FOUR BITS: Grant on Donovan, track & field

1 » Like his former boss and close friend did for him a few days ago, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant expressed plenty of positive thoughts and warm wishes toward Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan upon learning he was voted 2011 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year. “It’s a great honor – 15 years in the league and the success that he’s enjoyed,” Grant told The Birmingham News. “It’s really, really hard – the expectations were extremely high for his team this year. They may have surpassed those expectations with what they’ve done. […] There is not a more deserving recipient because of the way he approaches what he does and the passion that he has. I’m really happy for him and their program.”

2 » As OGGOA tweeted about Monday, Florida basketball was not the only sport to pull in high praise from the SEC. Gators track and field head coach Mike Holloway was named the 2011 SEC Coach of the Year for his sport on Monday, and junior jumper Christian Taylor earned 2011 SEC Men’s Field Athlete of the Year honors. Also awarded by the conference were hurdler Eddie Lovett and Cory McGee, who were each named 2011 SEC Freshman Runner of the Year for their respective gender.

3 » The 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships begin on Friday at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, TX, and Florida track and field will be represented by 15 student-athletes (13 men, two women) at the event. The Gators men’s team is looking to defend its title after claiming the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championship. Sophomore sprinter and defending champion Jeff Demps will compete in the 60-meter dash, while defending champion Taylor will try to once again win the triple jump. Junior Will Claye and sophomore Omar Craddock will also compete in the triple jump. Other Florida athletes participating in the NCAA Indoors include Clay (long jump), junior runner Dumisani Hlaselo (mile), junior Gray Horn (heptathlon), Lovett (60-meter hurdles), McGee (mile), sophomore Tony McQuay (200-meter dash, 400-meter dash), senior Kemal Mesic (shot put), senior Terrell Wilks (60-meter dash). The Gators will also field men’s and women’s 4×400-meter relay teams.

4 » Former NFL head coach Mike Ditka, speaking with Chicago Sun-Times, provided his opinion on the future of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Ditka only had good things to convey about the second-year pro. “People talk about the combine, about body fat, 40 times, bench presses, how high you can jump. That’s great, but how do you measure heart?” he said. “People talk about Tim Tebow like he can’t do this or he doesn’t have this throwing skill. But all that matters is can he lead you from Point A to Point B. I like him. You cannot coach character. You cannot coach leadership.”

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Wuerffel’s Words: Talent is “cream of the crop”

For the entire month of September, former Florida Gators national championship- and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel will be contributing his post-game thoughts about how the team performed the previous Saturday exclusively here on OGGOA at the beginning of each week.

The 1996 winner of eight football and academic awards, Wuerffel has a unique perspective as a four-year player at Florida who passed for 10,875 yards and 114 touchdowns in his college career. Enshrined in the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006 and set to be immortalized in a statue outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in 2010, he is now the executive director of Desire Street Ministries, which works to revitalize impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.

“The victory usually goes to the one who can keep his head clear when everything seems to be falling apart.” — Mike Ditka

Actually, I heard Coach Ditka say those words in person, and the quote above is actually my paraphrased version of what he said – his language was a bit more colorful.

As I’ve watched this very young and talented Gator team play two games, there are plenty of things that seem troubling. But there are a lot of things that I’m very impressed with as well. The athleticism and the raw size and speed of the players clearly show how effective the recruiting has been – these guys are the cream of the crop.

While the defense has given up some yards, they are making big plays. Turnovers are game-changers, and Florida has forced a lot of them. Johnny Brantley continues to impress me with his decision-making and accuracy. Jeff Demps is outstanding, and I think the Gators have several other skill players ready for breakout performances.

But, in line with the quote from my first NFL coach, I’ve been most impressed with UF’s ability to NOT PANIC when things have looked really bad.

I can’t stress how important this is, especially for a young team. While many of us fans have cringed, hollered or maybe even used some of our own colorful language during the first two games, Urban Meyer and this team seem to have kept their focus – and it really showed in the second half on Saturday.

I’m looking forward to the Tennessee game this weekend, and I’m especially excited to see this team come together. Let’s hope Coach Ditka is right.

Go Gators,

By joining together people from all walks of life who are interested in redeeming the inner-city, Desire Street Ministries believes that they are bringing together leaders who actually move into the neighborhood, indigenous leaders who already live there, and neighbors who “move in” spiritually through prayer, encouragement and financial support. Please take a moment to visit Desire Street Ministries online or in person and find out how you can help support and/or donate.

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QB Danny Wuerffel: “The opportunity to play for coach Spurrier – too much to pass up.”

When most college football fans think about the Florida Gators 1996 season, two names in particular come to mind: head coach Steve Spurrier and starting quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Winner of seven individual awards in 1996 including the Heisman Trophy (and another Davey O’Brien Award in 1995), Wuerffel led the Gators to their first National Championship in his final effort after a four-year career in which he threw for an astounding 10,875 yards and 114 touchdowns.

A first-team All-America selection in 1995 and 1996, many of Wuerffel’s numbers remain the best in Southeastern Conference history and the second-best in national history. In 1995, his efficiency of 178.4 set a single-season collegiate record, and in his Heisman year of 1996, his 3,625 yards (SEC record), 39 TDs (led nation, SEC record) and efficiency rating of 170.6 made him the first QB to ever post a rating of 170 or more in back-to-back years. Wuerffel led the Gators in passing in each of his four seasons (1993-96) and still holds Florida records for most career passing touchdowns and most passing touchdowns in a season (in which he also holds second place). In fact, one out of every 9.74 passes Wuerffel threw in his career would be scored for a touchdown.

Enshrined in the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006 and set to be immortalized in a statue outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in 2010, Wuerffel is now the executive director of Desire Street Ministries, which works to revitalize impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.

OGGOA spoke to Wuerffel on Tuesday and, even though our interview was feared lost by a technical difficulty, it was recovered at the end of the day. How lucky are we?

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Coming out of Fort Walton Beach, was attending the University of Florida an easy choice for you – something you always knew you wanted to do?
DANNY WUERFFEL: “Actually, we were living close to Florida State and my sister was attending Florida State. By default, I was more of a Seminole fan in high school. I took three visits – one to Alabama, one to Florida State and one to Florida. At the end of the day, the two things that drew me to Florida were, firstly, the quality of the education with so many different directions – I wasn’t centered or decided on a major and Florida just had so many highly respected colleges and majors to choose from – I was really impressed with the school, and then secondly, the opportunity to play for coach [Steve] Spurrier – too much to pass up.”

AS: When deciding on Florida, did you know your high school coach wanted to eventually go back to the Gators, or did that happen afterward?
DW: “Coach [Jimmy Ray Stephens] – he played at Florida and had coached at Florida and he was always hoping to get back there – I think that was one of his goals. It was a year or so after I got signed, a year or so after that, coach Spurrier gave him the opportunity to come.”

AS: You played four years at Florida – which is not something a lot of quarterbacks really get the chance to do – but obviously broke out in your final two seasons in 1995 and 1996. Was there a particular switch that turned on for you, was it a measure of the talent around you – what was the difference?
DW: “Practically what happened – both my freshman and sophomore year I was splitting time with Terry Dean – so in terms of snaps and reps, [I] didn’t get as much. For both the 1995 and 1996 team[s], there were some really, really dynamic players and folks that came along and we had two really good teams those two years. And it just happened those were the two years I was in the driver’s seat. When you’re in the right place at the right time with the right coaches and the right players, a lot of cool things can happen, and those were definitely some good years.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Danny Wuerffell…after the break!
Continue Reading » QB Danny Wuerffel: “The opportunity to play for coach Spurrier – too much to pass up.”

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