SIX BITS: Westbrook, Alli, Brantley, lax, Dunlap

1 » At a Gator Gathering in Orlando, FL on Tuesday, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp announced that sophomore Tevin Westbrook (6’5” 268 lbs.) will switch from defensive end to tight end over the summer. Westbrook, who appeared in three games as a true freshman but did not see much action in those contests, was one of the last players to commit to Florida in 2011 and did so knowing that he would not play much right away as the team had plans to develop his talents. There were rumors that Westbrook was considering transferring following the spring but he has apparently decided to take on this new challenge. He committed to UF over offers from Connecticut, North Carolina, Purdue and South Florida.

2 » Muschamp also touched on a number of other topics during the event. He noted that redshirt junior wide receiver Stephen Alli will miss approximately three months of action after having successful surgery on a stress fracture in his leg, depleting the team’s pass catchers even further, and added that linebacker Graham Stewart, who the school announced last week decided to transfer, will move on to UConn.

3 » Four-star defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, a pledge to the Gators since Jan. 28, wrote Monday on Facebook that he is now a soft commitment to Florida. UF’s third-highest rated recruit according to Rivals at No. 82 overall and best overall recruit according to ESPNU (No. 18), Brantley wanted to reassure Gators fans that while his commitment status has changed he is not planning to play for any other team but Florida. “I feel like I rushed myself into a commitment, that is all,” he told of his decision to open his recruitment slightly. “Not ever, I am not decommitting,” he added. “Florida is at number one, like way in front of the pack, but then you have Bama at two and three is USC and Florida State.” Other schools have continued to recruit Brantley, but he was quick to note that the Gators have been in constant contact with him as well. In addition to visiting other campuses, Brantley also plans to speak with Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to get a better feeling of what Florida’s depth chart will look like upon his arrival.

4 » Gators lacrosse received a special distinction on Tuesday, just one day after learning they will be the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. As the newest top 25 polls were released, Florida learned that they are the new unanimous No. 1 team in the country. UF took down previously top-ranked Northwestern for the second time this season on Saturday to win the 2012 ALC Tournament and is now both the fastest program in school history to receive a No. 1 ranking and the fastest program in collegiate women’s lacrosse history to earn that distinction. NCAA Tournament action for the Gators begins on May 12 at 1 p.m. against Albany.

5 » Cincinnati Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap is ready for his breakout. After leading Cincinnati in sacks as a rookie with 9.5 (all of which he registered in the final eight games of the season), Dunlap slowed down a bit in his sophomore campaign and only registered 4.5. Slowed by a foot injury in the preseason and a hamstring injury that nagged him over the final few games, he struggled to be completely healthy and consistently effective; Dunlap hopes to improve on both in 2012. “When you get there you expect to get the sack. It’s better to be there than not be there,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer of being around the quarterback but not bringing him down. “When I was starting to get them then the unfortunate situation [injury] happened. Now I want to have a complete season. The hamstring is one of those things that really doesn’t go away until you give it good rest. This year I didn’t want it holding me back.”

6 » Cleveland Indians outfielder Johnny Damon, an 18-year MLB veteran and long-time Gators fan who actually committed to Florida before deciding to play professionally, recently provided financial support to the UF College of Medicine in order to aid research opportunities. The $16,000 contribution from Damon’s foundation will be used to help study “a genetic condition called glycogen storage disease type III, which prevents children and adults from properly processing sugar stored in the body,” according to UF. Researchers are currently doing work on the Faroe Islands (where one in 3,000 people have the disease compared to one in 100,000 in the United States) to learn about the disease and determine if they can find a solution that could not only help people with the disease but also “potentially change the course of care for [people with] high blood pressure and other common conditions.”

“Johnny Damon has no connection to this disease, so his willingness to help means a lot to me,” said David Weinstein, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the UF College of Medicine and director of the UF Glycogen Storage Disease Program. “We hear often about problems in sports, but we don’t frequently hear about athletes who go out of their way to help people. We could not do this without his support.”

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Midseason slumps happen – every team has at least one – though the one Florida Gators baseball went through (losing five of seven games from March 30 – April 7) may have been especially painful for fans.

Florida has seen the light though. As much was obvious over the last two weekends as junior left-hander Brian Johnson helped power the Gators to a series win at Tennessee and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott picked up the offensive slack against Georgia. Florida won both series but did not necessarily do so in the convincing fashion that many fans are accustomed to seeing. This is what SEC baseball is all about.

The biggest issue the Gators have is their offense. It was a question mark to start the season and remains a concern going forward. Their pitching and defense remain outstanding, especially considering the injuries that sidelined sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson and Friday night ace junior RHP Hudson Randall.

During one of my first columns here, I mentioned how Florida had nine players capable of hitting .300. At his point in the season only Pigott, Johnson, junior catcher Mike Zunino, junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (five players) have eclipsed that mark.

The Gators’ lineup has become top-heavy. After these first five hitters, Florida’s lineup is manageable for opposing pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gushue has cooled off from his hot start and Zunino is hitting sub-.250 in SEC play. Every team goes through midseason struggles but to see some of the veterans off of their game is a bit alarming.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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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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FOUR BITS: Powell, Jenkins, lacrosse, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut and photographer David Carr happened to capture the moment about one second before the injury occurred. As you can see below, courtesy of, Powell was pulling up from attacking the ball carrier as he believed freshman LB Antonio Morrison had him tackled. However, redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green kept playing through the whistle (as he should) and shoved Powell in the back to get him away from the play. Powell planted his left foot at the same time as the push and tore his ACL as a consequence.

2 » Former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, just three weeks before the 2012 NFL Draft, has fired Ben Dogra of CAA and hired Malik Shareef of DSI as his new agent. However, as is tradition with anything Jenkins does, there appears to be two sides to the story. Though Jenkins’s camp claims that he did indeed fire Dogra and bring on Shareef, a report from the Orlando Sentinel notes that it was Dogra who decided to no longer represent Jenkins. “The only reason we decided to move on is because they’re too big,” Jenkins’s “mentor” Sandy Cornelio told “We weren’t getting personal attention, so we decided to move on. That was it. And we told them. We called them professionally and said, ‘Hey, we’re moving on. We came to the conclusion that we honestly believe a smaller agency that pays us more attention will be better for us.’ [Dogra] told us that he understood and he would help in any way he could. At the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that the kid drafts himself by his performance.”

Regardless of which party made the decision, changing agents so close to the draft undoubtedly raises any remaining eyebrows that may not have been previously. And though Jenkins and Cornelio may be justified in feeling they were not getting enough personal attention from CAA, they are undoubtedly incorrect in believing that it is solely Jenkins’s performance that will dictate his draft position. If it was he would be a consensus top-15 pick; instead he’s rumored to fall out of the first round due to character concerns. Shareef previously represented Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden who switched over to Drew Rosenhaus in November.

3 » Gators lacrosse (13-2, 3-0 ALC) took down the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (7-4, 0-2 ALC) on Saturday in the first overtime victory in program history. Florida defeated Johns Hopkins 13-12 in double overtime and extended the game twice by scoring the final goal both in regulation and the first overtime. The only goal of the game for junior attacker Gabi Wiegand came with just seven seconds remaining in the contest, giving UF their first extra opportunity. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen and freshman midfielder Nora Barry combined for seven goals on 11 shots and respectively scored the game-tying goal in the first overtime and game-winning goal in the second overtime. Florida moved up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4 in the country in the latest top 25 poll.

4 » Ranking the top 50 prospects available for the 2012 MLB Draft, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law has given plenty of respect to three junior Gators. Law lists catcher Mike Zunino as the second-best player available, noting that “most scouts seem to think he doesn’t get past Seattle at No. 3.” He also has left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson at No. 24 overall and shortstop Nolan Fontana at No. 26 overall; Law considers both the fifth-best prospect at their respective position.

Extra BIT » Despite neither being drafted nor signed as an undrafted free agent by a NFL team in 2011, former Florida safety Will Hill is “hoping to make a comeback” with the New York Jets and New York Giants “showing interest” according to NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline. Hill hails from New Jersey and has been training in the area.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Bates, Wilkerson, WBK

1 » It is no secret that the Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation received plenty of coverage in 2011. With veteran Kyle Orton, former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn all vying for the starting job, things were undoubtedly uncomfortable in Mile High. In the latest issue of GQ, Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports submitted “An Oral History of Tebow Time” as told by analysts, coaches and players. Quinn was one of a number of players asked to talk about Tebow; he complied and did not hold back when it came to his true opinions. He began by noting that he was the true “second-string guy” on the roster but said Tebow got the nod over him to replace Orton for one reason in particular. “I felt like the fans had a lot to do with that. Just ’cause they were chanting his name,” he said. “There was a big calling for him. No, I didn’t have any billboards. That would have been nice.”

Asked to explain how Tebow and Denver beat Kansas City with him only completing two passes, Quinn gave his explanation, seemingly blaming the opposing defense instead of crediting his team: “The entire game, the defensive line is chasing the quarterback around, and that wears down the pass rush. Meanwhile, the defensive backs are chasing receivers, but you only throw eight passes, so they start to feel lazy. It only takes that one play, that one big pass, for a touchdown.” Quinn later notes the obvious, that the Broncos “had a lot of, I guess, luck, to put it simply” when it came to beating Chicago in Week 14. Just moments later though, he opines about Tebow as a person and offers a not-so-glowing opinion. “If you look at it as a whole, there’s a lot of things that just don’t seem very humble to me,” he said. “When I get that opportunity, I’ll continue to lead not necessarily by trying to get in front of the camera and praying but by praying with my teammates, you know?”

Updated at 4:30 p.m.

Quinn has since released the following statement:

The comments attributed to me in a recent magazine article are in NO WAY reflective of my opinion of Tim and the Broncos. Tim deserves a lot of credit for our success and I’m happy for him and what he accomplished. Most importantly, he is a great teammate. That interview was conducted three months ago, and the resulting story was a completely inaccurate portrayal of my comments. I have addressed my disappointment with the writer and have reached out to Tim to clear this up. I apologize to anyone who feels I was trying to take anything away from our team’s or Tim’s success this season.

2 » Former Florida linebacker James Bates, a defensive captain with the Gators who has recently been working in college sports broadcasting, was recently the victim of a faulty piece of furniture. On hand to cover a college basketball game between Xavier and Dayton for CBS Sports Network, Bates’ stool collapsed live on the air. He was sent falling to the floor but kept a good disposition afterward, as you can see in the video below.

3 » The National College Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Friday that voting is underway for a new class to be selected out of a pool of “69 worthy candidates.” One of those candidates is none other than former Florida All-American hitter and pitcher Brad Wilkerson, a member of the 1996 and 1998 College World Series teams who was also a three-time All-SEC selection and the 1998 Collegiate Player of the Year, was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame on April 9, 2010. He played for four MLB teams and won a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and still holds career records with the Gators for batting average, RBI, slugging percentage and walks.

4 » On Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Florida women’s basketball (17-10, 7-7 SEC) earned their biggest victory of the season with a 61-57 win over the No. 16/18 Georgia Bulldogs (20-7, 9-5 SEC). Junior forward Jennifer George (15 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Lanita Bartley (11 points, four boards) led the way for the Gators, which rebounded nicely after nearly defeating No. 24 Vanderbilt just a few days earlier UF will play their regular-season finale on Thursday against Mississippi State.

EXTRA BIT » Though Florida failed to prevail at the 2012 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships in Knoxville, TN over the weekend, the Gators did sweep one important category as sophomores Elizabeth Beisel and Marcin Cieslak were named the 2012 SEC Female and Male Swimmer of the Year, respectively. Florida won eight individual SEC titles at the event with Beisel and Marcin each taking home three. The women’s team finished second overall behind Auburn, while the men came in third behind Georgia and Tennessee.

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2012 Florida Gators baseball: Just win, baby.

Though basketball has national title aspirations and both softball and lacrosse are getting started on what should be a pair of exciting campaigns, no squad is more hyped entering this season than the unanimously top-ranked Florida Gators baseball team.

Florida went all the way to the 2011 College World Series championship series a year ago before falling to South Carolina, a team they will go back-and-forth with throughout the 2012 Southeastern Conference slate. With so many starters returning to the team and an exceptional freshman class signed to fill in the gaps, the Gators have only one true goal in 2012 – win a national championship.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators baseball: Just win, baby.

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FOUR BITS: Jacobs, Pouncey, den Dekker, Tebow

1 » Florida Gators incoming junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, joining the team as a JUCO transfer out of East Mississippi Community College, had minor but successful surgery on a finger Thursday but should be available for the start of spring practice. He enrolled early at Florida and is expected to make an impact on the team right away considering his size (6’3” 295 lbs.) and experience.

2 » Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on Thursday at a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Center, which helps impoverished and underprivileged children in Southwest Florida. “We sponsored a couple games for the guys to come to and gave away tickets,” he said. “I love giving back to kids. I remember growing up in their shoes always wanting somebody to look up to.” While at the event, Pouncey spoke to the News-Press about a number of topics including his team’s coaching search, his brother’s recovery from ankle surgery and the fact that both of them own a condo together in Tampa, FL where they are currently spending time together. Pouncey is working out and staying in shape while his brother is doing post-surgery rehab work.

3 » A fifth-round pick of the New York Mets in the 2010 MLB Draft, former Gators centerfielder Matt den Dekker has been invited by the team up to their spring training camp. He spent the last two years playing for four different Mets organizations, ending the 2011 season with the AA Binghamton Mets in the Eastern League. For his short career, den Dekker is hitting just .278 with an .807 OPS over 171 games played with 17 home runs, 88 RBI, 126 runs, 62 walks and 27 steals.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow crossed over from football player to celebrity this season, which in part means that his every move will be traced by media outlets like TMZ. The gossip website reported Thursday that Tebow was in Las Vegas, NV taking in a Cirque du Soleil show (“O”) with a few friends while hiding the relevant note of the story which is that he was in town to do a new photo shoot and/or commercial for Nike. Tebow was signed by Nike prior to the start of his rookie season and has already been a part of television commercials and magazine ads for the company. Though he does not have a clothing line per se, Tebow did release a limited edition sneaker and T-shirt through Nike last year.

Extra BIT » As OGGOA mentioned this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made it a priority to re-sign their free agents including breakout defensive end and former Florida player Jeremy Mincey. However, according to The Florida Times-Union, Mincey will not be giving the team a hometown discount so the Jaguars will likely have to ward off other suitors with a solid offer in order to keep him in North Florida. Mincey’s eight sacks in 2011 were the most since former Gators DE Bobby McCray had 10 in 2006.

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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