Gator Bites for Monday, June 18

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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» A rough senior season at the center position made many Florida Gators fans skeptical that Mike Pouncey could play the position as well as his twin brother. But after one year as the starting center for the Miami Dolphins, those questions no longer exist as Pouncey has proven that he can perform at a Pro Bowl level (though he did not make it to the game in 2011). Now he is focused on getting even better and told the Sun-Sentinel it all starts with eating better. “I can get away with [eating fast food], but I changed it up this year just trying to eat more leaner stuff,” he said. “I hired a chef, so it’s been working well for me.” Pouncey also feels the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins will be employing in 2012 and beyond will benefit him and the offense; he expects a breakout season for himself. “They say your second year is supposed to be your best year,” he said. “I’m hoping for big things. I’m coming out as hard as I can. I want to take on more of a leadership role this year.”

» Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan has been working with the United States U18 National Team over the last few weeks and began action in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship with his squad on Saturday. Donovan’s young squad is already 2-0 in international competition with a 105-42 victory over the Virgin Islands on Saturday and a 110-59 win over Mexico on Sunday. The U.S. will take on Brazil on Monday to conclude first-round action with the semifinals taking place Tuesday and the championship being held on Wednesday. Donovan’s squad needs to place in the top four teams at the end of the event in order to advance to the 2013 FIBA World Championship next summer. “I told them there are three things we want to accomplish. First and foremost, win a gold medal. Second, we’ve got a lot of guys on our team going into college and we want them to get maybe a bit more prepared than some other incoming freshmen for what they’re going to face in college. And third, we want to help them get better as players,” Donovan told the Sporting News before leaving for Brazil.

» Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, who missed the entire 2011 season after a blood vessel burst in his brain and he was diagnosed with a hereditary vascular condition, was officially cleared to participate in all football activities by team doctors on Friday. Ball had previously announced on March 1 that he had medical clearance from doctors to return to action, but head coach Will Muschamp cautioned in April and May that while he had returned to work out with the team that he was not a full participant and was still awaiting an additional clearance. Now that Ball is good to go, he will compete for immediate playing time at Buck linebacker, a position with a major depth issue now that junior Ronald Powell is out until at least mid-October with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

» Florida track & field coach Mike Holloway was awarded his first Coach of the Year honor for the outdoor season by the USTFCCCA on Thursday. He had previously won the award in consecutive years for the indoor season (2010-11). Holloway’s men’s team swept the 2012 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships this season.

Read six more Gator Bites…after the break!

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TWO BITS: baseball signees, Faehn extended

1 » Florida Gators baseball saw six of its 2012 signees drafted in the first two days of the 2012 MLB Draft and there is a legitimate shot that all sign their contracts and never wind up stepping foot on campus. Below is a list of all six players selected and any current information available on their decision-making process.

OF Lewis Brinson (Tamarac, FL) – No. 29 (first round) to Texas
Brinson has told the official MLB blog that he is already close to signing.
RHP Lance McCullers (Tampa, FL) – No. 41 (comp. round A) to Houston
A top-15 talent, McCullers fell due to concerns over signability. The new collective bargaining agreement gives teams limited funds in which to pay draftees, but the Astros will be able to save money in other areas and offer McCullers a significantly higher contract than his draft slot would typically provide him. Houston’s official website, which spoke to McCullers on Tuesday, said he is prepared to “go through the negotiating process with an open mind and accept any offer he and his family find to be fair.” His father, a former MLB player, said he has “a good feeling that it’s going to go pretty smoothly.” Despite high hopes from Florida fans that McCullers falling in the draft meant he might wind up playing for the Gators, it does not appear that will be the case.
OF Jesse Winker (Windermere, FL) – No. 49 (comp. round A) to Cincinnati
Expected to sign with the Reds.
OF Max White (Williston, FL) – No. 73 (second round) to Colorado
Has told local area reporters that he plans to sign with the Rockies.
RHP Jonathan Sandfort (Winter Springs, FL) – No. 103 (third round) to Pittsburgh
SS Avery Romero (St. Augustine, FL) – No. 104 (third round) to Miami

2 » Florida women’s gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn received a contract extension that will keep her in orange and blue through the 2017 season, the school announced on Monday. Faehn, who has yet to win a national title with the Gators but came excruciatingly close in 2012 (falling 0.075 points short), will have at least five more years to accomplish that goal. “It’s extremely exciting,” she said in a statement. “I absolutely love the University of Florida. The institution, the athletics, the academics … It’s just a tremendous, all-around everything place for our family.” The gymnastics program has been a juggernaut under her stewardship with Florida capturing three Southeastern Conference titles and finishing in the top five in the NCAA Championship seven times. UF also announced that the gymnastics studio, which has been undergoing renovations and will not be completed for six more months, will run the school a cool $4.5 million.

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SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

1 » The Florida Gators’ top 2013 baseball commitment, right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers, is unlikely to ever step on the field at McKethan Stadium as he is projected to be a top selection in the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday. Though he is not yet officially a member of the orange and blue, the slim chance that McCullers spurns pro baseball and decides to spend three years playing in the college ranks should give Florida fans something extra to watch for Monday evening. McCullers was named the 2012 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year on Thursday after posting a perfect 13-0 record with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings during his senior season (he also batted .280 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as a shortstop). He is widely considered to be the best high school baseball player in the country and has received tons of positive press but could very well not wind up going in the first round due to new collective bargaining rules that limit the amount of bonus money teams can pay out to their top picks. Teams may feel that McCullers, represented by agent Scott Boras, would require a certain high-dollar figure in order to sign on the dotted line and not be a wasted pick (he could always choose to go to college instead). This could have him fall out of the first round and perhaps steer him more toward the Gators. “It’s frustrating, the whole draft thing is frustrating,” McCullers told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve done nothing than get better since I’ve been ranked No. 1 forever, and no one in the country had a better year than me on the hill. If Major League Baseball wants to undervalue me, then I’ll show them what I’m really about three years from now.”

Other Florida commitments that could be picked high in the draft and spurn the Gators for minor league contracts include outfielder Lewis Brinson, infielder Avery Romero, OF Max White and OF Jesse Winker.

2 » Former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks is a free agent hoping to sign with an NFL team while coming off a major injury for the second-straight season. Starks hurt his neck two years ago while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was unsigned at the start of 2011. As Pittsburgh’s depth along the offensive line took severe blows early in the season, Starks got a call, immediately returned as a starter and played out the rest of the year until tearing his ACL in the team’s season finale against Denver in the playoffs. Now trying to make another go of it while recovering from an injury, Starks will likely find a destination at some point though FOX Sports’ Len Pasquarelli reports that it will not be with the Steelers. “A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks – who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season… – to keep tabs on his rehabilitation. Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle. But he isn’t likely to return to the Steelers again.” Instead Pittsburgh will move second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side and hope that 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams will be ready to start for the team. Then again, the Steelers also thought that they would not need Starks in 2011 until they desperately needed his services. He has not played for any other team but Pittsburgh, knows the offense and has a great relationship with the rest of the line as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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SIX BITS: Brown, Harvin, Sheppard, soccer

1 » After two years of sitting and waiting while his back healed and pain subsided – “I’ve had a million procedures done, but we’ve got it taken care of…” – Florida Gators redshirt sophomore cornerback Jeremy Brown is ready to claim the spot across the field from junior CB Janoris Jenkins. And while he is feeling better than ever, Brown still remains cautious. “I’d be lying if I said mentally I’m just ready,” Brown told the Miami Herald. “There are certain things I second-guess, like should I really just … throw myself in there? In the back of my head I’m just thinking, ‘Man, this might be my back again.’ […] I’ve been away from the game for so long, I just want to play and help out. I spent two years not playing at all, not even practicing. The opportunity to go out there and contribute just brightens my day.”

Five more BITS on Percy Harvin, Lito Sheppard, Gators soccer, baseball commitments and Ean McQuay…after the break!
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