Florida Gators football’s tumultuous offseason

The 2013 offseason started out relatively calm and normal for the Florida Gators football program with some players deciding to leave school early to play professionally and others choosing to try their luck at another university. Suddenly, starting on Jan. 10, a string of arrests, poor decisions, injuries and negative headlines began taking over the spring and summer for the Gators. Below is a timeline* of one of the most bizarre and controversial offseasons in Florida football history.

* While all of the news below was sour for Florida or its players in one way or another, obviously some of the occurrences (arrests, suspensions) are significantly more egregious than others (players transferring, coaches leaving). The standout, headline-making stories that either painted the program in a negative light or were exceptionally newsworthy during the summer are highlighted in red.

Luckily for Gators fans, with fall practice officially opening on Friday and the 2013 college season exactly one month away, the offseason is now over.

Continue Reading » Florida Gators football’s tumultuous offseason

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Dwyer, Beisel, Debut

1 » Contrary to a bevy of reports stating that he is definitively out for Super Bowl XLV, Pittsburgh Steelers starting rookie center Maurkice Pouncey considers himself probable for the game with a self-described “pretty bad” high ankle sprain. “I hope so. Right now it’s 75/25, and I’m hoping to play,” he told ESPN’s Chris Berman during media day on Tuesday. “I feel great out the cast, man. I’ve been walking around pretty good. Hopefully I’ll get on the bike today and get some pool action in later. It feels pretty good. Everybody’s been pretty positive about me. It’s a nasty little purple color, but it’s getting better. I don’t know why everybody’s trying to rule me out early. Offensive linemen don’t get ruled out until the last day.” If he is able to step on the field, Pouncey will be the only former Florida Gators player to participate in the championship.

2 » With National Signing Day set for Wednesday, some things appear to be getting clearer with the two recruits from Dwyer High School that the Gators have their eyes on. According to the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter, Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels “has a good idea” of where four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) is going and believes he will end up choosing Tennessee over Florida. Daniels also expects four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) to make his declaration at halftime of his high school basketball game on Friday. Brissett is choosing among Florida, Miami, Wisconsin and Washington and is thought to be favoring UM.

3 » For the third-straight year, Florida freshman swimmer Elizabeth Beisel has been named Rhode Island Female Athlete of the Year and will be honored as such at the state’s annual banquet on Feb. 20. Beisel also took home Female Swimmer of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference on Tuesday. Joining her with recognition are Male Swimmer of the Week senior Conor Dwyer and Freshmen of the Week Hilda Luthersdottir and Marcin Cieslak.

4 » The University of Florida announced Tuesday that the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will be moved from 1 p.m. to noon in order to air live on Sun Sports on April 9. Last year the game aired live only on UF’s GatorVision; it is unknown if the contest will be broadcast live online as well.

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Machen for SI: grayshirting is “reprehensible”

University of Florida president Bernie Machen, published in a feature piece for SI.com, calls offering grayshirts to student-athletes “reprehensible” and says taking away a scholarship from a player is “disgusting” and a “nefarious practice.”

Imagine the feeling if the student finds out, literally a few months before enrolling, that the institution is backing out of the contract. It is too late in the summer to go back to one’s second choice. The student is told he will have to wait until next year. Sorry, but no acceptance, no scholarship. That’s it.

In Division I college football this practice is known as “grayshirting” and, unfortunately, there are universities that sanction this activity. The universities, with full knowledge of what they are doing, extend more athletic scholarships than they have. These schools play roulette with the lives of talented young people. If they run out of scholarships, too bad. The letter-of-intent signed by the university the previous February is voided. Technically, it’s legal to do this. Morally, it is reprehensible.

What makes Machen’s comments particularly interesting are two stories that have come out over the last two recruiting cycles involving Florida Gators either offering or at the very least discussing grayshirts with high school players.

Rivals reported in Jan. 2010 that the Gators proposed the use of a grayshirt to three-star tight end recruit Michael McFarland, noting that he would not likely be strong enough to compete in the Southeastern Conference at his current build.

“When I went up there they threw out on the table the whole grayshirt thing,” McFarland said. “There have been times I wanted to do it and there were times I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to get up there and go play. […] They didn’t say they were going to do it but they gave me the option.”

Florida decided the move was not necessary; McFarland joined UF in the fall.

This year, four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett and Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels have noted that former Gators head coach Urban Meyer offered Brissett the opportunity to grayshirt, a move the player scoffed at.

It is important to note that there is a serious distinction between a team offering a grayshirt before a player has signed a National Letter of Intent and a team delaying or pulling a scholarship after that process is concluded. Machen is discussing the latter.

Entering into an agreement with a student-athlete that he or she will wait a year if they wish to play at a particular university where the player knows of the intentions and agrees to the move ahead of time is quite different than locking that player up and forcing him or her to abide by your decision after the fact.

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FOUR BITS: Drayton, Hilliard, Dwyer, O’Day

1 » Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, will leave the team to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes as early as next week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has confirmed. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp when he took over the program in early January, Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He will likely coordinate the Buckeyes’ recruiting for the state of Florida, a job held by the team’s preceding wide receivers coach. Drayton was on Florida’s staff when they defeated Ohio State and captured the National Championship in 2006.

UPDATE: UF has released the following statement on Drayton’s status: “Coach Muschamp is on the road recruiting and our coaching staff remains intact at this time.”

2 » Former Gators wide receiver Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran who officially retired last July by signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants, will join the Miami Dolphins as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career. He has coached receivers for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL since 2009. Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first title. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns. His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

3 » Though it is looking more and more like four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) will eventually head elsewhere, he is still considering traveling to Florida for his last official visit (his other choice would be Miami). Either way, Dwyer High School head football coach Jack Daniels isn’t sure Brissett, or four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) – who the Gators are also recruiting heavily – will announce their commitments on or before National Signing Day. “I think at best it’s 50-50,” Daniels told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg. “We are going to sit down [Wednesday], have lunch and talk about it. I don’t think they will be ready. We need to talk about it and try and get a feel for where they are both at.”

Brissett and Maggitt both have Florida and Wisconsin in common as schools they are considering; the former is also weighing offers from Miami and Washington, while the latter has Tennessee vying for his services as well. The goal is for both players to commit on or before Feb. 2, if possible. “I am not going to make them do it if they are not ready but it’s not looking that good,” Daniels said. “When they get back for this weekend’s visits we need to sit down and work it out if we can.”

4 » Former Gators pitcher Darren O’Day has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Texas Rangers. O’Day, a reliever for Texas during their World Series run, posted a 6-2 record with a 2.03 ERA in 2010 and has been with the club since 2009.

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SIX BITS: Trattou, Donovan, Dwyer, gym, swim

1 » Former Florida Gators defensive end Justin Trattou will participate in the 2011 East-West Shrine Game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL on Saturday. He will wear No. 84 in the game, which will air live on NFL Network at 4 p.m.

2 » Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan is currently participating in The Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, a charitable contest where coaches are vying to win money for an organization they choose to represent. Donovan, who is representing the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, could win $100,000 for the organization in the contest. Vote for him right here and remember that “inspiration is contagious.”

3 » When it comes to Dwyer High School four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL), it seems no one knows exactly what he is going to do. Though he has officially eliminated South Carolina and Florida State from contention, Brissett is being pursued heavily by a number of schools in addition to the Gators. Miami and Washington are both going hard after him, according to the Palm Beach Post. Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels believes Brissett is the “No. 1 player [Miami] target[s],” and says the player is intrigued by Washington because of their success in getting players ready for the NFL. Daniels disputed that Brissett “holds a grudge” against Florida. “He doesn’t hold a grudge because it’s a new coaching staff. He’s just proud, and he wants to show everyone who didn’t offer him early,” he said. “It wasn’t against UF; it was against the staff that was there before.” That statement aligns with the original story on the subject, the point being that the negative feelings may be too much to overcome – even with a new coaching staff in place.

Daniels also told the Post that four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) was pleased with an in-home visit from Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. He is planning to visit the Gators next weekend and, though he may take an unofficial trip to Miami, is likely between UF, UT and Wisconsin with the first two schools out in front.

4 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics (3-0, 2-0 SEC) continued their winning ways on Friday, defeating the No. 24 LSU Tigers (0-3, 0-2 SEC) 196.425-194.00 on the road at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, LA. Sophomore Ashanée Dickerson won her 10th all-around title while claiming at least a share of each of Friday’s five event titles. She is the first Gators gymnast since 2000 to sweep all of the event titles in a single meet, winning the floor exercise (9.95), vault (9.90) and balance beam (9.825) while sharing the uneven bars title (9.80).

5 » Though they put together a solid performance, No. 5/6 Gators men’s and women’s swimming fell to the No. 6/12 Auburn Tigers on Friday at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn, AL. The men (4-3, 2-1 SEC) lost 167-133, while the women (4-4, 0-2 SEC) were upended 165-135. Florida’s men had not fallen in SEC competition in almost two full years…their prior defeat also came at Auburn on Jan. 24, 2009.

In more upbeat news, three Gators swimmers were selected to the United States’ 2011 FINA World Championship Team on Friday. Senior Conor Dwyer, junior Teresa Crippen and freshman Elizabeth Beisel will all participate for USA Swimming in Shanghai, China from July 24-31. Gregg Troy, Florida’s head swimming coach who agreed to coach the United States’ men’s team at the 2012 London Olympics, will be an assistant coach on the FINA squad, which also features another former Gators swimmer, Ryan Lochte. Florida’s three selections to the team led any NCAA school.

6 » No. 9 Gators men’s tennis (1-0) took home an impressive 7-0 victory against the Furman Paladins in their season-opener on Friday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The No. 11 duo of senior Alexandre Lacroix and junior Nassim Slilam won their doubles match 8-3; No. 4 Lacroix also won his singles match 6-0, 5-7 (10-4). Other ranked victories came from sophomores No. 28 Sekou Bangoura, Jr. (6-1, 6-1) and No. 52 Bob van Overbeek (6-0, 6-1) in singles action.

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SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

1 » The No. 2 Florida Gators baseball and softball programs found out Thursday that each would have four games featured live on the ESPN family of networks during their respective 2011 regular seasons. Florida baseball – which will be featured on ESPNU’s Thursday Night Baseball Game of the Week with their contest at Arkansas on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. – will also face Georgia (away) on April 16 at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, Alabama (home) on April 23 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, and Arkansas (away) on May 7 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Gators softball will have four home games aired live. Their back-to-back games against Alabama on April 23 (4 p.m.) and April 24 (1 p.m.) will air on ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively, while their consecutive contests against Tennessee on May 7 (12 p.m.) and May 8 (3 p.m.) will be featured on ESPN and ESPNU. All games airing on ESPN or ESPN2 will also be simulcast on ESPN3.com.

2 » Florida softball also found out Thursday that their incoming 2011 recruiting class has been ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN/RISE. The Gators are bringing in six freshmen including pitcher Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, FL), third baseman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, FL), infielder Jessica Damico (Gray Summit, MO), shortstop Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, FL), utility player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, AZ), UTL Brianna Little (Middleburg, FL) and SS Katie Medina (Downey, CA). Wrote ESPN: “The Gators had a lot of pressure to bring in a dynamic recruiting class with the group they have leaving this year, and they certainly pulled it off. They bring in a big class of seven athletes that includes two dominating pitchers in Lauren Haeger and Alyssa Bache, power at the plate with big hitters like Bailey Castro and Briana Little, and speed in the infield with tough players like Jessie Damico, Sami Fagan and Katie Medina. The Gators have the best recruiting class of the year, hands down.”

More on Tim Tebow, UF basketball and Jacoby Brissett…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

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TWO BITS: Dwyer’s Daniels, Macklin’s transfer

1 » Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels has been pretty busy over the last few weeks – not just coaching his team but also helping to manage the commitments of some of his students such as five-star Florida Gators safety Matt Elam. “It was one of a kind,” Daniels said when speaking of Elam’s recruitment. “It’s never been like that before and will probably never be like that again. He was so highly recruited and he flip-flopped back and forth – there were so many things that played into it.” Why did Elam finally decide on Florida? “The bottom line was the relationship he had with Coach Meyer,” Daniels indicated. Worst of all, Daniels’ relationship with the Florida State Seminoles has soured a bit and he is being “vilified on Seminoles message boards” for “steering his star player to the Gators, according to the Palm Beach Post. “Whatever I say, it’s probably not going to be believed because I’m a Gator,” he concluded.

2 » Though it was a big story preseason, Gators junior transfer center Vernon Macklin’s steady play and post presence has gone somewhat unnoticed this season. Rich Radford of The Virginian-Pilot has completed a nice profile of Macklin that includes some interesting tidbits about his transfer from the Georgetown Hoyas. The first thing head coach Billy Donovan told him? “Look, I’m not going to call you ‘The Big Ticket,’” Donovan said. “There’s one Big ticket in basketball, and that’s Kevin Garnett and he plays for the Boston Celtics. So what do you want me to call you?” Macklin’s straight-forward reply? “Vernon.” Donovan continued. “A lot of guys transfer and think they can leave the baggage behind. But in reality, that baggage follows you. The thing I like about Vernon is that he came clean that a lot of it was his fault, that the effort wasn’t there when he was at Georgetown.”

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TWO BITS: New RB offered, another Elam update

1 » Florida has just offered a scholarship to three-star running back recruit Shontrelle Johnson (Deland, FL) according to Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel. “I’m gonna check it out,” said Johnson, who just recently committed to the Iowa State Cyclones. “It kinda shocked me but I don’t really know since it came so late in the season. You gotta check it out, it’s Florida, they got national championship and all that…but there are positives and negatives.” OGGOA believes the Gators’ offer to Johnson is a back-up plan in case four-star RB Mack Brown (Lithonia, GA) decommits.

2 » News broke Tuesday that five-star safety recruit Matt Elam, who was previously committed to Florida for over a year before recently switching to the Florida State Seminoles, was considering recommitting (must-read) to the Gators. Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post got the thoughts of those closest to Elam about his upcoming decision. “I just have to watch the [U.S. Army All-American] game Saturday and see what he’s going to do,” said Robert Clark, Elam’s Dwyer High School teammate and three-star Florida commitment. “He’s tricky. We had a conversation [Tuesday], and he said it’s 50-50 right now.” Elam’s Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels confirmed the indecision. “Now that Coach [Urban] Meyer’s back in the mix, he’s torn again,” Daniels said. “It sounds to me like Matt is still going to go to Florida State, but other people are saying other things. You could say he was doing it for the attention, but now the kid is confused. He likes both schools a lot. He’s having a hard time.”

UPDATE: Scout is reporting that Elam will choose between Florida, Florida State and the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.

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