Former Gators punter Chandler dead at 76

An accomplished football player in both the college and professional ranks, former Florida Gators punter Don Chandler died Thursday in Tulsa, OK at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.

A 12-year NFL veteran who played in the first two Super Bowls after being the No. 57 overall pick in the fifth round of the 1956 NFL Draft, Chandler was a member of both the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers during his time in the league. He was named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team and has been honored in Hall of Fames by the Packers, University of Florida and state of Oklahoma. He is also on the Giants’ Wall of Fame.

Chandler not only punted 660 balls for 28,678 yards as a pro, he also went 94-for-161 as a field goal kicker and spent some time at halfback, too.

He played in the NFL’s first two overtime games, was Green Bay’s leading scorer every year he played for the team, holds the league’s record for most field goals in a Super Bowl (four, 1968), and at one time led the league in punting average (44.6 yards, 1957) and field goal percentage (67.9 percent, 1962).

With the Gators, Chandler was the nation’s leading punter in 1955 (44.5 yards) and is second in Florida record books for longest punt (76 yards).

OGGOA sends our condolences to the Chandler family.

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Gators undrafted free agents agree to deals

Updated July 27 at 3:30 p.m.

The end of the NFL lockout sent the league into a frenzy Monday evening as teams were officially allowed to contact and agree to contracts with undrafted free agents who were not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. With only four Florida Gators picked in the seven-round draft back in April, a number of well-known players remained available heading into one of the most questionable offseasons in pro football history.

With contracts now being signed as names continue to roll in, a number of former Gators have already been picked up to join NFL squads this year.

Everything started Monday evening as linebacker Duke Lemmens chose to stay out west and play for the Arizona Cardinals, defensive tackle Terron Sanders got a call from the Baltimore Ravens, and running back Emmanuel Moody decided to join 2010 undrafted free agent wide receiver David Nelson with the Buffalo Bills.

On Tuesday, punter Chas Henry chose to team up with wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Cornelius Ingram on the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive end Justin Trattou decided to play close to home with the New York Giants, and offensive lineman Carl Johnson joined up with DE Alex Brown on the New Orleans Saints.

Wednesday brought two more signings as LB A.J. Jones found a spot with the Denver Broncos and LB Brandon Hicks [unconfirmed] signed with the Bills. Jones joins quarterback Tim Tebow in Denver, while Hicks teams up with Moody and Nelson in Buffalo.

Safety Will Hill was originally reported to have agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins; however, it surfaced Tuesday that those reports were premature and the two sides have not spoken about a contract.

OGGOA spoke with Sanders early Tuesday morning, and he related to us that former Florida defensive coordinator now Baltimore defensive backs coach Teryl Austin had a lot to do with him getting this opportunity with a top-tier franchise.

“Coach Austin, he’s up there now, and he put in a good word for me and told them that I can plug the hole and knock people back,” Sanders said. “He convinced them to take a shot at me. They called my agent, my agent called me and asked me if I’d be interested in going to Baltimore. I told them, ‘Yeah,’ and the deal is done.”

Though he has been hoping the lockout would end and has been keeping in shape, Sanders also kept himself busy with a regular job until his future was known.

“I haven’t put on a pair of shoulder pads in a while,” he said. “I’ve been working out, doing some running, and I started working at U-Haul about two weeks ago just to get some money in my pocket until this was decided.”

Other players who could be signed include WR Carl Moore and defensive lineman Brandon Antwine and Lawrence Marsh.

OGGOA will update this post as additional signings are announced.

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OGGOA’s comprehensive 2011 NFL Draft Preview

Legalities surrounding the lockout may still be looming, but the 2011 NFL Draft will begin without a hitch Thursday night (ESPN, NFL Network) and run through April 30 as more than a dozen former Florida Gators hope to see their childhood dreams come true.

As fans of the 32 NFL teams look on nationwide, those supporting Florida’s players may not be as excited about the event this time around considering there will be a significant drop-off from the nation-leading nine players that were selected in 2010 (including a school-record three in the first round and six in the first two rounds).

Few things are certain when it comes to the NFL Draft – trades can occur at any moment and each team views its most pressing needs and what each player brings to the table differently than analysts and commentators do. Rather than try to predict the unknown variables and tell you what could happen, we will stick with what likely will happen.

» Center/guard Mike Pouncey will be the only first-round pick, selected before his brother was and headed to one of five teams.

Unless a team decides that they desperately need a center and plans to trade into the top half of the first round in order to jump a handful of other teams, Pouncey will likely be headed to either the Miami Dolphins (15) or New York Giants (19) at their respective draft slots or to one of three teams that would have to trade down/up for him: Dallas Cowboys (9), Chicago Bears (29) or Pittsburgh Steelers (31). The top-rated interior lineman in the draft, Pouncey continues to garner high praise and has plenty of teams around the league looking in his direction.

» Florida will not have another player selected until at least the third round.

There was talk for a while that tackle Marcus Gilbert may be moving into the category of a late second-round selection but that has died down recently. However, he is the only player on the team who has actually climbed up draft boards since the season ended. His size is undeniable and scouts were impressed with his agility and strength. Gilbert projects as either a right tackle or guard in the NFL with many scouts believing he might perform better in the latter position. He will likely be selected sometime in the third round and may very well be one of only two Gators picked in the first two days of the draft.

» The future of Florida’s secondary standouts is not very “safe.”

Like linebacker Brandon Spikes in 2010, strong safety Ahmad Black has seen his stock slide going into the draft due to concerns about his speed. Unlike Spikes last year, Black also has scouts worried about his lack of prototypical NFL size and how his immense talent will be able to translate to the big stage. As Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow knows, all it takes is one team to believe in you. And whether former head coach Urban Meyer is in Bill Belichick’s ear once again (the New England Patriots drafted three Gators in 2010) or a team simply realizes that Black has a high football IQ and can significantly impact a game if given an opportunity, he will likely have someone take a chance on him in the third or fourth round.

Though free safety Will Hill has the prototypical size and speed that Black lacks, those around the league have realized he is missing perhaps even more important things like football IQ and character. His athleticism is undeniable, but there are too many question marks about him (including, simply, his talent level) for a team to take a risk on him early. Hill will be picked on the third day – if he is at all.

» Punter Chas Henry will be drafted later than he should be.

When it comes to specialists, just being picked in the NFL Draft is usually an honor. Sometimes one has so much upside that they are selected extremely early (see kicker Sebastian Janikowski [No. 17 overall, 2000] and P Ray Guy [No. 23 overall, 1973]), but most of the time they are just lucky to be chosen in a middle round. Though Henry was the best collegiate punter in 2010 (and arguably 2009, too), his draft position will be based strictly on team need. His ability to serve as a viable back-up kicker should provide him a bit of additional value but chances are he is picked late on the third day.

» The vast majority of Gators will be undrafted free agents.

Due to red flags ranging from injuries to lack of production, the rest of Florida’s draft-eligible players may not know where they are headed for days, weeks or months depending how NFL teams decide to handle undrafted free agent signings in the face of the (recently lifted) lockout.

Offensive lineman Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt; running back Emmanuel Moody; wide receivers Carl Moore and Justin Williams; defensive ends Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens; defensive tackles Terron Sanders, Lawrence Marsh and Brandon Antwine; linebackers A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards; and long snapper John Fairbanks could all be picked up after the draft concludes. There is the chance that a select few (Johnson, Hurt, Moody, Moore, Trattou) could be selected in the sixth or seventh round due to potential long-term upside.

For LIVE COVERAGE of the 2011 NFL Draft, be sure to join us back here at OGGOA beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. and running through the conclusion of the event on Saturday.

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FOUR BITS: tennis wins SEC, gym, Davis, Hill

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (22-1, 11-0 SEC) shutout the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-9, 4-7 SEC) 7-0 on Saturday to capture the outright 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The victory not only won Florida the SEC title and a No. 1 seed (including a bye) in the upcoming 2011 SEC Tournament, it was also the team’s 102nd consecutive regular season victory and 93rd-straight at home. The No. 8 doubles team of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down their No. 32-ranked opponents 8-4. No. 7 Will and No. 51 Cercone each won their singles matches, as did No. 20 sophomore Lauren Embree, No. 37 junior Joanna Mather, No. 49 freshman Olivia Janowicz and No. 104 freshman Sofie Oyen. The No. 43 duo of Embree and Oyen also won their doubles match earlier in the day.

2 » No. 5 Gators gymnastics was not as successful over the weekend, failing to advance to the 2011 NCAA Super Six team final by finishing fourth in Session II of the 2011 NCAA Championships semifinals. Florida finished with 196.125 points behind Alabama (197.05), Nebraska (196.85) and Utah (196.20). Fortunately for the Gators, three of the ladies advanced to the NCAA individual event finals on Sunday. Freshman Alaina Johnson will compete in vault, uneven bars and floor exercise; sophomore Marissa King will try her hand at vault and floor exercise; and senior Maranda Smith will participate in the floor exercise. All three were named to the All-American First Team.

3 » Florida 2012 running back commitment Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) won a Most Valuable Player award for his group at the Nike Football Training Camp in Athens, GA on Friday. “Mike did some incredible things,” Jake Campbell, running backs coach at the camp, told ESPN. “He has great lateral movement and change of direction. He’s terrific in the open field. He’s a true running back where things come so natural to him. He’s versatile and has soft hands. He’s also a strong ball carrier who really seems to understand the position.”

4 » Gators safety Will Hill, waiting to find out who will take a chance on him in the 2011 NFL Draft, participated in a local prospect day for the New York Giants on Thursday. The Newark Star-Ledger’s Mike Garafolo says Hill “has the Giants intrigued” to the point that they have “look[ed] into the personal side of things” regarding his character.

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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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Florida Hall of Famer J. “Papa” Hall passed

Former Florida Gators running back, track & field athlete and University of Florida Hall of Fame member J. “Papa” Hall passed away on Sept. 15. He was 79.

Hall, who along with Rick Casares and Buford Long was a member of perhaps the most powerful group of running backs in school history, was the Gators’ leading rusher in 1952 with 671 yards. He was “recruited by every major Southern college” (according to the Tallahassee Democrat), but chose to play in Gainesville, FL, because it was close to home.

The winner of two national collegiate high jump championships (1951, 1953) during his time at Florida, Hall also set a national indoor high jump record (6’11″) while in school. He helped lead the Gators to their first-ever bowl game victory, a 14-13 win over Tulsa in the 1953 Gator Bowl. Described by author Buddy Martin as “swift with long legs and a big stride,” Hall rushed 17 times for a team-high 94 yards in that game and caught two passes for a team-high 60 yards, accounting for almost half (154 yards) of Florida’s total offensive output (334 yards) that day.

He was picked up by the New York Giants after college but instead chose to attend law school and pursue a career as a judge.

Elected to the Leon County Circuit Court in 1980, Hall presided there for 18 years, serving 10 more years as a replacement judge before retiring. Fair skinned, he was diagnosed with melanoma a few months ago and skin cancer spread throughout his body eventually leading to his demise.

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Hall family.

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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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Former Gators safety Jarvis Williams dead at 45

Former Florida Gators hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams, Sr. (1965-2010) passed away Tuesday evening. He was 45-years-old.

Though earlier reports stated Williams suffered a massive heart attack, the actual cause of death was ruled to be an acute asthma attack, according to a medical examiner. A person close to his family confirmed his passing to OGGOA early Wednesday morning.

Williams competed for the Gators as a defensive back from 1984 to 1987 under then-head coach Galen Hall. He started every game (45) for four consecutive seasons (third-most in school history), was twice named first-team All-Southeastern Conference and garnered national honors as a first-team All-American in 1987.

During Williams’ career at Florida, he recorded 239 total tackles including 172 unassisted. His 10 career interceptions ranked third all-time for the Gators when he graduated. He led the 1987 team in tackles (77) and punt return yards (222) and was also a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s top defensive back) that year.

Drafted with the No. 42 overall pick in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, Williams would play there for six seasons before finishing his career with the New York Giants. As a professional, he nabbed 16 interceptions (five in 1990) with three sacks and one recorded touchdown.

He played most of his career with fellow Florida safety Louis Oliver, who also made the transition from the Gators to the Dolphins, getting drafted in the first round in 1989.

“Jarvis was just a great person. He’d give you the shirt off his back, he was funny as hell, great teammate, great person. There was nothing bad to say about him,” Oliver told the Palm Beach Post. “He just made the transition from college to professional ball so much easier for me, because he knew the system when I got here. [...] I’ve always known Jarvis to pretty much stay in shape – shooting basketball, jogging, running, and when I got the news that he had a heart attack, that kind of shocked me. I stopped breathing this morning when I got the news. It’s just a sad day.”

After retiring, Williams was honored with an induction into the University of Florida’s Athletic Hall of Fame (F Club) as a Gator Great in 2001. He was also named to The Gainesville Sun‘s All-Century Team, as voted by its readers in 1999.

As recently as March 12, Williams competed with a bevy of other Florida players at the Miracle of Life Foundation golf tournament hosted by Emmitt Smith and Darryl Perry.

“[I am] deeply saddened to hear that Jarvis Williams has passed,” Smith said via Twitter. “Man…[he was] only 45 years old. Had the chance and the luxury to play with him. Man…Jarvis [was] such a great football player and person. I still remem[ber] the hit Jarvis put on Melvin Bratton in one of the games when I was being recruited by Florida. Jarvis will be missed. Heartfelt condolences to his fam[ily].”

Oliver on the above clip: “I remember it like it was yesterday – playing it up at UF, Bratton coming over the middle and Jarvis just knocking the s*** out of him. But he did that a lot. He did that in practice, he did that at Florida, he did that in games with the Dolphins.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Williams family. We will update this story as more information is made available.

Photo Credit: George Tiedemann/Sports Illustrated

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