FOUR BITS: Wambach, Harvey, Jackson, Rainey

1 » U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach is indeed a “G,” not due to the fact that she is one of the faces of Gatorade but rather because she used her “guile and gamesmanship” to help the United States achieve a 4-3 extra-time victory over Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics on Monday. Wambach told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that it was her subtle urging that led the referees to call a rare delay of game penalty on the Canadian goalkeeper, who was holding the ball in the penalty box for up to 15 seconds at times when rules state the ball should be out after six seconds. “I wasn’t yelling. I was just counting,” Wambach told Dan Wetzel of her decision to run next to the referee while heading back down the field. “Probably did it five or seven times.” And of the play in question in which the referee finally blew her whistle? “I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee and at 10 seconds she blew the whistle.”

Canada, of course, believes they were robbed in the match. (The call resulted in an indirect free kick inside the box; a handball was called on the kick and Wambach tied the match 3-3 on a penalty goal.) Though Wambach admits that the call is rare, she notes that it is well within the rules. Her subtle pestering of the referee almost assuredly helped the call be made when it ordinarily might not have been. “Yes it’s uncharacteristic,” she said. “But the rules are the rules. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor. We needed to get a goal. They’re trying to waste time; I’m trying to speed it up. […] I think making the referee aware of a situation, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, the ref made the decision on her own.”

2 » A former No. 8 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, former Florida Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey was cut from his third team over the course of a year when the Cincinnati Bengals let him go on Sunday. Harvey, who signed with the team just four months ago, was released before participating in a single preseason game. After being released by the Jaguars last July, Harvey was picked up by the Denver Broncos but barely played last season and spent most of it as a healthy scratch on game day. His NFL career may very well be over.

3 » The commitment of three-star offensive lineman Octavius Jackson (Moultrie, GA), who is unranked by Rivals, to the Florida Gators last week came as a surprise to many considering the team has few open slots remaining and a number of highly-rated prospects on its board. The Gators, however, knew exactly what they were doing by brining Jackson on board and it appears as if they were early to what may become a very crowded party. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jackson received “last-minute pleas by Alabama and Florida State” before committing to Florida. He already had a firm scholarship offer from Vanderbilt in his possession. “People have missed on him,” said Rush Propst, Jackson’s high school coach. “His only true offer until a few days ago was Vanderbilt, and they couldn’t believe nobody elsewas on him. Neither could I.”

4 » Running back Chris Rainey is turning heads in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, a fact that should come as no surprise to Florida fans whose necks were often sore from watching him run in Gainesville, FL. USA Today’s Jim Corbett wrote a few days ago that “Rainey has been the Steelers’ buzz guy since he began flashing during organized team activities, and he’s carried it over to training camp.” Almost everyone from the team’s president on down believes Rainey can make an instant impact with Pittsburgh this season though head coach Mike Tomlin is being a bit more cautious considering how early it is in the process.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Starks, Pouncey, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer and current United States Olympian Ryan Lochte filmed a television commercial for AT&T at Broward Pool on the campus at the University of Florida in June. That commercial has since been completed and was released online Monday. Though the spot was filmed at Florida, no mentions of the Gators or school are made and it is impossible to tell where it was shot due to the fact that most of the commercial consists of animated additions. Check it out:

2 » A free agent coming off yet another devastating end-of-season injury, tackle Max Starks was unsure as to whether or not he would be re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers – the only NFL team he has ever played for – this year. Starks, who was unsigned heading into the 2011 season due to weight issues and a neck injury but was picked up by Pittsburgh mid-season as an injury replacement, wound up starting every game he played in. He went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Steelers’ first and only playoff game and has spent the entire offseason undergoing rehabilitation, wondering if he would be signed again to team up with draft-mate and close friend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Starks got his wish Tuesday when he announced via Twitter that that he has re-signed with Pittsburgh. (He tweeted a picture of the top of his new contract.) The Steelers now have four Gators on their roster including center Maurkice Pouncey, left tackle Marcus Gilbert and rookie running back Chris Rainey.

3 » Reflecting on his first season as a professional football player, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey told his team’s website that he is ready to take what he learned and infuse it into an even better sophomore campaign. “It went by fast and I still can’t believe how fast it went by,” Pouncey said. “Going through one year in the NFL it just already feels like I learned so much and I just can’t wait to go out there and see how I do this year. I know it’s going to be a huge improvement from last year.” Concluding the season as a Pro Bowl alternate, he did not make his way to Hawaii for the game but certainly earned the respect of his veteran teammates. “He’s a straight athlete, a center at 6-foot-5 that can move,” said nine-year veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby. “He makes me better, period. I try to make him better as much as I possibly can and he tries to do the same. We always compete every chance we get and it’s a great give and take with a guy like that that’s so talented. He’s almost like a tight end at center.” Pouncey also said he is trying to step up as a “vocal leader” in the locker room for the Dolphins.

4 » The New York Jets are set to open training camp at SUNY-Cortland in late July and as many would expect quarterback Tim Tebow is going to be the main attraction. What Cortland, NY did not expect, however, was how much interest there would be on a national level from Christian groups hoping to take something of a pilgrimage to watch him scrimmage. “A couple months ago, I got a call from a church group, then another and I thought it was interesting, not groups we normally get calls from,” Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Jim Dempsey told The New York Times. “Right now, we have no way of knowing how many more groups will come because of Tim Tebow. But we expect a lot.”

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Tim Tebow wins ESPY award for Best Moment

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow may no longer be a member of the Denver Broncos but one of his last plays with the team earned him and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas an ESPY award on Wednesday in Los Angeles, CA.

Playing in the Wildcard Round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs, Denver and the Pittsburgh Steelers were tied at 23 heading into overtime with the Broncos receiving the ball. On the very first play from scrimmage, Tebow hit Thomas across the middle with a dart that the receiver would take the rest of the way for a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass.

The ESPY for Best Moment is the third in Tebow’s young career but his first as a professional football player. He previously won Best Male College Athlete as a member of the Gators football team in both 2008 and 2009.

Florida was well-represented at the award show on Wednesday with three other nominees – U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach for Best Female Athlete, junior catcher Mike Zunino for Best Male College Athlete and jumper Christian Taylor for Best Track & Field Athlete – though none of the three brought home the award in their respective category. Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker was also in attendance to officially accept the 2012 Capital One Cup and guard Mike Miller found his way onstage to accept the award for Best Team.

A number of former Florida student-athletes congratulated Tebow for his award on Twitter after it was announced.

Jack Youngblood (@theblood85): Congrats @TimTebow on your @ESPYS award! Here’s to more “moments” like that one-JY

Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88): Congrats to my boy @TimTebow even thought he won it against my #Steelers smh! Payback week 2 lol

Andre Caldwell (@Acaldwell17): How can you not like @TimTebow and the way he carry is his self.. It was a pleasure to play with Timmy

Brandon Spikes (@BrandonSpikes55): Tim Tebow is such a great player !!! #GrinchSmile

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FOUR BITS: swimming, Raymond, Rosario, Starks

1 » Florida Gators sophomore swimmer Elizabeth Beisel qualified for the 2012 London Olympics on Monday, winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Women’s 400 Meter Individual Medley with a time of 4:31.74, three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Below is an interview she conducted after getting out of the pool.

Former Gators Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer also qualified on Monday with Lochte winning the Men’s 400 Meter Individual Medley (4:07.06) and Dwyer turning on the jets to finish second in the Men’s 400 Meter Freestyle (3:47.83). Below is an interview Dwyer conducted about qualifying for his first Olympics.

2 » Two other women were officially named to Olympic teams this week with former Florida tennis player Lisa Raymond qualifying as a doubles competitor with teammate Liezel Huber (the duo is the No. 1-ranked pairing in the world by the WTA) and center Azania Stewart joining Great Britain National Team to play women’s basketball. Stewart just graduated this past spring and will be the third player in Florida women’s basketball history to play in the Olympics since 1992 (DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tammy Jackson). Joining Stewart on Great Britain’s team are swimmers Marco Loughran and Stephanie Proud, fellow former Gators student-athletes who will compete in the Men’s and Women’s 200 Meter Backstroke, respectively.

3 » Officially making the final cut for the Puerto Rico National Team that will compete in an Olympic qualifying tournament from July 2-8 in Venezuela, Florida redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario told SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria that he is incredibly thankful for the opportunity. “It feels great because I know how hard I am working because I want this year coming up to be a special one for me to remember,” he said. “I’m taking advantage of all opportunities. I have a very special gift that God gave me and that’s the talent to play basketball at the highest level I’m ready. Therefore, I want to thank my coach, Billy Donovan, for giving me the opportunity. This really means a lot to me and my future.”

4 » Asked once again whether or not former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks is on the radar to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers after his torn anterior cruciate ligament is healed, team director of football operations Kevin Colbert was standoffish in his reply to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’re monitoring his health, we’ll see how it develops, but Max is coming off a serious injury, and his readiness we don’t know yet. We won’t know until you get closer to camp and he’s had more rehab.” Similar sentiments were shared about Starks one year ago (his issues were his neck and weight), but he was called upon after Pittsburgh faced an emergency situation on their offensive line due to injuries. Starks wound up starting right away and for the remainder of the season but was not re-signed by the Steelers after the season due to injuring his ACL during the team’s playoff game against Denver.

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Tebow, Beal, LaCaze

1 » After having ended each of his last two seasons standing on the sidelines and unable to play due to an injured ankle, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey made it his goal this season to ensure that it was completely healthy and as strong as possible heading into organized team activities. Pouncey had offseason ankle surgery and, after four weeks of OTAs, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it feels as healthy as ever. “I’m doing great so far,” he said on Wednesday. “It feels awesome – the best it’s ever felt.” Pouncey also told the paper that he actually needed surgery following the 2010 season and made a mistake not getting it done. “I came back and wasn’t healthy. I played through it. At the end of the season last year it got too weak and I needed the surgery,” he said.

2 » Quarterback Tim Tebow has arguably been criticized more than perhaps any other player through his short tenure in the NFL though most of the shots fired at him have been about his on-field play. Former player now-ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi joined the barrage and jumped on Tebow’s back last week but not for the same reasons as others. Bruschi believes that Tebow is to blame for his own popularity and the hysteria surrounding him and a potential quarterback competition because he is never shy about talking to the media even when he’s not the starter on his own team. “Stop talking to the media so much,” Bruschi said on the network’s NFL 32 television program. “You need to disappear, okay, Tim Tebow? You’re not the starting quarterback, it’s Mark Sanchez’s team. I want my [team’s] voice to come from my head coach and my quarterback – my starting quarterback. That message has to be consistent. I don’t want all this competition brewing, and every time you speak and anytime you talk about competition or anything like that, you’re twisting things. I want one voice. One quarterback, not two.”

Asked to respond to these accusations, Tebow said this week, according to USA Today, that media appearances and interviews are completely out of his hands. He does what the New York Jets tell him to do – plain and simple. “To be honest, I just do what I’m told – and this [is the] day to talk to you [reporters], so I’m gonna talk to you,” he said on Wednesday after minicamp. “And to be honest, I just go about it however the Jets set it up – the rules that they want us to [follow], who they want us to talk to, who they don’t want us to talk to. And so I don’t get paid enough to make all those decisions. I just do what I’m told and try to do it as best as I can.” He continued, “I don’t know that I’m [outside the locker room] talking. I’m here talking to y’all because that’s what they want. Like I said, I just do what I’m told and try to make the most of it. So that’s something you’d figure that he would understand though. He’s a guy that I’ve always respected, and he always makes a lot of great points. I’m sure he had a great reason for it. But like I said, I’m just doing what I’m asked to do.”

3 » DraftExpress was on hand to capture a four-minute portion of Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal‘s interview at the 2012 NBA Combine. Check it out:

4 » Florida senior distance runner Genevieve LaCaze dominated the 2012 SEC Outdoor Championships last month, becoming the first woman in league history to win the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 1,500-meter run and 5,000-meter run titles in the same event. Though she did not capture a national title in early June, LaCaze was hoping to compete for Australia in the 2012 London Olympics this summer. In order to do so she had to achieve an Olympic ‘A’ Standard qualifying time in the steeplechase, one that would automatically place her on the team. She passed that mark and ran a personal best 9:41.15 on Wednesday; unfortunately the Athletics Australia-mandated cutoff date for achieving the mark was on Monday and she is just a few days too late. According to Australia’s Herald Sun, LaCaze has a “glimmer of hope” left as AA’s nominations are “not due to be forwarded to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection until June 22.” LaCaze “intends to lodge an appeal against her team exclusion…even though she has been advised by officials that her chances don’t look good.” She told the paper, “Please let me run for Australia. I know it’s late, but it would be great if they could just give me a chance. They haven’t had to pay a dime during my whole career and I’m still young. I’m only going to get better. […] It’s just so frustrating because I knew they were selecting on Monday. But I’m running in the American college system where, every time I run, I’ve got to run heats and finals and more than one event. I finally got to do a race that was purely designed to run fast and run once and run fresh, but it was two days too late.” Australia does not have a woman representing the country in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, meaning if they accept LaCaze she would not be taking another athlete’s spot.

If you wish to lobby on LaCaze’s behalf, click here, use the contact form and address a message to Dion Russell – Chairman of Selectors.

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FOUR BITS: Siler, Starks, Cunningham, Boynton

1 » Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler participated in a team practice for the first time since tearing his Achilles during the last play of a practice last August and missing the entire 2011 season. According to the team website, Siler only worked during individual drills but said it was good to be back in a helmet for the first time in nine months. “It was a lot of fun and it was football again,” he said. “All the [rehab] stuff that you do is meant to get you back playing football. When you get out there and put your helmet on – and I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve had my helmet on – it feels really good.” He continued, “I’ve wanted to light somebody up since I went down.” Siler did not get that chance on Tuesday as it was a non-contact, non-padded practice but will have that opportunity soon enough.

2 » For the second time in as many offseasons the Pittsburgh Steelers have begun organized team activities and minicamp without offensive tackle Max Starks. Also for the second time in as many offseasons, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has begun minicamp wearing Starks’s No. 78 practice jersey instead of his own No. 7. Roethlisberger entered the NFL along with Starks in the 2004 draft and the two have been extremely close friends ever since. Starks was unsigned heading into the 2011 season due to a neck injury he suffered late in 2010; however, after injuries plagued nearly the entire offensive line he was brought back and started almost immediately for the remaining half of the season. Last year Starks tore his ACL in the last game of the season – a playoff loss to Denver; he remains at least two months away from returning to action but is not under contract. Some have deemed it unlikely that he return to the Steelers, which is what was said last offseason as well, but Roethlisberger will undoubtedly pine for him to come back and protect him even if it is in a reserve role. (h/t Justin C.)

3 » New England Patriots outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham barely played in 2011…and it had nothing to do with his health. A notable absence from the field for the vast majority of the season (ESPNBoston.com notes that he only played 3.6 percent of the snaps in 2011 compared to 50.9 percent as a rookie in 2010), Cunningham reportedly had problems adjusting to the team’s switch to a 4-3 defense (he was a defensive end in college but was moved to linebacker upon being drafted) and may have been hurt a bit towards the end of the season though that was not the reason he missed so much time up front. According to head coach Bill Belichick, things have turned around for Cunningham and his playing time should be on the rise if he stays on the right track. “Jermaine’s had a great offseason,” Belichick said on Tuesday, noting that includes “physical improvement,” “overall mental grasp of what we’re doing,” and improvements to his “reactions and technique.” He continued, “He’s really worked hard. He looks good.” As for how much playing time he could see? “It will be up to him, and how he performs, relative to the other players at his position.”

4 » Florida Gators junior guard Kenny Boynton has needed to learn how to be a true point guard for at least two years now. If he has a future in the NBA, he is going to have to learn how to handle the ball and create both for himself and his teammates rather than just spotting up on the three-point line and taking shots. However, due to the presence of Erving Walker and the decision-making of head coach Billy Donovan, Boynton had been relegated to a shooting guard role even though giving him time at point had been a topic of discussion and consideration over the last two seasons. This time it appears that Donovan is ready to make sure Boynton gets that opportunity. “The three years he’s been here, he’s played some point,” Donovan told The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. “I think we’re going to need him to play some point. I think Scottie [Wilbekin] is the next logical guy in line. We signed Braxton Ogbueze who is a freshman. Kenny is a senior, so I don’t think there’s any question that Kenny is going to have to play some extra point because I think that’s best for our team.”

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FOUR BITS: Rainey, Butler, Tebow, Hernandez

1 » Now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back Chris Rainey expressed on Tuesday how smooth the transition has been already to the NFL – and it is not because he has two former Florida Gators teammates and friends on the squad in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert. “Well, this isn’t a new offense,” Rainey told WPXI in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’ve been in this offense at Florida because Charlie Weis and Coach [Todd] Haley coached together. It’s the same offense so it’s easy to me. It’s definitely an advantage. I can just go in here, see what it is and be like: I know this. I don’t even have to study. I’m right there. I’m ahead of everybody.” He is similarly not concerned about the speed of the NFL because of his five years in the Southeastern Conference. “I don’t think there’s a transition because I came from the SEC, so it’s basically the same thing the work wise,” Rainey told the station. “The hard work and all that kind of stuff [is the same]. Offense and everything [is the same], so I’m just out there doing my job.”

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler had her contract extended through the 2016-17 season after five years at the helm of the Gators. “I like the direction our program is headed,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “We know Amanda will be our coach for a long time. We’re excited about the future of the Gator women’s basketball program.” Butler is 98-67 in her five years at Florida, where she played as a guard from 1990-94 and served as an assistant coach from 1994-97.

3 » Panini America announced on May 31 that, as part of the company’s 2012 Prestige Football series, they will be including a 15-card insert devoted to now-New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The cards will be released on June 20 and numbered to a maximum of 1,500; there will also be 15 special versions of the 15th card (featuring him in a Jets uniform) that are autographed by Tebow. Below are small previews put together by OGGOA of the fronts of the 15 cards (each back includes a paragraph on Tebow):

4 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was scheduled to attend one of his teammates’ and fellow Connecticuter’s youth football clinic on Sunday but was delayed and showed up late for the event. When he did arrive, however, Hernandez was peppered with questions by the kids in attendance (the first of which was about the Gators); he also signed “roughly 100 autographs and [took] nearly as many pictures,” according to the New Britain Herald, before ending his appearance. In unrelated team news, recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney may not wind up on New England’s final roster if he cannot beat out fellow veterans Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth. The three are all competing likely for a pair of roster spots, which is strange for each of the players consider all three joined the league together when selected in the 2002 NFL Draft by different teams.

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SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

1 » The Florida Gators’ top 2013 baseball commitment, right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers, is unlikely to ever step on the field at McKethan Stadium as he is projected to be a top selection in the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday. Though he is not yet officially a member of the orange and blue, the slim chance that McCullers spurns pro baseball and decides to spend three years playing in the college ranks should give Florida fans something extra to watch for Monday evening. McCullers was named the 2012 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year on Thursday after posting a perfect 13-0 record with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings during his senior season (he also batted .280 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as a shortstop). He is widely considered to be the best high school baseball player in the country and has received tons of positive press but could very well not wind up going in the first round due to new collective bargaining rules that limit the amount of bonus money teams can pay out to their top picks. Teams may feel that McCullers, represented by agent Scott Boras, would require a certain high-dollar figure in order to sign on the dotted line and not be a wasted pick (he could always choose to go to college instead). This could have him fall out of the first round and perhaps steer him more toward the Gators. “It’s frustrating, the whole draft thing is frustrating,” McCullers told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve done nothing than get better since I’ve been ranked No. 1 forever, and no one in the country had a better year than me on the hill. If Major League Baseball wants to undervalue me, then I’ll show them what I’m really about three years from now.”

Other Florida commitments that could be picked high in the draft and spurn the Gators for minor league contracts include outfielder Lewis Brinson, infielder Avery Romero, OF Max White and OF Jesse Winker.

2 » Former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks is a free agent hoping to sign with an NFL team while coming off a major injury for the second-straight season. Starks hurt his neck two years ago while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was unsigned at the start of 2011. As Pittsburgh’s depth along the offensive line took severe blows early in the season, Starks got a call, immediately returned as a starter and played out the rest of the year until tearing his ACL in the team’s season finale against Denver in the playoffs. Now trying to make another go of it while recovering from an injury, Starks will likely find a destination at some point though FOX Sports’ Len Pasquarelli reports that it will not be with the Steelers. “A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks – who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season… – to keep tabs on his rehabilitation. Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle. But he isn’t likely to return to the Steelers again.” Instead Pittsburgh will move second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side and hope that 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams will be ready to start for the team. Then again, the Steelers also thought that they would not need Starks in 2011 until they desperately needed his services. He has not played for any other team but Pittsburgh, knows the offense and has a great relationship with the rest of the line as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

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