4/5: Floyd outside, Wilson debuting, Nixon, Riggs

A handful of Florida Gators spoke on Thursday about how they and the team as a whole is coming along heading into the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday, April 7. The scrimmage will air live on Sun Sports and FOXSportsFlorida.com at 1 p.m.

FLOYD STILL PLAYING DEFENSIVE END

It was quite obvious during the 2011 season that junior Sharrif Floyd was not completely comfortable playing defensive end and succeed at a higher level by playing defensive tackle. However with two solid players on the inside and lacking players on the outside, Floyd bit his lip and played end to help the team. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn noted at the beginning of the spring that Floyd is indeed better suited to play inside and that he would see more work there this year although he would also continue playing end for depth reasons. That is not necessarily what is happening on the practice fields.

“It’s one of my best springs since I’ve been at Florida,” Floyd said Thursday. “I’m still out at defensive end and getting better at each day at it. Now I understand it so it’s no problem with me anymore.”

It may not be a “problem” for him but Floyd nodded in agreement when asked if he preferred to play inside. “We’re still low on numbers right now so it’s still about what we have and what we need,” he explained. “As of now, in our base front, I’m the D-end. In the nickel front, I’m the defensive tackle. It hasn’t been that way throughout spring ball because of numbers so right now I’m at D-end. Ideally, getting ready for the season, I should be inside for good or, depending the way it goes, I’ll be playing both.”

WILSON READY FOR HIS FIRST SPRING DEBUT

In his sixth year with the Gators, redshirt senior guard James Wilson will actually be participating in his very first Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday. Wilson, 23, has experienced a myriad of knee injuries since joining the team in 2007 and plans to use his extra year of eligibility to ensure that he leaves Florida satisfied with his career and out on a high note.

“It was really tough,” Wilson said of being injured for so long. “Sometimes I couldn’t even – I’d have to call someone to come help me and get my knees loose [after waking up in the morning]. Now it’s all good, smooth sailing. Knock on wood.”

Interestingly enough, Wilson credits new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman for his improved health. “I really think it has a lot to do with Coach Dillman and the strength and conditioning program we have now. A lot more power lifting – the stuff I did in high school. I really feel a lot stronger,” he said.”

He also thinks that the offensive line as a whole is much improved from a year ago and is excited to see what they can do in 2012. “We’re just more tight; we communicate,” he said. “We’re comfortable with each other. We tell each other when one is slacking off and when one’s not. It’s just more like a family.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Redshirt sophomore Chaz Green said he redshirt junior Matt Patchan have been rotating at right tackle while senior Xavier Nixon has pretty much locked down the left tackle job with his much improved play this offseason. “He’s playing real well this spring. I think he’s had the best spring that I’ve seen. He’s looking good,” he said.

» Junior cornerback Cody Riggs on the improvement of sophomore CB Louchiez Purifoy: “He’s doing real good. He’s improved a lot from last year. He’s always been physical; he’s a big body out there at corner. He can really help us on defense.”

» Riggs on sophomore CB Marcus Roberson and how he’s doing coming back from injury: “He looks good. I’ve played with him since high school, so he’s very talented and he’s doing real good out there.”

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TE Leonard pleads no contest, receives probation

Florida Gators sophomore tight end A.C. Leonard entered a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of simple domestic battery on Wednesday and was sentenced to six months of probation for his actions, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Arrested on Feb. 15 after an altercation with his then-girlfriend of 17 months turned heated, Leonard was charged with allegedly shoving her to the ground and pulling/dragging her out of the apartment by her feet/hair. He refused comment when he was arrested, only telling police: “I never hit her. I just wanted her to leave.”

As a response to his player’s arrest and charges, Gators head coach Will Muschamp suspended Leonard indefinitely from team activities, saying in an official statement: “I certainly do not condone this type of behavior – it is not what we expect from the University of Florida football program.”

Leonard returned to the team on March 26 following a six-week suspension. Though his case was still pending at the time, he was allowed to rejoin practice and team meetings. His status for the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 remains up in the air.

“I felt like he’s done the things that I’ve asked him to do from the standpoint of the measures that I took with him to this point. And I’ve allowed him to practice only – only,” Muschamp said on March 29. “No decision on the fall has been made. No decision about playing has been made. He still has an awful lot of things to do in order to play for our football team and play for the University of Florida. He’s very remorseful about what happened. He made a mistake. And that’s all I’m going to comment on at this point. All he has been cleared to do is practice.”

In addition to his six months of probation, Leonard will be forced to pay $628 in state fines and court costs. He is already taking part in anger management counseling, which the court has mandated that he continue. The Sentinel also reports that Leonard was ordered to have no contact with the victim and that his medical records be open to the State Attorney’s Office for the foreseeable future.

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4/2: Muschamp on QBs, special teams, motivation

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spoke on Monday about the team’s weekend scrimmage while also previewing the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION RAMPING UP BUT STILL EVEN

Though the team has participated in one-and-a-half scrimmages (Saturday’s was cut short at approximately 35 snaps due to lightning), sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel remain in a dead heat for the starting job.

“Not much separation. Both guys have done some nice things for us. For the few snaps we got in the scrimmage we did a nice job of managing our offense,” Muschamp said on Monday. “They’ve done a really nice job as far as procedural issues, getting in and out of the huddle. We do motions and shifts quite a bit and both of those guys are doing a really nice job of that.”

No matter what happens at the spring game on Saturday, Muschamp does not expect there to be any further clarity in who will start the first game of the season. He said it is “not going to be D-Day” for the players because one good practice will just be intertwined to the other 14 days of competing.

“I don’t know that we will name a starter after spring. We will go into the fall camp [without one]. That to me is becoming more and more evident every day that both guys are guys we can win with. Bottom line. That’s good for us. But both guys are competing at a high level, in my opinion, and they both have done outstanding things throughout spring,” he said. “I’m very pleased with their progress as much as anything in just managing our football team and getting in and out of the huddle and taking a command of the offense. Both of them are working extremely hard off the field. They’re always in the building watching film and doing the things you got to do to be successful. [...]

“The game slows down for older players because they’re able to see and anticipate. Even though we’ve changed some things from a verbiage standpoint, terminology, the game is slowing down for them.”

A MIXED BAG ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Muschamp was quite honest on Monday about the way his special teams unit performed in 2011: “We were really good in all categories, but we were not good in returning punts.” Therefore, Florida is working six players out as punt returners and eight as kick returners in order to get some added production from that unit.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose is the team’s best returning threat (showcasing his ability as a kick returner last year) and has improved his hands from a year ago making him a legitimate option on the punting unit as well. He is getting plenty of competition there, however, from sophomore defensive backs Louchiez Purifoy, De’Ante Saunders and Marcus Roberson, redshirt senior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. and even junior running back Trey Burton. That same group along with redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines and junior DB Cody Riggs is returning kickoffs as well.

Muschamp is also hoping to see sophomore punter Kyle Christy improve his performance from a year ago. He said Christy “really punted the ball well” on Wednesday and continues to progress though he most show that he can be more consistent. “He’s got the leg. He’s got the tools. He’s got the talent. It’s a matter of doing it all the time,” he said. “As Kyle continued to improve that consistency, that’s’ what enabled him to get the job [in the middle of 2011].”

WORK ETHIC AND MOTIVATION ARE IMPROVING

Continue Reading » 4/2: Muschamp on QBs, special teams, motivation

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SIX BITS: practice, Leonard, baseball, Spikes

1 » The Florida Gators announced Monday that spring football practice will begin on Wednesday, March 14 and conclude as always with the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 at 1 p.m. Unlike the 2011 season, when all of Florida’s spring practices were closed, the Gators will open two sessions to fans this year on Friday, March 16 (4:25-6:35 p.m.) and Saturday, March 17 (12:55-3:00 p.m.).

2 » Florida freshman tight end A.C. Leonard, arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery on Feb. 15 and indefinitely suspended from the team by head coach Will Muschamp one day later, entered a “not guilty” plea in Alachua County court on Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Being represented by Gainesville, FL attorney Huntley Johnson, Leonard is not allowed to have any contact with the woman he allegedly hurt by judge’s orders and had to find a separate place to live at least until the court makes a final judgment on his case.

3 » No. 1 Gators baseball (3-1) pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory at home on Tuesday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (2-2) 8-6 at McKethan Stadium. Florida threw a trio of freshmen pitchers over the first 6.2 innings, beginning with right-hander Johnny Magliozzi who earned the first start of his career. Magliozzi allowed three earned runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 3.2 and was followed up by left-hander Bobby Poyner and RHP Justin Shafer. The duo gave up three earned runs combined on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts in 3.0 innings. By the time Shafer left the hill, the Gators were down 6-5 after previously having leads of 4-1 through three innings and 4-3 through four innings.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to get Florida on the board, and the Gators rallied in the bottom of the third and fourth as four more runs crossed the plate. Zunino (2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led off the seventh the same way he did the second, with another solo shot to tie the game 6-6. With junior RHP Austin Maddox (1-0) taking over to hold Bethune-Cookman to six runs, Florida again rallied in the eighth and took the lead with a RBI single by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-5). Junior first baseman Brian Johnson (1-4) had a two-RBI night for the Gators, and both senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, RBI, 2 R, BB) and freshman catcher Taylor Gushue (2-5, RBI) knocked in runs on Tuesday.

4 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes underwent surgery on Monday. The Boston Herald reports that the surgery was performed on his right kene and done in order to “clean out some cartilage.” A source told the paper that the procedure “went very well.” Spikes, who returned late in the season after spraining his MCL, was a tremendous contributor for New England on defense in 2011 (when he was on the field).

5 » Florida is attempting to secure a sixth year of collegiate eligibility for offensive lineman James Wilson, ESPN reported on Monday. Wilson, who has broken his foot twice and had four knee surgeries in the last five years, has played in 38 games for the Gators and is talented enough to potentially start for Florida in 2012 if he is able to return. What may hurt his chances at a NCAA waiver is the fact that he played in 11 games in 2011, his redshirt senior season. ESPN notes that the Gators expect to have an answer sooner than later.

6 » North Texas Mean Green head coach and former Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney was released from the hospital on Feb. 16 after suffering a stroke and being rushed to the emergency room four days earlier. McCarney has since returned to work and is expected to continue coaching the team beginning with spring practice in March.

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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FOUR BITS: Larson faces jail, Starks returns to Steelers, Noah spotted, Hill arrested

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson may have had his legal matter settled in the state of Florida (he accepted deferred prosecution for his misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges) but how his actions will impact his legal status in South Dakota is another story. According to Keoland.com, Larson’s 120-day suspended jail sentence may be invoked due to him violating the law. “Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan filed a motion this week asking a Sioux Falls judge to drop the suspended sentence and consider jail time on the prescription drug charges from last year,” the website reports. “A court date has been set for Friday. That’s when it will be up to a judge to decide if Larson serves any or all of those 120 days.”

2 » After nearly three months away from football, former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks has officially been re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same team that cut him shortly after the lockout ended due to concerns over his weight and status following offseason neck surgery. Starks, a favorite of the front office but reportedly a problem for the coaching staff, returned Wednesday and found his old No. 78 jersey hanging in his locker. “It was good to see everybody and everybody was happy to see me,” he told the Steelers’ website. “It was like old times. There are a lot of old faces and some new faces. It’s comfortable and it’s home. I am happy to be back.” OGGOA spoke with Starks a few weeks ago in an exclusive interview that will be published on the website in the coming days. He hopes to returns to the NFL gridiron as soon as Sunday.

3 » Back in Gainesville, FL working out with fellow former Florida forward Al Horford while the NBA lockout continues, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was caught by TMZ on Tuesday…having some fun in a pool. No, not that kind of fun. If you care to see two pictures of Noah playing beer pong, you can click here.

4 » Former Gators power forward Dametri Hill was arrested on Tuesday for not paying child support and for two previous charges of marijuana possession. According to the St. Petersburg Times, police caught up with Hill at the Tampa International Airport booked him with a warrant for contempt of court. After leaving Florida, Hill played with the San Antonio Spurs for a short time before pursuing professional basketball in seven countries over a 14-year period. He has recently participated in basketball camps as a coach and had hoped to continue living around the game.

Extra BIT » The University of Florida announced Wednesday that the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will take place on April 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It will be a busy day on campus at UF with a track and field meet, baseball game and softball game also taking place.

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All healed, former Gators safety Dorian Munroe plans to make most of opportunity in Toronto

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Edison

For every college football player who spends his career bellyaching about playing time or feels his coaching staff is not doing enough to help him move on to the next level is a guy who remains humble, keeps his head down and fights to earn his keep.

You usually see this type of gusto from walk-ons who are thrilled to have a place on the team and hope to earn a scholarship by proving they can work as hard and perform as well as the highly recruited players who intend to use their college careers as a springboard to the NFL.

But what happens when a four-star recruit listed as one of the top players at his position nationally works just as hard as any other player, earns the starting role he sought his whole career and is injured – not once but thrice – and told to kiss his career goodbye?

Those unfortunate circumstances are what former Florida Gators safety Dorian Munroe faced. Rather than fall by the wayside as another talented athlete who could not escape injury and wound up giving up on his dream, he has kept his head in the game, searched for the right opportunity and realized that any chance you are given to succeed is better than no chance at all.

Entering his redshirt junior year with Florida in 2008, Munroe was set to start and play extensively in the secondary. While doing voluntary workouts in Gainesville, FL on July 7, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was forced to miss the entire season.

He rejoined the Gators in 2009 with his knee healed and his mind set on returning to form. After going through an extensive rehabilitation process, Munroe shined in the Orange & Blue Debut, grabbing an interception and proving that he was ready to play once again as part of a four-man rotation at safety.

His comeback would not be without another bump in the road, however, as he tore the meniscus in his right leg in August and missed the first seven games of the season. Munroe made his triumphant return to the field against Georgia on Oct. 31, starting on special teams and taking home the Special Teams Player of the Game award.

Little did he know that the first game he participated in after nearly 16 months on the mend would also be the last time he ever put the full Florida uniform.

Read the rest of OGGOA’s feature on Dorian Munroe…after the break!
Continue Reading » All healed, former Gators safety Dorian Munroe plans to make most of opportunity in Toronto

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4/20 SEC: Muschamp on roster and leadership

With the Florida Gators first year of spring practice under head coach Will Muschamp now in the books after a lackluster 2011 Orange & Blue Debut, he spoke with the media during the first Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference of the young season to provide some insight about where his team is at going into the summer.

ROSTER UPDATES

The story of the spring game was how banged up Florida was as a team – especially on the offensive line. Muschamp said Wednesday that he expects all of the team’s injured players to be ready to go by June 1 with the exception of sophomore running back Mack Brown, who has been given a June 22 return date.

Overall, the team should be completely healthy by the time fall practice begins. “We should be full-bore going into August,” he said. Speaking about redshirt junior left tackle Matt Patchan in particular, Muschamp said he has been cleared for lifting for a while but sat out of practice to avoid contact on his wrist.

He also spoke about the recent wide receiver transfers, nothing that freshman Javares McRoy simply wanted to play with his brother and redshirt freshman Chris Dunkley did not think UF was the place for him. “Chris felt like sometimes things don’t fit,” Muschamp said. “He and I had a long conversation. We wish him all the luck in the world and are trying to help him get in a situation where he’ll be better off.”

PLEASED WITH BRANTLEY

Though fans may be up in arms after seeing his performance in the spring game, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley continues to have the confidence of Muschamp, the coaching staff and (according to the head coach) the players as well. “[I’m] really pleased with his poise, leadership and habits off the field studying what we need to do to be successful,” he said. “He’s got the ability and we’re very pleased.”

Muschamp said Brantley proved he has talent, had a really good spring overall and needs to have a great offseason in order to become a true team leader. As for his performance in the game, he said the outstanding play of the defensive line and “moving parts” of the offensive line made it nearly impossible for Brantley to succeed. “I don’t think in the spring game John had much of a chance,” Muschamp said. “I was behind him and saw it coming pretty fast, too.”

LEADERSHIP IMPORTANT OVER SUMMER

With the coaching staff mostly barred from contact with the team over the summer, the players are in the hands of strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti. Often called the offseason head coach, Marotti will be working the players hard while also trying to build character and leadership throughout the group.

Muschamp said that leadership is “still something we’re sort of trying to identify” but that it should be worked out over the summer. He pointed out Brantley as well as linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins as guys who do things right both on and off the field. When discussing others who impressed him throughout the spring, he made it a point to name redshirt senior wide receiver Denote Thompson; redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey; sophomore athlete Trey Burton; redshirt sophomore offensive linemen Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison; defensive ends senior William Green and redshirt junior Lerentee McCray; and sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley.

NOTES & QUOTES

» On how the spring went overall: “[I’m] pleased with the progress we made as far as the installation, identifying the playmakers on both sides of the ball.”

» Muschamp said the thinness on the lines was “frustrating” for him toward the end of spring and that the team needs to vastly improve depth on both sides of the ball.

» On greyshirting: “At Florida we don’t greyshirt. That’s not something we do. That’s not a policy of ours.”

» Muschamp said the coaching staff is “working very well” together. He was enthusiastic about what offensive coordinator Charlie Weis brings to the table both offensively and as an experienced head coach. He also praised defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and how well they mesh when discussing defensive philosophy and strategy.

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