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.

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Fred Taylor retires after 13-year NFL career

Putting an end to his illustrious 13-year NFL career, former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor signed a one-day contract (picture) with the Jacksonville Jaguars and officially retired from professional football on Friday.

“A lot of times people talk about the Jacksonville market and what the possibilities could have been if I had played at a different market, but the way I see it is, God only gives you what you can handle,” Taylor said. “Me being young not really having a sense of direction, I think if that had happened I probably wouldn’t be here today. So I’m extremely thankful to have been selected to play football here in front of the Jacksonville community for those 11 years. And I say that with all sincerity from the bottom of my heart.”

Jacksonville’s all-time leader in rushing attempts (2,428), yards (11,271) and touchdowns (62), Taylor is also one of just 30 NFL players to have run for more than 10,000 yards in his career. His stat sheet will conclude reading a total of 11,695 rushing yards, 66 rushing touchdowns, 2,384 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.

“Fred Taylor is a remarkable person who has had a remarkable football career. He made the extraordinary look ordinary every Sunday in the NFL performing against the world’s best players.” – Jaguars GM Gene Smith

After graduating from Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, FL (he was born in Pahokee), Taylor decided to attend the University of Florida and wound up staying for four years. His college career got off to a fast start as he scored eight touchdowns on 873 rushing yards as a true freshman but fell off a bit his second year with just 281 yards on the ground and five scores.

Taylor rebounded in 1996, when Florida went on to win its first national championship, running for 629 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games. He was named a team captain in his final season of 1997 and led by example that year, sparking the team with 1,292 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Taylor was named a first-team All-American and first-team All-Southeastern Conference player for his accomplishments and significantly enhanced his profile for the upcoming draft.

He still holds the Gators’ single-season record for yards per carry (6.0 in 1997) and led the team in rushing in both 1994 and 1997. Taylor has the sixth most attempts in school history (537) and is fourth in both career (3,075) and single-season (1,292) rushing.

Selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he would wind up staying with the team for 11 years. He ran for 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie and eclipsed 1,000 yards seven times with the Jaguars. Taylor was often injured during his NFL career and only played more than 14 games in a season four times (2002, 2003, 2006, 2007). He rushed for a career-high 1,572 yards in 2002 but never scored more touchdowns than he did his rookie year.

“I remember Fred Taylor as a shy young man from the University of Florida who really grew into one of the great leaders who really helped this franchise grow into where it is today.” – Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver

However, his best year came in his 10th NFL season as Taylor led the Jaguars to the No. 5 seed in the 2007 playoffs. He started 15 games that year and ran for 1,202 yards (on a career-high 5.4 yards per carry) with five touchdowns. Taylor had five consecutive games in which he ran for 100 or more yards and earned honors as an All-Pro and Pro Bowl reserve for the first time in his career. He is also one of only three players in NFL history to average at least 4.5 yards per carry over eight seasons (Jim Brown, Barry Sanders).

“There are precious few players that leave you breathless, but you knew that Fred could take it the distance every time he touched the ball.” – “Voice of the Jaguars” Brian Sexton

Taylor was released by Jacksonville in 2009 and quickly signed with the New England Patriots, where he spent the final two years of his career. He only started once in 13 appearances with the team, totaling 424 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

A free agent in 2011, Taylor had all but decided to retire; however, he chose to keep his options open in case a team was interested in bringing him on after the lockout was over. He finally decided to hang up his cleats over the summer and made it official by signing a one-day contract on Friday with the team that originally drafted him.

“One of the good things about retiring from the NFL is it doesn’t end with a period. This is just a comma,” Taylor said. “There will be more of me to go around, and I can’t wait to get back in this community and do what’s right.”

A member of both the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame (2008 inductee) and University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame (inducted in 2010 as a “Gator Great”), Taylor will likely receive similar honors from Jacksonville in the near future. His son, Kelvin Taylor, is a high school junior who may wind up following in his father’s footsteps and playing for Florida two season from now.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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4 BITS: Taylor retires, volleyball, Baker, Brown

1 » Former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor, a 13-year NFL veteran who spent the majority of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, will sign a one-day contract with the team on Friday and officially announce his retirement. Taylor – who has rushed for 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns while catching 290 passes for 2,384 yards and eight touchdowns – was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2007 who is only one of 30 players in league history to have rushed for more than 10,000 yards. He was a three-time Southeastern Conference champion (1994-96) and one-time national champion (1996) at Florida and was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC member in 1997. A member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, Taylor spent his first 10 years in the NFL with Jacksonville before playing his final two seasons with the New England Patriots. The No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he is Jacksonville’s all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.

OGGOA will have more on Taylor’s retirement on Friday. Stay tuned.

2 » Looking to avenge a come-from-behind victory by the Gators in the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, No. 25 Florida State Seminoles volleyball strode into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on a mission Tuesday evening. Fortunately for No. 9 Florida (3-0), the Gators were able to push back their opponents and sweep the Seminoles 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-22) in front of a school-record 1,901 students (total attendance: 4,631). Florida has won all nine sets in which they’ve played this season and continues to claw their way to victory each match. Senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy notched a triple-double in the contest with 12 kills, 10 digs and 17 assists. The trio of senior middle-back Cassandra Anderson (eight), senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell (seven) and senior OH Kristy Jaeckel (six) combined for 21 kills on the evening as the Gators improved to 28-2 against FSU under head coach Mary Wise.

3 » Former Gators wide receiver Dallas Baker is set to make his debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL on Sunday and is excited for his opportunity to get back on the field. Baker, who was signed by the Montreal Alouettes in April but traded to Saskatchewan in August, only played in three games with the former team and caught just three balls for 28 yards. He found himself on the bench with the Roughriders and now, after a teammate got injured, he will finally get back on the field. “I’ve always been a guy who’s been in a situation like this, so [waiting] really wasn’t tough at all,” Baker told The Regina Leader-Post. “It was all about being patient and that’s something that I was used to.” Baker also spoke to the paper about his uncle and fellow former Florida star Wes Chandler. “When I got drafted, he was like, ‘Hey, that’s the easy part,'” he recalled. “I thought it was the hard part. He told me the things to do to be a professional athlete. He told me to never get complacent. He also told me, ‘Watch and learn. If you see a vet do something, that doesn’t mean you can do it – especially if you know it’s wrong. [...] But if you see a vet do something like staying late watching film, pick up on that.'”

4 » Though he was released by the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, former Gators defensive end Alex Brown has already heard from at least three teams who are interested in his services this year. “I talked with my agent, and three teams have made contact,” Brown said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for my family and what’s a really good situation for me to go in. I would love to go play in a 4-3, so there are a lot of teams out there that still run a 4-3 that could use a defensive end that still has a little bit left. So hopefully I can find a good place that my family and I can feel comfortable with.” One possible destination? The team that drafted him – the Chicago Bears. “It would be crazy to do another Gator Chomp in Soldier Field. That would be nuts,” he said.

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Siler, Harvey with new teams on one-year deals

Two members of the Florida Gators defense that helped bring home the 2006 National Championship, linebacker Brandon Siler and defensive end Derrick Harvey found homes with new NFL teams on Monday.

Siler – a seventh-round draft of the San Diego Chargers who amassed 123 tackles, three sacks, a safety and two interceptions in four seasons with the team – was allowed to walk as a free agent and agreed to a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Though he played in 58 games over four years, Siler did not get his first chance to start for San Diego until 2009. He had started 12 of 28 games over the last two seasons for the Chargers, but the team decided to let him seek greener pastures in the offseason.

On the other side of the fence, Harvey was the No. 8 overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and struggled in three years with the club. After amassing 3.5 sacks in nine starts over 16 games as a rookie, Harvey started every game in 2009 but only managed to total 57 tackles and two sacks. He has registered 88 tackles in three seasons along with eight sacks and one interception.

Harvey was cut by Jacksonville last week and decided to join a rebuilding Denver Broncos team. Quarterback Tim Tebow was already on the club as a holdover from last season, and linebacker A.J. Jones was picked up as an undrafted free agent one week ago. The team recently traded wide receiver Jabar Gaffney but decided to bring back defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, signing him to a contract on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Scott Boehm

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Ex-Gators the center of NFL moves this week

Updated on July 29 at 2 p.m.

One day after defensive end Jarvis Moss re-signed with the Oakland Raiders for one year and $1.25 million, a trio of former Florida Gators football players found out there would be changers to their respective NFL careers.

The flurry of happenings started early when Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney learned he had been traded to the Washington Redskins in exchange for DE Jeremy Jarmon. Gaffney likely would have seen a reduction in field time and may even have been cut from the Denver roster had the team not found a suitor for his services.

Going into his 10th NFL season, he posted career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010 during his second year with the Broncos. Gaffney previously spent four seasons with Houston and three with New England.

San Francisco 49ers DE Ray McDonald, who impressed in a reserve role during the 2010 season, re-upped with the team that selected him with the No. 97 overall pick in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft to the tune of five years and $20 million. McDonald recorded 19 tackles and an interception (which he returned for a touchdown) one year ago and will move into a starting role with the ball club.

He received $7 million guaranteed in the deal after saying earlier this summer that he was tired of coming off the bench. “I know I’m an every-down player, a starter,” he said, “and that’s what I’m looking to do this year. I’m not looking to back up anybody.”

The news was not as pleasant for Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Max Starks, who was informed by the team late Wednesday that his services will no longer be needed just two years after signing a four-year, $26.3 million contract that included $10 million in guaranteed money.

Likely a cap casualty due to his release saving the team $5.14 million in salary, Starks could rejoin the team at a reduced rate, though he may be able to sign a larger contract elsewhere. The 2004 third-round pick is a two-time Super Bowl champion who traveled to the big dance three times and started in 68 of 95 career games.

Positive news came early Thursday morning for Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, who announced via his Twitter account that he agreed to terms to return to the team. Details of his new contract are currently unknown.

Former first-round pick defensive end Derrick Harvey and linebacker Channing Crowder concluded the week by finding themselves out of work after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, respectively. After three disappointing seasons, Harvey only racked up eight sacks in 47 games (32 starts) for Jacksonville. Crowder, who was selected in the third-round of the 2005 NFL Draft, amassed 469 tackles but only 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in six seasons with Miami.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Wilbekin, Harvey, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators five-star guard signee Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) withdrew from the training camp for the 2011 USA Men’s U19 World Championship Team, the organization announced on Monday. Beal, along with sophomore center Patric Young, was previously planning on trying out for the team that will represent the USA at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Latvia. Instead he has decided to get acclimated with college life in Gainesville, FL. “I just wanted to go to school so I could get used to campus, get used to being in college,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. Beal’s departure from the camp comes at the same time that sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin was given an invitation to join it; he will do so on June 17 alongside Young.

2 » Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith told his team’s website over the weekend that he is very discouraged with the progress of their first-round selection from the 2008 NFL Draft, No. 8 overall pick defensive end Derrick Harvey. “He’s still young,” Smith said. “He was a high draft choice and he has had a lot of starts for us. He’s still young. You hope at some point he’s going to be able to make a move. He did not make that last year during the season. We had some guys earn the opportunity to play over him.” Harvey has been properly labeled a “bust” up until this point and only notched 2.5 sacks in 2010 as a backup.

3 » Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino has been named one of three finalists for the 2011 Johnny Bench Award, given annually to college baseball’s top catcher. It is voted on by a panel consisting of media members, coaches and professional scouts and announced during the College World Series. Zunino is hitting .371 on the season with 16 home runs, 62 RBI, 86 hits, 68 runs scored, 28 walks and 155 total bases. He is also slugging .668, gets on base at a .442 rate and is fielding his position at a .996 clip.

4 » Trying to make some money on Florida football’s off-the-field problems, BetUS has placed odds on whether or not legal issues will arise for the Gators this year. The two lines available to wager on – total team arrests in 2011 (10/13 odds for Over 2, 10/11 odds for Under 2) and the severity of the next arrest (5/9 misdemeanor, 7/5 felony) – are just some of the interesting prop bets available on the site. As pointed out by the Sentinel’s Rachel George, you can also wager on which school will be the next to commit a NCAA violation and which sport that violation will be attributed to (among others).

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FOUR BITS: Webb in CFL, Gaffney, Miller, Horford

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Dee Webb, who spent a portion of 2010 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the revamped AFL, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for the 2011 season. A former draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Webb tried out for the Miami Dolphins last year but did not make the cut. He will be playing in the CFL for a second time after previously trying out for Toronto (in 2007) and joining the Calgary Stampeders (in 2009).

2 » Though Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney is getting up there in age (he turns 31 next season), it appears that he will remain an integral part of the team’s receiving corps in 2011. With two starters recovering from surgeries, The Denver Post expects Gaffney to have the opportunity to capitalize on their absences. Posting career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010, Gaffney thrived under quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and is not costing the team much money with a $2.4 million salary set for next season.

3 » Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, who left Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after getting hit in the head, stayed overnight for concussion tests and will miss at least one game. It is the second time in as many games Miller sustained a blow to the head, though the first did not appear to cause any damage necessitating further tests.

4 » Just over two weeks ago, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks clashed in a heated contest that ended with a 111-102 victory for Atlanta. During the game, a fight broke out between the teams. Forward/center Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks took exception after Hawks F/C Al Horford was “particularly vocal and demonstrative,” according to ESPN. Now Stoudemire is looking forward to going up against his NBA All-Star teammate in a rematch between New York and Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very intense game after what happened in Atlanta,” he said. “[Horford] don’t want to see me. I watched him play in Florida, and I’ve seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We’ve got two different games, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Horford responded Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t understand what he means by that, ‘He don’t want to see me,'” he said. “Like we’re supposed to be scared of [Stoudemire]. Ain’t nobody scared of him. We’re all grown men, so it’s all good.”

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TWO BITS: Will Hill and Jones-Drew…on Twitter

1 » Former Florida Gators safety Will Hill, making an appearance on The Pat Dooley Show on Monday, claimed that recent criticism he received over messages from his Twitter account were not his but instead the work of someone else. “The Twitter thing just came up to me. I haven’t been on Twitter for the last five or six months. I called my people to see what was going on. I deleted everything but some blogger cut and pasted some things. Somehow, my thing has been hacked,” he said. “That was really hard on me. I would never want to disrespect the Gator Nation or Coach [Will] Muschamp or Urban Meyer. I don’t want people to think of me as a bad person.” Hill also said academics, not behavioral issues, were the reason he was suspended the first two games of the season and played sparingly in the 2011 Outback Bowl. He chose to clarify his decision to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft as well. “Coach Meyer always talks about family and when he decided to step down he talked about how important his family was and I was thinking the same way,” Hill said. “I have three beautiful sons and a beautiful wife. I thought it was best for me to leave the university. I know I didn’t have the best year, but I know I’m a great athlete. There was a lot going on this year. I had a few injuries and I couldn’t perform to the best of my abilities. I felt I let people down.”

2 » Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who cut-down Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday via his Twitter account by claiming he “quit” like former Gators head coach Urban Meyer, decided to back-off a portion of that statement Monday…the part about Cutler. “I never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser,” Jones-Drew said about Cutler. “I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context.” So what exactly was his joke? “I was taking a shot at Florida fans,” he quipped. Smart move for someone playing in a metropolitan area with arguably the largest collection of Florida fans outside of Gainesville, FL. Editor’s note: Jones-Drew attended UCLA.
 

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