4 BITS: Hernandez, Raymond, Chiozza, Francis

1 » New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Monday spoke about former tight end Aaron Hernandez and how the “whole organization was duped” by him. Kraft told The Boston Globe that the Patriots knew Hernandez was “immature” but could never have guessed his character issues would lead to such a heinous crime. He also explained how, prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, Hernandez sent a letter to New England admitting to smoking marijuana while playing for the Florida Gators and promising he would “willfully” submit to bi-weekly drug tests as a rookie with a promise to return portions of his salary if he tested positive and was suspended. “I realize this offer is somewhat unorthodox, but it is also the only way I could think of to let you know how serious I am about reaching my potential in the NFL,” Hernandez wrote.

A screen shot of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14 video game, featuring Hernandez as an NCAA Ultimate Team unlockable item, made its way around the internet on Monday. EA Sports has since announced that Hernandez will be removed from the game “via a Title Update in the near future.” Hernandez will also be taken out of Madden NFL 25.

2 » Former Gators tennis star Lisa Raymond‘s bid to win her 12th Grand Slam title fell just short on Sunday when she dropped a mixed doubles match 5-7, 6-2, 8-6 in the finals of the 2013 Wimbledon. Raymond, the defending mixed doubles champion at Wimbledon, has already won five career Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to go along with six women’s doubles titles.

Read two more Florida Gators news BITS (three videos) after the break!
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Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2012 (check out Sunday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 On the Field Moments of the Year.

12 » MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
If there was a theme to Gators athletics in the spring it was Florida teams falling short of their goals. In addition to men’s indoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and men’s swimming & diving all just coming up just short of winning major titles, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse and softball all gave valiant efforts but faced immense disappointment in the end. It all started with the Gators basketball team, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year and once again choked away a late lead and failed to advance to the Final Four. Up 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, Florida was outscored 18-3 down the stretch by Louisville, which held on for the 72-68 victory. The Gators hit just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14 while also going 1-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch and 0-for-9 from downtown over the final 20 minutes. Gymnastics did just about everything it could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six in late April but came just short of earning the first national title in program history, falling 197.850-197.775 to Alabama and losing by 0.075 points. Next up was softball, which looked primed to return to the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series for the third time in the last four years. Instead, Florida got upended 10-1 by eventual national champion Alabama in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament and was eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament due in part to suspensions levied against three key players. It was the first time since 2006 that UF did not at least advance to the Super Regional. A controversial finish led to another tough loss for lacrosse (see No. 9), leaving one sport to provide the ultimate disappointment to Gators fans in 2012.

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Gators fans was seeing a baseball team that was the national title favorite from the very start of the season fall fast and finish the campaign without a single title. Cruising along in the SEC Tournament with a one-run lead and three outs to go in the championship game, Florida baseball collapsed against Vanderbilt, allowing its opponents to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and hold on for the title. Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vandy to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze. It only got worse from there. The Commodores accomplished a double steal, hit an infield single, loaded the bases (intentional walk, double steal, intentional walk) and then pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single put the nail in the coffin as the Gators allowed more stolen bases in a single frame (seven) than had ever been given up in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event. With horrible memories of the SEC Tournament behind them and the NCAA Tournament upcoming, Florida hoped to use the experience to improve as a team. The Gators did advance to the College World Series but were swept right out of it with consecutive losses. Florida fell 7-3 to South Carolina in its first game before allowing an unranked Kent State team to register a 5-4 upset victory in the second game. The Gators coughed up four unearned runs, committed two errors and failed to plate runs despite having numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. With so much talent on the roster and a track record of success – the team got to the championship series just one year earlier – Florida baseball legitimately blew a great national title chance.

[Read: The Silver Lining - "Failure" is not a dirty word]

11 » FLORIDA SWEEPS FSU IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL

For the first time in school history, the Gators swept the Seminoles in football, basketball and baseball (5-0) in a calendar year. Florida State having a historically successful baseball team has stood in the way of Florida’s ability to accomplish this feat in the past, but Gators baseball completed its first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 1958 by earning a 9-2 victory in Gainesville, FL, 4-1 victory in Jacksonville, FL and a 6-3 win on the road in Tallahassee, FL. Florida football bounced back from consecutive losses to FSU with a 37-26 beat down in Tallahassee, and UF basketball matched the football team’s intensity with a 72-47 rout on the road.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

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FOUR BITS: soccer, volleyball, Raymond, Starks

1 » Coming off a terrific weekend where they managed a draw and victory over a pair of ranked opponents, No. 22 Florida Gators soccer was feeling the momentum heading into a showdown with the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles on Friday. FSU (3-0) put that sense to rest quickly, scoring 10 minutes into the match via a header off a throw-in and holding off Florida for the remainder of the contest (despite UF finding a number of scoring opportunities) to earn a hard-fought 1-0 victory. The Gators got a measure of revenge Sunday by dominating the Florida International Panthers in their first home match in more than two weeks. Florida (2-2-1) won 3-0 over FIU (2-2) thanks to a pair of goals from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun (13’, 58’) and another from redshirt senior forward McKenzie Barney at 27’. UF has a light weekend ahead, hosting New Mexico on Sunday at 1 p.m. before beginning their league slate next week.

2 » No. 18 Gators volleyball also faced some stiff competition over the weekend while up in University Park, PA competing in the Nike Big Four Classic. Florida (3-2) was swept 3-0 by the No. 2 Texas Longhorns (5-0) on Friday and fell 3-1 to the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (3-2) on Saturday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek stood out in a big way against Texas, recording 22 kills which “marks the best 3-set hitting performance by a freshman in Florida history and ties her for third-best in a 3-set match in program history,” according to the school. She continued her dominance on Saturday with 15 more kills in the four-set match. Junior middle back Chloe Mann combined for 29 kills over the two games. UF will now remain home for its next four matches as it plays the Slovenian Junior National Team in an exhibition game Monday before hosting the Active Ankle Challenge (in which they will play three games) from Sept. 7-8.

3 » Coming off an Olympic bronze medal in mixed doubles, former Gators tennis star Lisa Raymond hoped to keep the magic going while competing in the US Open, the major in which she has found the most career success, over the weekend. Unfortunately Raymond, as part of the No. 2-ranked mixed doubles pairing with fellow American Mike Bryan, fell to Brazil in first-round action and was eliminated from the tournament. She and partner Liezel Huber, the No. 1-ranked women’s doubles duo in the world, did advance to the third round of that tournament but lost to the No. 16-ranked team from Spain 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Raymond has won 13 career grand slam titles, five of which (three women’s doubles, two mixed doubles) have come at the US Open.

4 » Former Florida offensive lineman Max Starks, coming off a pair of injuries in as many seasons, has twice now been tossed to the scrap heap by the Pittsburgh Steelers only to be brought back as a major contributor. After signing a four-year, $26.3 million contract in the 2009 offseason, Starks was cut in July of 2011 after neck problems and weight issues gave the team cause for concern. Pittsburgh wound up re-signing him after injuries plagued their offensive line, and Starks started at left tackle for the rest of the season. He then tore his anterior cruciate in the Steelers’ playoff loss and did not have his one-year contract renewed. However, just like last season, Pittsburgh brought him back (this time in July) on a one-year deal. The team announced this weekend that Starks will be their starting left tackle on opening day. “There was no way I was thinking when I get healthy they’ll re-sign me,” Starks told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I wanted to get healthy and figured teams will be out there, and, if I have to wait through training camp and into the season like last year, I’ll do that, prepare for that. It just so happens, there was an opportunity to come back. It was a blessing.”

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Florida Gators at the 2012 London Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics concluded on Sunday with the Florida Gators bringing home 16 event medals including four gold, six silver and six bronze over the course of 19 days worth of action across the pond.

In an effort to highlight the Gators’ praiseworthy accomplishments while simultaneously recapping over two weeks worth of athletic action, OGGOA presents this wrap up of the presence that Florida’s athletes made at the Olympics. Below you will find facts, figures and highlights of what the Gators accomplished from July 25 through Aug. 12.

You can check out the Olympic results as they happened as well as the official Gator Nation vs. The World medal count and plenty of other information by checking out OGGOA’s Live Coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.

FACTS AND FIGURES

» If Gator Nation was its own country, it would have been ranked 17th overall in the final Olympic medal both in weighted and grand total calculations. The Gators won as many gold medals (four) as Jamaica and Czech Republic and captured one more than Spain, Brazil and South Africa (among others).

» Twelve Florida athletes won a grand total of 18 individual medals (16 event medals) for three countries. Fourteen of the 16 medals won were captured for the United States.

» 35.3 percent of the Gators that competed in the Olympics (12-of-34) won at least one medal. 50 percent (17-of-34) at least reached a final or competed for a medal.

» Ryan Lochte (swimming, United States) led the way with five medals including two golds (one shared in a relay with Conor Dwyer), two silvers and a bronze. Following Lochte with two each were Elizabeth Beisel (swimming, United States) and Will Claye (athletics, United States), who both brought home a silver and a bronze.

» Three other Florida athletes won gold including Christian Taylor (athletics, United States), Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts (football, United States). The rest of the medals included a silver each from Tony McQuay and Jeff Demps (athletics, United States) as well as a bronze each from Lisa Raymond (tennis, United States), Melanie Booth (football, Canada) and Novlene Williams-Mills (athletics, Jamaica).

» Beisel is the only current UF student-athlete that medaled in the Olympics. She will be entering her junior year in 2012.

» Seventeen countries were represented by Gators including the United States (11), Great Britain (6), Cayman Islands and Iceland (two each) and Australia, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Poland, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Spain and Tunisia (one each). Florida athletes also competed in five sports categories including swimming (19), athletics (10), football (three), basketball and tennis (one each).

Read the rest of “Florida Gators at the 2012 London Olympics” after the break…

Continue Reading » Florida Gators at the 2012 London Olympics

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Raymond claims first Olympic medal at age 38

Former Florida Gators tennis player Lisa Raymond (United States) had two opportunities on Sunday to capture her first Olympic medal. Following a disappointing finish in women’s doubles, Raymond and partner Mike Bryan stood tough against their German competitors and won bronze in mixed doubles at the 2012 London Olympics.

The most accomplished tennis player in school history, Raymond was the first of any gender to sweep the three collegiate Grand Slam titles in a single season (1992). She captured consecutive NCAA Championships as a singles competitor in 1992-93 and helped lead the Gators to the first team NCAA Championship in program history.

Despite not finding much success as a professional singles player, Raymond has been an outstanding doubles teammate. She has won 11 Grand Slam titles over her career including six in women’s doubles and five in mixed doubles.

Raymond/Bryan won Wimbledon in June.

Raymond has also been a part of a No. 1-ranked women’s doubles team twice in her career including this year with partner Liezel Huber, making her – at age 38 – the oldest woman to ever hold that ranking.

Her Olympics career has not been as stellar, however. Raymond was controversially left off the 2000 team and did not qualify for the 2008 squad. She did, however, compete alongside the legendary Martina Navratilova at the 2004 Athens Olympics; the duo fell in the quarterfinals and did not medal.

As the top-ranked team in the world, adding Raymond/Huber to the 2012 team was a no-brainer for the Americans, and Raymond in particular came bitingly close to brining home two medals for the United States.

In the end she and Bryan, ranked third in the field, took bronze with a 6-3, 4-6 (10-4) victory in an event that was last contested at the Olympics in 1924.

Raymond/Huber, listed as the No. 1 women’s doubles team, played well earlier in the day but fell to the third-ranked Russians 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Huber appeared to injure a stomach muscle following the second set and the duo was unable to perform at the same level for the duration of the match.

For recaps of their performances, a full schedule (including updated events for Monday), live stream links and a Gator Nation vs. The World medal count, be sure to check out OGGOA’s Live Coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.

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FOUR BITS: Fulwood, Gal, Raymond, Hernandez

1 » Four-star wide receiver commit Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, FL) was one of a number of Florida Gators commits and targets participating in The Opening, a three-day skills competition run by Nike that took place in Eugene, OR over the weekend. InsidetheGators.com recruiting analyst Blake Alderman was in attendance at the event ($) and tagged Fulwood as the Florida commit/recruit who is “ready to play today.” With wide receiver being a major position of need for the Gators, Fulwood’s frame (6’4, 189 lbs.) and ability to “climb the ladder and catch the ball at its highest point” are major positives that offensive coordinator Brent Pease should be able to utilize as soon as he gets on campus. Fulwood did not see many passes go his way due to the quarterbacks spreading the ball around, according to Alderman, but impressed every time it was thrown to him and made a pair of touchdown grabs over the weekend.

2 » Though she ended the event eight shots off the lead, former Florida golfer Sandra Gal of Germany finished in third place (+1) at the conclusion of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, the best position she has finished in a major in her five-season LPGA Tour career. After a rough start to her career in which she missed numerous cuts and fell well outside the top 25 players in major championship events, Gal has really turned the corner the last two years. In the last 16 months she won her first tour event (the Kia Classic in March 2011) and has registered three top-15 finishes in majors – T-15 in the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, T-12 in the 2012 LPGA Championship and third in this weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open.

3 » Former Gators tennis player Lisa Raymond had a nice tune-up for the 2012 London Olympics by competing in Wimbledon over the weekend. Though No. 1 Raymond/Liezel Huber fell in the semifinals of the women’s doubles tournament to Serena and Venus Williams, she went all the way to the finals of the mixed doubles tournament as the No. 2-ranked team with fellow American Mike Bryan. The duo defeated No. 4 Elena Vesnina/Leander Peas 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. It was the fifth Grand Slam mixed doubles title of Raymond’s career and 11th overall Grand Slam doubles title.

4 » With the New England Patriots extending tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, many fans of the team wondered what will become of TE Aaron Hernandez in the near future. Considering the team spent so much money to retain Gronkowski, conventional wisdom is that New England will let Hernandez’s deal expire but keep him in the fold by giving him the franchise tag in consecutive seasons before either allowing him to seek another contract or re-signing him when the time comes. However, according to The Boston Globe, that may not be so easy for the Patriots considering Hernandez could very well throw a wrench in those plans.

“Don’t expect Hernandez to accept the franchise tag number at tight end. The argument is there to be made that in his role, Hernandez is more of a receiver than a tight end,” writes Greg A. Bedard. “And considering that the receiver tag ($9.515 million) is almost double that of tight end ($5.446 million) this year, you can almost bet that Hernandez [...] will prepare an argument for the receiver tag. That’s exactly what agent Blake Baratz did in February for tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s not known how much the threat affected the Packers, but they ultimately signed Finley to a two-year contract worth around $15 million.” Read more from Bedard on the subject by clicking here.

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FOUR BITS: swimming, Raymond, Rosario, Starks

1 » Florida Gators sophomore swimmer Elizabeth Beisel qualified for the 2012 London Olympics on Monday, winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Women’s 400 Meter Individual Medley with a time of 4:31.74, three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Below is an interview she conducted after getting out of the pool.

Former Gators Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer also qualified on Monday with Lochte winning the Men’s 400 Meter Individual Medley (4:07.06) and Dwyer turning on the jets to finish second in the Men’s 400 Meter Freestyle (3:47.83). Below is an interview Dwyer conducted about qualifying for his first Olympics.

2 » Two other women were officially named to Olympic teams this week with former Florida tennis player Lisa Raymond qualifying as a doubles competitor with teammate Liezel Huber (the duo is the No. 1-ranked pairing in the world by the WTA) and center Azania Stewart joining Great Britain National Team to play women’s basketball. Stewart just graduated this past spring and will be the third player in Florida women’s basketball history to play in the Olympics since 1992 (DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tammy Jackson). Joining Stewart on Great Britain’s team are swimmers Marco Loughran and Stephanie Proud, fellow former Gators student-athletes who will compete in the Men’s and Women’s 200 Meter Backstroke, respectively.

3 » Officially making the final cut for the Puerto Rico National Team that will compete in an Olympic qualifying tournament from July 2-8 in Venezuela, Florida redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario told SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria that he is incredibly thankful for the opportunity. “It feels great because I know how hard I am working because I want this year coming up to be a special one for me to remember,” he said. “I’m taking advantage of all opportunities. I have a very special gift that God gave me and that’s the talent to play basketball at the highest level I’m ready. Therefore, I want to thank my coach, Billy Donovan, for giving me the opportunity. This really means a lot to me and my future.”

4 » Asked once again whether or not former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks is on the radar to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers after his torn anterior cruciate ligament is healed, team director of football operations Kevin Colbert was standoffish in his reply to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’re monitoring his health, we’ll see how it develops, but Max is coming off a serious injury, and his readiness we don’t know yet. We won’t know until you get closer to camp and he’s had more rehab.” Similar sentiments were shared about Starks one year ago (his issues were his neck and weight), but he was called upon after Pittsburgh faced an emergency situation on their offensive line due to injuries. Starks wound up starting right away and for the remainder of the season but was not re-signed by the Steelers after the season due to injuring his ACL during the team’s playoff game against Denver.

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FOUR BITS: Nixon, Raymond, Akra, Tebow

1 » Alachua County Court records show that Florida Gators senior offensive tackle Xavier Nixon was cited on April 12 for unknowingly operating his vehicle with a suspended/revoked license for the second time in as many years. Nixon, first cited for the same traffic violation on March 24, 2011, elected to appear in court for the charge and had his hearing held on May 31. He agreed to a partial payment option for the $148 fine (including $86 in court costs) and paid $25 but did not continue making payments, building late fees and having the citation forwarded to a collection agency. Now represented by attorney Huntley Johnson after receiving a second citation on April 12, Nixon again elected to appear in court for the latest charges but has since paid his fines from the initial citation in full. He owes another $148 for his latest transgression. It will be determined how that is paid and how his case will be settled in a scheduled court appearance on June 13 at 9 a.m.

2 » Former Florida tennis player Lisa Raymond made the record books on Monday after she and partner Liezel Huber were anointed the new No. 1 doubles pairing in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. Raymond, who has been ranked No. 1 at one time or another for 117 total weeks in her career (this will be the 118th), is now the oldest player ever to hold the top spot in the WTA rankings. “It’s definitely a lot more special this time than ever before,” he said. “I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my career, and I found the right partner, too. Liezel and I always say it’s about the team – you win together and you lose together, and you work hard together. This is gratifying for both of us – and for me at 38, to be back to No. 1 after such a long road, it feels amazing.”

3 » In November, ESPN’s Erin Andrews was caught in the middle of a Gatorade shower as then-No. 22 Baylor celebrated a 45-38 upset of No. 5 Oklahoma. Andrews, who said afterward that it was the first time she had been caught in a Gatorade shower in her career, joked that it was an awesome experience even though her iPhone was not working well after the bath. Another former Gators dazzler, Kristina Akra, has apparently been hit with more Gatorade showers in the young 2012 Major League Baseball season than Andrews has in her career. According to the Washington Post, Akra was nailed with Gatorade for the third time already this season after the Washington Nationals (the team she covers as a sideline reporter for MASN) achieved a walk-off victory on Saturday. Akra previously worked with FOX Sports South helping out with coverage of Southeastern Conference football.

4 » Hip-hop artist Wale said on ESPN‘s First Take on Monday that he only expects New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow to start a maximum of one game this season, noting that he’s seen “ambidextrous ninth graders” throw better than Tebow. He even went as far as to wager cutting his hair on Tebow starting fewer than six games in 2012. In the same segment, Hugh Douglas (who promised to go to church if Tebow beat the Jets on Nov. 17) gave the former Heisman Trophy winner plenty of support and predicted that he will be starting full-time for New York by week four. As the New York Post reports, Tebow already has future Jets cheerleaders on his side.

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