Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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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: Zook on Muschamp; Black; Wambach

1 » As a defensive-minded coach with no former head coaching experience, new Florida Gators boss Will Muschamp has been compared to former Florida and current Illinois head coach Ron Zook on numerous occasions. Florida fans, obviously, hope the comparison ends there as Zook’s tenure with the Gators (while successful from a recruiting standpoint) was filled with underwhelming records (23-14 combined) and early eliminations from the title hunt each year.

Appearing on ESPN 1000′s GameNight out of Chicago, IL on Monday, Zook offered some advice for Muschamp on his new gig. “The thing is you got be yourself,” he said. “Don’t try to be anybody else. It’s one of those jobs all you can do is the best you can do. You can’t get tied up with all the other stuff. Believe me, there’s a lot of noise in the system down as there is at a lot of places. He’ll do fine. There’s a great state base there, and he’s a good football coach. There’s no doubt they’ll do fine.”

2 » With the NFL lockout nearing its conclusion, former Gators safety Ahmad Black is excited to finally play professional football for his favorite team growing up, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Selected by Tampa Bay with the No. 151 overall pick in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the 2011 Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player has his sights set on a starting job but hopes to contribute in any way he can.

“I want to try to get a starting spot, but if not, then a significant role on the team,” he told the Pewter Report. “I really just can’t wait to get in there and do my thing.” In the meantime, he has been staying in shape and making sure he is ready to go when the season starts. “I’ve been pretty much training four or five times a week,” Black said. “I’ve been doing a lot of outside stuff, going to the beach and trying to relax a little bit. I know that once we start it is going to be crazy.”

3 » Returning to her hometown of Rochester, NY with locals chanting her name, former Florida striker and U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach celebrated as the city honored her with “Abby Wambach Day.” As a member of the Women’s Professional Soccer league’s magicJack squad, Wambach was in town for her team’s game but did not play even though the league set an attendance record (15,404) due to the appearance of her and other members of Team USA (Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan). “I hope I didn’t disappoint too many people tonight, but my body really needed a rest,” she told the crowd at halftime. “Honestly, I’m humbled [by your support].” Read more about Wambach’s return to Rochester and the reception she received.

4 » For the second time this offseason, Muschamp will travel to Bristol, CT to participate in another Car Wash at ESPN. Consisting of appearing in nearly all of the network’s programming over the course of a given day, the Car Wash often includes spots on First Take, SportsCenter, College Football Live and a variety of ESPN Radio programs. Muschamp, along with five other Southeastern Conference coaches (including Steve Spurrier and Dan Mullen) will be at the Worldwide Leader on Monday, July 25. The rest of the league will participate in the Car Wash on Tuesday.

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Gators SS Ahmad Black falls to Tampa Bay at No. 151 overall in fifth round of 2011 NFL Draft

Round 5 – No. 20 (151 overall)
Ahmad Black, SS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Height: 5’10″ – Weight: 184 lbs.
Age: 21 – Class: Senior

Arguably the Florida Gators most valuable starter in 2010 and perhaps the most talented player coming out of Gainesville, FL this year, strong safety Ahmad Black was selected Saturday afternoon by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 20th pick in the fifth round (No. 151 overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Chosen late in the process due to concerns about his size (5’10” 184 lbs.) and speed (4.74-second 40-yard dash), Black has proven over his four-year college career that he has every other attribute necessary to be successful at the next level. He is tough, durable, smart and can sniff out passes with the best of them.

“I’ve done a lot, a lot, a lot. And people always doubted me about my size,” he told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday. “Definitely, that’s one of the biggest reasons. As frustrating as it is, I’ve just got to live with that.”

Black is the second Florida safety drafted in as many seasons. Major Wright was chosen in the third round with the 75th overall pick by the Chicago Bears in 2010.

He joins former Gators running back Earnest Graham on Tampa Bay and is the ninth Florida player selected all-time by the franchise. The Buccaneers last picked offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker with the No. 14 overall pick in 2001.

A Tampa Bay fan growing up, Black also has an aunt who was previously a cheerleader for the team. His last collegiate game – the 2011 Outback Bowl – was played in Raymond James Stadium. Black won the contest for the Gators with a game-sealing 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. He was named the Most Valuable Player.

OGGOA will continue updating this story.

» OGGOA’s 2011 NFL Draft Live Blog – Click here!

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DE Trattou: “I’m glad we went out the right way”

Having returned home to New Jersey now that his Florida Gators career has come to a close, defensive end Justin Trattou took some time out from training for upcoming NFL workouts to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging interview.

Trattou, who plans to return to Gainesville, FL to showcase his talents for NFL scouts and coaches at Florida’s Pro Day, recounted his collegiate career and looked ahead to his future during our conversation. Check it out below!

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You made all-state as a junior and senior and won the New Jersey state title in your final season. What was it like to see four years of hard work pay off?
JUSTIN TRATTOU: “It was definitely a huge accomplishment. My senior year, me and those guys, we went to the state championship in my sophomore and junior year and lost both times. That senior year we went 12-0, ran the table and then blew out St. Peters 41-0. That was a great way to go out. And then I ended up going to the All-American game and did well there, so it was definitely a good way to go into college.”

AS: For a while you were committed to Notre Dame, but you eventually switched to Florida. What made you change your mind, and how did all that come about?
JT: “After my season ended, I kind of just committed to get it out of the way and concentrate on my senior year. I didn’t want to be bothered by people. After I won the state championship and everything was all good, I started looking around again. Took a visit down to Florida and immediately fell in love with the place – The Swamp and the whole atmosphere. I knew that was the place for me.”

AS: Was it tough telling Notre Dame that you had switched?
JT: “At the end of the day, I’m the one that has to live it out. I didn’t owe anybody anything, so it was definitely my choice.”

AS: During your recruitment, Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head coach. Obviously he’s now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Can you talk about the type of recruiter he was – his demeanor in your home, how he spoke to you, etc?
JT: “It was always good. Obviously I ended up committing there, so… He was definitely good. For me personally, I just wanted to go to Florida.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Justin Trattou…after the break!
Continue Reading » DE Trattou: “I’m glad we went out the right way”

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TWO BITS: Muschamp, Meyer discuss new gigs

1 » Hired as the Florida Gators new head coach as the team was preparing for the 2011 Outback Bowl, Will Muschamp was immediately thrown into the fire. He continues to be busy day-in and day-out, from morning to night, figuring out what schemes he will run, who he will be looking at as starters and who his staff will concentrate on recruiting in 2012. Muschamp spoke with a handful of writers on Friday and relayed his high level of excitement about the upcoming season, his first as a head coach. He also told them that he plans to keep the traditions former head coach Urban Meyer added to the program – singing the fight song and alma mater after victories, the Gator Walk, etc. – while making sure to participate in multiple Gator Club speaking engagements. “I’m going to do as many as I can,” he said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I think it’s important to get out and meet the people who fill the stadium.”

Muschamp even went into a bit of detail about the type of head coach he will be. “As a leader or in a leadership role, you have to be yourself,” he said. “I’m not a CEO. That’s not my M.O. I’m going to be involved with the players. I’ve always envisioned myself in that [head coaching] chair, but when you get in it, it’s different. Still, I enjoy scheming. I like drawing up Xs and Os. As a head coach, you can get pulled away from that job. That’s not going to happen.”

2 » Meyer was a guest on 1070 the Fan in Indianapolis, IN and discussed a number of topics about his future now that he is no longer coaching. You can read the entire transcript here or listen to it below, but we have also included a few choice quotes:

Urban Meyer on 1070 the Fan

On a feature he may do with ESPN: “The next thing is going to be the draft and spring practice, and then we are talking about doing a series before the season ‘Training Camp’ like a coaching one-on-one where you break down offense, defense, kicking game and I really look forward to doing that.”

On if he will ever coach again: “I don’t know. I don’t know that but everybody keeps asking me that. I was watching that Super Bowl and sitting there, if you could just do the part of coaching that is allowed and not have to worry about all of that nonsense that has really developed in the college game, that is what I am familiar with. It is out of control with that stuff right now and we have got to get that back on track. 25 years ago, and I am sure you know, if you had to deal with some of the stuff you are dealing with the off-the-field, the agent issues, the violation issues and all the garbage that is out there right now I certainly would not have gotten into coaching. Hopefully with the powers that be and all the right people, I know one thing the NFL Commissioner has got a great outlook the way he is attacking the NFL right now and trying to bring respect and order, and I just love the way he is approaching it. If college football gets that we will have a chance to get back to that great game we all love.”

Photo Credit: GatorVision capture

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TWO BITS: Will Hill and Jones-Drew…on Twitter

1 » Former Florida Gators safety Will Hill, making an appearance on The Pat Dooley Show on Monday, claimed that recent criticism he received over messages from his Twitter account were not his but instead the work of someone else. “The Twitter thing just came up to me. I haven’t been on Twitter for the last five or six months. I called my people to see what was going on. I deleted everything but some blogger cut and pasted some things. Somehow, my thing has been hacked,” he said. “That was really hard on me. I would never want to disrespect the Gator Nation or Coach [Will] Muschamp or Urban Meyer. I don’t want people to think of me as a bad person.” Hill also said academics, not behavioral issues, were the reason he was suspended the first two games of the season and played sparingly in the 2011 Outback Bowl. He chose to clarify his decision to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft as well. “Coach Meyer always talks about family and when he decided to step down he talked about how important his family was and I was thinking the same way,” Hill said. “I have three beautiful sons and a beautiful wife. I thought it was best for me to leave the university. I know I didn’t have the best year, but I know I’m a great athlete. There was a lot going on this year. I had a few injuries and I couldn’t perform to the best of my abilities. I felt I let people down.”

2 » Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who cut-down Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday via his Twitter account by claiming he “quit” like former Gators head coach Urban Meyer, decided to back-off a portion of that statement Monday…the part about Cutler. “I never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser,” Jones-Drew said about Cutler. “I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context.” So what exactly was his joke? “I was taking a shot at Florida fans,” he quipped. Smart move for someone playing in a metropolitan area with arguably the largest collection of Florida fans outside of Gainesville, FL. Editor’s note: Jones-Drew attended UCLA.
 

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Father says John Brantley staying put at Florida

Redshift junior quarterback John Brantley will play his senior season with the Florida Gators after deciding not to transfer from the University of Florida, his father John Brantley III told the Palm Beach Post on Friday.

“He’s not transferring unless something goes wrong between now and the end of the spring semester,” Brantley III said. “He’s a Gator.”

Brantley, who was considering leaving after a rough first season, is excited to play in a pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis after being a square peg in a round hole in former head coach Urban Meyer‘s spread offense.

“[A pro-style offense] is what we would have sought out if we had looked to move on, but it came to us,” Brantley III told the paper. “Johnny’s looking forward to the challenge. Once they said there was going to a pro-style, transferring wasn’t even a question.”

Though he threw for over 2,000 yards in his first year as a starter, Brantley tossed 10 interceptions compared to only nine touchdowns and was relegated to mostly third-and-long duty in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

Brantley has not yet met with Weis – something he and his family said he would do before making a decision – but plans to in the near future. Weis is expected to be in Gainesville on Saturday.

Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

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