FOUR BITS: O’Dome, NFL Draft, Beal, Lochte

1 » University of Florida trustees on Friday approved a $10 million contribution as part of a $50 million renovation for the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. According to The Gainesville Sun’s Nathan Crabbe, who spoke with trustee Steven Scott, it will take 2-3 years to raise the remaining $40 million, so the O’Dome will not be looking much different any time soon. Eventually, the arena will feature an updated entrance; new seating areas including a permanent, non-retractable lower level, club seats and boxes; and additional concession stands and team shops. Florida will also improve the audio-visual elements inside the arena. The school just completed a $900,000 renovation on the structure in the summer of 2011 that included brand new seats in the lower bowl, wider aisles, handrails and more. UF also recently remodeled the gymnastics studio on site at the O’Dome. Read more | Pictures

2 » The 2013 NFL Draft is fast approaching and no Florida Gators player is generating more buzz right now than junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. On the heels of a fantastic junior campaign in which he started every game at his natural position, Floyd is unanimously considered a first-round pick in the draft. In fact, ESPN’s Todd McShay projected him as the No. 29 pick in his first mock draft ($) and Mel Kiper, Jr. lists him as the No. 23 overall player on his Big Board ($); both lists were released Wednesday. “Floyd’s versatility to play inside or kick outside to end makes him a great fit,” McShay wrote. “He can anchor against the run, chases plays all over the field and had a monster 2012 season.”

3 » The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, guard Bradley Beal came one decision away from never suiting up for the Washington Wizards. According to The Washington Post, the Wizards turned down a trade proposed by the Oklahoma City Thunder over the summer in which the team was looking to trade James Harden for Beal and forward Chris Singleton. Oklahoma City, which had been infatuated with Beal throughout the draft process and was rumored to be looking to trade up into the top three selections in order to pick him, wound up trading Harden to Houston after Washington rebuffed its advances.

4 » Former Gators swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte won a pair of gold medals on the first day of the FINA World Swimming Championships (short-course) in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday. Lochte took the 200 Meter Freestyle in 1:41.92 and was part of the 4×100 Freestyle Relay team that won gold in 3:06.40. The last short-course world championships were held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2010; Lochte won six gold medals including five in individual events. Fellow former Florida swimmers Conor Dwyer and Jemma Lowe also captured individual bronze medals on day one of the event.

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RB Jeff Demps: “I tried to do the best that I could.”

A dual-sport star and the only man or woman in the history of the Florida Gators athletic program to win national championships in two sports (football, track & field), Jeff Demps is one of the most accomplished athletes to come out of the University of Florida and has only added to his resume this past year.

As a football player, Demps played running back and took 367 carries for 2,470 yards (6.73 yards per carry) while registering 23 touchdowns over four seasons. He also had a 99-yard kick return touchdown in his senior season against Georgia. Demps started the 2009 BCS National Championship as a freshman and won both a national title and Southeastern Conference title as part of the football program.

As a track star, he was a five-time All-American who won four individual national championships, five individual SEC championships and was part of a men’s track program that dominated both national and conference meets, winning multiple titles in both indoor and outdoor competitions.

Demps decided to concentrate on track after college and participated in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He fell short of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics but earned a spot as an injury replacement and brought home a silver medal.

After returning to the United States, he signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent but missed the entire season with a leg injury. Demps is expected to play his rookie season in 2013.

He has spent the last few months working as an ambassador for the Special Olympics and sat down with OGGOA recently for a wide-ranging interview.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s jump back to the beginning and start with your recruitment. I remember a lot of people always thought you would end up at Florida but what was it in the end that made you decide to go to UF over Tennessee?
JEFF DEMPS: “Florida just felt like home. I didn’t really want to go too far from home. Tennessee came down to recruit me, and I liked what they were talking about, but at the end of the day I knew I was always going to end up at Florida.”

AS: You got into the mix right away, scoring in the SEC Championship and starting at running back in the national title game. What was it like being a freshman and getting thrown into the lineup on a team that was having so much success?
JD: “It was fun. I knew coming in that, if I worked hard enough and learned the plays, I would have some kind of role on the offense as a freshman. That’s what I did and I was able to do those things like start in the championship and score in the SEC Championship and things like that.”

AS: Your sophomore season was something special as the Gators were looking to win back-to-back titles. How much pressure would you say the team felt each game to live up to the hype and deliver on winning another championship?
JD: “We had a lot of pressure. We were coming back and expected to win the championship. I’d say everybody wanted to see us hold up to the standard. We knew each team was going to bring their ‘A’ game and play us like we were the most important opponent on their schedule. It was really tough.”

Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Jeff Demps…after the break!
Continue Reading » RB Jeff Demps: “I tried to do the best that I could.”

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Has Mike Rosario turned a corner? Time will tell.

“He had a hip pointer and he was out for 10 days. That’s just mind-boggling to me. Ten days for a hip pointer? My daughter could work through that!”

In case you were wondering how frustrated Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan was with now-redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario one year ago, his thoughts on one of Rosario’s numerous injuries last season pretty much sums it up.

For a player who led his original team, Rutgers, in scoring each of the two years he played in his home state (16.5 points per game), Rosario was expected to be an immediate scoring threat for Florida and a player who would ensure that the Gators never had a lapse putting points up on the scoreboard.

Instead, Rosario was a model of inconsistency in his first year at UF, which led to him playing just 14.4 minutes per game and averaging only 6.6 points (though he did shoot a career-best 43 percent from the field). It was his inability to be dependable off the court and in practice that hurt him the most because when Rosario did see time and played responsibly by not making mental errors, he proved that he could be effective.

“His biggest issue and number one issue is inconsistently,” said Donovan while referring to Rosario as a redshirt junior. “Not only on the court, everywhere he’s inconsistent. He’s not responsible. He doesn’t take care. Last year the guy missed 25 practices and five games. Just to give you an idea, Erving Walker in four years missed one practice. Kenny Boynton missed one practice in three years. And neither one of those two guys missed a game. This guy missed five games in one year – and 25 practices!

“I think he needs to understand the responsibility he has to school, class, [being] on time, doing the things he needs to do and is supposed to do. And then on the court, practicing, playing the right way. If he does those things, I think he puts himself in a position with his ability to allow me to play him more as a coach and get out of it what he wants to get out of it.

“For Mike, there was maybe this expectation of, ‘I haven’t practiced in 10 days, but I had a really good practice before the day we’re playing. Why am I not playing?’ There are 12 guys that are practicing every day. You’ve missed a bunch of practice. You’re not playing. Any time you’re putting my credibility as a coach with the other 12 guys in jeopardy, you’re going to lose that battle.”

The good news for Rosario is that he appears to have done a 180 in terms of where his head is at heading into his final collegiate season.

Read the rest of this story on Mike Rosario…after the break!
Continue Reading » Has Mike Rosario turned a corner? Time will tell.

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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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FOUR BITS: Olympics, Brissett, Tebow, Harvin

1 » The Florida Gators official announced on Thursday something that has been long rumored – the team will honor current and former University of Florida student-athletes that participated in the 2012 London Olympics at halftime of the team’s home game against the LSU Tigers on Saturday. Featured at the event will be swimming medalists Ryan Lochte and junior Elizabeth Beisel as well as track & field medalists Christian Taylor and Will Claye, who make up just four of the more than 20 athletes and coaches being honored at halftime.

2 » Could sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett be on his way out the door? It’s possible, says Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels, who recently spoke with the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter. In a series of tweets sent out Thursday, Porter notes that “Brissett is all-in this season [and has] no plans to transfer” yet also notes that West Virginia and South Florida are potential destinations. “He’s making the most of a situation he’s not happy with, but he knows that’s his team right now,” Daniels told Porter. “If he doesn’t get his chance, I’m pretty sure he’s leaving.” Brissett getting “his chance” would probably only occur if starter and classmate Jeff Driskel went down with some sort of injury or pulled a 180 and began regressing dramatically.

3 » Despite quarterback Mark Sanchez playing horribly through the first four games of the season, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is not planning to insert Tim Tebow as his starter any time soon and said as much during media availabilities this week. But while Ryan may not be ready to make a chance, team owner Woody Johnson could insist on it, especially if the Jets continue playing this poorly. NFL.com reporter Jeff Darlington wrote this week that New York must embrace the inevitability of Tebow starting, a move that could very well turn the team’s season around. Also interesting about Darlington’s piece is the opening two paragraphs, which detail the lack of support Tebow had with the Denver Broncos from the get-go.

They marched one by one through the second floor of the Denver Broncos’ training facility, each quarterback stopping first in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s office to hear the same message that would then be echoed like a corporate line from coach John Fox.

“Stay ready,” McCoy told Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, a story relayed by one team source and corroborated by another. “We’re not sure how long this is going to last.”

4 » Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin has already done some amazing things in his young NFL career but still managed to add another honor this week when he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September. Harvin, whose franchise-record 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week undoubtedly fueled his receiving of the award, did not receive any honors last year after racking up the awards during his rookie campaign in 2009. He is currently averaging 74.75 yards on 7.5 receptions per game this season but has yet to find the end zone as a receiver or rusher.

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FOUR BITS: Gaffney, Brewer, LaCaze, ESPNU

1 » Former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, an 11-year NFL veteran who was cut by the New England Patriots during the preseason, signed with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday and officially joined his fifth professional franchise. Gaffney has only missed five regular season games while employed (all in 2006) and is the type of durable, veteran presence that Miami has desperately needed. He is also coming off the best two years production-wise. Gaffney set career-highs with 65 receptions for 875 yards with Denver in 2010 and eclipsed those numbers with 68 receptions for 947 yards (and a career-high-tying five touchdowns) with Washington last season.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey (and some of his teammates) made their acting debuts this year by making cameos as football players during the acclaimed film “The Dark Knight Rises.” As it turns out, Denver Nuggets guard/forward Corey Brewer will also be featured in a movie though his is set to be released on Jan. 25, 2013. In a new trailer for the ensemble comedy “Movie 43” released by Comedy Central, Brewer is shown as a basketball player being coached up by Terrence Howard. The film – which features a start-studded cast including names like Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Kate Winslet (along with some well-known comedy stars) – will undoubtedly receive at least an R rating for language, nudity, sexual situations, etc. The “red band” trailer below, which features a line from Brewer, contains adult content and explicit language. (Hat tip to John B.)

3 » It appears as if Florida has added a second competitor from the 2012 London Olympics to its coaching staffs as former Gators steeplechaser Genevieve LaCaze announced on Twitter that she has signed up to be a volunteer coach with the track & field program. LaCaze, who raced for Australia but did not medal in the Olympics, joins British swimmer and world record holder Gemma Spofforth, who was announced as a volunteer assistant by Florida last week. Spofforth, who graduated in 2010, competed in two Olympics and is now retired from the sport. LaCaze graduated this past spring and is planning to make a go of it for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

4 » ESPNU on Tuesday aired a special All Access program that took a look at the Gators football team as it worked through its bye last week. If you missed the show, ESPN informed OGGOA that it will re-air twice more this week on Oct. 5 at 4:30 p.m. and Oct. 7 at 6:30 a.m. Though the program did not provide much in the way of new information (similar clips have been featured in previous ESPN specials), it was an interesting look behind the scenes this season.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, September 27

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.

» In his second contribution to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah discusses helping host a basketball tournament that featured members of different local gangs all playing together “to promote peace and bring some positivity into the neighborhood.” Noah, through his Noah’s Arc Foundation, helps “children develop a stronger sense of self” in order to help fulfill their dreams.

What I witnessed was different gangs, different religions and different kinds of people joining forces to address the problems that affect a community they all share. I felt we accomplished our goal on a micro-level for that one day, and hopefully the effects will stretch far beyond.

» Washington Wizards rookie guard Bradley Beal recently sat down for some interviews as he prepares to begin his first NBA season. Beal spoke to a member of the Wizards’ staff about going through his first media day as a professional (Video) and The Wall Street Journal (video below) about being a young man suddenly coming into money as a professional basketball player.

Check out 10 more bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, September 27

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Gators RB Jeff Demps set to sign with Patriots

Former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is set to sign with the New England Patriots on Friday, ending his three-day run as an NFL undrafted free agent.

Demps, who decided on Jan. 12 to give up football in order to concentrate on his career as a sprinter, filed paperwork this week to become a free agent and was able to sign with any team he wished after not being selected in the 2012 NFL Draft back in April.

Though a dozen teams were seriously interested in Demps’s services, he and agent Daniel Rose narrowed down the player’s list to a handful of teams on Wednesday. Demps visited New England on Thursday and flew back to Orlando, FL on Friday to officially sign his contract.

Demps was technically considered an undrafted free agent under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement so the parameters of his rookie contract will be limited. He can sign for up to three years though the monetary terms of his deal were not necessarily as important finding the overall best fit, his agent told OGGOA late Wednesday.

“Every team has a different idea of how to use him and basically every team has given us an idea of what they want to do with him,” he explained. “We’re going to look at what teams have, what they want to do with him and take all of that into consideration. We’ve really done our homework.

“Just because a team offers him the most money does not mean they will be the team that gets him. Obviously money is great – and we’ll definitely get a nice deal – but it’s not like a team can come in, offer ‘X’ and all of a sudden they’re the right fit.”

Demps reportedly has been planning to make this move after failing to initially qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in July. He wound up being selected as an injury replacement and won a silver medal as part of the first round team for the United States in the Men’s 4×100 Meter Relay, delaying his football plans by a few weeks.

Rose also told OGGOA on Wednesday that Demps will join his new team as soon as possible as is very much behind the eight ball at this point in time. Training camp began two weeks ago and playbooks were handed out months ago.

Demps will be the sixth former Gators player on the Patriots’ current roster, joining linebacker Brandon Spikes, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, defensive tackle Gerard Warren and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.

Tampa Bay and the New York Jets were also in serious contention for his services.

Demps’s decision was first reported by FOX 13 out of Tampa, FL and confirmed to OGGOA shortly thereafter by his agent.

Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press

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