FOUR BITS: Meyer, Merklein, Harvin, Miami

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for a question-and-answer session with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler (believe it or not) that was published on Friday. In the piece, he mentions the Florida Gators on a few occasions, the highlights of which are below. Check out the other topics by clicking here.

On why ‘no question’ he would still be at Florida if health issues never surfaced
“I realized not too long after [around February 2011]. I called Jeremy [Foley] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ Once I felt like everything was under control, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ I just told Jeremy as a friend in conversation. The talk was more about one day getting back into it. He was very supportive. Then I started at ESPN and had a ball with that, but is that enough? Is that what I was called to do? I planned to take more than a year [off] though.”

On regrets for the way his Florida tenure ended
“I didn’t at first. I thought we did a good job. We did our best. I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I’ve always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way, do it ethically and for the best interest of the student-athlete — check, check, check. I’ll always be associated with the school, and my great friends are there and all that. Absolutely none with that. It just wasn’t a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit.”

2 » Florida brought back a huge name in Gators tennis on Friday when the school announced that Mark Merklein has returned to the program as an assistant coach with the men’s team. Merklein, a two-time national champion (doubles in 1993, singles in 1994) and the 1994 SEC Player of the Year, earned four All-American nominations and three All-SEC nods while at Florida and was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. Considered by many to be the best men’s tennis player in school history, Merklein wound up competing as a professional for 12 years and even serving as a volunteer assistant for the Gators from 1998-2002 while he was on the tour. He was the head coach of the USTA Player Development Center for six seasons (2006-11) before being hired by Michigan as an assistant coach for the past two years (2012-13). “When I left I even said to everyone, including Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, that it was a goal of mine to one day come back and coach and win national championships,” Merklein said in a school release. “I’ve said it so much now, it’s time to actually do it and put the work in. I’m excited to do that alongside [head coach Bryan Shelton].”

3 » Wide receiver Percy Harvin has only been employed by the Seattle Seahawks for a few weeks now, but he is already turning heads at the team’s facility. According to The Seattle Times, Harvin’s teammates and coaches have already begun taking notice, and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson is ecstatic about the potential of Seattle’s offense this season. “His talent level is unbelievable, off the charts,” said Wilson of Harvin. “He brings an explosive mentality to the game, which a lot of our guys already have. But to have him is truly tremendous. He’s a guy that’s been one of the best football players in the National Football League for the past several years.” Harvin also told the paper that he expect to play some running back on occasion and will likely be back for kickoff returns.

4 » ESPN’s decision to kick-off Florida second football game of the season, on the road against the Miami Hurricanes, at noon has caused quite a stir amongst fans over the past 24 hours. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off on Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, FL at Sun Life Stadium in a game which everyone involved assumed would be played at night, likely at 8 p.m. Instead, Florida-Miami will take place under the extreme heat of the South Florida sun with kickoff just after noon, earlier than any UF-UM game has been played since at least 1987. The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro did some digging to learn why ESPN chose that time slot.

According to the network, ABC will be airing a NASCAR race at 8 p.m. while ESPN is broadcasting Notre Dame-Michigan. The 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC will be used for regional games (those in Florida will see Oregon at Virginia). Hurricanes AD Blake James apparently tweeted that Miami “requested and lobbied” for the 8 p.m. slot, while ESPN spokesman Mike Humes pointed out that the network values its noon window. “We average probably around three million viewers for that time slot. So it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put the worst game on at noon.’ The noon window does really well with fans,” he said. “We view this as a great matchup. Scheduling games is like putting together different puzzles with different time zones and commitments, and this was the best window.”

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Nat Moore: “I’m a Gator…that’s my No. 1 love.”

The Miami Dolphins will be hosting a special Gator Day celebration on Sunday to honor the 2008 national champion Florida Gators football team that won the 2009 BCS Championship 24-14 over the Oklahoma Sooners on Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami Gardens, FL. To commemorate the occasion, OGGOA sat down with Dolphins vice president Nat Moore, who had much to do with setting up this unique celebration.

Moore played for the Gators and head coach Doug Dickey from 1972-73 after transferring from a junior college. He played running back for two years and earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference as well as honorable mention All-American awards in 1972 after running 145 times for 845 yards with nine touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 351 yards and four more scores. A Gator Great who was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, Moore earned his degree from Florida two years after entering the NFL.

After the 1973 season, Moore was selected by Miami with the No. 78 overall pick in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft. He joined a Dolphins team coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl wins including the perfect season of 1972. Miami moved Moore to wide receiver, and he rewarded them with a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro season in 1977, when he hauled in a league-high 12 touchdowns. Moore retired from football after spending his entire 13-year career with Miami. He broke nearly ever Dolphins receiving record at the time of his retirement, concluding his career with 510 catches for 7,547 yards and 74 touchdowns and earning him a spot in the team’s Honor Roll.

Since retiring from football, Moore has been involved in a variety of activities. He serves as a vice president with Miami, runs the Nat Moore Foundation and at one point was a broadcaster with Sun Sports for Gators football. He now does preseason broadcast work with the Dolphins in addition to his other duties.

OGOGA had the opportunity to speak to Moore for a half hour about his time at Florida, experience in the NFL, idea for a celebration of the Gators and opinions about some players he has come across throughout his career as a broadcaster.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: What was it that led you to the University of Florida considering you were born in Tallahassee and went to high school in Miami?
NAT MOORE: “As a kid growing up in Miami, I felt like I really wanted to get away to focus on my studies and have less distractions. You go to Gainesville and basically you’re there for two things. One – to get a good and solid education, and two – a chance to develop your craft in whatever athletic endeavor it is. For me, it gave me a chance where all my friends would be new friends unless they were up there from Miami or Tallahassee. It was close enough that I wasn’t too far away from home if I got homesick. It was a university that my basketball coach in junior college had played baseball with Doug Dickey, so that was the entry into attending the University of Florida. It was always the right place for me, and they were an up-and-coming program in the SEC.”

Read the rest of our interview with Nat Moore…after the break!
Continue Reading » Nat Moore: “I’m a Gator…that’s my No. 1 love.”

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UF coaches say winning starts with mental prep

If there is one thing Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan understands, it is the pressure of high expectations regardless of the age of your players.

Coming off of consecutive national championships in 2006-07, Donovan was faced with a young squad of up-and-comers who were expected to pick up where the Oh Fours left off. While his players had confidence and held those same expectations, there were plenty of factors working against them in addition to their inexperience.

“Players, when they’re young, they look at a program or a school or a team and think, ‘If I go there, this is going to happen for me.’ They don’t understand the commitment and the understanding of what goes into it,” Donovan explained on Monday. “When young guys are playing, it’s not just a guarantee that guys understand how to win.

“It takes time to do that.”

It all starts with understanding how to win at the collegiate level, something Donovan related to what the football team is going through right now after three-straight losses.

“Young players have to go through that to understand what goes into winning. There’s a process. You don’t just go in and just win,” he continued. “No one is immune from it. Everyone has to go through it. It just doesn’t happen because you’re ‘at Florida.’

“‘Because we’re at Florida, we’re going to win.’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s the beauty of competing – there are ingredients that go into practice habits, preparation, the mental part of the game, chemistry, covering for each other, knowing when it gets really hard how to handle adversity. A lot of times, when these guys are young, it’s the first time these guys have gone through adversity.”

Adversity is exactly what the football team has been faced with recently, and head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday agreed with Donovan’s assessment that it all starts with gaining an advantage in the mental aspect of the game.

“I talked to Brian Orakpo this summer, a guy I coached at Texas,” Muschamp said. “He was an All-Pro his rookie year. I asked him, I said, ‘Being an All-Pro as a rookie is very difficult. How did you do that?’ He said, ‘Will, everybody I play against is as good as I am. I watch 30 more minutes of film. I stay on the field 25-30 more minutes after practice.’ He’s gaining the mental edge of what it takes to be successful.”

Muschamp has been trying to explain to his team how important that factor is for winning for months, but he notes that the inability for some young players to understand that from the start may be due to how much success they saw in high school.

“That’s what’s hard, especially with the way recruiting is nowadays,” he said. “Young men have an inflated opinion about where they are as a player. So when they come in, they don’t understand what Billy referred to as the process it takes to be a good player. What is that process? The mental preparation. The physical attributes may be the same as the guy you’re lined up against. What’s going to be the difference at the end of the day? The mental preparation, the mental edge, the mental belief in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. And that’s called ‘discipline.’

“There’s no question that young players that generally mature quicker are players that understand what it takes to be successful and understand that it’s not just about what happens on the field. It’s about what happens in the classroom. It’s about what happens in the meeting rooms. It’s about what happens in the weight rooms. And they continue to advance their professional career the right way off the field not necessarily what you’re doing on the field. There’s no question that’s a huge growing process. Generally the ones that play as freshmen and contribute and play a lot and play well are the ones who are mature enough to understand what it takes.”

That’s not to say Florida’s mental preparation is lacking in all areas, but it certainly needs to improve. Another thing the Gators have to fix is the team’s health, something Donovan said has undoubtedly cost them some victories thus far in the season.

“The other thing with the football situation just to me on the outside looking in – and I know nothing about football,” Donovan joked, “it is very clear that if you take a team’s starting quarterback and starting tailback away and replace them with a freshman quarterback…that would be like taking Erving Walker and Patric Young out of our team and expecting to be really good. That would be an incredible blow to our team.”

Muschamp, who has refused to use injuries as an excuse because they happen every year in one way or another, did admit Tuesday that he does not think Florida has a long ways to go in order to step up their game to the next level.

“We’re not that far away. I really don’t believe that. I just don’t. I think the biggest issue we have as much s anything is depth right now,” he said. “In this profession, something that has held true for me is that it’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. It’s somewhere in between. I don’t think we’re far off – I don’t. I don’t believe that. I think we’ve got good players in this program.

“I think we’ve got some depth issues we have to work through because that helps competition. It’s different when you got a guy standing behind you that’s ready to take your job. Right now, quite frankly, at some positions we don’t have that. That gets better play – it gets more consistent play.”

Considering the Gators have half as many upperclassmen (19 seniors, 16 juniors) on the roster as they do underclassmen (34 sophomores, 33 freshmen), depth is looking like something Florida may find very shortly with another solid recruiting class or two.

How those future Gators prepare mentally to be part of a winning football team is what remains to be seen.

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Tim Tebow named Denver Broncos starting QB

The Denver Broncos confirmed Tuesday that Tim Tebow will take over as starting quarterback on Oct. 23 against the Miami Dolphins following the team’s bye week.

At 1-4 on the season and with Tebow nearly leading a comeback after entering the game as a reserve last Sunday, Denver had little choice in the matter.

Though head coach John Fox believed Kyle Orton – not Tebow – gave the Broncos the best chance to win at the beginning of the season, he decided to turn to his backup at this time because Denver will have two practices during the bye in which to install new plays before preparing for their game at Miami next week.

Tebow started the final three games of the 2010 season, leading the Broncos to a 1-2 record that included a come-from-behind victory against Houston and a near duplication of that performance vs. San Diego. He completed 49.3 percent of his passes for 217 yards passing in those games and rushed for 66.3 yards per contest.

Accounting for seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his 2010 starts, Tebow had four more in a reserve role. He has scored at least one rushing and passing touchdown in all five NFL games in which he has touched the ball at least three times.

With Denver down 13 points to San Diego at the half on Sunday, Tebow took over in the third quarter and attempted to rally his team from behind. He scored two touchdowns (one rushing) in three minutes, brought the Broncos within two points (a conversion attempt to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was dropped) and drove the ball 51 yards down the field with 24 seconds remaining before a hail mary attempt fell incomplete.

The fact that Tebow will start his first game of the 2011 season against the Dolphins is an interesting one. Miami attempted to trade for Orton in the offseason but was unsuccessful, a move that likely would have led to Tebow starting from week one.

The Dolphins will also be hosting a celebration for the Florida Gators 2009 BCS National Championship team on Oct. 23 as a promotion to reach out to the largest alumni base of South Florida. There will be a special on-field ceremony at halftime with former head coach Urban Meyer and past Gators players in attendance.

Broncos fans can now set their clocks because it’s Tebow time in Denver.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger

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Siler, Harvey with new teams on one-year deals

Two members of the Florida Gators defense that helped bring home the 2006 National Championship, linebacker Brandon Siler and defensive end Derrick Harvey found homes with new NFL teams on Monday.

Siler – a seventh-round draft of the San Diego Chargers who amassed 123 tackles, three sacks, a safety and two interceptions in four seasons with the team – was allowed to walk as a free agent and agreed to a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Though he played in 58 games over four years, Siler did not get his first chance to start for San Diego until 2009. He had started 12 of 28 games over the last two seasons for the Chargers, but the team decided to let him seek greener pastures in the offseason.

On the other side of the fence, Harvey was the No. 8 overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and struggled in three years with the club. After amassing 3.5 sacks in nine starts over 16 games as a rookie, Harvey started every game in 2009 but only managed to total 57 tackles and two sacks. He has registered 88 tackles in three seasons along with eight sacks and one interception.

Harvey was cut by Jacksonville last week and decided to join a rebuilding Denver Broncos team. Quarterback Tim Tebow was already on the club as a holdover from last season, and linebacker A.J. Jones was picked up as an undrafted free agent one week ago. The team recently traded wide receiver Jabar Gaffney but decided to bring back defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, signing him to a contract on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Scott Boehm

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FOUR BITS: Directors’ Cup, USA, Young, Brewer

1 » The University of Florida athletic program finished no. 4 in the nation in the 2010-11 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. Thirteen Florida Gators programs finished in the top 10 of their respective sport nationally including women’s tennis (No. 1), men’s indoor track & field (No. 1), baseball (No. 2), softball (No. 2), men’s outdoor track & field (No. 3), men’s basketball (No. 5), men’s swimming & diving (No. 5), lacrosse (No. 5), gymnastics (No. 7), women’s swimming & diving (No. 7), men’s tennis (No. 9), volleyball (No. 9), women’s golf (No. 10). It is the third-straight year that the Gators have finished in the top four in the Cup’s final rankings.

2 » Competing with the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Championship Team, Florida center Patric Young had some difficulties in the preliminary round of the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships against Egypt. Though Team USA won 115-60, Young only went 2-of-4 from the field for five points with eight rebounds in 14 minutes. Young played much better on Friday, posting 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting with seven boards in 18:30 as Team USA came back to top Serbia 80-78.

3 » Speaking of Young, he and head coach Billy Donovan mentioned a few times last season that he had to overcome some attitude issues during the first half off the year; once doing so, he felt much better about himself and his spot on the team. Young opened up even more about this to ESPN’s Diamond Leung, who spoke with him recently. “When you hear it over and over … if 500 people came in and told you you’re the best writer in the world, you’re going to start believing it, right?” he said. “You’re going to be the next best thing. You’re going to be one-and-done. You should be starting over Vernon Macklin. You should play 30-35 minutes a game. People say stuff like that. I was so mentally blocked that I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong and how it was hurting my team, and coaches had to sit me down and break that down for me, and I understood from that point on forward.”

4 » Dallas Mavericks guard Corey Brewer will be making his triumphant return to Gainesville, FL…for at least three days this summer. Brewer, a member of the Gators’ back-to-back men’s basketball NCAA National Championship teams, will host The Back 2 Back Youth Basketball Camp powered by Five Star Basketball in Gainesville, FL, from July 26-28. Brewer will donate all proceeds to Shands Children’s Hospital at UF and the “Corey Brewer Fight Diabetes Fund,” both benefiting the school’s medical center. “I had a great time with the kids last year. I am so fortunate to have played basketball at the University of Florida. I always like going back to give back to the community that has given me so much,” he told The Gainesville Sun.

Times: August 1-3 from 9:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Participants: Boys and girls ages 9-18
Activities: Basketball drills, five-on-five games, contests, educational sessions, player evaluations, lectures and much more
Extras: Lunch, T-shirt, photo with Brewer, awards, certificate, etc.
Cost: $150 per camper
More information: http://www.CoreyBrewer.com

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TWO BITS: Brewer wins, track & field falls

1 » Former Florida Gators guard/forward Corey Brewer celebrated mightily Sunday evening as his team, the Dallas Mavericks, captured the 2011 NBA Championship with a 4-2 series win over the Miami Heat. Out partying until all hours of the night, Brewer tweeted around 2 a.m.: “Yeah we are the champs its all said and done and yes to all the haters I can say it I’m a world champion.” He then brought it all together, reminiscing about his days at Florida. “We coming back to dallas with the chip,” he said, “be ready dallas let’s go mavs I love winning 2 national championships now a world.” Brewer, who was signed as a free agent after he was cut by the New York Knicks in a trade at the deadline, has not played a minute of basketball since May 17. He participated in six total playoff games, averaging 3:47 of action in those contests, after many thought he would be a key defender in Dallas’ postseason run.

2 » Faced with the opportunity to capture the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championship on Saturday, the men’s track and field team wound up finishing third in the event after blowing a chance to win the title in the final portion of the meet. Having already lost out on a 100-meter title when junior sprinter Jeff Demps cramped up and failed to qualify for the final heat, the Gators did not finish the 4×100-meter relay and only won a single individual title when junior Christian Taylor defeated fellow junior teammate Will Claye for the triple jump championship with a distance of 17.80m/58-4.75 (+2.3). It all came down to the 4×400-meter relay; if Florida finished in the top-four places in the event, the Gators would take home the title. Instead Florida came in sixth and never had a legitimate shot at winning the race, finishing with 53 points and handing the title over to Texas A&M (55), which stood just in front of Florida State (54).

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C Speights: “If I can get in there, I’ll produce.”

Suffering an early exit from the 2011 NBA Playoffs, former Florida Gators center Marreese Speights and the Philadelphia 76ers are now thinking about next year after being defeated 4-1 by the No. 2-seed Miami Heat.

A reserve on the Florida basketball team that won the 2007 NCAA National Championship, Speights started one season for the Gators (his sophomore year) before declaring for the NBA Draft and eventually being selected by the 76ers with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round. He sat down with OGGOA to discuss his college experience, the tough decision he faced after his second season with the team and what team he thinks will end up taking home the NBA title this year when all is said and done.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Your first year at Florida was obviously an adjustment as there were still a bunch of the upperclassmen holding starting roles. How was it walking into a team with established guys like Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard already getting major minutes?
MARREESE SPEIGHTS: “It was a learning experience because the guys in front of me had already won a championship before I got there. It was a learning experience for me. A year to get better and a year to learn college basketball.”

AS: That team went on to win the National Championship for the second-straight time that year. What was it like playing on such a big stage so early in your career?
MS: “It was a great feeling. It is an opportunity nobody really has. A lot of people don’t really have that opportunity, so it was a great accomplishment for me.”

AS: Before the next season began, head coach Billy Donovan left for the NBA to lead the Orlando Magic only to change his mind and come back a few days later. How hard was that situation to deal with as a player?
MS: “It was hard because at one point we didn’t have no coach. It was a few guys with no coach, and everybody was wondering what was going to happen. But he came back and everything was good.”

AS: Were any of the players worried that he might leave again?
MS: “You could tell he really liked Florida a lot, that’s why he came back. We knew that when he came back he was going to be here for a while. It wasn’t going to be one year; it was going to be long-term.”

AS: The next year you became a starter and took advantage of it. I know Coach Donovan expected that, even as well as you played, you would be back at least one more season. When you first declared for the draft, were you doing it just to check your stock or was it always your plan to leave?
MS: “I was doing it just to check my stock. I really wanted to come back, but I heard the good news and I thought I should take the opportunity while it was there. I had to. It was real hard to tell him that I was going to the draft because I knew if I came back the team would have gotten even better. I had the opportunity, so I had to take it.”

AS: The decision obviously worked out as you were taken in the middle of the first round by Philadelphia. What was that transition to the NBA like? You played a lot of minutes right from the start in your rookie season.
MS: “The transition was kind of cool. I had to get used to travelling, playing against players [I] watched growing up and stuff. But it was a good step.”

AS: You started your second NBA season with a bang but then went down with a MCL injury. How difficult was that for you to deal with?
MS: “It was kind of hard because it kept me out for a long time. It was something I wasn’t used to, so I started working harder to get back there.”

AS: This year your minutes were pretty inconsistent. Some games you played over 20 minutes and others you were only on the court for a few if at all. How tough is that to deal with as a player?
MS: “The first season, I knew I was going to come in and play consistent [minutes]. This year, it was so inconsistent that I never knew how to prepare for the game because I never knew if I was going to get in or not. It was hard for me to prepare myself this year. I might have a good game one game and then come back and play three minutes and then after that DNPs [“do not play” – a designation given by the coach] for three games and then come back and play 15 minutes. It was the whole year – inconsistent. I feel like if I can get in there, I’ll produce. That’s how I’ve been my whole career.”

AS: You played against every team remaining in the playoffs this year. Which has the best chance to win the whole thing?
MS: “Miami. They are really coming together and they’re going to win it. On the court, you can tell how good they really [are], even things you can’t see on TV. It’s just some of the things they do and stuff. The connection they’ve got so early.”

AS: Philadelphia is known as a very critical sports city. What has it been like playing there with the fans?
MS: “It’s a hard place to play at because, if you don’t give them what they want, they’re going to boo you. It’s kind of hard but, this year we were winning, so we got a lot of support. The fans show a lot of support.”

AS: How have your relationships with some of your former teammates and coaches changed and/or developed since you left?
MS: “I talk to Coach [Donovan] all the time. It’s a pretty good relationship. Vernon Macklin, me and him were practically teammates at Hargrave [Military Academy], so we’re really close. I’ve known him for like 5-6 years. I talk to all of them but mostly him. I talked to him [Wednesday] for like 20 minutes about preparing for the [draft] process.”

AS: Looking back on your career at Florida, aside from winning the title as a freshman, what is the one moment you will always remember – either on or off the court?
MS: “Other than the championship, I got a couple. There was a home game my freshman year when we played Alabama. I came down and scored like eight-straight points and we won that game [4-for-4 for eight points in five minutes in the first half]. Then the first-round tournament game against Jackson State. I had a good game there, too [7-for-10 for 16 points with six boards in 10 minutes].

» OGGOA INTERVIEWS:
LB Mike Peterson | PG Taurean Green | QB Tim Tebow | QB Danny Wuerffel | ESPN’s Erin Andrews | ESPN’s Erin Andrews II | DE Alex Brown | WR Percy Harvin | F/C Al Horford | WR David Nelson | QB Shane Matthews | TE Cornelius Ingram | DE Jermaine Cunningham | S Major Wright | LB Earl Everett | DE Justin Trattou | DT Terron Sanders | F/C Chris Richard | DE Lynden Trail

Photo Credits: Associated Press, Unknown

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