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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F/C Chris Richard: “All I can do is give my best.”

Former Florida Gators forward/center Chris Richard is a busy man. Entering his fourth season of playing professional basketball, Richard just returned from summer league action and was in his hometown of Lakeland, FL, when OGGOA caught up with him for an exclusive interview covering his college career, professional future and charitable efforts.

Though he is headed back to Chicago soon to workout and attempt to earn a contract, Richard has been concentrating on getting his foundation, The Rich Kids Project, off the ground.

Designed to help and provide opportunities for underprivileged and at-risk youth in the Polk County area, the organization aims at assisting children financially while, at the same time, ensuring that they are building a foundation for their future. “I want to teach substance and individuality through education, arts and just basic knowledge,” Richard told us. And even though the charity is based in Lakeland, he hopes it can grow big over time – with your help. More information on Richard’s charity will be available in the future.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Coming out of high school as Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida, you chose to sign with the Gators. What other schools were you considering and why did you end up picking Florida?
CHRIS RICHARD: “At the time I came out of high school, I could have went to just about any school in the country. I got recruited by everybody from North Carolina to Maryland to Indiana … all of the Florida schools. I only wanted to go to Florida. Growing up, once I got into basketball and once I got into sports, for whatever reason, Florida just stood out to me. I was a big Florida basketball fan. I grew up kind of liking Florida State and Miami football-wise. I [also] have family that actually lives in Alachua, outside of Gainesville, so going up there every summer – it kind of grew on me. I chose [Florida] over Florida State and Alabama.”

AS: You did get some playing time early on in your Gators career, but last two years is when your role increased. Losing its three top veterans, the team was significantly underrated going into the 2005-06 season. At what point did you guys realize that you had something special going on?
CR: “You know what, honestly, I know it sounds cliché and everybody says it, but once we got together that summer … Everybody went home for summer break and we came back to start working out for the season, and once we got back and started playing with each other, that was our first time playing together without David [Lee], Matt [Walsh] and Peep [Anthony Roberson]. So we never really saw what each person was capable of doing because everybody’s role was a little bit different that previous year. Just coming in and playing pick up, it was just a lot different. And we saw that on any given night that it can be anybody’s night. So we kind of took that and kind of embraced that and thought it was an advantage for us because we knew that we didn’t have any selfishness on the team. So nobody minded playing backseat … everybody just helped each other and kept it going.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Chris Richard…after the break!
Continue Reading » F/C Chris Richard: “All I can do is give my best.”

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Was Smith’s omission purposeful or an accident?

When running back Emmitt Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Florida Gators fans across the country tuned in to cheer on only the second player in school history to receive such an honor. Many were disappointed after the speech concluded and Smith failed to utter a single word of appreciation for the University of Florida, his college coaches, teammates or even the fans.

Plenty has already been written about the situation here from an editorial standpoint, but SPORTSbyBROOKS dived further into the issue Sunday and has concluded that “Smith purposely snubbed Florida and the [2007] Ring of Honor ceremony for one reason. His relationship with Steve Spurrier.”

Spurrier was hired as head coach of the Gators following Smith’s junior year in Gainesville in December, 1989. It was widely reported at the time that Spurrier made only a token attempt to ask Smith to complete his final season of eligibility with the team.

Smith has never forgiven Spurrier for that lack of interest.

From what I’ve been told, that’s also what led to Smith not show for the 2007 UF Ring of Honor ceremony, as Spurrier was also an inductee.

This has long been known as a cause of Smith’s rocky relationship with Florida; however, SPORTSbyBROOKS cites “multiple sources [...] including Florida athletic dept. officials” claiming that this is the exact reasoning for Smith’s purposeful omission.

Countering that argument, however, is former Gator Brady Ackerman, who has been told that Smith not mentioning UF was just an accident. “I just talked to one of my ex-teammates who is with Emmitt. He got off his script and just plain out forgot to mention Florida,” Ackerman wrote via Twitter. “I can guarantee you Emmitt feels bad about it. He will address it tonight in his TV interview.”

Photo Credit: University of Florida

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Florida Gators 2010 Fall Practice Preview

Thursday begins fall practice for the Florida Gators, and the team will be going into the 2010-11 season with more questions than answers for the first time in recent memory. From reserves taking over as starters to freshmen trying to make an impact right away, head coach Urban Meyer and his revamped coaching staff will be taking a close look at each and every player stepping on the field over the next few weeks

OGGOA is here to provide you with a preview of exactly what you should watch for and pay attention to, even though practice is closed to both the media and public.

Check out players who are stepping up, fighting for their jobs and trying to break out, as well as notable freshman who hope to make an impact…after the break!
Continue Reading » Florida Gators 2010 Fall Practice Preview

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WR Ike Hilliard signs with Giants, retires

Former Florida Gators star and 12-year NFL veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard will retire from football Friday after signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career while playing eight seasons for the Giants and four for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He last stepped on the NFL gridiron in 2008 and has since been working as a wide receivers coach with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL.

At Florida, Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first National Championship. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns.

His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

Photo Credit: University of Florida

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FOUR BITS: Haden, Caldwell, Dekkers, Smith

1 » With seven of their eight 2010 NFL Draft picks now under contract, the last thing on the docket for Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren is to sign former Florida Gators cornerback Joe Haden to a deal. Here is what he had to say about the situation at a press conference on Wednesday:

“As far as Haden goes, those of you who have been around this for a long time, the number one picks you just need a domino to go and then it starts to happen. Then it just explodes and happens. We have had good discussions with Joe’s agents and I am hopeful that he will get in without too much loss of time. It’s very important for the young man, I will say that. I get the business part of it, even when I was coaching I did. It frustrated me to a certain extent, but I get it. This is a lot of money, but I also saw and lived through and experienced the importance of this with a lot of athletes. If they wait too long, they miss some really valuable stuff. [...] It’s hard to catch up in most cases. It’s important that he gets in here, but I’m not discouraged. I think we are making progress.”

2 » As draft picks are being signed left and right, the Cincinnati Bengals made a splash Wednesday officially signing veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year contract. Owens’ signing will certainly impact former Gators WR Andre “Bubba” Caldwell, who had been penciled in as the team’s starting slot receiver in 2010. Instead, it looks like veteran Antonio Bryant will hold that role and Caldwell will be fighting for balls as the Bengals’ No. 4 pass catcher. Caldwell said he realizes his playing time will be “diminished” but “maybe not. I’m just going to keep grinding and playing my hardest.” Nevertheless, he has great respect for Owens. “I read his book. I’ve been watching all this time,” Caldwell said. “He’s one of the greatest receivers. […] To be able to learn from him is something I’m really looking forward to.” As far as team chemistry is concerned, Caldwell has no worries. “If Chad [Ochocinco] can’t disrupt this team,” I don’t think T.O. can,” he told the team’s website.

3 » Former Florida thrower Evelien Dekkers, who took home the 2010 NCAA National Championship in women’s javelin, was named the 2010 U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Scholar-Athlete of the Year for Outdoor Women’s Field. Dekkers is the only female in school history to own a national title in javelin and holds a school-record toss of 58.99m/193-6.

4 » Good news came Wednesday for Gators redshirt senior gymnast Maranda Smith, who has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. A four-time All-American, Smith has suffered a stress fracture in her right shin and torn her right labrum in previous seasons. “I’m so grateful that the NCAA granted me another year of eligibility,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to competing with my Gator teammates again and having another chance to compete in front of the O’Connell Center fans is truly a gift.”

Photo Credit: Cleveland Browns

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Gators dazzler, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews: “I really don’t think I’m that big of a deal.”

The last year has been one of ups-and-downs for former Florida Gators dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. From having to deal with an unfathomable episode regarding her privacy to performing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and just recently signing a new two-year deal to remain a featured member of the ESPN broadcast team, Andrews has appeared strong, resilient and unrelenting. On the brink of the greatest undertaking of her career – hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU and joining the cast of Good Morning America – she took time out of her schedule to speak exclusively with OGGOA about her career as a Gators dazzler, recent trials and tribulations, perspective on her own fame and love for the University of Florida.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Growing up in Tampa, was the University of Florida always at the top of your list for college? How did you wind up there?
ERIN ANDREWS: “Growing up in Tampa, there are three schools: Florida State, Miami and Florida. Obviously because Florida was closest to Tampa, Tampa is really like Gator haven. I made the comment one day to my dad, which he’ll never let me live down…because I was such a sports fan growing up, I said to him, ‘Dad, I really want to go to a college that has a good football team.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing to live by Erin. I’m glad that’s what you’re choosing your education by.’ At the time it sounded really stupid, but actually it was kind of funny that it worked out that way because by going to Florida, I knew they had a great journalism program, but also because Florida has such a good football team, we were exposed to TBS, we were exposed to ESPN, we were exposed to all the national sports media coming to the campus to see the team, to see [head coach Steve] Spurrier. That was really good for me to kind of be around that at the time. Actually, that wasn’t a stupid comment.

AS: How much of an influence did your father’s [six-time Emmy Award-winner Steve Andrews] profession have on your major and eventual career?
EA: “My dad played a huge part in it. I grew up with my father being on TV. It just wasn’t a big deal to me. We’d turn on the TV at 6:00 and there was my dad. I grew up at the TV station; I played around on the TV set. So that just wasn’t a big deal – being in front of the camera – because I was so used to [watching] my dad. He was a giant sports fan, so that’s where I got my passion for sports and watching it and becoming familiar with the broadcasters and announcers that I liked – and the athletes. That’s where it all just kind of snowballed. I decided that I wanted to be a broadcaster. I loved the stories with coaches and athletes. I told my dad when I was young, ‘I want to do this for a living.’ He also laughed at me and said, ‘You know, everybody wants to do this for a living.’ I went to Florida, we checked out the journalism school. I really liked it. I just enrolled and it began – the whole process. The first couple years at Florida you don’t really get a taste of your major until probably your junior and senior year – that’s when I was very serious about it.

AS: You obviously spent a good amount of time at Weimer Hall but some of your most exciting times were likely at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. While at Florida, you were famously a member of the Dazzlers for four years. Was that something you had planned on doing from the beginning?
EA: “I grew up dancing my whole life with my little sister [Kendra Andrews]. That was just something I knew that Florida had – a dance team. I loved mine growing up and the experience that I had. I actually auditioned my senior year of high school and didn’t make the team and then went back out my sophomore year and I was on the team my sophomore, junior and senior season[s].”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Erin Andrews…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gators dazzler, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews: “I really don’t think I’m that big of a deal.”

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New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a Florida Gators booster, passes away at 80

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has passed away. He was 80.

Steinbrenner, who will be remembered for leading the Yankees to 11 American League pennants and seven World Series victories as its principal owner, ceded day-to-day control of the team to his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner in 2006 as his health began to fail and he spent more time in Tampa, FL.

Purchasing the team for $8.7 million in 1973, Steinbrenner’s shrewd business acumen, tough decision making and unparalleled demand for success raised the Yankees’ value to over a $1.5 billion at the time of his passing.

He had notable disagreements with the commissioner’s office, fellow owners, managers and even his own players but also made significant and game-changing baseball moves in his career including being the first owner to sell his team’s television rights, turning the Yankees into a worldwide brand, signing free agents like Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Alex Rodriguez, and building the most lavish stadium in baseball history.

Steinbrenner’s son Hal, the franchise’s co-chairperson, general partner and de facto public face who earned a Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida in 1994, is one of the reasons his father decided to become a full-fledged Bull Gator and generous contributor to the Florida Gators program.

Though Steinbrenner did donate the lights at McKethan Stadium to the school in 1977, his largest contribution is the Steinbrenner Band Building, which was made possible by a generous gift commitment (believed to be in the seven-figures) from the family in 2002. Completed in the spring of 2008, it is located adjacent to the Music Building and serves a number of purposes for The Pride of the Sunshine, The University of Florida Fightin’ Gator Marching Band.

He also donated $260,000 in 1989 to help UF build the College of Veterinary Medicine’s large animal hospital and another $400,000 in 2005 which went toward the purchase of an equine imaging machine. Steinbrenner owned stables and horses.

Recently, George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, hosted The Florida Four, a two-game baseball tournament featuring arguably the four best schools in the state including the Gators. It was something Steinbrenner had hoped to see before he passed on, and he had the chance to do just that on March 2.

“As a past collegiate coach, it is George Steinbrenner’s dream to create this event for Tampa,” said Felix Lopez, the Yankees’ senior vice president.

A native of Ohio, the only time Steinbrenner did not root for Florida was during the 2006 BCS National Championship; instead, he cheered on his Ohio State Buckeyes.

“I wish the University of Florida luck in the championship game,” Steinbrenner said at the time, “but I have to say that I’m rooting for Ohio State.”

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