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.

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Pouncey named to second-straight Pro Bowl

Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey became the third Florida Gators player in as many seasons to be named to the primary NFL Pro Bowl roster.

He was selected as a starter for the AFC this year after being picked as the backup for Nick Mangold of the New York Jets last season.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin and Pouncey earned Pro Bowl nominations 2009 and 2010, respectively. Harvin started for the NFC as a kick return specialist, while Pouncey did not play due to being on a Super Bowl team.

Pouncey is the 20th former Florida player to be picked for the Pro Bowl; his nomination in 2010 made him the fifth to receive the honor in his rookie season (Cris Collinsworth, Jevon Kearse, Emmitt Smith, Harvin). Former Gators have made a total of 57 appearances in the game and have participated in 35 of 42 total Pro Bowls.

The Denver Post reports that former Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is a second alternate for the AFC. Should two of New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego’s Philip Rivers not participate in the game, Tebow would get the nod and take the trip to Honolulu, HI.

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is the primary alternate behind New England teammate Rob Gronkowski and San Diego’s Antonio Gates.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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4 BITS: Larson avoids jail, Pouncey gets fined

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson will not serve any jail time in South Dakota even though his 120-day suspended sentence was revoked earlier this week by Minnehaha County Judge John Schlimgen due to Larson’s arrest in Florida on April 10. According to KSFY ABC, Judge Schlimgen re-invoked Larson’s suspended sentence due and gave him two more years of probation. Larson’s jail sentence will remain suspended as long as he stays out of trouble and follows a number of terms and conditions set forth by the Minnehaha County State Attorney’s Office. If he violates his probation again, chances are the judge will not be as lenient next time. Larson remains indefinitely suspended from the Gators basketball team because his legal status had not yet been decided until Friday. Head coach Billy Donovan will likely reinstate him soon, as he did with junior F Erik Murphy after his case was settled.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was fined $7,500 by the NFL on Friday due to an unnecessary roughness call he got Sunday against Houston. Pouncey was fined for what the NFL determined was a late hit, though Pouncey said he did not hear the whistle and will not let the fine affect him. “I’m not changing how I play,” he said.

3 » Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap was praised by Pro Football Focus as the second-highest rated player at his position in the league. Dunlap does not have a sack yet this season after registering 9.5 in 2010 (including 8.5 in the final six games). He does, however lead Cincinnati with eight quarterback pressures, which is a great sign for the player. “Once you get one usually you get on a roll. Right now though the first one is the toughest,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m getting quarterback hits and pressures. Eventually they are going to turn into sacks.”

4 » On the injury front, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (sprained MCL) returned to practice for the first time on Thursday since getting hurt in Week 2. He is considered “on track” to play. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy, who has yet to play this year due to a sports hernia/groin injury, resumed practicing this week but was limited. Murphy, a starter in 2010 who was looking like Oakland’s most promising receiver, has fallen on the depth chart due to his absence and will have to work his way back up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham was injured during practice on Thursday. Graham hurt his hamstring and is questionable to play on Saturday. Though he may not be raking in the scores, he has been an integral part of Tampa Bay’s offense up to this point.

Updating the item above, Hernandez is listed as questionable on the Patriots’ injury report, Murphy will miss one more week, and Pittsburgh’s new left tackle Max Starks has earned the starting role for Sunday’s game.

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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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FOUR BITS: Young, Jaeckel, cheer, Jenkins

1 » Florida Gators sophomore forward/center Patric Young, one of the most important pieces to the team’s 2011-12 season, was named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list on Monday. The Wooden Award is presented each year to the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player and is awarded after the postseason has concluded. Every player in the nation is eligible to win except freshmen, medical redshirts and transfers. Young is one of seven players representing the Southeastern Conference on the watch list and the only one from Florida.

2 » Gators senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel picked up a pair of prestigious weekly honors after standout performances over the weekend. Jaeckel was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday and was honored with the AVCA National Player of the Week award just one day later. Over the course of two road games against Auburn and Georgia, Jaeckel totaled 29 kills, 12 blocks, four digs and two service aces. Florida swept both opponents 3-0 and is now 11-3 with a 4-1 record in SEC competition so far this season.

3 » UF cheerleader Tarin Moses wrote a Sideline Report blog for AmericanCheerleaders.com, which takes readers through a day in the life of a member of the Gators’ spirit squad before, during and after a big contest at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Though the majority of Florida fans already know of the traditions Moses writes about, the entry is an interesting look at the game from her perspective.

4 » Former Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins, playing his final collegiate season with the North Alabama Lions after transferring due to multiple rules violations, was named the Gulf Coast Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday because he had an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal during his team’s game on Saturday. It was Jenkins’s third touchdown of the season (punt return, fumble return), and he is also third on North Alabama with 33 tackles through five games. The Lions have started the 2011 season 5-0.

Extra BIT » Offensive tackle Max Starks has not played a game in the NFL this season after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers when the lockout ended this summer. Due to a massive amount of injuries and an intense need for a player who knows the system, Pittsburgh flew Starks in to work out for the team on Tuesday, NFL.com‘s Jason LaCanfora reports. Starks was originally cut by the Steelers due to weight issues and concerns stemming from offseason neck surgery. When asked last week if Starks was an option to return, head coach Mike Tomlin flat-out said no.

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FOUR BITS: Leak, Harvin, Starks, Gilbert

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has yet to find a permanent team to play with as a professional. After playing only one preseason game in the NFL, he has spent the last four years in the CFL with three different teams. His running around in the great white north has finally coming to an end if a report from the Florida Times-Union is to be believed. According to the paper, the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL are planning to sign Leak to be the team’s new starting quarterback. The ArenaBowl XXIV Champions, Jacksonville will be losing its 41-year-old veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia to another team and is looking for someone to come in and take his place. Should Leak sign with the Sharks, he will be the third former Gators player on the team in as many years, following cornerback Dee Webb and wide receiver Dallas Baker.

2 » After missing one day of practice last week due to a stomach illness supposedly caused by the flu, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin ended up playing in his team’s game on Sunday but did not last the entire contest. After getting hit in the gut during the fourth quarter, Harvin sat out the final five minutes of regulation as well as the overtime period as he watched his team fall to Detroit. Before leaving, Harvin caught three passes for 47 yards, returned two kickoffs for 47 yards and ran the ball twice for 41 yards. He is expected to return to practice this week and should not suffer any further setbacks.

3 » Out of work all season after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers just after the NFL lockout ended, former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks continues to look for a new team. According to 1500 ESPN Radio out of Minnesota, the Vikings met with Starks on Monday as they need to fill a reserve tackle position on their team. Starks, who recovered all offseason from a neck injury that he suffered in November, apparently had weight and conditioning issues when he reported to Steelers camp.

4 » Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked like a MASH unit Sunday evening after a bunch of starters and reserves were injured throughout the course of their game at Indianapolis. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who moved into a starting role with the team due to an injury to another player, hurt his shoulder during the game and was sent to the sideline. When the reserve left tackle was forced to leave the game, an injured Gilbert wound up reentering for the remainder of the contest. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Gilbert “looks like he’ll be OK” to play next week barring any setbacks. Even though the team is in need of another reserve tackle, NBC Sports reports that Starks has been ruled out as a possibility.

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Harvin, Reed, Demps

1 » Former Florida Gators center Maurkice Pouncey had a great rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Earning the starting job from day one, Pouncey helped his team advance all the way to the Super Bowl, which he ended up missing due to injury. He had another unique opportunity this past Saturday as he and 12 of his Pittsburgh teammates worked as actors for the third installment of the new group of Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises. Pouncey and the rest of the Steelers were cast as football players and went through some motions on Heinz Field while surrounded by thousands of extras in the stands as fans. They are on the field against a Gotham team coached by Bill Cowher. “From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be like a pregame, warming-up type thing,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before the filming. “I don’t know the whole concept. There’s a Gotham team, a football game. We’ll be wearing uniforms. It will be fun.”

2 » A standout performer at Minnesota Vikings training camp thus far, wide receiver Percy Harvin is also becoming more of a leader. “I’ll tell you there is no way that I would have predicted over this lockout that Percy would have come back taking a leadership role that he has,” head coach Leslie Frazier told the Associated Press. “From the moment the lockout was lifted and we could contact players, it’s been refreshing just talking to him and just seeing his attitude about this season. The fact that he’s leading, he’s talking to other players, explaining to them what needs to be done, how things are done.” Not only is Harvin stepping up, he is also feeling much better after being plagued with migraines throughout his entire football career. Free from them for the last seven months and confident that doctors have finally found a solution, Harvin could be poised for a breakout season even though he’s already won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and scored a ton of touchdowns in his young career.

3 » Gators redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed finally feels like he is coming into his own at his new position. Moved to tight end from quarterback heading into 2010, Reed was forced to move back behind center in order to help run Florida’s offense. A year later, he is once again prepared to try his hand at blocking and catching. “I’m excited about being the tight end,” Reed told The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. “It’s been a lot easier on me than last year, knowing that I’ve just got to worry about one position.” To help with his transition, he has sought out assistance from former Gators TE Aaron Hernandez. “We still talk all the time,” he said. “He tells me to watch film and learn the defense and coverages and it will be easier for me.”

4 » Florida senior running back Jeff Demps was named to the watch list for the 2011 Paul Hornung Award on Monday. The award, presented to the nation’s most versatile college football player at the end of the year, was given for the first time in 2010. Demps and redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey were on last season’s watch list but neither ended up being one of the three finalists. The former has also been named to the 2011 Doak Walker Award watch list for the country’s top running back.

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FOUR BITS: Crowder, Pouncey, Starks, swimming

1 » The Miami Dolphins cut veteran linebacker Channing Crowder over the weekend, ending his six-year run with the team that selected him in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. With declining production, bad knees and a contract that would have counted for $5 million against the 2011 salary cap, Crowder leaving was nevertheless a tough decision for head coach Tony Sparano, who (as the rest of the team did) viewed him as a defensive leader. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Sparano said. “It’s still hard for me. But it’s football. It happens.”

2 » Miami may make another personnel move that could affect a former Florida Gators player on its roster. The Dolphins are looking at bringing in veteran center Shaun O’Hara; he is already in South Florida for an official meeting with the club. Should O’Hara be signed, first-round pick Mike Pouncey will likely be forced to move to right guard for the 2011 season. O’Hara’s signing, however, would not be an indictment on Pouncey’s ability but rather a necessity due to the team’s lack of top-notch guard play. Richie Incognito will be starting on the left side for Miami, but the Dolphins are not pleased with the performance of 2010 third-round pick John Jerry on the right side, hence necessitating plugging in Pouncey for the time being. Check out this recent one-on-one interview with Pouncey after his first day of practice.

3 » Though he was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers late last week, tackle Max Starks was proud to hear that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sported his oversized No. 78 jersey to practice the next day to honor his former teammate. “Max and I were the last two from my draft class,” Roethlisberger told reporters. “His locker has always been next to mine for the past seven years. So I saw his jersey there and I wore it in honor of Max.” Starks, who put on some weight in the offseason and is dealing with neck issues, is hoping to catch on with a club soon in order to have a full preseason and continue playing in the league. He had signed a four-year, $26.3 million deal with Pittsburgh in 2009 and was two years into his contract before being cut.

4 » Florida captured another pair of gold medals on Sunday at the conclusion of the World Swimming Championships. Former Gators standout Ryan Lochte and current Florida swimmer Elizabeth Beisel each won the 400-meter individual relay for their respective gender. Lochte’s gold was his fifth of the event and, coupled with a world record and two head-to-head defeats of Michael Phelps, rounded out an outstanding performance for possibly the United States’ best bet for medals at the 2012 London Olympics. Beisel, who will return to the Gators for her sophomore year with the team, captured her third international gold with her victory.

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