SIX BITS: practice, Leonard, baseball, Spikes

1 » The Florida Gators announced Monday that spring football practice will begin on Wednesday, March 14 and conclude as always with the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 at 1 p.m. Unlike the 2011 season, when all of Florida’s spring practices were closed, the Gators will open two sessions to fans this year on Friday, March 16 (4:25-6:35 p.m.) and Saturday, March 17 (12:55-3:00 p.m.).

2 » Florida freshman tight end A.C. Leonard, arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery on Feb. 15 and indefinitely suspended from the team by head coach Will Muschamp one day later, entered a “not guilty” plea in Alachua County court on Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Being represented by Gainesville, FL attorney Huntley Johnson, Leonard is not allowed to have any contact with the woman he allegedly hurt by judge’s orders and had to find a separate place to live at least until the court makes a final judgment on his case.

3 » No. 1 Gators baseball (3-1) pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory at home on Tuesday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (2-2) 8-6 at McKethan Stadium. Florida threw a trio of freshmen pitchers over the first 6.2 innings, beginning with right-hander Johnny Magliozzi who earned the first start of his career. Magliozzi allowed three earned runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 3.2 and was followed up by left-hander Bobby Poyner and RHP Justin Shafer. The duo gave up three earned runs combined on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts in 3.0 innings. By the time Shafer left the hill, the Gators were down 6-5 after previously having leads of 4-1 through three innings and 4-3 through four innings.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to get Florida on the board, and the Gators rallied in the bottom of the third and fourth as four more runs crossed the plate. Zunino (2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led off the seventh the same way he did the second, with another solo shot to tie the game 6-6. With junior RHP Austin Maddox (1-0) taking over to hold Bethune-Cookman to six runs, Florida again rallied in the eighth and took the lead with a RBI single by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-5). Junior first baseman Brian Johnson (1-4) had a two-RBI night for the Gators, and both senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, RBI, 2 R, BB) and freshman catcher Taylor Gushue (2-5, RBI) knocked in runs on Tuesday.

4 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes underwent surgery on Monday. The Boston Herald reports that the surgery was performed on his right kene and done in order to “clean out some cartilage.” A source told the paper that the procedure “went very well.” Spikes, who returned late in the season after spraining his MCL, was a tremendous contributor for New England on defense in 2011 (when he was on the field).

5 » Florida is attempting to secure a sixth year of collegiate eligibility for offensive lineman James Wilson, ESPN reported on Monday. Wilson, who has broken his foot twice and had four knee surgeries in the last five years, has played in 38 games for the Gators and is talented enough to potentially start for Florida in 2012 if he is able to return. What may hurt his chances at a NCAA waiver is the fact that he played in 11 games in 2011, his redshirt senior season. ESPN notes that the Gators expect to have an answer sooner than later.

6 » North Texas Mean Green head coach and former Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney was released from the hospital on Feb. 16 after suffering a stroke and being rushed to the emergency room four days earlier. McCarney has since returned to work and is expected to continue coaching the team beginning with spring practice in March.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Super Bowl XLVI

Five former Florida Gators were on the rosters of the two teams that participated in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday but only one – New York Giants defensive end Justin Trattou – left Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN with a ring.

Only three former Gators participated in the Super Bowl; Trattou was inactive and another was forced to sit out due to injury. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished Sunday.

Super Bowl XLVI was the 10th consecutive NFL championship game to feature a former Florida player. It is the third time in the last four seasons that one has won a ring.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: 11 tackles [game-high] (eight solo), forced fumble
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: Eight receptions [team-high] for 67 yards (targets: 14, long: 12), touchdown

THE REST
DT GERARD WARREN, New England Patriots: Two tackles (one solo)

INJURED / INACTIVE
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Hamstring (season)
DE JUSTIN TRATTOU*, New York Giants^: Inactive

^ Team won Super Bowl XLVI.
* Rookie

2011 WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | WC | DV | CC

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FOUR Super Bowl XLVI BITS: Spikes, Hernandez, Warren, Cunningham and Trattou

1 » On a lighter note than the story from Thursday about Super Bowl XLVI being a dream come true for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and his mother comes this story about Spikes’s preplanned attire for the occasion. As he did before the 2009 BCS National Championship, Spikes donned his all-pink suit as the team left New England and may very well rock it again on Sunday before the game. “Brought the lucky suit out again!” Spikes tweeted, adding that it is his lucky championship game suit. Below are a handful of pictures Spikes has taken over the weekend while in Indianapolis, IN including two with teammates and fellow former Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.

2 » Spikes is not the only one taking in the special occasion. Hernandez told Katherine Smith, in a special for Florida’s website, that being able to play in the Super Bowl is something he will never forget. “I was with Spikes the other day and we were just sitting there in the car and we were like, ‘Wow, we are really playing in the Super Bowl.’ I know it will really hit me when we walk into the game and all those cameras will be flashing and we’ll notice this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is a dream come true. I never thought I would be in this position or have this experience, but I’ll definitely take it all in and hold this for the rest of my life.” With Rob Gronkowski seeing most of the touches at tight end this year for the Patriots, Hernandez’s role has been altered. Not only does he play a true tight end role, he also splits out as a wide receiver and takes handoffs in the backfield, too. With Gronkowski nursing a high-ankle sprain and undoubtedly limited heading into the contest, Hernandez may be counted on more than ever on Sunday. “You dream of stuff like this since you’re a little kid,” he continued. “You never really actually see yourself in this position because obviously it’s always a dream, but to be here seems surreal. I remember doing the media day in college. I was looking around then just thinking how crazy that was, and now I’m in the Super Bowl and thinking how crazy this is. It’s crazy.”

3 » Lost with Spikes and Hernandez in the spotlight is the path of Warren, an 11-year NFL veteran still searching for his first Super Bowl ring. After being selected with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Warren was labeled a bit of a bust, something that saw him see time in two more stops at Denver and Oakland before finally arriving in New England in 2012. Since joining the Patriots, Warren has been the consummate team player. He’s done the dirty work in the trenches and even began this season off of the team’s roster when the coaching staff promised they would bring him back after veteran contracts were no longer guaranteed. They did. “Gerard has been very professional,” head coach Bill Belichick said of him on Tuesday. “He’s been with us for two years, and his career has had its own path. But I really feel like he’s settled into our team and our program. He’s one of the most respected guys on the team. He works hard. He’s tough. He wants to be on the field. Gerard’s not a big-ego guy. He just wants to do his job and help us, and I have a lot of respect for that. I really do.”

4 » Spikes, Hernandez and Warren may be the big names Florida fans recognize on Sunday but there are two other Gators also involved with the teams competing. Jermaine Cunningham, a linebacker with New England, is out for the season with a hamstring injury and listed on the team’s injured reserve. He did see the field this year but just sparingly. For the New York Giants, rookie defensive end Justin Trattou in on their roster though he has been inactive recently, last seeing action in Week 16. No matter which team wins, a former Florida player will be going home with a ring.

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Sunday a dream come true for Spikes and his mom

For a young kid growing up in certain areas of Shelby, NC, dreams of playing college football – let alone someday in the NFL – can seem entirely impossible.

Throw in the fact that his brother was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole on first-degree murder charges stemming from a drug deal gone wrong in 2001 and many expected Brandon Spikes to go down with the ship.

“There was a lot of negative people who said, you won’t do this, you won’t do that because he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that,” Spikes told USA Today in 2008 about his neighborhood growing up. “You won’t ever get a scholarship, you won’t go to Florida and play as well as you did. My whole career has been about proving people wrong.”

He started on that path during his time in Gainesville, FL with the Florida Gators. Spikes went from five-star recruit and the No. 13 prospect in the nation to a player who looked like he might be underwhelming after the Gators’ defense struggled mightily in 2007.

Months after the season ended, Spikes sat down with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer, shed some tears, and told him he had no choice but to succeed going forward.

“I let him know this is my life. Without this, I don’t know where I would be. Football has been everything. It was my way out; it was my way here,” he said. “I just told him this is what I do. I wake up in the morning and I breathe, and this is the first thing on my mind.”

Spikes became the defense’s leader that season, the parallel to quarterback Tim Tebow and what he did for the Gators’ offense.

His hit on running back Knowshaun Moreno at the start the 2008 Florida-Georgia game is one of the most famous tackles in school history, and it fueled a 49-10 victory that helped propel the Gators to another win in the 2008 SEC Championship over Alabama and eventually to the 2009 BCS Championship.

Spikes promised when leaving for college that he would make his mother proud. His second national title in three years undoubtedly put a smile on her face, but his decision to stay a fourth year and graduate rather than leave early for the NFL likely made that smile grow exponentially wider.

Continue Reading » Sunday a dream come true for Spikes and his mom

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TWO BITS: Hamilton’s commitment, Tebow out

1 » One of two schools vying for the services of five-star defensive end Darius Hamilton (Ramsey, NJ), the Florida Gators were thought to be behind the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in contention for his commitment. The New Jersey boy was expected to stay in-state and play for Rutgers but his thoughts may be in the process of changing when it was reported Thursday morning that the Scarlet Knights’ head coach, Greg Schiano, is on his way to take the same job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hamilton has said that Florida and Rutgers were his final two and planned to make an announcement sometime before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. He was supposed to meet with Schiano on Wednesday, but it is unknown if that visit took place.

Should the Gators miss out on Hamilton and/or five-star athlete Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, GA), Florida could offer a scholarship to three-star DE Junior Gnonkonde (Lakeland, GA). According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, UF has been calling about the former Georgia Tech commitment but will only have room for him in their class if they miss out on one or both of Hamilton and Harvey-Clemons.

2 » Originally scheduled to participate in the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been forced to withdraw from the event due to the multiple injuries he suffered against the New England Patriots in the second round of the NFL Playoffs. Though Tebow does not need surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, he will not be able to participate in the event from Feb. 9-12. An avid golfer, Tebow was undoubtedly looking forward to the event, and the tournament’s directors were certainly hoping he would be able to play as well.

Extra BIT » No. 5 Florida lacrosse will begin its 2012 campaign with an exhibition match Thursday against England at 6:30 p.m. The Gators are looking to build on consecutive impressive years and hope to win their first national championship in the program’s third season of existence.

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SIX BITS: Young, Orr, Horford, Spikes, Donovan

1 » Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to insist he is not too worried about sophomore center Patric Young’s ankle, noting Monday that team doctors have determined he is not in jeopardy of aggravating or worsening the injury though he will “deal with periodically some discomfort and he’s going to have to work his way through that.” “He’s fine right now,” Donovan said. “I don’t expect him to miss practice. He’s not complaining of anything. It could flare up. Patric’s never really I think ever had a sprained ankle. He’s never really dealt with this before so it’s all new to him.” Young himself said that doctors have told him the tendinitis has to do with the lining of his joints and that he does not have any tears or sprains. “It was just from overuse or something like that. It’s just a nagging thing, like a lot of pain whenever I try to just move or walk, lateral movements really affect it,” he said. “I still can’t really jump too well off my right foot and not too well off of two feet. When it comes time for the game, I’m normally ready and it doesn’t really bother me. After a certain level, I have to pass the threshold of pain and then I don’t feel it anymore.” It is unknown whether or not Donovan intends to start Young for the first time in three games on Thursday at Ole Miss.

2 » Gators redshirt freshman defensive tackle Leon Orr, who received a written arrest on Jan. 10 and was given a notice to appear in court for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, has agreed to deferred prosecution with the State Attorney’s Office, according to Florida Today. As a result of the agreement, Orr will pay $50 in court costs and either an additional $150 fine or perform 12.5 hours of community service. Orr was the fifth player to be charged with possession of marijuana since head coach Will Muschamp took over in Jan. 2011. “At the end of the day a mistake was made, and I’ve learned from it,” he tweeted on Jan. 19. Orr played in all 13 games in 2011, registering 10 tackles, a sack and a pass defense.

3 » There is not much to talk about in regards to Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford now that he is out at least until the end of April with a torn labrum. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped an interesting note about Horford in his Friday column, explaining that he is “a likely down-the-road top contender to succeed” Los Angeles Lakers’ point guard Derek Fisher as president of the players’ union two years from now when the latter’s contract expires. Known for his personable yet serious character, Horford is already heavily involved with the league serving as one of the NBA’s biggest international ambassadors. A shift into a role like this would seem natural to many who know him, and Horford himself even tweeted “Maybe…” when a fan asked if he was up for the gig on Jan. 22.

4 » Media shy New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes got on the phone with WEEI radio in Boston, MA following his team’s victory in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Spikes told the hosts that the win was “a dream come true, a childhood dream” and he was “just trying to take it all in right now and enjoy it tonight with my teammates and family.” Missing the majority of the season with a knee injury, Spikes was proud that his late-game interception was able to impact the team. “I don’t want to let nobody down. I want to take my responsibilities and just make a play, and I’ve done that,” he said. There are plenty of Spikes fans in the Patriots organization including owner Robert Kraft, who took the phone and discussed Spikes during the segment (which can be heard in full here). “Do you know how lucky we are to have Brandon Spikes on the team? He’s the man; he’s the man. He told me we were going to win that game and when he made that interception that was so cool,” Kraft beamed. “He told me he was going to do it for Myra [Kraft’s deceased wife]. […] I love having this man on our team.”

5 » Donovan has been quite pleased with guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal all year long, even as the youngster was going through a tough slump toward the end of the non-conference slate. In regards to Boynton, Donovan has seen the notiable improvement in his shot and knows that it will continue to progress and not regress as the season goes on. He’s also pleased that Boynton is driving to the basket, taking pull-up jumpers and getting to the free throw line on a more consistent basis. With Beal, Donovan is happy to see that he has continued his quick maturing process. “When you’re a talented offensive player and when you’re on the court, a lot of times your scoring has a direct [correlation on] the outcome of the game when you’re in high school and your team needs you to score,” he explained. “Sometimes your identity gets wrapped up in scoring. He’s starting to figure out right now that there’s so much more he can do.”

6 » The University of Florida and Gator Boosters, Inc. announced Monday that outfielder Kelsey Bruder (softball) and catcher Mike Zunino (baseball) have been named the 2011 Ben Hill Griffin Award winners. The honor, which is given to “the top male and female student-athletes…is based primarily on athletic achievement” but academics and extra-curricular activities are also considered. Bruder and Zunino were each named SEC Player of the Year in 2011 and led their teams to the 2011 NCAA College World Series in their respective sports. It was the first time in school history that Florida had SEC Players of the Year in softball and baseball simultaneously.

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FOUR BITS: Young, Joyer, Spikes, Williams

1 » Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan confirmed to UF’s Chris Harry on Thursday that sophomore center Patric Young will indeed be playing Saturday against LSU though he does not know if he will be in the starting lineup for the game. Harry also caught up with Young, who said his ankle tendinitis hurt so much that “when it was hurting the worst, I really couldn’t jump off two feet.” He knows that he can impact his team even if not on the court. “You can be a vocal and encouraging presence for your teammates,” he said. Florida’s trainer Dave Werner, asked by Harry about Young’s injury, said that it is going to be “a discomfort that he’s going to need to play through [so he] might as well get used to it.”

2 » UF’s Scott Carter dropped a tidbit about a football player Friday, noting that Gators freshman fullback Hunter Joyer will compete in his first collegiate track and field meet on Sunday. Joyer will participate in the shot put at the Gator Invite in Gainesville, FL. He is one of three Florida football players who will do double duty with the track and field squad this year as senior running back/junior sprinter Jeff Demps and redshirt junior wide receiver/senior jumper Frankie Hammond, Jr. will also participate.

3 » Greg Cosell of NFL Films recently spoke with the Boston Globe and gave his opinions about a number of players on the New England Patriots. He called linebacker Brandon Spikes “arguably the most physical and violent inside linebacker” in the NFL and believes his return to the field recently is a big boost for New England’s defense. Spikes was criticized out of Florida for his speed and many assumed he would not be drafted until the fourth or fifth round, but head coach Bill Belichick recognized his talent and selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the No. 62 overall pick.

4 » The Gators were supposed to have seven enrollees join the team in January but instead just six of Florida’s 2012 commitments were able to join the squad on time. Three-star defensive end Quinteze Williams (Tyrone, GA) had his admission delayed as he waited to see if the NCAA Clearinghouse would accept his early graduation. The organization recently denied him the ability to enroll early and ruled that he must retake three classes in order to get better grades. UF still expects him to be part of the 2012 class and join the program in the summer.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Divisional Rd.

With the 2011 regular season complete, six former Florida Gators participated in Divisional action during the second round of the 2011-12 NFL Playoffs on Saturday and Sunday.

A total of nine former Florida players were on the main rosters of four of the eight teams that participated in this round, but two were inactive and one was forced to sit out due to injury. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished over the weekend.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots^: Four receptions for 55 yards, touchdown (targets: 6, long: 20); five carries for 61 yards (long: 43); solo tackle

Continue Reading » Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Divisional Rd.

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