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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FOUR BITS: baseball, Leak, Parsons, Horford

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (32-10) got back to its winning ways on Wednesday, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (24-18) in the team’s second meeting of the season. Florida won 10-1 behind plenty of hitting and a reassuring start from sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 4.0 IP, 4 H, K). The Gators only hit two homers in the game – a two-run shot by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the sixth and a solo shot by freshman pinch hitter Brandon Sedell (the first of his young career) – but still managed to manufacture seven more runs. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (0/1, 2 RBI, R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, RBI, 2 R) also had big nights at the plate. Florida will conclude its nine-game homestand (4-2) with a weekend series against Arkansas.

2 » Two days after announcing his signing, the AFL’s Orlando Predators finally obtained quarterback Chris Leak in a trade with the Jacksonville Sharks. Leak, who went 21-of-31 for 196 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in the season opener for Jacksonville, was moved to a reserve role the next week in practice and refused to continue playing for the team. The Predators tried to sign him on Monday and make him the “face of the franchise,” but he was still under contract to the Sharks, which refused to cut him outright. Instead Jacksonville and Orlando (with the managing partner of each team brothers with the other) swapped Leak for offensive lineman/fullback Ailao Eliapo to complete the transaction.

3 » A second-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Gators forward Chandler Parsons knew he could impact the Houston Rockets as a rookie but not even he could be sure how much he would be able to do for the team this season. Parsons’s rookie campaign was so impressive that he has landed at No. 7 on Grantland.com’s final list of “best rookies of the NBA season.” Writes Sebastian Pruiti:

Chandler Parsons is another player who was drafted late but who was productive as soon as he stepped on an NBA court. He was best when defending isolation possessions. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons held opponents to 26 percent shooting and a PPP of 0.648 in one-on-one situations, placing him in the top 20 percent of all NBA players. The key to Parsons’s defensive game is his length. His long arms allow him to back off quicker offensive players and contain their dribble penetration while still being able to contest their shots.

Parsons also has the potential to be a very versatile offensive player. I say potential because he struggles in some situations, especially as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays. Parsons just doesn’t have a feel for the pick-and-roll game yet, and he commits turnovers 25 percent of the time in these situations. As he becomes more comfortable as a ball handler and learns to read defenses, he should improve.

4 » Despite telling OGGOA last week that it was “realistic” he would be able to return for the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and mentioning the same thing to media in his local market, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford will indeed miss his team’s series against Boston as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral that has sidelined him basically the entire season. Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to play in his team’s second round series should they make it that far.

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Leak, Parsons, Tebow

1 » Already in Phoenix, AZ preparing for their Sweet 16 game against the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles, the Florida Gators have been going through practices while also reflecting on the 2011-12 season. One hot topic of conversation has been the emergence of freshman guard Bradley Beal, who responded to a recent request from head coach Billy Donovan and has made the most out of his new opportunity. “The thing I tried to get through to him [was] stop worrying about your shot. Freshmen are going to have peaks and valleys shooting the basketball,” Donovan said, according to GatorZone.com. “I told him, ‘You do too many other things as a player that impact our team,’ and to start stepping up and trying to be more aggressive.” Beal has done just that after spending most of his season somewhat deffering to his more experienced teammates. He has begun been taking the ball to the hole more while simultaneously working on both his defense and rebounding; that in turn has helped increase his overall production. In fact, even his three-point shooting has improved. “I really took it upon myself to bear down and start guarding guys and crashing the boards,” he said. “My shot just ended up coming out of nowhere, really. Coach told me it was just a matter of me playing and getting my rhythm. Sure enough, it came.”

2 » Former Florida quarterback Chris Leak took a job with the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks this year and was almost universally expected to be the team’s starting quarterback for the duration of the season. However, just days after throwing for five touchdowns in the team’s season opener, Leak was informed that he would no longer be the team’s starter. He was supplanted by Omar Jacobs, a player that was on the team as a backup last season, on Tuesday and reacted by skipping practice on Wednesday. According to the Florida Times-Union, Leak was immediately suspended by the Sharks; FOX 30 WAWS TV reported Wednesday that Jacksonville has already signed another signal caller, which makes it appear as if Leak will no longer be with the club.

3 » Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant down the stretch in a game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Parsons did an exceptionally good job defending Bryant late in the fourth quarter and Houston wound up winning the contest by three. After the game, Bryant was asked about Parsons’s defense and – after first deflecting a bit – not only praised his effort in that situation but also this season in general.

4 » Quarterback Tim Tebow received some perhaps unexpected support from former Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, who told Yahoo! Sports Radio this week that he thinks executive vice president John Elway has made a mistake in deciding to trade the former Gators star. “To me, you had the answer. You just need more talent around a guy like Tim Tebow,” he said. “The kid’s a winner. I don’t care where he ends up. Cream rises to the top. That kid is beyond cream. He will rise. [...] He’ll do the same that he did last season – and probably better.”

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, gymnastics, Leak

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (17-1, 1-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 15 games on Friday by toppling the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-11, 0-1 SEC) 10-2 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-0, 6.2 IP) matched a season-high with six strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on six hits. Behind 2-0 through 4.5 innings, Florida rallied for a five-run bottom of the fifth as eight batters stepped to the plate. The Gators added four more runs in the bottom of the seventh and another in the eighth to pull away for the decisive victory. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/5, 3 RBI, R) and freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (1-4, 2 RBI) led the way offensively but junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4, RBI) and senior outfielder Daniel Pigott (3-5, RBI) each crossed the plate twice for Florida. Game two against the Commodores is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday (CSS), and the Gators will conclude the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. (FSF).

2 » No. 4 Florida softball (24-2, 5-1 SEC) got back to their winning ways on Friday with 9-1 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-10, 2-4 SEC) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (13-1) put together a complete game in a run-ruled five-inning outing, giving up one earned run while striking out two, walking two and scattering four hits. Freshmen 1B Lauren Haeger (2-3) and designated hitter Bailey Castro (1-1, HR, R, 2 BB) each notched three RBIs to help fuel the Gators’ offense. UF will wrap-up their three-game series USC by hosting them twice more on Saturday (Sun Sports) and Sunday at 1 p.m.

3 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics (11-1) posted the second-highest total in the nation this season to conclude the 2012 regular season with a 197.900-196.475 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes (7-3) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville. Sophomore Alaina Johnson captured event titles in the vault (9.90), uneven bars (9.95) and balance beam (9.925) while also winning the all-around (39.675). She split two of her titles with teammates as juniors Ashanée Dickerson (uneven bars) and Marissa King (balance beam) matched her scores. King also split the floor exercise event title with freshman Kytra Hunter (9.95). The Gators will next compete in the 2012 SEC Championships on March 24 before moving on to the NCAA Regionals on April 7.

4 » In his first game as starting quarterback of the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak completed 21 of 31 passes for 196 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Jacksonville, the league’s defending champion, scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to pull away for a 52-28 victory.

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SIX BITS: Leak signed, Thomas and Wright back, Murphy in limbo, Hernandez working, Gators fed

1 » In a story first reported by the Florida Times-Union one day earlier, former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has officially been signed by the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL to be the team’s starting signal caller this season. “I am blessed and excited to be a part of an organization that’s committed to excellence and winning championships,” Leak said in a prepared statement released after signing his contract. “This is a great opportunity to be home and closer to my family. I look forward to playing in Jacksonville with support of greatest fans in the AFL.” Now a member of the Sharks, Leak will be joining his fourth professional football league. He played one preseason game with the NFL’s Chicago Bears after being undrafted in 2007, signed with Team Florida of the AAFL (which was stopped before it started), and played for three teams over four years in the CFL. With Jacksonville, he may have finally found a long-term home. “I am very excited to add Chris to our Sharks family,” team head coach Les Moss said. “He was a player I originally targeted before our first season, but was under contract in Canada and could not join us. Chris has never played the indoor game, but his accuracy and skill sets are what attracted him to us and are the requirements to be a top quarterback in the Arena Football League.”

2 » Denver Broncos defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who missed most of the preseason and his team’s first three regular season games with an injured pectoral muscle, has begun practicing with the Broncos for the first time in seven weeks. Nevertheless, he remains questionable to play on Sunday and may need another week in practice before he’s game-ready. Also returning to practice this week is Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, who was suffering from a head/neck injury that kept him out of last week’s game.

3 » Rehabbing a sports hernia that has kept him out of both practice and game action since early in the offseason, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphyhas been missing practice again this week even though the team planned to have him back one week ago. Indications coming out of Oakland are that Murphy was improving but is now stuck in limbo. While he’s been out, the Raiders have seen some of their younger receivers step up, turning what was once a guaranteed starting job for Murphy into a fight for field time whenever he does get healthy.

4 » Speaking of recovering from injuries, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is still working to that end after missing Sunday’s game due to injury. Hernandez sprained his MCL last week against San Diego and said this week that he is “feeling pretty good,” which is not necessarily an indication of when he will return. Various reports have him out 1-2 or 4-6 weeks, but Hernandez is optimistic he’ll be back on the field sooner than later. “I just take it day by day, and work with the trainers, and try to get back as soon as possible,” he said according to ESPNBoston.com. “We’ll just try to take it day by day and see how it feels.”

5 » A feature from The Wall Street Journal this week – discussing nutrition in college football as the “last frontier” for which teams can gain an advantage – featured (in part) the Florida program and a thought from one of the Gators’ nutritionists. “It’s the last remaining edge,” Chelsea Zenner said. “Every team at the top has a coach who deserves to be there and every team has great weight rooms and strength programs. The last edge is nutrition.” According to the article, Florida’s nutrition program (which began in 2003) spends $58,000 each year “just on pre- and post-practice snacks for the football team,” which include “five types of smoothies on demand.” There are “two full-time dietitians, a pair of interns and up to a dozen volunteers, with some staffers texting the players to remind them to eat lunch.”

6 » The Florida basketball team will be holding walk-on tryouts on Oct. 5 at 5 p.m., which Gainesville Sun reporter Kevin Brockway notes are being held to fill a spot vacated in the offseason. Apparently walk-on guard Kyle McClanahan left the team after spending three years on the Gators’ bench. OGGOA learned Thursday afternoon that McClanahan left the team with no ill will and simply “had enough” of being a walk-on for three years.

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FOUR BITS: Leak, Harvin, Starks, Gilbert

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has yet to find a permanent team to play with as a professional. After playing only one preseason game in the NFL, he has spent the last four years in the CFL with three different teams. His running around in the great white north has finally coming to an end if a report from the Florida Times-Union is to be believed. According to the paper, the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL are planning to sign Leak to be the team’s new starting quarterback. The ArenaBowl XXIV Champions, Jacksonville will be losing its 41-year-old veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia to another team and is looking for someone to come in and take his place. Should Leak sign with the Sharks, he will be the third former Gators player on the team in as many years, following cornerback Dee Webb and wide receiver Dallas Baker.

2 » After missing one day of practice last week due to a stomach illness supposedly caused by the flu, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin ended up playing in his team’s game on Sunday but did not last the entire contest. After getting hit in the gut during the fourth quarter, Harvin sat out the final five minutes of regulation as well as the overtime period as he watched his team fall to Detroit. Before leaving, Harvin caught three passes for 47 yards, returned two kickoffs for 47 yards and ran the ball twice for 41 yards. He is expected to return to practice this week and should not suffer any further setbacks.

3 » Out of work all season after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers just after the NFL lockout ended, former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks continues to look for a new team. According to 1500 ESPN Radio out of Minnesota, the Vikings met with Starks on Monday as they need to fill a reserve tackle position on their team. Starks, who recovered all offseason from a neck injury that he suffered in November, apparently had weight and conditioning issues when he reported to Steelers camp.

4 » Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked like a MASH unit Sunday evening after a bunch of starters and reserves were injured throughout the course of their game at Indianapolis. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who moved into a starting role with the team due to an injury to another player, hurt his shoulder during the game and was sent to the sideline. When the reserve left tackle was forced to leave the game, an injured Gilbert wound up reentering for the remainder of the contest. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Gilbert “looks like he’ll be OK” to play next week barring any setbacks. Even though the team is in need of another reserve tackle, NBC Sports reports that Starks has been ruled out as a possibility.

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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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Former Florida safety John Curtis dead at 24

Details are scarce right now, but a source close to the team has informed OGGOA that former Florida Gators safety John Curtis, 24, passed away Wednesday. His death has been ruled a suicide by authorities.

A special teams standout, Curtis joined the Florida scout team in 2004, missed the 2005 campaign with a knee injury and finally played on the kickoff return and punt teams during the Gators’ 2006 National Championship season. He blocked a punt against South Carolina in 2007 but unfortunately tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2008, an injury that would end his football career.

UPDATE: Curtis passed away after jumping off of a fourth-floor railing above a Lincoln Square Center restaurant in Bellvue, WA, at 8 a.m. Thursday. Police attempted to talk him down at first, but Curtis could not be swayed from taking his life; the local cops continue to investigate the matter.

“It’s tragic when a young life is lost,” head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement on Friday. “I’m not sure how you describe the loss of life in words. John was a great young man who was a proud member of our Gator family. We grieve for him, his friends and his family and pray for their comfort.”

Co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater shared a similar sentiment. “What do you say? He was a real likable guy here, a lot of players really liked him a lot,” Heater said. “He had, unfortunately, a lot of knee injuries here. He probably could have had a chance to play some football here, more than he did. He played but I’m sure not as much as he would like to. It’s sad and unfortunate. He was a good guy, well-liked team member. Players really liked him. He was a friendly guy with the team, and just dealing with the frustrations of the injuries, which were always hard for him to deal with and accept those things, just the disappointments of all of that. But he was a respected member of our team, that’s for sure.”

One of the first to respond to the news, Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden took to Twitter Thursday. “You never know how much you truly love someone until they are gone. R.I.P. John Curtis #24! You will be missed,” Haden wrote. “Everyone please don’t be afraid to say you love someone! Life is too short! Losing someone special to you makes you realize what’s important in life.”

Jacksonville Sharks CB Dee Webb provided a similar message. “R.I.P. to my former teammate John Curtis 24,” he tweeted. “We [will] miss you homey.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Curtis family.

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