FOUR BITS: NFL, Team USA, Fontana, Tebow

1 » Now that the undrafted free agents have been scooped up and rookie minicamp is in the books, the newest Florida Gators in the NFL have plenty of work to do to remain on their teams heading into the 2013 season, which starts in exactly four months. As of press time, there are 41 total Gators spread across 19 different NFL rosters. Below is a list of teams corresponding with the number of Florida players currently on their rosters and set to participate in their respective training camps.

(4): Miami, Washington
(3): Baltimore, New England, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
(2): Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, Seattle
(1): Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis

2 » Gators guard Sydney Moss has accepted an invitation to try out with USA Basketball for a spot on the under-19 team that will compete in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships from July 18-28. Team trails are being held May 16-19 in Colorado Springs, CO. Florida head coach Billy Donovan will be coaching the men’s team in the same event from June 17-July 7. He will begin his duties on June 14 in Colorado Springs as he tries to whittle down a 25-player tryout to the 12 that will earn spots on the final roster.

3 » Former Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana is raising eyebrows inside the Houston Astros organization with the way he is currently playing for the Class-A affiliate Lancaster JetHawks in the California League. Fontana (as of Tuesday) is leading the league in batting average (.369), walks (30), runs (29), on-base percentage (.504) and on-base plus slugging (1.071); he is also second in hits (41). As expected, Fontana is also proving to be an excellent defensive shortstop.

4 » Attorney John Morgan (of the law firm Morgan & Morgan) out of Orlando, FL has commissioned the below television commercial (which is also running as a radio spot) to support quarterback Tim Tebow and entice the Jacksonville Jaguars to sign the local product. Considering general manager Dave Caldwell made it perfectly clear months ago that Jacksonville was not interested in Tebow, Morgan is basically just wasting his money and using these advertisements to promote his name and business.

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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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Gator Bites for Monday, June 18

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.

» A rough senior season at the center position made many Florida Gators fans skeptical that Mike Pouncey could play the position as well as his twin brother. But after one year as the starting center for the Miami Dolphins, those questions no longer exist as Pouncey has proven that he can perform at a Pro Bowl level (though he did not make it to the game in 2011). Now he is focused on getting even better and told the Sun-Sentinel it all starts with eating better. “I can get away with [eating fast food], but I changed it up this year just trying to eat more leaner stuff,” he said. “I hired a chef, so it’s been working well for me.” Pouncey also feels the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins will be employing in 2012 and beyond will benefit him and the offense; he expects a breakout season for himself. “They say your second year is supposed to be your best year,” he said. “I’m hoping for big things. I’m coming out as hard as I can. I want to take on more of a leadership role this year.”

» Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan has been working with the United States U18 National Team over the last few weeks and began action in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship with his squad on Saturday. Donovan’s young squad is already 2-0 in international competition with a 105-42 victory over the Virgin Islands on Saturday and a 110-59 win over Mexico on Sunday. The U.S. will take on Brazil on Monday to conclude first-round action with the semifinals taking place Tuesday and the championship being held on Wednesday. Donovan’s squad needs to place in the top four teams at the end of the event in order to advance to the 2013 FIBA World Championship next summer. “I told them there are three things we want to accomplish. First and foremost, win a gold medal. Second, we’ve got a lot of guys on our team going into college and we want them to get maybe a bit more prepared than some other incoming freshmen for what they’re going to face in college. And third, we want to help them get better as players,” Donovan told the Sporting News before leaving for Brazil.

» Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, who missed the entire 2011 season after a blood vessel burst in his brain and he was diagnosed with a hereditary vascular condition, was officially cleared to participate in all football activities by team doctors on Friday. Ball had previously announced on March 1 that he had medical clearance from doctors to return to action, but head coach Will Muschamp cautioned in April and May that while he had returned to work out with the team that he was not a full participant and was still awaiting an additional clearance. Now that Ball is good to go, he will compete for immediate playing time at Buck linebacker, a position with a major depth issue now that junior Ronald Powell is out until at least mid-October with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

» Florida track & field coach Mike Holloway was awarded his first Coach of the Year honor for the outdoor season by the USTFCCCA on Thursday. He had previously won the award in consecutive years for the indoor season (2010-11). Holloway’s men’s team swept the 2012 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships this season.

Read six more Gator Bites…after the break!

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, June 18

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Six Gators selected on day two of 2012 MLB Draft

Florida Gators baseball has seen a school-record eight players be selected in the first nine rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft, doubling the program’s previous record of having four players picked through rounds 1-9 of a single draft. Below are all six players selected on day two of the draft, which consists of rounds 2-15.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino (No. 3 overall – Seattle Mariners) and junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson (No. 31 overall – Boston Red Sox) were selected in the first round on Monday. It was the first time in team history that a pair of Gators were picked in the first round of the regular June MLB Draft.

Round 2 – No. 61
Nolan Fontana, SS
Houston Astros


Height: 5’11″ – Weight: 190 lbs.
B/T: L/R – Class: Junior

A true shortstop who should remain there but could also be moved to second base as he also projects well there defensively, Fontana does a lot of things extremely well but nothing particularly great even though his defense has been a bright spot for Florida throughout his career. He has a keen eye for the ball both in the field and at the plate, a strong arm to get it over to first and solid instincts both on defense and while running the bases. Despite the fact that he has flashed some power and makes good contact, he has yet to hit consistently enough to warrant a first-round pick though he is a player that was high on a lot of teams’ draft boards. Undrafted coming out of high school, Fontana has improved his average each year and is hitting .294 as a junior with nine homers, 30 RBIs, and team-highs of 56 runs, 46 walks and 13 stolen bases. He is the first UF player selected by Houston since outfielder Mario Garza (25th round) in 2003.

Round 2 – No. 82
Steven Rodriguez, LHP
Los Angeles Dodgers


Height: 6’2″ – Weight: 235 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Junior

A dominant reliever for the Gators throughout his career, Rodriguez seems to keep getting better and better. Originally a 48th round pick in 2009, he made a mark his freshman season with Florida by earning a Super Regional win over Miami to send UF to the College World Series and followed up that effort with a terrific outing against Vanderbilt during the 2011 CWS to help send his team to the championship series. Now in his third season, Rodriguez boasts a 2.08 ERA (second lowest on the team despite throwing the most innings of any reliever) with a 79/13 K/BB ratio in 60.2 innings. Many baseball analysts believe Rodriguez may be on a fast track to the majors as a lefty reliever as his power and control is highly desired by all clubs. He could be in a Dodgers uniform as early as September when MLB rosters are expanded. Rodriguez is the first UF player picked by the Dodgers since infielder Brett Dowdy (ninth round) in 2003.

Round 3 – No. 118
Austin Maddox, RHP
Boston Red Sox


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 235 lbs.
B/T: R/R – Class: Junior

Maddox began his career at Florida as a two-way player but has settled into the closer’s role this season. Though he will likely be relegated to short relief should he make it up to the majors, he can still make a positive impact at the next level. Maddox has a solid fast ball that can hit the mid-90s, a nice sinker and a decent breaking ball but will have to work on his off-speed pitches in order to move up the ranks. Originally a 37th round pick in the 2009 draft, he succeeded right away at UF. Maddox was named the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year and a third-team All-American as a rookie while also picking up nearly unanimous Freshman All-America honors. He has done good work for the Gators as the team’s primary closer in 2012, notching 12 saves in 30 appearances while registering a 55/10 K/BB ratio and 2.24 ERA. Maddox is the second Florida player picked by Boston in this draft as the team spent its first-round selection on Johnson. It is the third time in school history that the Red Sox have taken at least two Gators in the same draft after choosing three in 1979 and two in 2005.

Round 7 – No. 219
Preston Tucker, RF
Houston Astros


Height: 6’0″ – Weight: 220 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Senior

Tucker has not been ignored by teams but felt he was worth more than the 16th round pick that Colorado used on him in the 2011 draft. Undrafted out of high school, he has done nothing but produce while wearing orange and blue and became the Gators’ all-time hits leader this season. Tucker was named the Freshman Hitter of the Year by the NCBWA in 2009 and was also honored as Co-SEC Freshman of the Year that season. He was an All-SEC second team and SEC All-Defensive team member in 2010 and improved on those honors with a second-team All-America nod and first-team All-SEC selection during his junior campaign. Tucker’s biggest asset is his pure power; he has hit 56 homers and driven in 254 runs over his Florida career. Scouts are impressed with this attribute but want to see him become more of an all-around hitter. Another issue is Tucker’s position. He is a solid right fielder with a decent arm but does not have enough speed to cover the type of ground that would make teams feel completely comfortable with him out there. Tucker was supposed to see more time at first base, a position he might be suited for at the next level, in 2012 but team injuries forced him to stay in the outfield permanently. He is the second Gators player picked by the Astros in this draft as the team spent its second-round selection on Fontana. It is the second time in school history that Houston has taken at two Florida players in the same draft after picking RHP John Burke (first round) and catcher Mario Linares (18th round) in 1991.

Round 7 – No. 244
Hudson Randall, RHP
Detroit Tigers


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 180 lbs.
B/T: R/R – Class: Junior

Florida’s ace at the front of their weekend rotation his season, Randall is an immensely talented thrower who has been on teams’ radars since he was picked in the 46th round of the 2009 draft. Though he may not flash as much potential as Johnson, Randall throws strikes, induces groundballs and gets the job done on the mound. His stellar sophomore campaign (11-3, 2.17 ERA) was slightly more impressive than his junior totals up to this point (8-2, 2.83 ERA), but he also wasn’t pitching as early on the weekend last season. After joining the Gators, Randall was named a unanimous Freshman All-American and also picked up a second-team All-SEC nod as a sophomore. His lack of top-end velocity limits his upside in the eyes of many scouts, but he possesses so many other positive qualities that many believe he could wind up being a diamond in the rough on draft day. Randall is the first Gators player drafted by the Tigers since outielder Scott Lusader (sixth round) in 1995.

Round 9 – No. 292
Daniel Pigott, OF
Cincinnati Reds


Height: 6’2″ – Weight: 205 lbs.
B/T: R/R – Class: Senior

Undrafted both out of high school and during his junior year in 2011, Pigott is another Florida player that has steadily improved throughout his career in orange and blue. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 SEC Tournament and concluded his third season the team by ranking second in both batting average (.331) and doubles (21). He also scored 44 runs, knocked in 40 more and was 15-for-19 in stolen base attempts last year. Pigott leads the Gators in batting average (.321) this season and has already registered career-highs in homers (seven), runs (46) and walks (22). He is also 11-for-16 on the base paths and has been one of UF’s most consistent performers. Cincinnati has now drafted a player out of Florida three-straight years, selecting RHP Matt Campbell (43rd round) in 2010 and OF Bryson Smith (34th round) in 2011.

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