Florida, Notre Dame exchange tweets of support

Outside of former head coach Urban Meyer, there has never been any substantial connection between the Florida Gators and Notre Dame Fighting Irish…until Friday when official Twitter accounts for both schools traded well wishes ahead of their respective football games this weekend.

It all started with the official University of Florida Twitter account, which sent a simple, innocuous message to the official University of Notre Dame account.

The Fighting Irish athletic program got the gist of the message and responded with a similar message of support to the Gators for their homecoming weekend game.

Continue Reading » Florida, Notre Dame exchange tweets of support

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SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

1 » Golden State Warriors forward/center Marreese Speights put together a career game Monday night as he added a highlight to his otherwise up-and-down NBA career. Speights came off the bench but played starter’s minutes for Golden State in its 123-80 drubbing of Philadelphia 76ers, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting with eight boards and three blocks against the team that selected him with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

He played so well, in fact, that the Warriors home crowd actually chanted “M-V-P” for Speights though he has been mostly a role player for Golden State this season.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (5-0, 3-0 SEC) held on to its top ranking on Monday coming out of a 197.175-195.45 road victory on Friday over the Kentucky Wildcats (4-4, 1-3 SEC). Leading the way for the Gators in the meet was sophomore Bridget Sloan, who registered her second and Florida’s fourth perfect score of the season with a 10.0 on the balance beam. The defending national title holder in the discipline, Sloan’s 10.0 made her just the second gymnast in program history to register a perfect mark on the beam and the first Gators gymnast to score 10.0s on two different events in a career. For her terrific performance, Sloan honored by the Southeastern Conference for the fourth-straight week with the SEC Gymnast of the Week award.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

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Gators get surprise early enrollee in LB Anzalone

The Florida Gators added a surprise eighth early enrollee on Thursday as four-star 2013 linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, PA) rescinded his pledge from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and plans to arrive in Gainesville, FL on Friday.

According to InsidetheGators.com’s Blake Alderman and Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, who first reported Anzalone’s flip, the player decommitted from the Fighting Irish after head coach Brian Kelly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles before heading out on vacation following the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

He originally committed to Ohio State in April but decommitted in May and named Florida and Notre Dame as his top two. The success of Manti Te’o led Anzalone to commit to the Fighting Irish in July, but he soon began reconsidering his choice.

His father, Salvatore Anzalone, received his medical degree from the University of Florida and other members of his extended family also live near Gainesville. Those facts made the Gators an attractive potential destination all along.

Anzalone had previously considered flipping from Notre Dame to Florida but reaffirmed his pledge to the Fighting Irish on Nov. 5. An early enrollee, his recruiting process was thought to be over at that point.

However, with Kelly’s reported NFL interest making news over the last few days, Anzalone apparently felt that the grass was greener in Gainesville.

He is expected to enroll in school on Friday and be the eighth player to join the Gators this spring along with four-star running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), four-star LB Daniel McMillian (Jacksonville, FL), four-star wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (Jacksonville, FL), four-star defensive end Joey Ivie (Dade City, FL), four-star LB Matt Rolin (Jacksonville, FL), and four-star transfers offensive lineman Tyler Moore (Clearwater, FL) and defensive tackle Darious Cummings (Scooba, MS).

Anzalone is ranked as the 50th best player in the nation by Rivals and the No. 1 recruit from the state of Pennsylvania. He is considered the 97th best player in the nation by ESPN, which also lists him as a four-star prospect.

Florida’s newest recruiting class now consists of 27 total pledges including 26 that count as part of the 2013 cycle. Rivals and ESPN now unanimously list the Gators as having the No. 1 2013 recruiting class in the nation.

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FOUR BITS: volleyball title, Needles, soccer, cheer

1 » A young Florida Gators volleyball team struggled early this season in non-conference competition but has been on a roll since, winning 17-of-18 Southeastern Conference games and clinching the 2012 SEC Championship on Sunday. Florida (23-4, 17-1 SEC) defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks (17-14, 5-14 SEC) in a 3-0 sweep (25-19, 25-14, 25-19) to pick up the team’s 31th SEC title, its first since 2010. The Gators have now won 20 of the 22 SEC regular season titles awarded since 1991; UF also captured 11 SEC Tournament titles in that same time frame, though the event was discontinued following the 2005 season. All 31 league championships have comes under the stewardship of head coach Mary Wise, who took over the program in 1991 and will certainly be up for more Coach of the Year awards.

2 » Florida women’s basketball (3-1) dominated the North Florida Ospreys (0-4) to the tune of a 30-point win (74-44) on Monday, but the story of the game was the performance of redshirt freshman guard Carlie Needles, who set a program record with nine three-pointers in a single game. Needles scored a career-high 27 points in the contest while going 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. She did not take a single two-pointer or foul shot in her 31 minutes of court time. Her nine treys also tied the mark for second in SEC history for threes made by a women’s basketball player in a single game. She is just the fifth player in league history to make nine or more triples in a game. The old UF record (eight) was held by Bridget Pettis and set just over 20 years ago (Jan. 20, 1983).

3 » Coming off of winning two SEC titles – the regular season and tournament crowns – Gators soccer (19-5-1) put together an impressive run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament before falling to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-5-2) in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. Florida took down Florida Gulf Coast 2-0 in opening round action last week and defeated UCF on Friday before falling 2-0 to Notre Dame on Sunday. The Fighting Irish got on the board at 20’ and again at 71’; each team had four shots on goal. The match was the last in the careers of five seniors that have made a major impact on the program. Redshirt forward/midfielder McKenzie Barney, MF Jo Dragotta, MF Holly King, MF/F Erika Tymrak and redshirt defender Kathryn Williamson were all able to say goodbye to fans at home as the first three tournament games were played at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

4 » Learning last Friday that the team would no longer be allowed to perform tumbling or stunts at games, events or practices, members of Florida cheerleading were up in arms and expressed their frustration via social media. Supporters of the squad have now created SaveFloridaCheerleading.com in an effort to explain their position and give the administration reason to reverse their decision.

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C/G Dan Wenger: “I’m so thankful for…Muschamp”

It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.

His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Check out Part One of my interview with Dan Wenger.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Going into the bowl game there appeared to be two main motivations for the team: finishing the season above .500 and sticking it to Urban Meyer. Some guys were a bit vocal about this to the media but for the most part it was kind of it in the background. Which motivation do you think fueled the team more – avoiding the losing season or showing Meyer that Florida was still the better team?
DAN WENGER: “For me that whole Urban Meyer thing wasn’t an issue. I know guys that were upset about the situation and wanted to kind of prove their point – whether it be that they didn’t want Urban to leave or they had something against him for leaving. Whatever the case may be that was never an issue for me. It was one of those things that’s talked about in the locker room but it was a conversation I didn’t get involved in. I had no experience playing under him. He recruited me but at the same time I didn’t spend five years at Florida before Coach Muschamp came in. That was not even a thought in my head. As far as the whole losing season, I’ve been 6-6 going into a bowl game at Notre Dame – once we went to a bowl game and won and the other time we didn’t go to a bowl game. There’s something about going into a bowl game and winning and coming out at that 7-6 and ending with a winning season. That sparks the fire again and the drive and the energy to be better and work harder going into the offseason. When we were 6-6 at Notre Dame in 2009, we didn’t go to a bowl game. Staying stagnant at 6-6, knowing that we couldn’t do anything else about it was terrible. We felt deflated. It was only the second time I had a full winter break. It was something I wasn’t used to and I didn’t know what to do with myself with that time. I was used to watching film and getting ready to prepare and fight that fight one more time. To me, it’s very important and I think that was mostly my motivation going into that game against Ohio State. To come out on top and more than anything I wanted to do whatever I could to help the other guys be ready and prepare them for the game.”

AS: Well I know it wasn’t a motivation for you, but Meyer taking the Ohio State job before that bowl game had to be on the mind of a lot of the other players. Was it something they just brought up here and there or was it a topic that you heard plenty about and thought was a real motivator for the other players?
DW: “You could say there was all of that going on. It was on everyone’s mind. Guys wanted to see if he was going to be there or on the sideline. It was very evident that it was going on in the locker room, all of that talk. A lot of those guys just had a point to prove. That’s fine. Everyone is motivated by different things. Whatever gets you going and gets you ready to give your best effort in a game, by all means use it. It might not be what motivates me, but hell, if it motivates you then let’s go into this game together both highly motivated and play to the best of our abilities.”

Read the rest of Part Two – for FREE – on InsideTheGators.com.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Charlie Weis in a great situation at Florida

When he made the tough decision to leave the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 2010 season and transition back into college football as offensive coordinator of the Florida Gators, Charlie Weis was questioned by everyone as to the reasons why he ultimately decided to rejoin the collegiate ranks rather than continue working in the NFL.

At the time, Weis explained that it was a fantastic opportunity for his family. His son would be a student assistant with the Gators, his wife would be pleased with a 10.5-acre estate in Reddick, FL with plenty of horses, and his special needs daughter could get the assistance she needed with her condition.

During a media availability on Tuesday, Weis expressed that college football is also a better family environment than the NFL, something he appreciates as a family man.

“The one biggest difference between college football and pro football is college football is way more family friendly. Pro football is way more of a business. I’m not saying they’re not both a business, but that’s reality,” he said. “Our families are on the field after the game’s over. I’ve never, other than the Super Bowl, I’ve never seen families on the field in a pro game. You might have the head coach’s kids there but that’s about it. If you’re a family guy, which I obviously am, it’s kind of refreshing.”

There was another factor that drove him back to college – he enjoys the game.

“My approach has always been that I’m a teacher; that’s what I am. I’ve never wavered from that. That’s what I think I do the best,” Weis explained. “Everyone has their personalities and probably the biggest difference is I’m in a different role. Because I’m in a different role, there’s a whole set of problems that I don’t have to deal with. That’s why Coach [Will] Muschamp’s the head coach. There’s a whole slew of issues that you don’t deal with [as a coordinator].

“As far as the kids go, I loved the kids [at Notre Dame], and I love the kids here. I love being around kids that age. My kid is 18-years-old; I’ve been around him and his friends for quite some time. Probably one of the most rewarding things is watching one of these kids come in as an 18-year-old and then leaving as a 22- or 23-year-old young man and watching how they evolved and matured and all that stuff. It’s really kind of fun to see.”

Weis is comfortable in his role with the Gators – rejuvenating an offense that had its share of troubles just one year ago. Even though he’s back to being a college coordinator after leading the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for four years as a head coach (2005-09), he said moving on to that top job is not on his mind whatsoever right now.

“I’m just trying to beat Tennessee. Really, that’s the only thing. The only thing on my mind is trying to beat Tennessee. And if you ask me next week, I’ll be talking about trying to beat Kentucky,” Weis said. “That’s the way I was brought up – the way I was groomed. I was groomed [to believe that] you never worry about what’s happening down the road. Alls you worry about is your next game, and Tennessee is the one that’s up.”

Should anyone think money is an issue for him going forward, Weis joked that it is not at all in his mind. In actuality, his three-year, $2.625 million contract should suffice. However, if money was a serious consideration, he said he could be paid better elsewhere.

“Look it, I can make a lot more money in the pros than I can in college. If you’re making your decision just based off of money [there is no comparison],” he said with a smile. “A lot of guys have talked to me about going to the pros. I said, ‘Heck yeah, you’ll make more money, and then you can be miserable.’ There’s some give-and-take in that now. Money in college is going up a whole bunch from where it was a decade ago right there. Although I wouldn’t call it exactly competitive, it’s a way better situation than it was 10 years ago.”

With his family by his side, a job he is excited about, players that are enthusiastic about learning his offense and a fan base that is excited to see what he brings to the table, Weis’s situation is pretty good right now by any number of standards.

Photo Credit: Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post

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Wenger’s assimilation with Gators now complete

It’s never easy to move to a new school, but imagine being a senior in college spending his final season of eligibility in a different state with teammates he has never met.

Doing that this year with the Florida Gators is redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger, who stepped onto the practice fields this spring as the most experienced offensive lineman on the team after spending four years under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Suffering a concussion during spring practice two seasons ago, Wenger was unable to recover and took a redshirt. Notre Dame would not clear him to play in 2011 and provided him with an out so he could seek an opportunity elsewhere.

“It was extremely tough,” Wenger said of being injured and not welcomed back to the team. “It’s one of those things where I’ve been working for this since I was a freshman in high school. Whenever that was, I’m too old to remember. It was heartbreaking. It was devastating to get that news. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was in between training for a pro day and looking for another place to play, and then when this opportunity got brought up, it was a no-brainer to come down here and give it one last go.”

As it turns out, Wenger could not have made a better choice.

“With everything I’ve dealt with in the past, and especially the situation that I had last year, being able to be a part of Florida and the Gator family has just been amazing,” he said. “I can’t be happier to be a part of such a great team with great coaches and great teammates.”

Since joining the Gators, Wenger has been much more worried about fitting in than he was about his concussion problem. He said he started getting over the mental aspect of it during two-a-days when the players began hitting each other with pads on.

“It’s one of those things that’s been in the past and once I’ve kind of proved to myself that I am able to play and withstand the hits, it’s just…it’ll always be there, that memory of when it happened and last year, but when it’s out there on the field, it’s strictly football,” he said.

As for meeting a bunch of new teammates and acclimating himself quickly, that was a completely different hurdle he had to overcome. Luckily for him, he was accepted with open arms – and his experience in what was a brand new system to the team’s current players certainly did not hurt.

“It was tough at first. Initially, in my mind, I thought it was going to be really tough,” Wenger said. “Surprisingly enough I came in and they were very welcoming to letting me in and having me be a part of the unit. A lot of the guys [were] really taking my advice from being in this offense for four years prior to this. They took a lot of the advice I gave them – little tips and different things like that – so we got a better understanding of the offense together as a unit, making it easier for us going into camp.”

Wenger even set up a special midnight weightlifting session to help build camaraderie among the offensive linemen. He instructed everyone to dress up like WWE wrestlers and get in the weight room for some fun.

“That was kind of my idea to have everyone dress up as wrestlers. We had a lot of fun with that,” he recalled. “I think that was one major point in the summer where we all kind of came together since basically everyone participate in it and really went all out for it.”

For their part, the team’s current players did not take Wenger’s addition to the roster as a threat to their playing time but rather an opportunity to improve and learn the offense.

“It’s actually really helpful, really reassuring that we have him on the O-line,” redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said. “He has a lot of experience. It’s just going to help us out because most of us are younger.”

Classmate and starting right guard Jon Halapio said the team did not expect Wenger to be a starter but were aware that he would see the field. Since being named the starting left guard and winning the team’s Scrap Iron Award for outstanding effort following the first two contests Wenger has been even more impressive.

“He’s real good. He’s played in this offense for a while, so for him to go and ball out like that gives us confidence,” Halapio said. “It’s real good to have him out there doing what he does on the field.”

With Southeastern Conference games beginning on Saturday, Wenger is excited to play what he deems as a true conference seeing as the Fighting Irish are an independent team. Though he said every game at Notre Dame mattered, he is “psyched up” to fully embrace the rivalries that come with the territory at Florida.

Equally enthusiastic are his teammates, who now only have to look just left of the center for a little advice or protection suggestions during the game.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Erin Andrews fills in for Ripa on Regis & Kelly

ESPN reporter and former Florida Gators dazzler Erin Andrews filled in for Kelly Ripa as co-host of Live with Regis & Kelly Wednesday morning in an appearance met with rave reviews by fans of the television program.

Andrews, who has extended her brand recently by appearing on Dancing with the Stars and Good Morning America while also doing endorsements for Reebok’s ZigTech brand and helping raise awareness for prostate cancer and the implementation of anti-stalking laws, spent all morning with notorious Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan Regis Philbin on the nationally syndicated program.

Below are two videos of her appearance courtesy of Timothy Burke. The first is the beginning of the show, and the second is a five-minute clip of Andrews playing with a bunch of puppies. You can view them after the break.
Continue Reading » Erin Andrews fills in for Ripa on Regis & Kelly

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