FOUR BITS: NCAA, volleyball, Mularkey, Dillman

1 » The NCAA on Tuesday chose to recognize some of the top players and teams that have participated in NCAA Tournaments, as well as many of the top moments to occur in those events, over the last 75 years. The organization picked the 2006-07 incarnation of the Florida Gators as one of the top-25 teams and also recognized center Joakim Noah as one of the top-75 players ever to participate in the tournament. Noah was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 tourney after he registered a then-record 29 blocked shots in the event and averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Both Noah and the 2006-07 UF team are finalists in their respective categories, which will be voted on before awards are presented at the 2013 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, GA.

2 » Florida junior middle back Chloe Mann, who put together an impressive 2012 campaign for a Gators volleyball program that exceeded its preseason expectations, was named a First Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) on Wednesday. Mann was honored along with outside hitter Ziva Recek, who was named Freshman of the Year by the organization. Florida as a team lasted until the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament where it fell to three-seed Texas. The Gators concluded the season with a 27-5 record and their first SEC Championship since 2010.

3 » Former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was hospitalized on Monday on the advice of a team trainer after feeling ill at his team’s facility. He was released shortly after being admitted and was healthy enough to return to practice on Tuesday. Mularkey’s first year with Jacksonville has been anything but productive as the Jaguars are currently 2-11 and have lost nine of their last 10 games. This is his second NFL head coaching stint as he previously led the Buffalo Bills to a 14-18 combined record from 2004-05.

4 » As much as head coach Will Muschamp has been credited with turning around the Gators football program, strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman is in many ways equally deserving of praise. Dilliman recently sat down with his hometown paper, the Richmond County Daily Journal, and discussed both how he arrived at Florida and what he thinks of what the team has accomplished this season. Throughout the year, Dillman received plenty of credit for the team’s performance against LSU and how it stood up to the long season from a conditioning perspective. In the interview, he turned around and put the praise back on Muschamp for how the team was run this year. “At the end of the day, it’s the program,” he said. “It goes back to Coach Muschamp and the kids because they worked their butts off. We all have a job to do and Coach Muschamp lets me do my job. All the kids come in and believe in what we are trying to accomplish. Coach is big on keeping it real. My staff and I will be honest with a player, but we also want to keep a positive environment. I have a philosophy of actions trigger feelings and feelings trigger actions. Good things come out of being positive and negative things come out of being negative. I always try to be positive while training an athlete.”

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TWO BITS: Hill’s turnaround, Taylor’s honor

1 » Life has been tough for former Florida Gators safety Will Hill ever since he left the team as a junior and declared for the 2011 NFL Draft. After going undrafted and not even receiving a sniff as a free agent, Hill spent most of the last year turning his life around and focusing on football. A new feature story by the New York Daily News details Hill’s turnaround, focusing on how he has changed both on the field (paying attention, concentrating on getting better) and off the field (no longer using drugs, being responsible). “I can’t just live carefree,” he told the paper. “I got worries now. My kids, these responsibilities. You have your fun, but it’s time for responsibility.” Signing with the New York Giants this offseason, Hill not only made the team but has impressed early and is already seeing extensive playing time. He has registered seven tackles (six solo) and a pass defense through four games already this season.

2 » Former Gators running back Fred Taylor was honored Sunday by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which inducted the franchise’s all-time leading rusher into the Pride of the Jaguars (ring of honor). Prior to his induction, Taylor sat down with the Florida Times-Union for a question-and-answer session that focused on his upbringing and time with Jacksonville. An excerpt from the interview can be found below as Taylor answers how he changed as a person and a player coming out of Florida and into the NFL.

“They saw a young man come in with gold teeth and leave with a helluva smile. At one point, I didn’t want to smile. The person I was back then was immature and unexposed. I wasn’t exposed to what you were supposed to be as an NFL player. My grandmother raised me the best she possibly could have. Whenever I went off course in my life, that was 100 percent me, that part of me that was being youthful and childish. When I got in the league, I was a good-natured, mild-mannered individual. I chose my friends, and sometimes we did things that was just us being young and having a good time together. As the years passed, I wanted to be better. Everyone has an opportunity to change. People know life is about growth, but not everybody wants to embrace it. I came to understand that what I am is what my legacy is going to be. I can only try to be the best I can with my imperfections.”

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FOUR BITS: Wambach, Harvey, Jackson, Rainey

1 » U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach is indeed a “G,” not due to the fact that she is one of the faces of Gatorade but rather because she used her “guile and gamesmanship” to help the United States achieve a 4-3 extra-time victory over Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics on Monday. Wambach told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that it was her subtle urging that led the referees to call a rare delay of game penalty on the Canadian goalkeeper, who was holding the ball in the penalty box for up to 15 seconds at times when rules state the ball should be out after six seconds. “I wasn’t yelling. I was just counting,” Wambach told Dan Wetzel of her decision to run next to the referee while heading back down the field. “Probably did it five or seven times.” And of the play in question in which the referee finally blew her whistle? “I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee and at 10 seconds she blew the whistle.”

Canada, of course, believes they were robbed in the match. (The call resulted in an indirect free kick inside the box; a handball was called on the kick and Wambach tied the match 3-3 on a penalty goal.) Though Wambach admits that the call is rare, she notes that it is well within the rules. Her subtle pestering of the referee almost assuredly helped the call be made when it ordinarily might not have been. “Yes it’s uncharacteristic,” she said. “But the rules are the rules. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor. We needed to get a goal. They’re trying to waste time; I’m trying to speed it up. [...] I think making the referee aware of a situation, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, the ref made the decision on her own.”

2 » A former No. 8 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, former Florida Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey was cut from his third team over the course of a year when the Cincinnati Bengals let him go on Sunday. Harvey, who signed with the team just four months ago, was released before participating in a single preseason game. After being released by the Jaguars last July, Harvey was picked up by the Denver Broncos but barely played last season and spent most of it as a healthy scratch on game day. His NFL career may very well be over.

3 » The commitment of three-star offensive lineman Octavius Jackson (Moultrie, GA), who is unranked by Rivals, to the Florida Gators last week came as a surprise to many considering the team has few open slots remaining and a number of highly-rated prospects on its board. The Gators, however, knew exactly what they were doing by brining Jackson on board and it appears as if they were early to what may become a very crowded party. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jackson received “last-minute pleas by Alabama and Florida State” before committing to Florida. He already had a firm scholarship offer from Vanderbilt in his possession. “People have missed on him,” said Rush Propst, Jackson’s high school coach. “His only true offer until a few days ago was Vanderbilt, and they couldn’t believe nobody elsewas on him. Neither could I.”

4 » Running back Chris Rainey is turning heads in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, a fact that should come as no surprise to Florida fans whose necks were often sore from watching him run in Gainesville, FL. USA Today’s Jim Corbett wrote a few days ago that “Rainey has been the Steelers’ buzz guy since he began flashing during organized team activities, and he’s carried it over to training camp.” Almost everyone from the team’s president on down believes Rainey can make an instant impact with Pittsburgh this season though head coach Mike Tomlin is being a bit more cautious considering how early it is in the process.

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TWO BITS: Peterson re-signed, Cunningham

1 » Former Florida Gators linebacker Mike Peterson re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons, continuing his now-14-year NFL career with the team he has played for since 2009. Close with Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, Peterson was brought over to the Falcons when Smith was hired away from the Jacksonville Jaguars (where Peterson played from 2003-08). After amassing 109 tackles (82 solo) with three turnovers and a sack as a starter in 2009, Peterson’s production has trailed off over the last two seasons as he has moved into a reserve role. He had just 24 tackles (18 solo) in 2011. He was re-signed for depth and flexibility purposes as he can play either inside or outside and is also a strong veteran presence in the locker room.

2 » New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a disappointing season in 2011, spending most weekends on the inactive list and officially being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury on Dec. 10. When he did see the field, he mostly played on special teams after registering 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games as a rookie. Head coach Bill Belichick said he was pleased with how hard Cunningham had worked and noted that he had been having a “great offseason” on June 12, but a projection by ESPN Boston just 12 days later said the player only had a 35 percent chance of making the 53-man roster. That has apparently not stopped Cunningham from working his butt off in the gym and taking some fans along for the ride, as noted by Reddit user “dafrizz888,” who recently posted his account of Cunningham selflessly taking him through a tough ab workout a few days ago.

I called over to him and told him thanks again and that I wasn’t expecting to get to work out with an NFL player when I walked into the gym. He responded “hey, we’re all just doing our thing in there man.”

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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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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Leak, Tucker, Jaguars

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte, set to be one of the primary faces/athletes representing the United States in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics was announced as the fourth male to ever grace the cover of American Vogue magazine when the June cover was released on Monday. Lochte appears on the cover alongside women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo and tennis phenom Serena Williams. The three men that were previously featured on the cover of Vogue – Richard Gere, George Clooney and LeBron James – each appeared alongside a female model “Cindy Crawford, Gisele, and Gisele again, respectively,” the magazine notes.

2 » Traded to the Orlando Predators recently after falling out of grace with the Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida quarterback Chris Leak will start his first game with his new team on Friday. Leak, who has already appeared in two games for Orlando as a backup and has amassed 78 yards and three touchdowns on 9-of-17 passing, hopes to turnaround the season for a team that has started a paltry 1-7. The Predators hope Leak can be the team’s starter for a long time and have plans for him to be a franchise player as long as he succeeds.

3 » Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker will begin his final regular season series in the orange and blue looking, in part, to set the school record for career hits. Smacking a single on Tuesday, Tucker tied former Florida outfielder Mark Ellis for the career mark with 319 hits; one more and the record is all his. UF is set to face Auburn in a three-game road series Thursday-Saturday before beginning postseason competition.

4 » As part of an outreach program that will attempt to generate “excitement and energy” for the team heading into the 2012 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be visiting Gainesville, FL with a “Jaguars Caravan” including players, coaches, cheerleaders and other team representatives, according to The Gainesville Sun. As part of the event, which will take place on June 6 at Tioga Town Center from 6-8 p.m., Gators fans will be able to see some familiar faces in former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville’s head coach), current Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and former Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor.

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Poised as ever, Tebow says ‘hello’ to New York

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was introduced Monday as the newest member of the New York Jets at a noon press conference attended by hundreds of media members and covered live on both local and national television.

Lasting more than a half hour, the press conference featured Tebow standing alone at a podium, taking questions about football, faith and his future. He answered most and deflected some but conveyed one general sentiment throughout: excitement about being a member of the Jets organization.

“I want to thank the Broncos for my time in Denver. It was an amazing time. I want to thank my teammates and my fans for being such great teammates and such great fans,” he said in his opening statement.

“I’m looking forward to my time here in New York and my time here as a Jet. I’m so honored and humbled to be a Jet. I’m so thankful that they wanted me, and I’m so excited about me and my teammates. I’ve had the pleasure to meet quite a few already, and I’m looking forward to my future as a Jet. And I’m very excited about it.”

The first order of business was clearing up his exit from the Denver Broncos and whether or not he actually had a choice between New York and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite reports that Denver put the decision in Tebow’s hands, he said it was ultimately the team’s decision and expanded on that greatly on Monday by recounting the events of one week ago.

“When I woke up Wednesday morning, I talked to Coach Fox and they were very gracious the whole time. Coach Fox – I specifically talked to him all throughout the process. He kind of told me some of the opportunities that were out there,” he said. “When I talked to him about it, next thing I know I got a call from Mr. [Mike Tannenbaum] and Coach [Rex] Ryan and they said I was a Jet. So I was really excited about that. ‘When’s the next flight out to new York?’ I was excited about it.

“Then obviously the media circus happened and I found out a few minutes later there was a snag in the contract and I wasn’t a Jet. And so then it was five hours of kind of waiting. Coach Fox was keeping me updated on what was happening. Later on in the day they said they had a few teams that were interested with similar deals. He was very gracious to ask me what I thought. I talked to him very honestly about it, and I told him I would love to be a Jet. I told him also that the Jaguars are my hometown and [to do] whatever was best for them. He said the same for me.

“Ultimately they had my contract there and they had all the power, but he listened to me and what I had to say. It was very gracious of them because they didn’t have to do that. They could have just done whatever. He listened to me and talked to me and I told him I would love to be a Jet. I love the coaches. I had an opportunity to be with Coach [Tony] Sparano at the Senior Bowl. I had an opportunity to get to know Coach Ryan several times. That was exciting for me. I also told them I would love to be a Jaguar. That’s my hometown and that would be exciting for me. Whatever was the best for them. I’m excited to be a Jet and I’m excited to be here.”

Tebow was asked again about the process and not-so-specifically relayed what a lot had already assumed – that he felt the love in New York and not so much in Jacksonville. He also cited his relationship with the coaches as a reason playing for the Jets might be better for him in the long run.

Continue Reading » Poised as ever, Tebow says ‘hello’ to New York

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New York Jets get over stumbling block, acquire Tim Tebow for fourth- and sixth-round picks

Updated at 11:30 p.m.

One day after Peyton Manning officially signed a five-year, $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos, the team has traded third-year quarterback Tim Tebow (along with a seventh-round pick) to the New York Jets for a fourth- and sixth-round pick.

Tebow, who started the final 13 games of the 2011 season (including two playoff games), went 8-5 for Denver, winning four overtime games and two others in come-from-behind style. He only completed 46.5 percent of his passes in the regular season but threw for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions while also carrying the ball 122 times for 660 yards and six more scores. He added 316 yards (on 10-of-21 passing) with two touchdowns against Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs but went just 9-for-26 for 136 yards with no scores in the second round against New England.

One of those come-from-behind victories was a 17-13 win over New York in Denver where Tebow led his squad on a 12-play, 95-yard scoring drive capped by his own 20-yard rushing touchdown with the clock winding down late in the fourth quarter.

Reports broke Tuesday night that the Jets’ interest in Tebow had “intensified” and that New York was legitimately interested in adding him to their roster. Initially it was believed that the Jets wanted to bring him on board to help heal a badly divided locker room, but reports Wednesday morning noted that the team’s interest in him was solely from a football perspective.

New York and Denver agreed to a trade for Tebow early Wednesday afternoon but a snag in Tebow’s contract – an advance payment the Broncos made to him of approximately $5 million that the contract stipulated would be recalled to the team – caused the Jets to stall in finalizing the agreement.

Continue Reading » New York Jets get over stumbling block, acquire Tim Tebow for fourth- and sixth-round picks

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