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.

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17 Gator Bites for Tuesday, May 7

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» The relationship between Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels and the Florida Gators has soured. According to ESPN 106.3 out of West Palm Beach, FL, Daniels is angry that two former Dwyer players who committed to Florida but have since left the program (quarterback Jacoby Brissett and tight end Gerald Christian) did not get the opportunities they were promised with the team. “I’ve said all along, I don’t think he’s been given the fair shot which was said was going to happen,” Daniels said in regards to Brissett. “It was made clear to him, and to everybody else, that it didn’t matter what Jeff Driskel did, it was [Driskel’s] job and going into next fall, it’s going to be the same way. I think he had no choice. If I was quarterback on that team last year, I might have been able to get some wins, the way their defense was playing.” He continued: “The way Jacoby was handled and the decision that was made…if it was my kid, I wouldn’t expect anybody to treat my kid like that, and I don’t think anybody should treat anybody like that. I think it was a complete lie about how he was going to be given a fair chance and I don’t think there’s anything to dispute that there wasn’t a lie.”

Despite all of this – including similar comments about how Christian “was frustrated and felt like the coaches were lying to him” – Daniels (a Florida alumnus) said he will not dissuade his students from playing for the Gators. “I can’t hold a grudge forever and I still talk to Coach [Will] Muschamp,” he said. “I would never steer a kid away.”

» Former Florida wide receiver Stephen Alli was selected with the second pick in the sixth round of the 2013 CFL Draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the weekend. Alli, who would have been chosen higher had he committed to playing in the CFL next season, will instead attend graduate school and continue his education at UF.

» He may currently be a free agent hoping for the opportunity to continue his NFL career, but former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow received a shred of good news this week when Forbes named him the most influential athlete in the United States. “A unique set of QB strengths and weaknesses and an affinity for wearing his Christian faith on his sleeve combine to make Tebow a compelling public figure, even as an NFL backup,” staff member Tom Van Riper wrote.

Check out 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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SIX BITS: Masters, Brissett, Booth, Tebow, PIT

1 » Only one of the two Florida Gators golfers competing in the 2013 Masters moved on to weekend play. After hitting an even 72 in the opening round on Thursday, Brian Gay shot a +2 (74) on Friday and is currently tied for 37th, three strokes above the cut line. Senior T.J. Vogel, who earned a spot in the major as an amateur event winner, was not as fortunate. He shot a +5 (77) on Thursday but was able to bring his score down with a +3 (75) on Friday. Vogel missed the cut by four strokes, ending his special weekend earlier than he would hoped. “I just had a good time,” he said Thursday after his first round. “This experience, I can’t even explain even in words. I’m just having such a great time playing in front of so many people and it’s just a really cool feeling when you know you hita great shot and you got people cheering for you. And I’m not used to that yet. It’s just really cool.”

2 » Former Florida QB Jacoby Brissett sounds more than slightly perturbed that he lost the starting job to Jeff Driskel last season. In a feature penned by Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, Brissett indicates that he did not receive a fair shot to start for the Gators before throwing a barb at Driskel for his performance in the last game of the season. “It wasn’t right,” he said of the competition. “In the saying that God don’t like ugly, it came up to us in the Sugar Bowl when we couldn’t throw to save our life.” He then took a second shot at Driskel, basically questioning his former teammate’s work ethic while explaining why it was Brissett who should have started at Florida. “Just my competitiveness, I don’t think it was matched with that other guy,” he said. “The willingness to put in that extra work to win.”

Read four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Masters, Brissett, Booth, Tebow, PIT

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1/18: Dunker suspended, more Gators leave, injury updates, Sugar Bowl review, 2013 preview

Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to wrap up the 2012 season, look ahead to the upcoming spring practice and discuss some of the recent changes and issues within the program.

PUNISHMENT HANDED DOWN

Muschamp announced Friday that freshman offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker has been suspended indefinitely from all team activities pending the outcome of his legal affairs. Dunker was arrested Monday on a third-degree felony charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle as well as a second-degree misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. He was released on his own recognizance on Thursday and claims that he paid $600 for the scooter not knowing it had been reported stolen.

“I met with Jessamen Dunker [Friday] morning. I have suspended him from all team activities until we get more information,” he said. “I just met to him face-to-face [Friday] morning for the first time for 15 minutes. Once we get a little bit more information, then we’ll move forward, but he’s suspended from the team at this time. We’ll address that further when I know more.”

THREE MORE GATORS LEAVING PROGRAM

It was also announced Friday by Muschamp that redshirt juniors wide receiver Stephen Alli and defensive lineman Kedric Johnson will both be graduating in the spring and moving on from the Florida football program.

Muschamp said that Alli plans to go to graduate school; should he remain at UF, he will have the opportunity to join the team as a graduate assistant. Johnson “may play somewhere [else] next fall,” Muschamp said, and the two are planning to discuss it.

Furthermore, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tommy Jordan, who never stepped on the field for the Gators due to nagging shoulder problems, has applied for a medical exception to remain on scholarship but no longer play football.

CLEANING UP SOME INJURIES

Muschamp once again noted that redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio (knee), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) all had scopes on their various injuries this month.

“We expect all three of those [players] to participate at some point in spring. I don’t know when that will happen, how much contact there will be. I’ll know more as we move forward,” he said.

Junior WR Solomon Patton (broken arm) is “doing really well,” according to Muschamp. He has already been cleared for non-contact work during the spring.

Additionally, sophomore punter Kyle Christy had minor shoulder surgery and will be fine for spring football. “He played pretty well with it. I don’t know why we did surgery, but they felt like he needed it,” Muschamp said.

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 1/18: Dunker suspended, more Gators leave, injury updates, Sugar Bowl review, 2013 preview

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SIX BITS: NBA All-Stars, Dunker’s legal status, Brissett, Quinn, Hilliard, players drafted

1 » Final balloting for the fan vote for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game was released on Thursday evening and none of the players initially selected for the game were former Florida Gators. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (230,796 votes) finished seventh in Eastern Conference frontcourt balloting. Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee (165,875) checked in 10th in Western Conference frontcourt balloting with Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (144,697) finishing 15th. The top three frontcourt players from each conference automatically became starters for their respective teams. The 30 NBA head coaches will vote for a total of 14 players – seven in each conference – to fill out the benches. Those reserves will be announced on Jan. 24 with Noah and Lee both expected to be chosen. Noah is averaging career-highs in points (12.4), assists (4.1), blocks (2.0), steals (1.3), minutes (38.4) and free throw shooting (.800) while also registering 10.7 rebounds per game. Lee is averaging 19.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists while playing a career-high 37.5 minutes.

2 » Arrested on Wednesday for third-degree felony grand theft of a motor vehicle and second-degree misdemeanor driving with a suspended license, Florida freshman offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker entered an Alachua County Court on Thursday morning and was eventually released on his own recognizance. Dunker, via his attorney Huntley Johnson, denied stealing the scooter that was reported stolen. “His position is he paid $600 for the scooter and I’m prepared to represent him on that basis,” Johnson told the judge, according to The Gainesville Sun. The State Attorney’s Office has yet to file formal charges against Dunker as it is still reviewing the case. He remains on the Gators football team as of press time, but head coach Will Muschamp is expected to address the player’s status on Friday at noon.

Read four more BITS in this post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: NBA All-Stars, Dunker’s legal status, Brissett, Quinn, Hilliard, players drafted

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TWO BITS: Brissett to N.C. State, Kiper’s rankings

1 » Former Florida Gators sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett has chosen the N.C. State Wolfpack as his new team after deciding to transfer earlier this month. CBSSports.com reporter Jeremy Fowler confirmed Brissett’s destination on Wednesday evening shortly after former Florida safety Matt Elam sent a tweet indicating that his former high school and college teammate would be heading to N.C. State.

@ElamvsElo: Ay world mark my worlds please! The NC STATE WOLFPACK WILL HAVE A HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS iSWEA..!

Brissett lost out on a high-profile quarterback battle with classmate Jeff Driskel at the start of the 2012 season. He saw limited action throughout the year and concluded the 2012 campaign 23-of-35 for 249 yards with one touchdown. He went 3-for-5 for 31 yards in the season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1, 6-for-8 for 64 yards and a touchdown in a relief appearance against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 10 and 14-for-22 for 154 yards in a start against Jacksonville State on Nov. 17. Brissett visited the Wolfpack and West Virginia this past weekend and plans to enroll at N.C. State this spring. He will sit out the 2013 season per NCAA transfer rules.

2 » ESPN insider Mel Kiper, Jr. released his initial positional rankings ($) for the 2013 NFL Draft on Wednesday. In said rankings, Kiper listed five Florida players in the top-five for their respective position grouping. He ranked Matt Elam (safeties) and Caleb Sturgis (kickers) second among their peers but had Sharrif Floyd (defensive tackles), Jordan Reed (tight ends) and Jon Bostic (inside linebackers) listed fifth in their groupings. Expect to hear more from Kiper on OGGOA on Thursday as he recently evaluated Gators in the draft on a network conference call.

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Chris Johnson chooses to transfer from Gators

Four contributing players have now left the Florida Gators football team in the last 11 days as head coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday that sophomore running back Chris Johnson has also decided to transfer.

“Both Jacoby [Brissett] and Chris expressed an interest in transferring and getting a fresh start,” the coach said in a school release. “We are very thankful for their contributions to the University of Florida and wish them the best of luck.

Johnson, an undersized yet talented player, originally committed to the Gators as a safety but has also played linebacker and running back over the last two seasons. He has primarily made his mark as a special teams standout, racking up 11 tackles and a forced fumble while also carrying the ball five times for 35 yards in 2012.

He has appeared in all 26 games over two years at Florida and registered eight tackles as a freshman in 2011.

A local product who played for Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, FL, Johnson originally chose UF over Louisville, Memphis, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

He recently made headlines by being thrown out of the 2013 Sugar Bowl after throwing a punch following an onside kick on the opening play of the second half.

Johnson joins Brissett, redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan and sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders as players that have left the Gators over the last two weeks.

Eight total players from Muschamp’s first recruiting class in 2011 have transferred including two (Brissett, linebacker Graham Stewart) that committed to the program after he was hired as Urban Meyer’s replacement.

OGGOA Related: Brissett to transfer | Patchan, Saunders leaving Florida

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QB Jacoby Brissett to transfer from Florida

Florida Gators sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett, embroiled in transfer rumors after losing the starting job to classmate Jeff Driskel in September, decided to leave the program immediately and transfer to another school.

Florida officially announced Brissett’s transfer on Sunday, confirming an initial report released Saturday evening by GatorCountry.com.

Brissett originally committed to the Gators late in the 2011 recruiting cycle after the team had already secured a pledge from Driskel. Then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis went after Brissett personally and convinced him to commit to Florida over Miami, a move that went against his mother’s wishes.

Third on the team’s depth chart at the start of his freshman season as he enrolled in the summer and not early in the spring, Brissett was thrust into a starting role in 2011 after starter John Brantley and second-stringer Driskel both got injured against Alabama in the fifth week of the season. The following week, he became the first Gators freshman to start at quarterback since Chris Leak and went 18-of-39 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in two consecutive starts.

Brissett and Driskel battled for the starting job over the spring and summer with both players earning the start (Driskel at wide receiver) in the 2012 season-opener against Bowling Green. Driskel took the majority of the snaps in the game and was named full-time starter after the contest, leaving Brissett in a back-up role. Coaches pointed to Driskel’s mobility as the tipping point in their decision-making process.

When Driskel injured his ankle against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 10, Brissett came on to finish the game. He returned as starter the following week against Jacksonville State, combining to go 20-of-30 for 218 yards with one touchdown in the two contests.

It now appears that he will not see the field again until 2014 as he will likely transfer to another Division I program and use 2013 as an NCAA-mandated redshirt year.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Arkansas, Duke, Louisville, N.C. State and West Virginia are the five leading candidates for Brissett’s services. He has long considered WVU an option and had the school as part of his final four with UF, Miami and Wisconsin during his recruitment. Then-UW head coach Bret Bielema accepted the Arkansas job on Dec. 15, 2012.

With Brissett no longer in the fold, Florida is set to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in 2013. Backing up Driskel will be redshirt sophomore Tyler Murphy, freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and incoming three-star Max Staver (Brentwood, TN). Murphy played sparingly in 2011 but has not thrown a pass in his collegiate career. Mornhinweg did not play in 2012 and will take a redshirt to preserve his full eligibility.

Likely fueled by Brissett’s decision, the Gators appear to have recently made an inquiry about four-star 2013 QB recruit Asiantii Woulard (Winter Park, FL). UF already has four-star QB Will Grier (Davidson, NC) committed for 2014.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

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