FOUR BITS: Cunningham, Gilbert, volley, Quinn

1 » New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating its performance-enhancing substances policy. The substance Cunningham used was not disclosed and it is currently unknown if he already filed or plans to file an appeal. Cunningham is the fourth former Florida Gators defender to receive a four-game suspension for PEDs since 2010. New England linebacker Brandon Spikes (2010), Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (2012) and New York Giants safety Will Hill (2012) have missed four games each. All three claimed their positive tests resulted from an ingredient contained in ADHD medication like Adderall. Cunningham would be eligible to return in the playoffs.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert is one of four former Gators on his team and one of three Florida offensive linemen that got injured this season. Unfortunately for Gilbert, while center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Max Starks were able to return to action, he has been sidelined since Week 6 with an ankle injury and was officially placed on the team’s injured reserve on Monday. He is the third former Gators player to be knocked out for the season with an injury, joining Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson (ACL) and Patriots running back Jeff Demps (leg).

3 » Following in the footsteps of the soccer program, which cleaned up at the Southeastern Conference‘s annual awards announcement, Florida volleyball matched the program with three major awards and a number of placement on the All-SEC teams. Junior middle back Chloe Mann captured SEC Player of the Year honors, outside hitter Ziva Recek brought home SEC Freshman of the Year honors and Mary Wise was named SEC Coach of the Year for the 13th time. The Gators note that “this is the first time since 2000 and second time in program history for Florida” to win all three awards. Mann is the 17th player in team history to win Player of the Year, and Recek is the fourth UF freshman to be honored by the league in that capacity. Also honored Monday were junior setter Taylor Brauneis and senior right-side Tangerine Wiggs, who joined Mann and Recek on the All-SEC first team; senior MB Betsey Smith on the All-SEC second team; and Recek again on the All-Freshman team.

4 » Three members of the Gators football team have been named finalists for yearly national awards. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis is one of three finalists (Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, Tulane’s Cairo Santos) for the 2012 Lou Groza Award and sophomore punter Kyle Christy is one of three finalists (Louisiana Tech’s Ray Allen, Ball State’s Scott Kovanda) for the Ray Guy Award, both of which will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. live on ESPN.

Joining them is defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who is one of five finalists for the 2012 Broyles Award, which is presented to the top assistant college football coach in the nation. The other finalists are Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Notre Dame DC Bob Diaco, Texas A&M OC Kliff Kingsbury and Stanford DC Derek Mason. Quinn has UF’s defense ranked top-15 in the nation in pass efficiency defense (No. 1), scoring defense (No. 3), yards per play (No. 3), yards per attempt (No. 4), third-down defense (No. 5), rush defense (No. 6), interceptions (No. 6), yards per rush (No. 7), red zone touchdowns (No. 13) and red zone defense (No. 15).

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Will Hill third former Florida Gators player to receive NFL suspension for ADHD medication

In the middle of what could only have been considered an epic career turnaround, New York Giants safety Will Hill learned Monday that he has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Hill released an official statement immediately following the NFL’s announcement explaining that the suspension is for using Adderall, a drug used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that was prescribed to him by a doctor before he was picked up by New York as an undrafted free agent this summer.

“I received a doctor’s prescription for Adderall prior to signing with the Giants. Shortly after signing with the team, I was in a meeting with [director of player development] Charles Way, who reviewed the list of the league’s banned substances. I knew at that point that this may be an issue. I was tested and the results came back that Adderall was in my system. I appealed but lost the appeal. I accept full responsibility for this situation, and it won’t happen again. The Giants have given me a great opportunity when nobody else would, and I don’t take that for granted. I feel badly this has happened. I will work hard and stay in great shape these next four weeks so I can come back and contribute to this team after my suspension.”

Hill was undrafted after leaving the Florida Gators as a junior in 2011 due to a combination of immaturity and his use of illegal drugs, namely marijuana. He went a long way to fixing that negative reputation over the last year and was signed by the Giants after wowing the team with his character off the field and ability on the field.

Ironically enough, Hill’s suspension comes on the same day that fellow former Florida defensive back Joe Haden, now a member of the Cleveland Browns, completed his four-game suspension for using the same substance.

Haden was found with Adderall in his system during a preseason test but unlike Hill never had a prescription for the drug. He allegedly used it as an upper during an offseason vacation in Las Vegas, NV.

“I would like to apologize to my fans, Haden Nation, the Cleveland Browns organization, front office, all the coaches. I hurt a lot of people. I hurt myself for sure. But I hurt a lot of people with the decision I made, and I just want everybody to know that I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he said Monday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “There’s no script. Nobody told me what to say. I just feel that and I want everybody to know that it was a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes, but my mistake happened to hurt a lot more people than I thought.”

Haden and Hill join New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes as three former Gators that have received NFL suspensions over the last three years for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substance. Spikes was suspended for the final four games of his rookie season in 2010 after testing positive for an ingredient that was contained in his ADHD medication.

Hill will be eligible to return to New York’s active roster on Nov. 5.

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TWO BITS: Hill’s turnaround, Taylor’s honor

1 » Life has been tough for former Florida Gators safety Will Hill ever since he left the team as a junior and declared for the 2011 NFL Draft. After going undrafted and not even receiving a sniff as a free agent, Hill spent most of the last year turning his life around and focusing on football. A new feature story by the New York Daily News details Hill’s turnaround, focusing on how he has changed both on the field (paying attention, concentrating on getting better) and off the field (no longer using drugs, being responsible). “I can’t just live carefree,” he told the paper. “I got worries now. My kids, these responsibilities. You have your fun, but it’s time for responsibility.” Signing with the New York Giants this offseason, Hill not only made the team but has impressed early and is already seeing extensive playing time. He has registered seven tackles (six solo) and a pass defense through four games already this season.

2 » Former Gators running back Fred Taylor was honored Sunday by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which inducted the franchise’s all-time leading rusher into the Pride of the Jaguars (ring of honor). Prior to his induction, Taylor sat down with the Florida Times-Union for a question-and-answer session that focused on his upbringing and time with Jacksonville. An excerpt from the interview can be found below as Taylor answers how he changed as a person and a player coming out of Florida and into the NFL.

“They saw a young man come in with gold teeth and leave with a helluva smile. At one point, I didn’t want to smile. The person I was back then was immature and unexposed. I wasn’t exposed to what you were supposed to be as an NFL player. My grandmother raised me the best she possibly could have. Whenever I went off course in my life, that was 100 percent me, that part of me that was being youthful and childish. When I got in the league, I was a good-natured, mild-mannered individual. I chose my friends, and sometimes we did things that was just us being young and having a good time together. As the years passed, I wanted to be better. Everyone has an opportunity to change. People know life is about growth, but not everybody wants to embrace it. I came to understand that what I am is what my legacy is going to be. I can only try to be the best I can with my imperfections.”

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Cut day a mixed bag for six former Gators

NFL franchises were forced to reduce their rosters to 53 players on Friday as the 2012 regular season draws closer. Six former Florida Gators were impacted by decisions their respective teams made with the results different for each player.

Receiving the good news were New York Giants safety Will Hill and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Deonte Thompson, a pair of undrafted free agents who performed so well in training camp and during a preseason that they earned roster spots on their respective teams.

Hill, who went undrafted in 2011 and did not play in the NFL last season, was signed early in the offseason by the Giants and impressed the coaching staff so much (both on and off the field) that he will not only make the team but also see extensive playing time. He registered 15 tackles (12 solo) and a sack in four preseason games.

Thompson joined the Ravens along with former Gators quarterback John Brantley, who was cut early in the offseason. He led Baltimore in receptions, receiving yards in the first and fourth preseason games (scoring a touchdown in each) and had kickoff returns of 42 yards and 63 yards in the two games in-between.

Dealt the first bit of negative news was New England Patriots running back Jeff Demps, whose season is over after the team placed him on injured reserve. Demps signed with the Patriots two weeks ago and played in the team’s final two preseason games. He took nine carries for 55 yards, caught three balls for 31 yards, returned three kicks for 63 yards and brought back five punts for 65 yards.

He supposedly injured his knee during practice, but it was not at all believed to be serious. New England placing him on injured reserves keeps him under the team’s control (he signed a three-year contract) and gives him the entire season and offseason to get into football shape and learn the playbook. The move is basically a way of stashing a player by circumventing the waiver wire process.

Though New York decided to keep Hill, the Giants chose to part ways with veteran defensive tackle Marcus Thomas on Friday. Thomas signed a one-year deal on Aug. 16 but has now been cut just two weeks later and will look to catch on with another team.

Also looking for new homes now are tight end Cornelius Ingram, who spent the entire offseason with the Denver Broncos but was cut loose on Friday, and linebacker Brandon Hicks, who was hoping to catch on with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Other prominent Florida players who are also currently free agents include Brantley, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, DT Gerard Warren, tackle Phil Trautwein, defensive end Bobby McCray, DE Derrick Harvey, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Justin Trattou and cornerback Lito Sheppard. LB Andra Davis and RB Earnest Graham are close to retirement.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators defensive end Justin Trattou was cut by the New York Giants on Thursday after missing all of training camp up to this point with a variety of injuries. Trattou was active for a number of games last season and won a ring last season as New York defeated New England 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

» Speaking of the Giants, the team brought former Gators defensive tackle Marcus Thomas in for a visit Thursday. New York is looking to upgrade the interior of its defensive line and Thomas is one of the biggest names on the free agent market after failing to come to an agreement with the Denver Broncos, where he started 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Thomas recently tweeted that he would be willing to play “for practice squad money.”

» The New York Jets are rumored to be one of a handful of finalists bidding for the services of former Florida running back Jeff Demps, so of course quarterback Tim Tebow was asked about the possibility during training camp on Thursday. As expected, Tebow supported the potential addition of Demps but said he would not pressure him to join him with the Jets. “They asked me about him,” he said according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he’s someone that I was proud to play with in college. He did a great job for us, and I feel like wherever he goes, he’ll work hard at and do a good job for that team.”

» ESPN’s Andy Katz spoke with Yale head coach James Jones recently about his team getting an unusual visit from the UF basketball team this season. Jones “credited a Yale administrator who once worked at Florida as well as Gators head coach Billy Donovan” for creating the home-away-home series that gets a high-profile team to visit Yale. “Donovan…isn’t adverse to playing home games for players in odd places,” Katz wrote. “He once played at UNH for New Hampshire native Matt Bonner. This is a ‘home’ game for Rhode Island native Erik Murphy.”

Read nine more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

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FOUR BITS: Taylor, Hill, Tebow, volleyball

1 » ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, in a piece published on July 31 and apparently missed by OGGOA, said that Florida Gators field star Christian Taylor (United States) is someone whose name should be remembered by the public heading into the 2012 London Olympics. Needing just one jump on Tuesday to qualify for the finals of the Men’s Triple Jump (set to be held on Thursday at 2:20 p.m.), Taylor explained to Wilbon how he learned the event that he has been so successful in up to this point in his career. “I went to YouTube … and how to DVDs. That was my film session,” he said.

2 » Former Gators safety Will Hill continues to turn heads at New York Giants training camp, so much so that the undrafted free agent who spent a year away from football is said to be “vying for significant time at safety” this season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Hill was also praised by head coach Tom Coughlin last week for being a standout in the secondary (as well as during special teams drills) and has been taking snaps as a first-team nickel back this week, according to the Associated Press. “I have the mentality, because I wasn’t drafted, [that] I have to prove myself to not only the coaches but also the players that I belong here,” Hill said. “So that’s how I just go out every day and attack it, full-on.” He also admitted that he only had himself to blame. “Me. Me,” Hill said. “Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, ‘Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me and I can do whatever I want.’ And I paid for it.”

3 » Speaking on his own WFAN radio show on Monday, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason suggested that the New York Jets should cut QB Tim Tebow.

“You want to know, if I were the Jets, what I would do? Want to know what I would do? I would cut Tim Tebow, I really would. I would. I’m just telling you right now: I would. And I’ll tell you why I would. It’s just not in any way, shape or form, I think, benefitting this team. I don’t see how it benefits…unless one thing that I would say is because you got a bunch of lunatics in that locker room. [...] The fact is, the reason you may want Tim Tebow on this team – specifically for one reason and one reason only – and that’s the character issue.”

Esiason has been critical of Tebow in the past and similarly suggested that the Denver Broncos cut him following a poor performance in a regular season game in 2011. And what did Tebow say when he was asked to respond to Esiason’s comments? “I’ve heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason. I know he was a great player here and I wish him nothing but the best in his announcing. God bless him.”

4 » Though most Florida fans may be focused on the upcoming football season, Gators volleyball is set to host the Campus USA Credit Union Invite from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL against three other teams from the state of Florida. The Southeastern Conference this week polled its volleyball coaches to come up with preseason predictions. The SEC coaches chose Tennessee to win the conference championship with 12-of-13 first-place votes; Florida received the other but was picked to finish sixth in the league standings. The Gators also had just one team member – junior middle back Chloe Mann – selected for the Preseason All-SEC Team. Being an underdog is new ground for Florida under head coach Mary Wise. The Gators won the SEC consecutively from 1991-2008 and also took home a conference title in 2010. Florida finished third in 2009 and second last season. The 2012 team features just five upper classmen along with four sophomores and seven freshman (one redshirt).

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Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators pitcher Darren O’Day, currently a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles after spending time with three other MLB teams, was pranked by MLB Fan Cave and his manager Buck Showalter. Watch him get chewed out and completely fall for it:

» Former Gators striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach sat down for an in-depth and informative interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts and discussed a number of topics including the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Wambach became an extremely popular sports figure after leading the Americans to the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup with some incredibly clutch goals and is now the face of the sport in the United States.

» Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte spoke with NBC‘s Bob Costas when he was done competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials over the weekend. Lochte speaks about the Olympics, his rivalry with Phelps and learning how to become a better athlete and competitor (Video).

» The Detroit Pistons did not extend a qualifying offer to former Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin over the weekend, officially making him an unrestricted free agent just one year after the team selected him with the No. 52 overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Despite not being tendered, Macklin will still play with Detroit’s summer league team in hopes of being re-signed or catching the eye of another squad. He was sent down to the NBA D-League during the season but dominated the competition by averaging 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds in the games he played. He should be picked up by a team at some point sooner than later.

Read SIX more Gator Bites on Nelson, Cooper, Hill and Beal…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

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Giants sign former Gators safety Will Hill

Just over a year after leaving school early and going unpicked in the 2011 NFL Draft, former Florida Gators safety Will Hill has signed with a NFL team.

Hill, who has been participating in New York Giants rookie camp since last week, was signed by the team on Monday. He last played football for the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers and spent his offseason working out in the tri-state area.

Originally from West Orange, NJ, Hill has been trying to catch the Giants’ eye since last offseason when he did not receive a single invite to a NFL camp. He participated in a Pro Day in Martinsville, NJ in March and obviously made an impression on New York.

Hill told ESPNNewYork.com over the weekend that he had to come back to Earth and humble himself before moving on with his career.

“When I was in college, I was the No. 1 athlete coming out and then going straight to a team that won the national championship, that had the possibility to win another one, it was just rock star status basically,” he said. “My head got big and I did let my gifts get away and start[ed] acting like a fool, basically. So I did waste my talent in some aspects.

“It’s been a hard time, many nights crying, many night just wondering, ‘When is this going to happen?’ But people were like, ‘Look, you’re a good athlete. Just work on being a better person.’ And that’s something I needed to do. I needed to calm down and sit down, and that’s what I did.”

Among the issues leading NFL teams to shy away from Hill a year ago were the numerous off-the-field problems he had at Florida including failing drug tests due to smoking marijuana, making poor life decisions, posting a number of more-than-questionable messages on Twitter and – as one anonymous scout said in April 2011 – being “ignorant and crazy.”

A spot opened up for Hill with the Giants after former LSU S Chad Jones, who got in a serious car accident in June 2010, was waived by New York for failing a physical while trying to make a comeback this season.

Hill now has his opportunity to prove the 31 other teams that have not paid attention to him wrong and turn his life around for the better by giving it his all for the Giants.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press

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