FOUR BITS: Drayton, Hilliard, Dwyer, O’Day

1 » Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, will leave the team to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes as early as next week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has confirmed. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp when he took over the program in early January, Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He will likely coordinate the Buckeyes’ recruiting for the state of Florida, a job held by the team’s preceding wide receivers coach. Drayton was on Florida’s staff when they defeated Ohio State and captured the National Championship in 2006.

UPDATE: UF has released the following statement on Drayton’s status: “Coach Muschamp is on the road recruiting and our coaching staff remains intact at this time.”

2 » Former Gators wide receiver Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran who officially retired last July by signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants, will join the Miami Dolphins as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. 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. He has coached receivers for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL since 2009. Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first title. 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).

3 » Though it is looking more and more like four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) will eventually head elsewhere, he is still considering traveling to Florida for his last official visit (his other choice would be Miami). Either way, Dwyer High School head football coach Jack Daniels isn’t sure Brissett, or four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) – who the Gators are also recruiting heavily – will announce their commitments on or before National Signing Day. “I think at best it’s 50-50,” Daniels told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg. “We are going to sit down [Wednesday], have lunch and talk about it. I don’t think they will be ready. We need to talk about it and try and get a feel for where they are both at.”

Brissett and Maggitt both have Florida and Wisconsin in common as schools they are considering; the former is also weighing offers from Miami and Washington, while the latter has Tennessee vying for his services as well. The goal is for both players to commit on or before Feb. 2, if possible. “I am not going to make them do it if they are not ready but it’s not looking that good,” Daniels said. “When they get back for this weekend’s visits we need to sit down and work it out if we can.”

4 » Former Gators pitcher Darren O’Day has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Texas Rangers. O’Day, a reliever for Texas during their World Series run, posted a 6-2 record with a 2.03 ERA in 2010 and has been with the club since 2009.

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Gators putting full-court press on DT Jernigan

Currently 15 members strong, the Florida Gators 2011 recruiting class is being looked down on because of the commitments that have been lost rather than lauded for those players new head coach Will Muschamp has retained.

While three four-star commitments have departed for what they believe are greener pastures since Muschamp jumped on board, the nation’s top quarterback and a number of other integral players remain dedicated to the Orange and Blue.

Muschamp hopes his group of committed prospects grows significantly in the coming weeks, and it appears he has honed in on four-star defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (Lake City, FL) as his prime target with National Signing Day approaching on Feb 2.

Assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young visited Jernigan in his home during his first day on the job last Friday, and the Gators are doing whatever they can to get him to take one of his final two official visits to Gainesville, FL.

Craig Howard, Jernigan’s head coach at Columbia High School, said Florida is one of three schools vying for the chance to host the player on a visit. Though he will not narrow down his options, reports have Jernigan considering those three schools along with LSU; UF is coming on strong and doing the best they can to get in his ear as of late.

“I would say that Florida is semi back in it,” Howard told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg on Monday. “Coach Muschamp and those guys have done a good job with him.”

The Gators will send Muschamp, Young and defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Quinn to Lake City on Thursday to meet with Jernigan, who is set to announce his commitment live on ESPN at 10 a.m. on National Signing Day, according to Howard.

Jernigan, listed at No. 17 on the ESPNU 150 and No. 29 on the Rivals 100, is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting cycle according to both scouting services. He would be the only player at his position committed to Florida for 2011, though UF did sign prominent five-star DTs Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley in 2010.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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TWO BITS: Weis checks in, Tebow-Fox future

1 » With National Signing Day fast approaching and the Kansas City Chiefs eliminated from the playoffs, new Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is officially on the job as of Friday. Currently in South Florida at Dwyer High School visiting four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) [and possibly four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL), too], Weis plans to set foot in Gainesville, FL this weekend as a number of prominent recruits will be visiting the University of Florida campus. In addition to speaking with recruits, Weis will also be trying to convince redshirt junior QB John Brantley (and perhaps other offensive players) to stick with the Gators and the new coaching staff.

Uncommitted recruits visiting Florida this weekend include five-star LB Curtis Grant (Richmond, VA) and three-star LB Denzel Perryman (Coral Gables, FL).

2 » Though there were concerns about whether or not a new head coach would believe in Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow as his future starter, those questions seem to have been put to rest (at least temporarily) with the hiring of John Fox. In addition Fox speaking highly of Tebow before the 2010 NFL Draft, the Denver Post reports that Tebow is still in his good graces. “He’s got a lot of intangibles I look for,” Fox said Wednesday. “Where that goes it’s hard to predict. He’s in a developmental stage for sure, but I think he has the makings to be as good as he wants to be.” Perhaps even better news for Tebow is that his offensive coordinator last season, Mike McCoy is expected to be retained as he has a long history coaching under Fox. Though he is drawing interest from other teams, McCoy worked with Fox as his QBs coach with the Carolina Panthers from 2003-07 and passing game coordinator in 2008.

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FOUR BITS: early enrollees, Dowling, Outback

1 » Though National Signing Day is nearly a month away, half of the Florida Gators current 2011 commitments have already enrolled at the University of Florida for the spring semester. Five-star quarterback Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL), four-star tight end A.C. Leonard (Jacksonville, FL), four-star running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, FL), four-star athlete/safety De’Ante Saunders (DeLand, FL), four-star wide receiver Javares McRoy (Lakeland, FL), four-star linebacker Clay Burton (Venice, FL), three-star offensive lineman Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT) and kicker/punter Kyle Christy (Brownburg, IN) will all be taking classes at UF by Monday. The Gators have eight more commitments to sign in the first week of February and have more than half a dozen spaces to fill before then.

2 » Five-star 2010 commitment S Jonathan Dowling, who was kicked off the Florida football team in November due to a violation of team rules, recently decided to transfer to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and is petitioning the NCAA for a waiver so he does not have to miss another season. According to the Bradenton Herald, new Gators head coach Will Muschamp “made a last-ditch effort” to get Dowling back on the team but was rebuffed even though the player reportedly passed his first semester of classes.

3 » Some believed that Florida did not necessarily deserve the opportunity to play in the 2011 Outback Bowl due to their regular season performance but apparently the committee knew exactly what they were doing in scheduling them to face the equally underwhelming Penn State Nittany Lions The Outback Bowl drew a 7.6 overnight rating on ABC, up 105 percent from the 2010 contest between Northwestern and Auburn (3.7 on ESPN) and up 171 percent from the 2008 game which featured South Carolina and Iowa (2.8 on ESPN). UF-PSU drew the highest overnight rating for a non-BCS college football bowl game on broadcast television since 2008, according to SportsBusiness Daily, and even out-drew the 2011 Fiesta Bowl later that night (6.7).

4 » Four-star WR Kelvin Benjamin, a long-time Gators target who was scheduled to visit Florida next week after Muschamp initially convinced him to delay his decision, committed to the Florida State Seminoles over the weekend and will no longer take a trip to Gainesville, FL. Benjamin, who was choosing between the big three colleges in Florida, is considered an impressive WR prospect and adds yet another big name to head coach Jimbo Fisher‘s 2011 recruiting class.

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Everyone has a history with Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer. Here’s mine.

I have a history with Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer. No, he never coached me. I don’t know what it was like to play under him, have his performance demands insisted upon me or feel like his approval is the most important thing in the world.

My grades were never judged by him, the type of young man I grew up to be in college was not due to his influence, he never praised me for being a positive member of the community and he didn’t have to punish me for stepping out of line.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how he affected others – guys like Vernell Brown, Tim Tebow, Ahmad Black and Chris Rainey (just to name a few). And that doesn’t mean he had no affect on my life – because he did.

While I run this website impartially and with as little positive bias toward Florida as possible, I do have a handful of my own stories and opinions about Meyer – ones I almost shared just over a year ago when he retired the first time.

RECOGNITION AND A PAT ON THE BACK

Meyer’s tenure at Florida began as my time working in the Sports Information Department at the University Athletic Association was coming to an end. His first season (2005) was my last, and the press conference for his second National Signing Day (2006) was one of the final events I covered for the University of Florida.

The football offices were crazy the week leading up that signing day. Everyone knew the names of the players who had already provided their verbal commitments; everyone had heard how big of a deal it was to reel in Tebow and Percy Harvin. But no one knew more than Meyer – not by a long shot.

Standing, listening, watching and later transcribing Meyer’s words as he officially announced the 2006 signing class, you could tell he was excited. It was my impression that Meyer knew this class had “it,” though it was never in my wildest dreams that they could win a National Championship the following season.

Well, that’s how I felt until I bumped into Meyer at a softball game.

Days after the Gators recruiting class was signed, sealed and delivered, I was working the softball press box. A friend called to tell me she was there, and we met outside to talk for a few moments so I could take a break. Knowing my love for football, she asked me a few questions about this Tebow guy everyone was talking about, and I went on-and-on telling her that he was a special player and the way Meyer spoke about him, he’s the type of player that could win this team a title.

Whether I was speaking at a high volume or he was around me at an opportune time, Meyer saw me walking back to the press box and sidled up next to me. Smiling wide, he said he always saw me running around the offices, asked for my name and said he appreciated how passionately I spoke about the team. He added that with hard work anything was possible, including a national title. A few pleasantries and a pat on the back later, he was off to watch the rest of the game – with his family.

I saw Meyer on-and-off after that at Florida functions or even randomly around town. He remembered my name every time – and always made it a point to say hello.

2009 BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

The 2007 BCS National Championship win was great, but as someone who spent his life growing up in South Florida, having the opportunity to see the Gators play for the title at then-Dolphins Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, was something special.

The game was exciting, it was emotional and the celebration when the clock stopped was seemingly endless. There are sporting events (good and bad) in my life that have made me teary-eyed, very few that have made me cry. I cried tears of joy that night. Not when the players celebrated on the field, not when the trophy was being presented to the team but instead when Meyer stepped down from the podium clutching the crystal football like it was a baby, looked up at the adoring crowd and finally headed off into the tunnel.

Only a day later did I found out that Steve, a close friend of mine, was on the field that night working for FOX Sports. Snapping pictures of everything he could, he happened to be back in the tunnel when Meyer walked through alone. “All right, coach! High five, coach!” Steve exclaimed. Meyer stopped, looked at him, cradled the trophy and gave him a passionate high five as his smile grew even wider.

TREATING FLORIDA LIKE IT WAS HIS FAMILY

Fans, his players, his opponents, his staff and the media respect and have a deep appreciation for what Meyer has achieved on the field. His accomplishments are many but regardless of what he did, Meyer was unable to escape condemnation.

From arrested players to altercations with the media to accusations of being disingenuous, Meyer was harshly criticized whenever the opportunity presented itself. I suppose the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” can be put into play here, but that is not a reason or excuse for how he was treated on a consistent basis.

Looking back on the criticisms tossed his way, all of them appear to stem from the very reason Meyer has decided to leave the Gators – family. Meyer treated every staff member and every player like a member of his extended family. The program he built at Florida preached family values in recruiting, in coaching and in life. He wanted to teach his players to be responsible and accountable – whether that meant posting good grades and donating time to charity or rebounding from unfortunate life mistakes.

When players were arrested under Meyer, his No. 1 priority was not getting the pressure off his back by cutting them lose, it was trying to rehabilitate them and giving them an opportunity bounce back – using football as a reward. When he felt a player of his was unfairly portrayed by a media member, he (over)reacted harshly because in his eyes it was like a family member was being attacked. And when he chose not to throw his coaches under the bus this season when many of them share in the blame for a lackluster finale to his career at Florida, he was protecting the family he built.

From close and from afar, I have always felt like a part of that family. Meyer was not just the reason the football team has been successful over the last few years, he was and remains integral in the growth and enduring strength of the Gator Nation.

Family is not something that is recently becoming important to Meyer – it always has been. The difference is that he is finally comfortable realizing which family needs his attention the most right now – and it’s not the one wearing orange and blue.

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Top recruit Brad Beal signs LOI with Florida

Five-star shooting guard recruit Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) officially committed to play basketball for the Florida Gators on Wednesday, signing his letter of intent with the University of Florida on National Signing Day. He is the sole member of the Gators’ 2011 signing class.

Beal, who is considered by most analysts to be the best pure shooter in the 2011 recruiting cycle, is an impact player with a high basketball IQ, good ball handling skills and impressive defensive abilities. He has even drawn comparisons to Ray Allen.

“Clearly, I feel like we signed one of the best guards in the country,” head coach Billy Donovan said Wednesday. “We’re extremely excited about adding Brad, we believe he’s a special player and a winner, and excited that he’s going to be a part of our program.”

ESPNU, Scout and Rivals all have Beal ranked as the No. 7 overall recruit in the country. At 6’3” and 180 lbs., he could very well play right away for Florida and be part of a starting backcourt with sophomore SG Kenny Boynton and redshirt junior G Mike Rosario next season that could be the nation’s best.

Beal is the second player from Chaminade College Prep School to play for the Gators, following in the footsteps of current NBA All-Star forward/center David Lee of the Golden State Warriors, who spent four successful years with Florida.

Photo Credit: Wiley Price/The St. Louis American

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8/18: Florida Gators 2010 fall practice updates

The 2010 version of the Florida Gators is in the midst of their second week of fall practice and, while the activities were once again closed to both the media and public, some notable things did occur Tuesday. OGGOA has compiled some of the key details.

STARTING OFFENSIVE LINE SET?

Stringing together an announcement from offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Addazio that senior center Mike Pouncey, redshirt senior tackle Marcus Gilbert, and redshirt senior guards Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt have all earned starting jobs on the OL with one from Pouncey stating that sophomore Xavier Nixon has won the starting left tackle job, the Gators front five may finally be set in stone. Nixon was competing with redshirt sophomore Matt Patchan for the role, even though the former started five games for Florida last season. It is important to note that there are sentiments that Nixon has yet to officially win his gig and redshirt junior G James Wilson may have the opportunity to beat out Hurt.

BROWN LOSES BLACK

Freshman running back Mack Brown became the 11th frosh to lose his black helmet stripe, getting it removed on Wednesday with the help of Pouncey. There are 15 more – notably defensive end Ronald Powell – still awaiting this ritual.

A few of you have asked me via Twitter (@onlygators) what exactly the “black stripe” is and what it means when it is removed. Here is a quick synopsis: As freshmen (or transfers), players have black stripes of tape placed on their helmets (front-to-back) indicating that they are new to the program; these are removed once each individual player proves that they deserve to be a Gator. This can occur by recommendation of a coach or fellow player. Head coach Urban Meyer spoke about it Tuesday: “It’s basically to de-recruit, to get rid of the nonsense, to make them understand that they’re not an outstanding freshman. They’re just another guy on the team trying to make their way. […] They walk up in front of the team, either in a team meeting or on the field and the young man stands up and sometimes gets very emotional because now he’s a Gator. His helmet’s like everybody else. It’s kind of cool.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE

After being monitored the last few practices while recovering from a hamstring injury, freshman wide receiver Chris Dunkley is back running at full speed, according to WR coach Zach Azzanni. However, perhaps contrary to what many expected coming out of National Signing Day, all indications are that freshman WR Quinton Dunbar is the more impressive and making the best case for playing time.

In other WR news… redshirt senior Carl Moore clarified to the media on Wednesday that, when he left practice for a few days in the spring, he was not considering leaving the team but was simply dealing with some personal issues. Since returning, Moore has solidified his spot as a starter and – like redshirt junior Deonte Thompson – is making strides every day during practice.

OTHER NOTES

» Redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins is inching closer and closer each day to winning the starting role in the middle.

» Redshirt sophomore DE Earl Okine has been working at tight end the last few practices, according to Addazio. In fact, his position appears to have officially switched if you look at hiss GatorZone.com profile. Okine took limited snaps at TE in high school, catching 15 passes his senior year to go along with his 84 tackles and 11 sacks as a DE.

QUOTES [After the break…]
Continue Reading » 8/18: Florida Gators 2010 fall practice updates

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TWO BITS: Young, Gardner, eye black, Henderson

1 » Florida Gators four-star power forward commitment Patric Young (Jacksonville, FL) is drawing rave reviews from coaches and fellow players as he works with the USA Basketball Men’s U-18 National Team in preparation for the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Men from June 26-30. “He’s playing really, really well,” team assistant and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt told ESPN‘s Andy Katz earlier this week. “He’s making plays, rebounding and running the floor well. Offensively, he’s looking good. He gives tremendous effort every time – great effort –and he’ll help Florida even if he doesn’t score a ton of buckets. He’s going to help them. He’ll defend, set screens and do all those things without scoring points.”

2 » After a career including 13 NCAA Tournament berths coming as a player, graduate assistant and coach, Gators women’s basketball assistant Susie Gardner is expected to be named the head coach of the Mercer Bears at a 3 p.m. press conference Thursday. Gardner, who has spent the last three seasons with Florida, has been in the Southeastern Conference for 13 years of her 24-year coaching career including stints as head coach at Arkansas and as an assistant and player at Georgia.

3 » With the statues of former Gators quarterback and Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel and Steve Spurrier going up outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium next year, fans have been asking one relatively interesting question: Will Tebow’s statue feature a signature eye black message? The Gainesville Sun attempted to get this question definitively answered but found a non-committal response instead. The statue’s artist, W. Stanley “Sandy” Proctor, has already completed Tebow’s statue – which includes blank eye black. However, his business manager said that he would be happy to add a message if the University of Florida requested it. Associate athletics director Chip Howard was a bit more clear, saying he was “not sure if [a message] will show up well so you can read [it], but we continue to work on the statue […] to make [it] as real as possible.”

4 » Five-star offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson (Minneapolis, MN), the top recruit in the country in 2010 who committed to the USC Trojans on National Signing Day, is apparently mulling his future with the team, according to reports. Henderson, who chose USC over Miami, Ohio State, Florida and Minnesota, was allegedly promised by Kiffin that the Trojans would not suffer any major sanctions from the NCAA. USC coaches (including Kiffin) flew out in a private jet to visit Henderson last week with hopes to keep his commitment, but he recently told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he didn’t “want to talk about that,” when asked whether or not he was remaining with the program.

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