FOUR BITS: Hodge, Hurt, Parsons, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators guard Walter Hodge was named Most Valuable Player of the Puerto Rican Baloncesto Superior Nacional league on Wednesday. Hodge, playing for Captanes de Arecibo, easily won by picking up 70 votes, 32 more than second-place finisher Mike Harris. One-time Gators G David Huertas finished fourth with 33 votes. Hodge received 11-of-31 first-place votes and appeared in 19-of-31 ballots. “I’m happy with the award and I thank God for keeping me healthy throughout the year. [This was] always a dream,” he said. “I have achieved several goals and now lack the greatest with the championship.” Hodge averaged 16.9 points per game while leading the league in assists (6.9) and steals (1.8) per contest. Also playing in BSN is former Florida G Mike Rosario, who is teammates with Huertas on the Ponce Lions.

2 » The best way for bottom-of-the-roster football players to prove to new coaches that they deserve to keep their spot is to report to training camp in shape and ready to learn. Former Florida offensive lineman Maurice Hurt apparently did the opposite and will start camp with the Washington football team on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list simply because he reported “out of shape,” according to new head coach Jay Gruden. The No. 217 overall pick in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Hurt started all eight games he played as a rookie but just one of 13 contests in 2012. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery ahead of the 2013 season, which he started on the PUP list before eventually being moved to injured reserve when he was evaluated in practice and not deemed capable of playing.

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Hodge, Hurt, Parsons, Meyer

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SIX BITS: Noah, Masters, Alexander, Ridley, Lee

1 » Already in the midst of a Most Valuable Player-caliber campaign, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah on Wednesday became just the fourth center in NBA history to record four triple-doubles consisting of points, rebounds and assists in a single season. The other three? Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson and Bill Russell. Noah, whose final line was 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, has led the Bulls to a 46-32 record despite the fact that Chicago has been without star point guard Derek Rose nearly the entire season. The “point-center,” who leads his team with 5.2 assists per game, achieved double-digit dimes for the seventh time and also became the first Bulls player since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (1992-93) to record four triple-doubles in a single season. For comparison’s sake, Noah posted just three triple-doubles and two double-digit assists games – combined – during his first six years. Additionally, Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale just last month said Noah “should be the defensive player of the year.” Check out this extensive feature on Noah from USA Today.

2 » A pair of former Florida Gators golfers will compete in The Masters for the first time in their careers as Billy Horschel and Matt Every will be teeing it up at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA over the next 2-4 days. Horschel, who finished sixth in the 2013 FedExCup standings with one win and seven top 10 finishes in 22 events, won the Zurich Classic exactly one year ago. Every, via his first career PGA Tour win just over two weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is currently ranked eighth in the FedExCup. The golfers will open the first round teeing off back-to-back – Horschel at 8:51 a.m., Every at 9:02 a.m. – while former Florida golfer Andy North will be on the call for ESPN during the first two days of the event on Thursday and Friday.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Noah, Masters, Alexander, Ridley, Lee

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Billy Donovan (Coach), Scottie Wilbekin (Player) claim AP SEC awards for Florida Gators

No. 1 Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin were named the 2014 Southeastern Conference Coach and Player of the Year, respectively, by the Associated Press on Monday, sweeping the awards after receiving the same honors from league coaches last Tuesday.

Donovan secured his third unanimous (coaches and AP voters) SEC Coach of the Year award, while Wilbekin cemented his place as just the second Florida player in the history of the award to win SEC Player of the Year.

It took Donovan 14 seasons to receive his first conference coaching honor despite winning two national championships (2006-07), coaching in three title games (2000, 2006-07) and leading his team to three-straight SEC Tournament victories (2005-07). Since winning his first SEC Coach of the Year award in 2011, he has dominated the voting with three in the last four seasons.

Donovan, who is one win away from matching Dale Brown (LSU) for all-time wins at an SEC school, had help leading the Gators to their 32-2 record while setting a number of school marks along the way.

Continue Reading » Billy Donovan (Coach), Scottie Wilbekin (Player) claim AP SEC awards for Florida Gators

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Gators softball wins 2013 SEC Tournament

For a team that was predicted to be no better than a middle-of-the-road squad in 2013 following a disastrous end to its 2012 campign, No. 2 Florida Gators softball on Saturday continued its trend of proving doubters wrong by ousting the Missouri Tigers 10-4 to win the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The SEC Tournament title is Florida’s first since 2009 with Saturday’s victory completing a sweep of the league’s two 2013 crowns. The Gators previously clinched the regular-season SEC Championship on May 5.

Consecutive victories over Alabama (8-4 on Thursday) and Georgia (9-5 in a semifinal game pushed to early Saturday) propelled Florida into the tournament’s finale against Mizzou, and the Gators ensured that a season’s worth or hard work would pay off by smacking the ball all around the park in Lexington, KY.

Florida (52-7) registered three home runs, a two-run triple and a two-run double to take down Missouri (35-11) and clinch the title.

Freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after Saturday night’s game, led the way for the Gators in the event by going 5/11 with two homers, seven RBI, four runs, a walk and two stolen bases.

Joining Merritt on the 2013 SEC All-Tournament Team were freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart (4/12 [two triples], 4 RBI, 4 R, SB, BB), junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (6/10, HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB) and freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz (3/12, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R).

Florida also swept both SEC titles in softball in 2008 and 2009.

In addition to the school record-tying eight SEC regular-season championships that the Gators have won during the 2012-13 athletic season, the Florida athletic program has now captured three total SEC Tournament titles.

Photo Credit: Southeastern Conference

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Florida soccer tops Auburn 3-0 to win SEC title

One-seed Florida Gators soccer (17-4-1) captured the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday for the first time since 2010 by scoring two first-half goals and adding an insurance goal in the second half as part of a shutout victory over the six-seed Auburn Tigers (12-10-1).

No. 10 Florida topped Auburn 3-0 at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Orange Beach, AL, winning its second SEC title of the 2012 season after bringing home the regular season crown (11-2-0 SEC) on Oct. 25.

Junior forward Adriana Leon got the Gators on the board for the first time at 27’, scoring her fifth goal of the season on a give-and-go with assists from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun and senior F/MF Erika Tymrak.

Florida was able to double up just four minutes later at 31’ when Tymark, off passes from Solaun and senior MF Holly King, struck the ball into the lower left corner of the net for her eighth goal of the year. She was later named the 2012 SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player (three goals, three assists).

The Gators played tough defense in the second half but lost a key player due to injury. Senior MF Jo Dragotta contested a ball in the air and took an elbow to the side of her head. She remained on the field for a number of minutes but eventually walked off the pitch wearing a neck brace but under her own power.

Solaun added an insurance goal for UF at 70′, finding the back of the net on a corner strike off a nice pass by Tymrak.

Florida outscored the opposition 8-1 in the SEC Tournament, defeating Ole Miss 2-1 on Wednesday and Missouri 3-0 on Friday. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Burke was in net all 270 minutes and saved 15 total shots.

The SEC Tournament title is the 10th in the program’s 18-year history but the first for Florida since 2010. The Gators also captured their 12th regular season crown this year, the team’s first since winning five-straight from 2006-10. Becky Burleigh has now led UF to 22 total SEC titles in 36 opportunities since she took over as the program’s first (and only) head coach in 1995.

Florida now awaits word on its seed for the 2012 NCAA Tournament; UF will learn where it is slotted during the selection show airing live on NCAA.com on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Gators are looking to win the program’s third NCAA Women’s College Cup in school history and first since 2001.

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Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’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 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Youngblood: “That’s when I heard the snap.”

With two weeks ago being the two-year anniversary of ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive and considering he released a brand new book the very same day, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood sat down with us recently for an exclusive and extensive hour-long interview about his life and career.

Click here to read an OGGOA exclusive excerpt from Because It Was Sunday: The Legend of Jack Youngblood while learning more about the book.

The first University of Florida student-athlete to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Youngblood is also a member of Florida’s Ring of Honor, the College Football Hall of Fame and the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. He has as accomplished of a career as any player who has put on the orange and blue of the Gators after being named first-team All-SEC and All-America in 1970 and also being selected as the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft.

Youngblood went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and be selected as a first-team All-Pro five times while also winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1975-76) and the Los Angeles RamsMost Value Player award three times (1975-76, 1979). He played in five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl and had his No. 85 retired by St. Louis prior to being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 2001.

Since retiring for the game of football, Youngblood has done some acting work, served as an analyst with numerous media outlets, and co-hosted Wal-Mart’s Great Outdoors program, which used to air on ESPN on Saturday mornings. He also wrote a biography, has held a number of football administration jobs and continues to work to this day.

OGGOA’s three-part interview with Youngblood covers his college days and professional career while also highlighting some interesting stories and moments in his life and his take on today’s game. This is part three of that interview..

Part I – Youngblood: A career of life-changing moments
Part II – Youngblood: “He doesn’t know how crazy I am.”

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s talk a little bit about the new book. It obviously covers all of the people who have inspired you in your life. Outside of your family and coaches, who would you say is the one person who really lit a fire under you and helped you realize how good of a football player you were or how dominant you could be?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “From a football perspective, I would have to say the number one influence had to be Merlin [Olsen]. The life-changing moment for a young kid coming out of the University of Florida, a defensive linemen drafted into what was left of the Fearsome Foursome – one of the dominant forces in the 60s in the National Football League. When I got there in 1971, two of them had moved on and I was trying to find a way to figure out how I could fit into the picture. I knew that I definitely wasn’t going to play inside, but how do I fit in next to Merlin Olsen? I thought it was going to be a short trip. Merlin certainly was a tremendous influence on helping me understand how you played at that level.”

AS: Some will say that the best story in the book is about one of the scariest moments of your life, when you had a gun in your eye. The trigger was pulled but luckily for you the chamber was empty. Everyone will be reading about that in detail in the book, but how did you get in that situation in the first place and what happened when you heard the click and nothing happened?
JY: “It was really an innocent situation. We were at a club in Logan, Utah one evening just having a quiet beer. I had a buddy with his girlfriend with him and we had work the next morning so we called it early around 9:30 or 10:00 and went to our cars parked out behind the establishment there. I walked out along with one of my old wrestling buddies from Idaho. These two guys were hassling one of our friends and the girl. I saw it and walked up and said, ‘What’s the problem here?’ These two little loudmouths kind of turned around and tried to get in my face a little bit. I said, ‘No, no, no. Just go on. Leave these kids alone.” I broke it up. Nothing physical, just stepped in between and said we should go our separate ways. This one guy, he takes off and it’s kind of dark in the place without a whole lot of light but enough. I didn’t think anything of it. The other guy was standing there and I said he should go on and get about his business.

“My buddy had gone ahead of me and he was at the car. He hollered at me, ‘Look out, Jack! He’s got a gun!’ [The gunman] had slipped between two cars and I didn’t see him. He came up behind me, and by the time I was hollered at, he was sticking the gun in the back of my head and when I spun around, it was in my eye. That’s when I heard the snap. At that moment the pain was excruciating. My first thought was that he just put my eye out. The next thing I remember – because you go into a state of shock to a certain degree – was [my friend] Darrell going ‘Don’t kill him Jack! Don’t kill him!’

“I got him by the throat on the hood of a car, and I’ve got the gun. I took the gun away from him and pinned him and do not remember any of that. And then I looked down as I’m over him, I notice that there’s blood gushing on him. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s nasty. That’s my blood.’ I was bleeding all over everything. Fortunately, there again, divine intervention. You don’t catch an empty chamber by chance.”

Read the rest of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!
Continue Reading » Youngblood: “That’s when I heard the snap.”

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Youngblood: A career of life-changing moments

With Saturday being the two-year anniversary of ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive and considering he is releasing a brand new book the very same day, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood sat down with us recently for an exclusive and extensive hour-long interview about his life and career.

Click here to read an OGGOA exclusive excerpt from Because It Was Sunday: The Legend of Jack Youngblood while learning more about the book.

The first University of Florida student-athlete to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Youngblood is also a member of Florida’s Ring of Honor, the College Football Hall of Fame and the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. He has as accomplished of a career as any player who has put on the orange and blue of the Gators after being named first-team All-SEC and All-America in 1970 and also being selected as the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft.

Youngblood went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and be selected as a first-team All-Pro five times while also winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1975-76) and the St. Louis RamsMost Value Player award three times (1975-76, 1979). He played in five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl and had his No. 85 retired by St. Louis prior to being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 2001.

Since retiring for the game of football, Youngblood has done some acting work, served as an analyst with numerous media outlets, and co-hosted Wal-Mart’s Great Outdoors program, which used to air on ESPN on Saturday mornings. He also wrote a biography, has held a number of football administration jobs and continues to work to this day.

OGGOA’s three-part interview with Youngblood covers his college days and professional career while also highlighting some interesting stories and moments in his life.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Coming out of high school in Monticello, FL, you were a lot closer distance-wise to Florida State than Florida. Why did you end up choosing to play for the Gators and how did that recruiting process unfold for you?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “First of all, there was no recruiting process. [Laughing] That’s the crazy part about it. We were 25 miles from Tallahassee and we had a pretty good little football team back in 1966. We won the state championship. You would’ve thought we would’ve had some recruiting going on there. In all honesty, [there was] very little. I had no conscious idea that I was ever going to get an opportunity to play at the next level until Florida came up to me when we were celebrating after the championship game. They asked me if I wanted to come play football for the University of Florida.”

AS: Looking at recruiting as it stands today – with so many evaluation camps, services rating kids and tons of exposure – are you envious of how much attention high school players get or are you happy with how it used to work?
JY: “It’s a totally different world today. Our media contingent is just outrageous. You start tracking kids as they’re in 9th and 10th grade. [Laughing] I guess it’s because it is so expansive that you can do it today whereas in the past, it was a physical job literally.”

AS: Do you think there is a lot more pressure on high school kids these day with such high expectations at a young age? Perhaps they don’t get as much time to develop and become better players without scrutiny from the get-go?
JY: “It does put a tremendous amount of pressure on. A lot of them see an opportunity or think there is an opportunity where they can go and be like one of the ‘idols’ they watch on television and see play on Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t know if it’s going to get larger and larger as we move forward, but it probably will.”

AS: Coming out of high school, you were primarily an offensive lineman and linebacker. When Florida’s coaches wanted to move you to defensive line right away, what did you think about that? How difficult was the transition not only from high school to college but also from linebacker to defensive line?
JY: “First of all, it broke my heart when they told me that I was not going to be the middle linebacker. We had an All-American out of Tampa – Mike Kelly – Kelly was destined to be the middle linebacker. At 6’4” and 200 lbs. by my sophomore year, I had put on about 15 pounds, that’s a little gangly to be trying to play middle linebacker. They decided to put my hand on the ground and see what kind of skills I had there. It was a significant change, there was no question. The toughest part was having to put on muscle and strength so that I could play. I had some of the natural quickness and speed – I could run – but it was the size that was the hindrance. When you line up in front of Jim Yarbrough your first time on the practice field and you line up in front of him during a stand-up defensive end simulation. I got down in a two-point stance in front of Yarbrough and I still had to look up to him. [Laughing] That’s a scary thought.”

Read the rest of part one of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!

Continue Reading » Youngblood: A career of life-changing moments

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