Zunino wins Florida’s first Golden Spikes Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his fourth major national honor in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the nation’s premier amateur baseball player, on Friday.

Zunino is the first player in school history to win the award and achieved that same benchmark when he captured the Dick Howser Trophy (college baseball’s “Heisman Trophy”) on June 15 and the Johnny Bench Award (best catcher) on June 29.

He joins Buster Posey (2008) as one of only two players to complete the trifecta and like Posey was also named Baseball America‘s College Player of the Year on June 22.

Zunino played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). He also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

Selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in school history and recently signed a contract with the team that includes a $4 million bonus. He was also honored as a member of the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year.

Zunino is nominated for an ESPY award for Best Collegiate Athlete.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Zunino wins Florida’s first Johnny Bench Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his third major national award in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Johnny Bench Award on Thursday evening.

He is the first player in school history to earn the honor.

Zunino, who brought home the Dick Howser Trophy (considered to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball) also the first time in school history on June 15, was named Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year on June 22.

He played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). Zunino also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in team history. He was also named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year and is a finalist this season for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player), which will be announced on July 6.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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SIX BITS: Noah, Pouncey, Cooper, Zunino, Embree

1 » Like any good player, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to work extensively on his game over the summer. In order to do just that, Noah will enlist the help of Hall of Famer, six-time Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player said Wednesday while on a visit at a high school in Chicago, according to RealGM.com. Abdul-Jabbar has worked with a number of prominent NBA big men over the last few years so it is certainly no surprise that Noah would seek his advice. It will be one of the many things he plans on doing this summer as he is also scheduled to play for the French Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics and work with trainers to improve his strength and conditioning heading into the 2012-13 season.

2 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on NFL Network this Thursday where he discussed new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the team’s quarterback competition and the Dolphins’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. He also spoke highly about new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey when asked if there were any more Pouncey brothers on the back burner who could make an impact in the NFL in the future. “No, but we got a step brother in Chris Rainey who the Steelers selected in the fifth round. We’re hoping for big things out of him up there this year. He’s a great football player, and I think the Steelers made a great selection,” he said.

3 » Another year older, another year wiser and hopefully another year more polished, wide receiver Riley Cooper hopes he can make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. “I’ve only had like [five] starts the whole time I’ve been here. It’s just game experience. The more game experience you get the better you get,” he told the team’s website. He also hopes that his first real offseason with the coaching staff will help him make major strides on the field. “I haven’t had an offseason, so it’s helping out a lot. I get one-on-one work with [senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David] Culley. We’re doing a lot of routes, getting a lot of work in. It’s benefiting me a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a bunch of things I want to get better at and that’s what the offseason does.”

4 » ESPN’s baseball scouts are not the only ones heaping praise on Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino. Just like the Worldwide Leader, MLB.com has Zunino listed as their No. 3 overall player available in the 2012 MLB Draft and notes that he is both the best bat and best player currently playing college baseball. Just two days after being named a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, Zunino learned that he is also a semifinalist for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year. Considered the “Heisman Trophy” of college baseball, the Howser Trophy has never been won by a Florida baseball player. Zunino is one of 35 semifinalists for the award.

5 » ESPNW.com continues its countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years following the adoption of Title IX and has added two more former Gators to their list. Following striker Abby Wambach (No. 33), come swimmers Tracy Caulkins (No. 25) and Dara Torres (No. 23). Caulkins is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time NCAA Champion, while Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist (four golds) and three-time NCAA Champion. Torres is also the first United States swimmer to compete in five separate Olympics and is also the oldest swimmer to ever compete for the U.S. There are 20 spots still unannounced as part of ESPNW‘s countdown so there is an opportunity for additional former Florida student-athletes to find a spot on the list.

6 » Gators junior tennis player Lauren Embree, the ninth-ranked woman in the world according to ITA, has been writing a blog for the USTA over the last week. In her latest entry, submitted following Florida’s big round of 16 win over Michigan on Thursday, Embree talks about waiting out a rain delay, pulling out a come-from-behind doubles victory and advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. “I think everyone was really anxious and excited to get things going, and most of us got out to really good starts, which helped the momentum of the team,” she wrote. “I guess it’s good we have the day off [Friday] since we have had such a long night. Our team is also so thankful we have fans that stay up and cheer for us. They really helped us pull through tonight, and we could not have done it without them!”

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FOUR BITS: Bonner, Tebow, Zunino, Howard

1 » Young San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez wanted to support his team during its run in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Out of respect for one of his favorite players (who just happens to have the same color hair he does), Gonzalez chose to get a very detailed picture of former Florida Gators forward Matt Bonner shaved into the back of his head. The problem? His first period teacher called it a “distraction” and the principals at Woodlake Hills Middle School do not approve of the hairdo even after his mother made mention of it previously and neither received permission nor was informed that it would be a problem. Gonzalez has chosen to “fix” his haircut before school on Thursday rather than serve the suspension he was threatened with receiving. In addition to being a talented basketball player, Bonner is a two-time Verizon Academic All-America of the Year for men’s basketball who finished his University of Florida career with a 3.96 grade point average. KAAB FOX 29 out of San Antonio, TX has the video report.

2 » Quarterback Tim Tebow received another shot of support from a New York Jets teammate on Wednesday as cornerback Darrelle Revis praised Tebow’s character and the way he carries himself day-in and day-out. “He’s a born leader, he really is,” Revis said per ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini. “Very few athletes have the gift he has. He tries to lead by example all the time. He tries to be positive, which is awesome, and that [has resulted] in his success on the field. […] Some people have it, some guys don’t. It’s the passion within, wanting to be a leader, wanting to win. You see it all the time, eating lunch, walking down the hallway. You see it. He’s like that cartoon character Zeus. He’s one of those guys. He’s very positive. He has passion for whatever he does. You can see it on him.” Revis also praised him as a player. “He’s a playmaker, he makes plays, he wins games,” he said. “Having him as a teammate is kind of different because you actually get to see him every day. You get to talk to him every day. You get to eat lunch with him. You get to know him as a person. It’s totally different.”

Cimini also notes that Tebow has been exchanging “playful barbs” back-and-forth with others on the team including outspoken linebacker Bart Scott who called him “Baby Jesus” (Tebow laughed) and asked if he could be baptized when Tebow suggested he get in the cold tub because his old muscles needed the treatment.

3 » Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino was one of 12 players named on Wednesday as a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, which is presented each season to the top catcher in college baseball. Zunino currently leads the Southeastern Conference in home runs (14), slugging percentage (.645), total bases (127) and doubles (22), is tops for the Gators in RBIs (49), and carries a .320 batting average while fielding at a .993 clip (three errors). A SEC player has not won the award since 2002 and no Florida player has ever received the honor.

4 » New Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jaye Howard is already receiving some rave reviews for his play during rookie minicamp. According to The Olympian, Howard “has played mostly pass-rushing defensive tackle…and has been a disruptive force.” He told the paper that he credits Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young for helping him make major strides in his senior season. “Coach Quinn is one of the best coaches I’ve had,” he said, “and Bryant Young, he’s a player that I watched growing up. And you’re going to take heed to someone like that. You’re going to listen to what they have to say.”

Photo Credit: Grace White, KAAB FOX 29

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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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