Peterson impressed by Muschamp, ready to coach

A Gainesville, FL, native, former Florida Gators linebacker Mike Peterson has spent the last 14 years travelling across the country with three different NFL franchises but never strayed too far away from home.

With his family still in Alachua County and his charity – the Mike Peterson Foundation – based in Alachua, FL, he has been in and out of the area plenty over the years.

It was not until 2011, however, that Peterson rekindled his relationship with the Gators football program. That year, he learned of his induction into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great” and had the opportunity to meet new head coach Will Muschamp for the first time.

“Man, I’m all for him,” Peterson told OnlyGators.com in April 2011. “I had a chance to meet with him. I love everything about him. I love the passion he brings to the game. [I’m] loving that he’s a defensive-minded guy. I’m all for him, man.”

As luck would have it, Peterson is now working on the same coaching staff as Muschamp after a suggestion from his academic advisor at Florida – he is two classes away from graduating with an undergraduate degree in sociology – led him to reach out and inquire about a coaching position with the Gators.

“I had been talking with him and going to class and slowly trying to get towards my degree. He mentioned to me, ‘Why don’t you go out and work with the team?’ It’s something I had thought about but never taken the initiative,” Peterson explained Tuesday. “I went and spoke with Coach Muschamp about it and he was very accepting of it. A little different than I would have expected, but he was very accepting of it. Just knowing him over a couple years, coming back and speaking with the team, I knew it would be a place I would definitely fit in. And the rest is history.”

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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.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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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: Spofforth, Harvin, Jenkins, Dickey

1 » Set to compete in the pool for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, former Florida Gators swimmer Gemma Spofforth recently opened up to The Guardian about losing three family members within five years to cancer and how her despair got so deep that she had to pull herself out of it. Spofforth’s forthcoming autobiography Dealing With It: Five Years of Mourning details her journey including the lowest point of her life – one in which she contemplated suicide. “Is the concrete hard enough? I could jump right now. I could escape. I would not have to deal with it, wouldn’t have to think, wouldn’t have to worry,” she writes while remembering thoughts she had when standing on a hotel balcony in Australia. Still living in Florida, Spofforth “has been working as a volunteer on a suicide crisis line in Florida,” according to The Guardian, and has learned how to both deal with grief and “compartmentalize her emotions.” She is currently on course to earn a Master’s degree in mental health counseling, which she will complete after she competes in the women’s 100 meter backstroke at the Olympics in her home country of England. Spofforth is a former world record holder in the 50 meters and current world record holder in the 100 meters; she also won five NCAA titles.

2 » Confirming a statement former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin made on June 25, in which he said that despite his ongoing issues with the Minnesota Vikings he would appear on time for training camp, a source close to the team told the same thing to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday. Harvin, who was on the field for just 58.4 percent of his team’s offensive plays in 2011, wants to see increased playing time and additional red zone touches. He is also hoping for lucrative contract extension despite the fact that he is under team control for two more seasons and could be franchise tagged in 2014.

3 » Denying that he is currently at odds with the St. Louis Rams about a pre-draft agreement he made to hire a certain financial advisor before signing his rookie contract, cornerback Janoris Jenkins said Saturday that he is ready to begin his first professional season. “I’m excited about playing for Jeff Fisher,” he said in a statement as published by Scout.com. “I have a lot of respect for him and he’s a great guy. He’s a highly respected coach in this league.” A Yahoo! Sports report that surfaced Friday noted that Jenkins was not yet under contract due to not meeting terms of a pre-draft agreement (that is not allowed by the collective bargaining agreement but was supposedly made) between Fisher and Jenkins’s agent Malik Shareef. Fisher asked that Jenkins hire Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment as his financial adviser despite Jenkins already having Rich DeLuca of Merrill Lynch working for him. Jenkins has not made that switch even though he apparently signed one piece of paperwork that would have begun facilitating the change. “Contract talks are going fine,” Shareef told Scout. “We fully expect to have Janoris’s deal done soon.”

4 » It was announced Friday that former Florida quarterback Doug Dickey and running back John L. Williams will be the next two Gators players inducted into the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame. The duo will be joined by Bulldogs QB David Greene and wide receiver Charles Whittemore for the induction ceremony on Oct. 26, one day before the latest edition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

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Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player inducted into College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first Florida Gators player to receive the prestigious honor.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson is first in school history to this day in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224); he is second in home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson was selected with the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft and following three years in the minor leagues spent eight playing in the majors. He earned Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hit 32 home runs in 2004, smacked the last home run in Expos team history, jacked the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hit for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hit three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson also played for the Texas Rangers (2006-07) and spent time as a member of both the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. He signed a minor league contract with Boston in 2009 but quickly decided to retire before attempting a comeback in 2010 with Philadelphia that only lasted one month.

Wilkerson is a member of the seventh class of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, and was inducted in a ceremony that took place Saturday in Lubbock, TX. He is one of four members of the 2012 class, which also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

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FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

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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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Gator Bites for Wednesday, May 23

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons of the Houston Rockets was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie second team on Tuesday, falling just seven points short of earning a first-team nod. Parsons averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals while starting 57 of 63 games for Houston in his rookie season.

» Hoping to achieve a similar feat in his rookie season, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal is currently getting ready to work out for teams as he prepares for the 2012 NBA Draft. He will have some help towards that goal thanks to the league, which invited him to be one of 60 players who will compete at the 2012 NBA Combine in Chicago, IL. Gators senior point guard Erving Walker was not included on the list.

» Florida head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease made it a point to note that they plan to bring on a quarterback commitment each and every year. To that end a pair of three-star 2013 signal callers, Ryan Buchanan (Jackson, MS) and Tim Boyle (Middleton, CT), will be visiting Gainesville, FL over the weekend. Though UF has struck out with some big name quarterbacks this recruiting cycle and has four signal callers that will be on the roster for at least the next two years, the coaches have not changed their minds about brining another one into the fold. “It’s a very difficult position to evaluate and then take the right guy,” Muschamp said at a Gator Gathering on Tuesday, according to InsidetheGators.com. “Guys that worry about depth charts, we don’t want them. You hit it with them one time, if they ask you to go over it a second time. If they ask a third time, you need to move on.” If the Gators have their way, either Buchanan or Boyle will put an end to their search for a 2013 quarterback.

» Speaking of recruiting, things are getting interesting (or aggravating, if you prefer) for Florida basketball as the team looks to add at least one more player before heading into the 2012-13 season. South Carolina transfer power forward Damontre Harris, a former four-star recruit who averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while playing 25.9 minutes per game last season, was supposed to make his decision between UF, Kansas or staying at USC last week but has yet to make a call. The Gators are also under consideration by Virginia Tech transfer F Dorian Finney-Smith, another former four-star recruit who averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 36.6 percent from three last season. Finney-Smith has only “narrowed” his list to Florida, Georgetown, Iowa State, Louisville, Marquette, Ohio State and Texas. He will take visits and speak to coaches before making his decision.

» Joining the undecided party is 2012 four-star PF Montrezl Harrell (Tarboro, VA). Formerly a VT signee, Harrell decided to pursue other opportunities after the team fired head coach Seth Greenberg and is heavily considering playing for UF, which is one of a handful of schools on his short list (Alabama, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Carolina are the others). The Gators may have an inside track on Harrell due to head coach Billy Donovan being the head coach for the USA Basketball U18 National Team during training camp from June 5-12 in Colorado Springs, CO. Harrell will be playing on the team and have the opportunity to see first-hand what it would be like to practice and play for Donovan. Some are of the opinion that Louisville, a team he did not list when mentioning his top five, has an opportunity to be his eventual destination.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Wednesday, May 23

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