FOUR BITS: Evans, O’Day, Taylor, McDonald

1 » Florida Gators senior safety Josh Evans opened up to the New York Post recently about the difficulties he faced after losing his mother over six years ago while still in eighth grade. In fact, Evans had to come to grips with the situation head-on considering he was the only one in the house at the time of his mom’s passing. “I was actually there. My mother had been dealing with cancer for a couple of years, and I had no clue, I didn’t know she had cancer because I was young, my parents didn’t want the baby boy to know that she was sick to that magnitude,” he explained. “It was toward the end of the school year, graduation was coming up, eighth grade, I had a day off from school. So my father went to work and he said, ‘Make sure you check on her every 10-20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I will.’ After he left, 10, 15 minutes went by, I walked back in the room to check on her and that was it. I saw something that changed my life forever.” Read more.

2 » Two former Florida baseball players began the 2012 MLB Playoffs late last week though only one remains past the wild card qualification weekend. Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day has already seen action as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles as the team got past the wild card stage and is now engaged in a five-game series with the New York Yankees. Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross, on the other hand, hit a two-run homer in his team’s game but is now out of the playoffs due to the Braves losing.

3 » Former Florida jumpers Christian Taylor and Will Claye – who took home gold and silver, respectively, in the triple jump at the 2012 London Olympics over the summer (Claye also won bronze in the long jump) – are two of six male athletes nominated for 2012 Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year, an award that recognizes track & field’s best male and female athlete. The award will be officially presented on Dec. 1. with fans receiving the opportunity to vote for their favorite.

4 » San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald may not post the gaudy stats like some of his contemporaries, but he is just as integral to his team’s success as any of the top players at his position in the NFL. Speaking with the 49ers’ team website last week, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio raved about what McDonald brings to the table each day. “He has a tremendous impact on any game and on our defense,” he said. “When teams have a hard time running, he’s right in the middle of that. Whether he’s being credited with a tackle or not is irrelevant.” After playing sparingly as a reserve in his first few seasons, McDonald was signed to a starter’s contract in 2011 (five years, $20 million) and moved into that role last year. He is more than living up to his end of the bargain and could be in line for a raise before his deal expires in 2015.

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Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2010 (check out our post tomorrow), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players signing huge contracts to current team members being a part of some of the biggest news stories in sports this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

10 » FIVE BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2010 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon and suddenly in all but one case. Lamar Abel (21), a walk-on defensive lineman, suffered cardiac arrest while volunteering at a roadside cleanup event with his fraternity in Gainesville, FL. Former safety John Curtis (24) committed suicide in Bellvue, WA. Hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams (45) passed away after an acute asthma attack. Former Gators basketball player and friend to the program Augie Greiner (76) died in his home. And long-time donor and Bull Gator George Steinbrenner (80), most famously known as the owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in a Tampa, FL, hospital. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

9 » ERIN ANDREWS GETS JUSTICE, STARS ON TV, RE-SIGNS WITH ESPN

Former Florida dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews had a much better go of it in 2010. Though her stalker plead guilty to his charges in court in December 2009, she spent a good portion of 2010 making sure he was brought to justice (27-month prison term) while also spreading word across the country that violence against women from sexual predators cannot and should not be tolerated. Simultaneously, Andrews participated in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and even dropped a few Gator Chomps along the way. She ended up finishing third in the competition but parlayed her talent on the sidelines into an enhanced gig with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Andrews signed a new two-year deal with ESPN, which included a role hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU, appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and more of a presence on the family of networks. She also spoke with OGGOA on two occasions, first in a wide-ranging interview that received significant publicity and later to share her thoughts on the resignation of head coach Urban Meyer.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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TWO BITS: Fans and media, Swisher’s proposal

1 » The Florida Gators have made two announcements concerning fans in the last day or so, one about permitting them access to the players while another removing access from the team. The Gators will hold Verizon Wireless Football Fan Day on Sunday, Aug. 15 from 1-3 p.m. at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Doors open at 12:30 p.m., admission is free and autographs will only be allowed on the team-provided 2010 football poster. However, fans will be barred from Florida football practices this season, as will the media and other on-lookers who want to catch a glimpse of the Gators before kickoff against Miami (OH) on Sept. 4

2 » With an Internet rumor spreading that New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher had the assistance of former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow when proposing to his girlfriend last year, the slugger spoke with Florida Today and wanted to squash that fib as soon as possible. “I’m a man! I don’t need to do that!” Swisher exclaimed. “That’s total BS! [Bleep] no! I don’t need some other dude to ask my girl to marry me. I’m a Major League Baseball player. I’m a man. I asked her on the balcony at my place in New York City. Tim Tebow wasn’t there.” Always the jokester in the clubhouse, Swisher’s tone doesn’t come across in the piece, but his fiancée is a big Florida fan – her entire family went there – and the All-Star got a chance to meet Tebow and head coach Urban Meyer while getting a tour of The Swamp at the tail end of the 2009 season.

“Don’t get me wrong, Tim Tebow’s a great guy. Class act. Definitely a role model for a lot of people,” he said. “I set it up through the Yankees that my girlfriend and her family could meet Tim. I couldn’t believe he took the time. It was his last game at Florida, against Florida State, Senior Day, and he came and talked to us for about 10 minutes. Great, great guy.” Though Swisher may not have been able to laugh at himself, at least his teammate and fellow OF Marcus Thames did. When told about the rumor regarding Tebow, Thames replied, “Probably, because you ain’t got no game. You need a college kid to help you.”

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TWO BITS: Tebow starting, Caldwell working

1 » Appearing Friday on The Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio, the network’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson predicted that former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow will start this season for the Denver Broncos – beginning in week 12. Williamson believes Kyle Orton will play the first 10 games of the season, and Tebow will take the reigns if the team is no longer in playoff contention. ESPN Insider notes that “Williamson points out that Tebow was drafted not to serve as a clipboard holder or gadget play extraordinaire, but to play starting QB, and he will be given the opportunity to do so unless Orton comes through with a very solid season.”

2 » One of the best things about following athletes on Twitter is the ability to read their streams of consciousness when going off on a tangent or speaking passionately about an issue. Monday, former Gators wide receiver Andre Caldwell of the Cincinnati Bengals expressed his desire to take his game to another level while putting some responsibilities – like family and friends – on the back burner for a short period of time.

“Training camp starts in [nine] days. I can’t wait. I dedicated my entire offseason to getting better and working hard – now it’s time to show it off,” Caldwell wrote. “I worked extra hard this whole offseason. I haven’t had much time to hang out with family and friends. I’m trying to accomplish my dream and be the best WR in the NFL, and the only way I know how to be the best is to work harder than every WR in the league. My friends and family say I’m selfish and I have changed [be]cause I don’t make time for them. I tell them I’m chasing my dream. Am I wrong? People say I have become crazy and my work ethic is insane, but my love for the game is much crazier and failure is not a[n] option. I see and hear all the comment[s] these report[er]s write and how they write me off, but it just add[s] fuel to this fire burning inside me.”

Extra BIT » Former New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent was a thorn in the side of the Boston Red Sox, so it is no wonder that having his son – and Florida freshman – Cody Dent playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the summer was a “risky” move. “The first day they were joking about Bucky (Bleeping) Dent,” Cody told The Gainesville Sun. “I just laugh along with it. It’s all good humor.” The move was a suggestion by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who elicited a funny response from the elder statesman. “I texted Sully and said, ‘What are you trying to do, get my son killed?” Bucky exclaimed. Never nervous while playing professionally, watching his son play makes Dent jitter. “I can’t sit still,” he said. “I’ve go to move because I get really nervous. Way more nervous than when I played. I’m sitting there in the College World Series and he’s playing third base against Florida State and I’m going, ‘Oh God, he’s 18 years old, there’s 20,000 people in the stands and national TV,’ and I’m sweating bullets.”

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TWO BITS: LaPorta struggling, Harrison caught

1 » Former Florida Gators baseball star Matt LaPorta, now a starter with the Cleveland Indians, is struggling mightily in his first full season in MLB. The two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2005, 2007) batted .254 with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 52 games his rookie season (2009) but is not coming close to that pace this year. In 20 appearances, LaPorta is hitting .214 with no homers and only a single RBI to his name. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft was expected to be a source of power in the major leagues but has yet to live up to the expectations he had garnered. Cleveland acquired LaPorta as part of the trade that sent now-New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago.

2 » Fellow former Florida baseball player Ben Harrison is also struggling, but he is facing a very different type of conflict. On Friday, Harrison – who is currently a free agent in the minor leagues – was suspended 100 games for violating MiLB’s drug program. He was caught buying and using amphetamines, which were outlawed in MLB beginning in 2006. During his University of Florida career, Harrison hit 40 home runs and 192 RBI, ranking him second all-time in both categories behind arguably the best player in school history, the now-retired Brad Wilkerson.

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Gators and Noles set to square off at Florida Four

For the first time in history, four universities from the state of Florida will compete in The Florida Four, a two-game baseball tournament being held at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Tues., March 2, 2010. The No. 5/6 Florida Gators (5-0) will square off against the No. 6/3 Florida State Seminoles (6-0) in the second game of the event, which begins with the Miami Hurricanes (5-1) taking on the South Florida Bulls (1-5) at 4 p.m. The winners of each game do not face each other.

“We’ve been working with the [New York] Yankees for a few years now to bring another premier event to our community,” Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission Rob Higgins said in an organizational press release. “We hope it serves as launching pad to Omaha for the four programs. This is a story that will start in March and we hope continues on to June.”

“On behalf of the World Champion New York Yankees, it is with great pleasure and pride that we welcome The Florida Four Baseball Classic to George M. Steinbrenner Field. As a past collegiate coach, it is George Steinbrenner’s dream to create this event for Tampa”, said Felix Lopez, the Yankees’ Senior Vice President. “We welcome the great schools of Florida to our facility and look forward to continuing this event for years to come.”

Following their participation in the event, the Gators will travel to Coral Gables, FL, for a three-game series against the Hurricanes. Florida will face Florida State at home on March 16 and on the road on March 30 and April 13. The Gators swept the Bulls 6-2, 9-1, 7-6(10) in their season-opening three-game series Feb. 19-21.

Tuesday’s Gators/Seminoles game will air in Florida. Check your local listings.

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