Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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TWO BITS: Brewer’s top play, Tebow’s games

1 » It looks like former Florida Gators guard/forward Corey Brewer is already fitting in well with his new team – the Denver Nuggets. Brewer has played double-digit minutes in each of his first two games with the team and is averaging 5.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals, but the highlight of his young Denver career came Wednesday night with the steal and alley-oop viewable below. The play came in No. 9 on ESPN‘s Top Plays.

2 » Searching for programming to eclipse the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, CBS Sports Network has decided to show four complete games featuring none other than Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow playing during his career with the Gators. The now-Denver Broncos quarterback will be featured on the network from 9 p.m. Saturday evening until 9 a.m. Sunday morning. The contests that the network will air include the 2007 game at Kentucky in which Tebow scored five touchdowns (9 p.m. Saturday), the SEC Championship victory over Alabama in 2008 in which Tebow scored three touchdowns (midnight Sunday), the four-touchdown game Tebow had against Georgia in 2009 (3 a.m. Sunday) and the come-from-behind victory Tebow led against Arkansas in 2009 (6 a.m. Sunday). If you’re not going to watch the ball drop at Times Square or be out of the house celebrating, many would say there is not a better way to ring in the new year. Find CBS Sports Network on your television.

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SIX Tebow BITS: Meyer, Noah, Wuerffel, Brady

1 » Though he is now at Ohio State, former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer still obviously has an affinity for quarterback Tim Tebow. Speaking with The Gainesville Sun, Meyer explained how proud he was of what Tebow has been able to accomplish this year. “Isn’t it great?” he said. “He did it in high school, he did it in college and now he’s doing it in the NFL. What more do you want? The thing about Tim is he makes the people around him better. It’s the essence of football. It doesn’t matter what style of offense you run. It’s a team sport.” As to those non-believers? “They just don’t want to buy in,” Meyer said. “Even John Elway. It doesn’t matter if you brought him in if you’re Elway or the general manager. Who cares? Just enjoy it.”

2 » Crossing paths with Tebow during his time in Gainesville, FL, former Gators center Joakim Noah (now of the Chicago Bulls) also waxed poetic about the former Heisman Trophy winner. Just one day before Tebow faced the Chicago Bears, Noah was excited to show his Florida pride at practice. “Timothyyyy!” Noah said proudly, according to ESPNChicago.com. “We got to show Timothy a little love here. For all the haters out there, you know the guy is kicking ass. Making me very proud to be a Gator boy.” He added that, while he may not share the same belief system as Tebow, that does not make him any less of a supporter. “It’s a beautiful story,” he said. “He is who he is. There’s no lie about who he is. He’s comfortable. Me personally, I have completely different beliefs than him. But at the same time I respect the fact that he speaks his truth. He speaks his truth and he’s a warrior. He’s a winner. At the end of the day, his teammates respect that.” Noah went on to talk about the two being in a class together and how, being a “Gator boy” he “love[s] the Tebow talk.”

Read four more BITS about Tebow…after the break.
Continue Reading » SIX Tebow BITS: Meyer, Noah, Wuerffel, Brady

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The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

Take every story written about every backup quarterback in the history of the NFL, combine them, and you probably would not reach the level of attention Denver Broncos second-year reserve Tim Tebow has received this offseason.

While a lot of the diatribes and “insider” stories about him are driven by one thing in particular – page views – it is important to realize that the media cannot be solely held responsible for this barnstorm of criticism and relative subjectivity about one of the most polarizing players in the league. His team has to take some blame, too.

Read the rest of this column…after the break!
Continue Reading » The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

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Florida Gators grab No. 1 spot on Rivals’ Top 10 recruiting classes since 2002

Celebrating a decade of presenting high school recruiting rankings, Rivals.com released a special feature on Tuesday detailing the 10 best recruiting classes since 2002. The Florida Gators, under former head coach Urban Meyer, earned two spots on the list including the No. 1 overall ranking.

Florida’s 2006 recruiting class, which featured five-stars quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, came away as the clear leader even after being ranked as the second-best class that year.

“What makes this group stand out above the rest was the number of prospects who panned out: 16 members of the class were starters at one time,” writes Rivals. “Beyond Tebow and Harvin, there were guys such as LBs Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones, DE Jermaine Cunningham, T/G Marcus Gilbert, DTs Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders and WR Riley Cooper. The group helped Florida win two national championships, and Tebow won the 2007 Heisman as a sophomore and was a finalist as a junior and senior.”

Two of those players (Tebow and Harvin) wound up being first-round picks in the NFL Draft; three more (Spikes, Cunningham and Gilbert) were selected in the second-round and one other (Cooper) was a fifth-round pick. Other prominent names in the 2006 class include kick returner Brandon James and offensive lineman Carl Johnson.

The Gators’ 2007 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 the year it was signed, closes out the list at No. 10. One of the reasons it is lower on the list is the fact that three of its most prominent members – five-stars quarterback Cameron Newton and defensive tackle Torrey Davis as well as four-star DT John Brown – had off-the-field issues that did not allow them to conclude their careers in Gainesville, FL.

However, Florida’s 2007 signings also included a trio of first-round picks (cornerback Joe Haden and centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey), safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright, DE Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez and punter Chas Henry. Players remaining on the Gators include redshirt seniors QB John Brantley, DT Jaye Howard, running back Chris Rainey and WR Deonte Thompson.

Check out Rivals at 10: Ten best recruiting classes for the rest of the rankings.

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Wuerffel being treated for Guillain-Barre syndrome

Updated at 9:22 p.m.

Former Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel was hospitalized for and is recovering from a rare condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a source close him confirmed to OGGOA Wednesday afternoon.

Wuerffel’s charity, Desire Street Ministries, of which he is the executive director, has provided the following statement:

“Fortunately, an early diagnosis identified the disease, permitting swift medical treatment,” writes Luder Whitlock, the board chair of DMS. “Consequently, his GSB specialist expects a full recovery. Meanwhile, Danny has asked me to express his appreciation for the prayers, love and support he has received during this time.”

In an e-mail he sent to a number of close associates that was forwarded to OGGOA late Tuesday evening, Wuerffel explained his current health episode.

A prayer request on my end. I caught a stomach bug last week on our Desire Ministry retreat in Colorado and my body got screwed up fighting the virus. I didn’t recover well. I started losing feeling in my legs, and then while in Montgomery this week visiting our ministry partner, Bryan Kelly, I started losing feeling and strength in my hands and arms. After a series of crazy tests all day Friday (it was actually a blessing to have been in Montgomery), I was diagnosed with Guillian Barre Syndrome, a pretty dangerous type of temporary but progressive paralysis. It was my immune system overreaction to the stomach bug that started attacking my nervous system. Fortunately, it was diagnosed early and I’m on a week-long treatment that should make everything be ok.

“He is OK but not great. Scary stuff,” the source said. “[The Wuerffels] are trying to balance privacy and keeping everyone informed.”

Wuerffel’s executive assistant, Sara Pace, told us late Wednesday that the Heisman Trophy winner “is thankful that he isn’t required to stay in the hospital overnight” but will continue receiving outpatient treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre syndrome “is a disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. […] The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, but it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu. […] In about 60 percent of cases, an infection affecting either the lungs or the digestive tract precedes the disorder.”

We will provide updates and relay any additional concrete information we learn about Wuerffel’s condition as soon as possible. For now, please respect his family’s privacy, pray for his health and hope for a speedy recovery.

Wuerffel has requested that any gifts, donations or letters of support be made to DSM rather than him personally. Should you wish to send any of the aforementioned, please direct them to adam@onlygators.com, and I will forward them to the appropriate contact.

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Tebow hid headache before 2009 LSU game

The No. 1 Florida Gators were 4-0 and hoping to repeat as national champions heading into a tough Southeastern Conference road contest against the No. 4 LSU Tigers on Oct. 10, 2009. Just two weeks earlier, Heisman Trophy winning starting quarterback Tim Tebow went down with a severe concussion that had him under intense treatment every day leading up to the game.

The talk of the college football world was whether Tebow should, could and/or would end up playing in the game with plenty of talking heads providing their opinions one way or another. In the end, it came down to doctor evaluations and the presence or absence of headaches that would decide if he would be allowed to step on the field.

Though head coach Urban Meyer said publicly as the game approached that Tebow would play as long as he was medically cleared by Florida’s team of doctors, the decision went down to the wire.

In his memoir Through My Eyes, released on Tuesday, Tebow details his final conversation with Meyer on the topic and how he felt leading up to the game:

For me, it was easy. I was going to do everything I could to get out there—by doing what the medical professionals were telling me to.

After a number of tests, the doctors cleared me to play the morning of the game, but Coach took me aside before we got on the bus to Tiger Stadium.

“I’m not going to let you play,” he said. He had tears in his eyes—he knew how much it meant to me.

“I have to play,” I responded.

He cut me off. “I keep asking myself, if you were Nate, would I let you play? I keep saying, ‘No.’ I can’t let you play.” He really wanted to win, but he was unwilling to take a chance with my health.

“But they cleared me, and I haven’t had headaches in days,” I countered. “There’s no reason for me not to play.”

“No headaches?”

“No, Coach. No headaches.” A headache had been starting to set in, but for all I know, it was from stress or a migraine, not the concussion. […]

I was praying in the locker room that the headache, which had been getting worse and worse, would simply go away. It didn’t. I could barely see by the end of the pregame warm-ups, it was hurting so badly.

Meyer told the media on Oct. 5 that Tebow had been headache- and symptom-free for several days, a statement that has been confirmed by the player and was undoubtedly true at the time. In fact, speaking with a concussion specialist not associated with the team or school, OGGOA was told that once an athlete is fully recovered, the risk of him playing is no different whether they return to the field in 10 days, two weeks, six months or a year. The key – the doctor said – was remaining asymptomatic up until kickoff.

Whether Tebow’s headaches were caused by stress – like he suggests – or were a symptom of his concussion two weeks prior, he relates in the book that the pain went away and his head cleared the moment he stepped on the field. More importantly, he says it never came back and did not affect him at all.

The Gators’ defense stole the show that night in Death Valley, holding the Tigers to 162 total yards. Tebow ended up carrying the ball 17 times for 38 yards and completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards, a touchdown and an inexplicable interception late in the game.

Through My Eyes, in which Tebow “writes about life as he chooses to live it, revealing how his Christian faith, family values, and relentless will to succeed have molded him into the person and athlete he is today,” is available in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon.com in hardcover and digital editions.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Johnson, Heat, Macklin

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s new memoir, Through My Eyes was released Tuesday, but the number of fans who camped outside (yes, spent the night) waiting for him at a Books-A-Million absolutely stunned the Heisman Trophy winner. “It’s extremely humbling,” he told The Florida Times-Union. “I take it as a huge responsibility that people care that much about me and [I] really try to make it worth it for them, really try to make them feel special for doing it.” Tebow also spoke with the paper a little bit about the content of the book, which OGGOA should receive from the publisher for review on Tuesday. “It wasn’t just about football stories,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s more about inspiring kids to go out there and try to live their dream, and go after it and live with passion. That’s a lot of what it’s about, so hopefully, people will take it that way.”

2 » Back in Gainesville, FL after suffering a minor concussion during the No. 2 Florida Gators baseball team’s elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, AL, sophomore left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson is doing his best to recover quickly and get back on the field. Speaking with Florida Today, Johnson’s father said his son “is fine” and underwent a number of tests on Monday to evaluate his post-concussion symptoms. He is considered day-to-day for the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which begins on Thursday. The paper reports

He had base line testing while playing for a U.S. all-star team last summer so doctors are able to do comparisons, to make sure he returns to normal before playing again. UF is also consulting with noted Pittsburgh neuropsychologist Michael Collins.

3 » Discussing with Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller their time playing for Florida, the Palm Beach Post’s Ethan Skolnick got the duo to open up about how head coach Billy Donovan ended up helping them form a bond. It all started when he called both players into his office. “Coach Donovan, was like, ‘You know, if the season started today, I couldn’t play neither one of you guys,'” Haslem told Skolnick. “That wasn’t the exact words he used. You got to get your, um, ‘S’ together. Because I just thought I was doing the best academic job in the world, and obviously I wasn’t. And neither was [Miller]. I don’t know what his excuse was. But, at that point, Mike and I bonded from there.”

Haslem even had Miller’s back when an incident occurred with an unnamed football player. “I had a football player that, um, that didn’t really like me,” Miller said with a smile. “For unknown reasons. And UD put an end to that.” Haslem remembered, “Yeah, I just let the guy know, if you got a problem with Mike, you got a problem with me. The guy never bothered Mike again.”

4 » Talk surrounding the 2011 NBA Draft from a Gators perspective has mostly focused on forward Chandler Parsons, who could be picked anywhere from the teens to the mid-second round. Parsons, who has been going around the country doing private workouts after successfully competing in the NBA Combine and select group camp in Minnesota, is not the only former Florida player eligible to be selected. Center Vernon Macklin, according to the Indianapolis Star, is one of six former college players working out for the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. Macklin is projected to be a late second-round pick or go undrafted.

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