdies made up for the miss.

Read the rest of this post…including two BITS and two VIDEOS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: No. 1?, Gay, Senior Bowl, Bonner (plus Haslem and Miller singing karaoke)

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Grossman, Mitts, Pearson, Fogg headline UF Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2013 inductees

Eight former letterwinners – including Gator Greats Rex Grossman (football), Heather Mitts (soccer), Mike Pearson (football) and Josh Fogg (baseball) – and one honorary letterwinner will be inducted as the UF Athletic Hall of Fame‘s 2013 class.

The F Club and Gator Boosters, Inc. announced Monday that the honors will be bestowed upon these former players at the Hall of Fame Banquet on April 5, 2013 in the Holloway Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Inductees are normally divided into three categories: Gator Greats, Distinguished Letterwinners and Honorary Letterwinners. The remainder of the 2013 class includes Gator Greats Jeff Davis (wrestling), Riko Higashio (women’s golf) and Chrissy Van Fleet (gymnastics) as well as Distinguished Letterwinner Larry Morris (football) and Honorary Letterwinner Ernestine Russell Weaver (gymnastics).

Read more about each inductee and their career accomplishments…
Continue Reading » Grossman, Mitts, Pearson, Fogg headline UF Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2013 inductees

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FOUR BITS: Georgetown, Tucker, Wambach

1 » Making an appearance on 1010 XL radio on Tuesday, executive director of sports and entertainment for the City of Jacksonville Alan Verlander confirmed that tickets for the Navy/Marines Corps Classic will be bundled with the Jacksonville Jaguars-Indianapolis Colts game and will begin at $1,000. That package would include two tickets to watch the Florida Gators take on the Georgetown Hoyas on an aircraft carrier and two more to see Jacksonville-Indianapolis on that Thursday. Verlander also noted on the program that a well-known artist will hold a concert before the Florida-Georgetown game. A press release is supposed to be available Thursday with tickets going on sale Monday. OGGOA reached out to Verlander late Tuesday and is currently awaiting his reply.

2 » The University of Florida has chosen former Gators outfielder Preston Tucker to represent the school when the men’s athletic program accepts the 2012 Capital One Cup at the ESPYs in Los Angeles, CA on Wednesday. It is the second-straight year that Florida’s men’s program has won the award; forward Chandler Parsons was in L.A. to accept the award one year ago.

3 » Former Florida striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach is a part of the latest edition of ESPN Magazine – “The Body Issue.” In it, Wambach and a number of other big-name athletes bare all in carefully chosen poses that show plenty of skin but hide their private parts. Check out the picture of Wambach in the magazine, an extensive interview with her about the process and a video of her discussing the experience (below).

4 » The Gators announced the hirings of two more coaches over the last few days as Janice Olivencia was added to the women’s golf team as an assistant on Friday and Nic Peterson was named an assistant track coach (jumps) on Monday. Olivencia, who played for Texas, served as an assistant for South Florida last season after spending seven years playing professionally. UF notes that “she was the first Puerto Rican woman to have ever qualified to play on the Ladies European Tour.” Peterson comes to Florida after a successful career as an assistant at Texas Christian by way of Nebraska, where he competed and served as a volunteer coach.

Extra BIT » Though she did not confirm it directly, new FOX sports reporter/host Erin Andrews did not dismiss the fact that she interviewed for a hosting gig on X Factor, a story first reported by SPORTSbyBROOKS and more recently by Entertainment Weekly. EW (and E! Online) noted on Monday that Andrews has some stiff competition for the gig going up against names like Stacy Kiebler, Mario Lopez and Rocsi Diaz (among others). “Sources emphasize that prospective hosts are still being interviewed and actual testing for the gig is not expected for several more weeks,” EW reports.

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FOUR BITS: Fulwood, Gal, Raymond, Hernandez

1 » Four-star wide receiver commit Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, FL) was one of a number of Florida Gators commits and targets participating in The Opening, a three-day skills competition run by Nike that took place in Eugene, OR over the weekend. InsidetheGators.com recruiting analyst Blake Alderman was in attendance at the event ($) and tagged Fulwood as the Florida commit/recruit who is “ready to play today.” With wide receiver being a major position of need for the Gators, Fulwood’s frame (6’4, 189 lbs.) and ability to “climb the ladder and catch the ball at its highest point” are major positives that offensive coordinator Brent Pease should be able to utilize as soon as he gets on campus. Fulwood did not see many passes go his way due to the quarterbacks spreading the ball around, according to Alderman, but impressed every time it was thrown to him and made a pair of touchdown grabs over the weekend.

2 » Though she ended the event eight shots off the lead, former Florida golfer Sandra Gal of Germany finished in third place (+1) at the conclusion of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, the best position she has finished in a major in her five-season LPGA Tour career. After a rough start to her career in which she missed numerous cuts and fell well outside the top 25 players in major championship events, Gal has really turned the corner the last two years. In the last 16 months she won her first tour event (the Kia Classic in March 2011) and has registered three top-15 finishes in majors – T-15 in the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, T-12 in the 2012 LPGA Championship and third in this weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open.

3 » Former Gators tennis player Lisa Raymond had a nice tune-up for the 2012 London Olympics by competing in Wimbledon over the weekend. Though No. 1 Raymond/Liezel Huber fell in the semifinals of the women’s doubles tournament to Serena and Venus Williams, she went all the way to the finals of the mixed doubles tournament as the No. 2-ranked team with fellow American Mike Bryan. The duo defeated No. 4 Elena Vesnina/Leander Peas 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. It was the fifth Grand Slam mixed doubles title of Raymond’s career and 11th overall Grand Slam doubles title.

4 » With the New England Patriots extending tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, many fans of the team wondered what will become of TE Aaron Hernandez in the near future. Considering the team spent so much money to retain Gronkowski, conventional wisdom is that New England will let Hernandez’s deal expire but keep him in the fold by giving him the franchise tag in consecutive seasons before either allowing him to seek another contract or re-signing him when the time comes. However, according to The Boston Globe, that may not be so easy for the Patriots considering Hernandez could very well throw a wrench in those plans.

“Don’t expect Hernandez to accept the franchise tag number at tight end. The argument is there to be made that in his role, Hernandez is more of a receiver than a tight end,” writes Greg A. Bedard. “And considering that the receiver tag ($9.515 million) is almost double that of tight end ($5.446 million) this year, you can almost bet that Hernandez [...] will prepare an argument for the receiver tag. That’s exactly what agent Blake Baratz did in February for tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s not known how much the threat affected the Packers, but they ultimately signed Finley to a two-year contract worth around $15 million.” Read more from Bedard on the subject by clicking here.

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Florida Gators hire Emily Bastel as women’s golf coach, Bryan Shelton as men’s tennis coach

Less than two weeks after the resignations of a pair of head coaches, the Florida Gators announced on Friday that new leaders have been hired for the women’s golf and men’s tennis programs. Florida promoted assistant Emily Bastel to head up the women’s golf team and brought in Georgia Tech head women’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton to take over the men’s tennis squad.

Though both will be new to UF, Bastel and Shelton have drastically different levels of experience and success in the coaching profession.

Former Gators head women’s golf coach Jan Dowling surprised Florida administrators last month by resigning for personal reasons. Luckily for athletic director Jeremy Foley and senior associate director Mike Spiegler, the top candidate to be her replacement was a young up-and-comer positioned right under their noses.

Bastel was hired 10 months ago to be Dowling’s assistant and immediately submitted her resume when learning of her boss’ departure.

“I was just blown away,” Foley said remembering how he felt after interviewing Bastel for the position. “We had a diamond in our midst and didn’t even know it.”

Spiegler added: “When she left the room, we all sort of looked at each other and said, you know, ‘Wow.’ It was that impressive. She may be on the quiet side, but she’s confident and has an idea about the direction we’re headed and will continue to go.”

Also working to her benefit was the fact that “every member of the UF team called, texted or e-mailed to lobby on Bastel’s behalf,” according to GatorZone.com.

Before joining Florida last season, she served as an assistant at Michigan State (2002-03) and Duke (2009-10). Bastel replaced Dowling (who left for UF in 2009) as an assistant at Duke after spending three years on the LPGA Tour (2005-08).

Shelton’s path to the Gators came through Florida head women’s tennis coach Roland Thornqvist who, according to the Gators, submitted a “short list of candidates” to Foley but pushed heavily for Shelton to get a shot.

“He’s the best in the country – on the men’s or women’s side,” he reportedly said.

Unlike Bastel, Shelton has plenty of head coaching experience and immense success. He has spent the last 13 years at Georgia Tech coaching the women’s team and even lead them to the university’s first and only NCAA Championship in 2007.

He began his career playing for GT, won ACC singles and doubles titles while a part of the team and is even a member of the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. Shelton then turned pro and played on the circuit for seven years before going into coaching.

Under Shelton’s tutelage, GT won a national title, two ITA National Indoor Team Championships, four-straight ACC regular season titles and four ACC Tournaments. He also coached two ACC Players of the Year, an NCAA Singles Champion and two ITA National Players of the Year. Shelton was named USTA/ITA National Coach of the Year in 2007 and ACC Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2005, 2007-08).

Foley is confident Shelton’s impressive coaching career will translate to the men’s game and thinks he is the man to lead the Gators back to the promised land.

“I don’t tell coaches how many games or championships they have to win, but men’s tennis needs to be in the hunt every single year,” said Foley, according to GatorZone.com. “Does that mean the Final Four every year? No. But when the season starts, you need to be one of the teams that has a chance to get there.”

Now Shelton is a member of the orange and blue and the man charged with rekindling the success UF once had at the start of now former coach Andy Jackson‘s tenure.

“I think that Florida and Florida tennis speaks for itself,” he said. “In my mind, this is the best job in the country. [...] I’m talking about resources. I’m talking about academics. I’m talking about the opportunity to grow and develop a program to the highest level; the opportunity to win championships and be successful year in and year out.

“This place is a gold mine.”

Photo Credits: Duke University/Georgia Tech University

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FOUR BITS: Machen, Taylor, Tebow, Beal

1 » University of Florida President Bernie Machen announced Friday that he will conclude his tenure sometime in 2013 after nearly a decade at the helm of the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the state. Machen, 68, made his announcement at the UF Board of Trustees meeting, and the school sent an e-mail to students, alumni and faculty almost simultaneously. “This decision reflects our joint feeling that there’s a time for everything in life and it’s now our time to pursue the next chapter,” said Machen while also referring to his wife Chris, according to The Gainesville Sun. “Of course, it will be pursued here in Gainesville and it will be pursued at the University of Florida.” The Sun notes that his most recent contract extension, signed last year, “establishes a post-presidency role for Machen at the university.” The school expects that it will have a decision on Machen’s replacement in the next six months; a smooth transition will take place with Machen handing over the reins and responsibilities at a time both parties deem to be the most convenient and effective. Read the school’s official announcement on Machen’s decision.

2 » The Jacksonville Jaguars announced Thursday that recently retired running back Fred Taylor would be inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars this season. Taylor, who will join offensive tackle Tony Boselli as the second member of the Pride, is arguably the most talented and popular player in team history. He finished his career in Jacksonville (spanning 11 years) with 11,271 yards (4.6 yards per carry average) and 62 rushing touchdowns along with 2,361 receiving yards and eight reception scores. Taylor is not a member of the Florida GatorsRing of Honor as he is not yet eligible but could become eligible should he be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame and UF Athletic Hall of Fame.

3 » It has been obvious from day one of the trade that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan believes in quarterback Tim Tebow. Though he may have his reservations about him as a signal caller, Ryan continues to be impressed with Tebow’s character and football-playing abilities. He also seems to be infatuated with his strength. “Let me give you a little story about Tim,” Ryan said on Thursday, according to Pro Football Talk. “I saw this in the weight room. A player had challenged him, holding these big huge sledgehammers. They held them doing this big iron cross kind of deal. The big lineman went first. [Tebow] said you want to go first or second. The big lineman said he’d go first. He went for about a 1:04, shaking. Tim went for 1:18. This guy is crazy with how strong he is and the kind of focus [he has]. I see that from him. He’s super competitive.” Ryan also said that he understands Tebow likes to use his athleticism in the pocket and is perfectly with that in the correct situations. “He’s done some things in some previous practices, where it’s like, wow, that’s a football player,” he said. “The defense will start chirping about him, ‘Come on. Throw the ball, stand back and throw the ball.’ Why? If he sees two-man [deep defense], he’s running with it. Someone better go out there and make a tackle. I think everyone sees Tim for what he is. He’s a super competitive guy and a good teammate. I’ve noticed he’s always building guys up. By the way, he’s a talented kid, or young man.”

4 » At the 2012 NBA Combine as a partial participant, Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has been getting plenty of work done off the court. According to the Chicago Tribune (the combine is taking place in Chicago, IL), Beal “had interviews with Detroit, Denver and Sacramento on Wednesday,” several more planned for Thursday and individual workouts scheduled with Charlotte (No. 2 overall pick) and Washington (No. 3 overall pick) in the near future.

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