Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Bonner responds to fan haircut honoring him

A day after young San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez made the news for having a picture of former Florida Gators forward Matt Bonner shaved into the back of his head and being sent home from school for doing so, the player he honored responded both to the gesture and the controversy surrounding it.

Asked if he thought Gonzalez’s haircut was a big deal in terms of the distraction that his teacher and principal claimed it was causing, Bonner questioned whether or not simply moving the student’s seat to the back of the class would have remedied the situation.

“Otherwise probably the nicest thing a fan has ever done for me is ruined,” he said. “Before ‘Hairgate,’ the best thing a fan has done for me is clap for me at a game.”

“It’s a very flattering portrait of myself. I’ve never considered myself a controversial figure but apparently it’s too distracting and too much,” Bonner continued. “I’m not going to condemn the school. If anybody’s in support of education and academics, it’s myself with my mom being a teacher and my academic success. But like I said, they could have just moved him to the back of the class.”

Bonner is a two-time Verizon Academic All-America of the Year for men’s basketball who finished his University of Florida career with a 3.96 grade point average. His mother has been an elementary school teacher her entire professional life and is coming out of a three-year retirement just to go back to teaching next year.

Gonzalez was sent home early from school on Wednesday and told that he would be suspended if he did not alter his hair before returning to class on Thursday. He complied with his school’s request and shaved the back of his head.

It was not all bad news for Bonner’s red-headed fan, however, as the former Gators standout provided Gonzalez and his mother with a pair of tickets to Game 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers and promised to meet them before the game.

“Keep supporting us redheads in the NBA,” Bonner said referencing Gonzalez after practice on Thursday. “Keep working on your game and maybe someday I’ll be shaving you in the back of my head.”

San Antonio topped Los Angeles 105-88 though Bonner finished just 1-for-3 from the field and 0-for-2 from downtown with two points, two rebounds and a steal in 13 minutes.

Photo Credit: Grace White, KAAB FOX 29

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FOUR BITS: Bonner, Tebow, Zunino, Howard

1 » Young San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez wanted to support his team during its run in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Out of respect for one of his favorite players (who just happens to have the same color hair he does), Gonzalez chose to get a very detailed picture of former Florida Gators forward Matt Bonner shaved into the back of his head. The problem? His first period teacher called it a “distraction” and the principals at Woodlake Hills Middle School do not approve of the hairdo even after his mother made mention of it previously and neither received permission nor was informed that it would be a problem. Gonzalez has chosen to “fix” his haircut before school on Thursday rather than serve the suspension he was threatened with receiving. In addition to being a talented basketball player, Bonner is a two-time Verizon Academic All-America of the Year for men’s basketball who finished his University of Florida career with a 3.96 grade point average. KAAB FOX 29 out of San Antonio, TX has the video report.

2 » Quarterback Tim Tebow received another shot of support from a New York Jets teammate on Wednesday as cornerback Darrelle Revis praised Tebow’s character and the way he carries himself day-in and day-out. “He’s a born leader, he really is,” Revis said per ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini. “Very few athletes have the gift he has. He tries to lead by example all the time. He tries to be positive, which is awesome, and that [has resulted] in his success on the field. [...] Some people have it, some guys don’t. It’s the passion within, wanting to be a leader, wanting to win. You see it all the time, eating lunch, walking down the hallway. You see it. He’s like that cartoon character Zeus. He’s one of those guys. He’s very positive. He has passion for whatever he does. You can see it on him.” Revis also praised him as a player. “He’s a playmaker, he makes plays, he wins games,” he said. “Having him as a teammate is kind of different because you actually get to see him every day. You get to talk to him every day. You get to eat lunch with him. You get to know him as a person. It’s totally different.”

Cimini also notes that Tebow has been exchanging “playful barbs” back-and-forth with others on the team including outspoken linebacker Bart Scott who called him “Baby Jesus” (Tebow laughed) and asked if he could be baptized when Tebow suggested he get in the cold tub because his old muscles needed the treatment.

3 » Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino was one of 12 players named on Wednesday as a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, which is presented each season to the top catcher in college baseball. Zunino currently leads the Southeastern Conference in home runs (14), slugging percentage (.645), total bases (127) and doubles (22), is tops for the Gators in RBIs (49), and carries a .320 batting average while fielding at a .993 clip (three errors). A SEC player has not won the award since 2002 and no Florida player has ever received the honor.

4 » New Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jaye Howard is already receiving some rave reviews for his play during rookie minicamp. According to The Olympian, Howard “has played mostly pass-rushing defensive tackle…and has been a disruptive force.” He told the paper that he credits Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young for helping him make major strides in his senior season. “Coach Quinn is one of the best coaches I’ve had,” he said, “and Bryant Young, he’s a player that I watched growing up. And you’re going to take heed to someone like that. You’re going to listen to what they have to say.”

Photo Credit: Grace White, KAAB FOX 29

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SIX BITS: tennis, softball, Hill, Thompson, NBA

1 » No. 12 Florida Gators men’s tennis (16-9) continued its hot play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, completing a 4-0 sweep of the No. 24 Harvard Crimson (23-3) to advance to the round of 16. Florida clinched the doubles point and received singles victories from No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-2, 6-3), No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman (6-4, 6-2) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-1, 6-4) to grab the victory and move on to the round of 16 for the third-straight season. UF will resume play on Friday against No. 5 Ohio State at noon.

2 » Gators softball, one day after falling hard in a bid for a conference tournament title, learned Sunday that they have earned the No. 5 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida (46-11) will open the tournament as hosts of the Gainesville Regional, which will also feature Florida Gulf Coast, Central Florida and South Florida. UF is 2-2 this season against the field with victories over FGCU (5-0) and USF (3-2) and losses to UCF (2-0) and USF (4-1). The Gators will play their first game on May 18 at 6 p.m. against FGCU. Should Florida be the victor of their regional, they will take on the winner of the Los Angeles Regional featuring No. 12 UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State and Hofstra. UF would likely host the Super Regional in that scenario.

3 » Five-star point guard Kasey Hill, a 2013 Gators’ commitment and the No. 8 player in the country according to Rivals, received high praise from ESPN’s Dave Telep on Thursday. Telep, who has attended five AAU events since March, said Hill stood out as the top performer at the adidas VIP Run and thinks he is one of two players who could be considered the best point guard in the class of 2013. “The most improved player I’ve seen? That would be point guard Kasey Hill,” he wrote. “He’s refined his approach to the point guard slot and in my mind, become an elite player and impact recruit. There’s a difference between being highly rated and being an impact signee. He’s the best point guard Billy Donovan has ever recruited.”

4 » Two NFL writers had some high praise for former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson based on how he performed in Baltimore Ravens minicamp on Sunday. FOX Sports’ Aaron Wilson said Thompson “had a good day…speed is eye-catching, caught the ball fairly well, too,” while CBS Sports’ Jason Butt noted that Thompson “looked fluid and sharp, and showcased stellar straight-line speed and quick cuts.” Thompson is one of two former UF players (quarterback John Brantley) who signed an undrafted free agent deal with Baltimore this offseason.

5 » Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer became the third former Gators basketball player (and member of the Oh Fours) to be eliminated from the 2012 NBA Playoffs this week after Denver fell 96-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Brewer, after having some highlight moments during the series, had a rough outing in Game 7. He scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting (0-for-3 from downtown) with two rebounds and one steal in 13 minutes. Also out of the postseason is center Marreese Speights and the Memphis Grizzlies. Speights also had an admirable series but did not get the opporutnity to contribute much in Memphis’ 82-72 Game 7 loss, scoring just two points on 1-of-2 shooting with two rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes.

6 » Only three former Florida players remain in the playoffs: F Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs and both power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller of the Miami Heat. Bonner is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this postseason while Haslem is posting averages of 3.8 points and 6.4 boards in 19.0 minutes and Miller is registering 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 23.2 minutes.

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Florida Gators in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

With the regular season wrapping up last week and the 2012 NBA Playoffs already in full swing, seven (six healthy) Florida Gators are currently representing their squads as they compete for the opportunity to appear in the NBA Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) Chicago Bulls
No. 13 C Joakim Noah
Season: 5th
Averages: 30.4 mins., 10.2 pts., 9.8 rebs., 2.5 asst., 1.4 blk., .508 FG%, .748 FT%

(2) Miami Heat
No. 13 SG Mike Miller
Season: 12th
Averages: 19.3 mins., 6.1 pts., 3.3 rebs., 1.1 asst., .435 FG%, .453 3P%, .400 FT%

No. 40 PF Udonis Haslem
Season: 9th
Averages: 24.8 mins., 6.0 pts., 7.3 rebs., 0.7 asst., 0.4 blk., .423 FG%, .814 FT%

* Atlanta’s Al Horford has missed most of the season with a torn pectoral. Though he was expected to be back for the first round of the playoffs, he has been pushed back to at least the second round should his team make it to that point with a first-round victory. He is not currently listed as active for the playoffs.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) San Antonio Spurs
No. 15 F Matt Bonner
Season: 8th
Averages: 20.4 mins., 6.6 pts., 3.2 rebs., 0.9 asst., .440 FG%, .420 3P%, .762 FT%

(4) Memphis Grizzlies
No. 5 C Marreese Speights
Season: 4th
Averages: 22.4 mins., 8.8 pts., 6.2 rebs., 0.8 asst., 0.5 blk., .453 FG%, .771 FT%

(6) Denver Nuggets
No. 13 SF Corey Brewer
Season: 5th
Averages: 21.8 mins., 8.9 pts., 2.5 rebs., 1.2 stl., 434 FG%, .260 3P%, .692 FT%

Playoff teams without Gators on their rosters: (3) Indiana, (4) Boston, (6) Orlando, (7) New York, (8) Philadelphia, (2) Oklahoma City, (3) Los Angeles Lakers, (5) Los Angeles Clippers, (7) Dallas, (8) Utah

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Gators center Dwayne Schintzius dead at 43

Former Florida Gators center Dwayne Schintzius has passed away after an extensive battle with a rare form of leukemia. He was 43 years old.

The Tampa Tribune reported Sunday evening that Schintzius passed away from respiratory failure while surrounded by family Sunday afternoon at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

He received a bone marrow transplant on Jan. 12, 2010 from his brother Travis, and his father told the Tribune on March 3 that doctors were “very optimistic” he would make a full recovery after declaring him “leukemia-free.” Schintzius declared himself cancer-free in July of that year and said that his extensive fight for survival gave him a new perspective on life.

“There was a time when I just fell on my bed and cried and said, ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve leukemia?’” he said at the time. “But then it became, ‘OK, time to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to beat this.’ And that’s what I emphasized to all the doctors. ‘OK, what are you going to hit me with next? Let’s go.’ I wanted to give everything I had.

“You’ve got to enjoy every day you’re on this planet. I never knew there were so many people who cared about me. I’d tell anybody to tell people you love them and make up with the ones who you feel have done you wrong. Relationships keep you going. They kept me going. I never felt alone.”

He had a second bone marrow transplant this year but complications following the procedure coupled with the chronic myelomonocytic leukemia he had been suffering from eventually led to his death.

Schintzius, the sixth all-time leading scorer (1,624 points) in Florida history and the Gators’ career blocks leader, made his first appearance at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in 21 years on Feb. 24, 2011 as Florida defeated Georgia 71-62.

“Wasn’t sure if I felt right about it or [if] people would want me back. I do like coming back and I want to come back again,” he said during his visit, referencing some of his off-the-court issues including allegedly hitting a student with a tennis racket and quitting on the team well before his senior season was over. “I’m very proud to be a Gator. I feel like I helped start something. I don’t want to call it ‘The House That Dwayne Built,’ because that’s not true. I helped to build it. Makes me feel good where the program has come.”

Schintzius remains the only player in SEC history to register more than 1,000 points, 800 blocks, 250 assists and 250 blocks. He also helped lead UF to the team’s first three NCAA Tournament appearances. Upon leaving the Gators, he was drafted with the No. 24 overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs and spent nine years with six different teams in the league.

Many sports fans recognize Schintzius from appearances he made on both the big and small screens. He was a Russian center for the New York Knicks in the movie “Eddie” and played himself on an episode of “Arli$$” on HBO.

Schintzius is the second former Gators student-athlete to pass away this week. Former Florida running back Tony Waters was shot and killed on Friday morning.

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Schintzius family.

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Former Gators light up the NBA on Tuesday

Eight former Florida Gators basketballers competed in five of the seven NBA games played on Tuesday and most ended the night with praiseworthy performances.

Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee posted a team-high 29 points (on 13-of-20 shooting) with nine boards (four offensive) and three assists in a team-high 35 minutes as Golden State went on to upend Cleveland 105-95.

Similarly dominant, Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer played a team-high 34 minutes off the bench, scoring a team-best 22 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) with four rebounds, two steals and a block. Denver defeated Milwaukee 105-95.

The Miami Heat had two former Gators in action but guard Mike Miller, who dressed for the first time this year after being forced to miss the first 12 games of the season due to having offseason hernia surgery, was the most impressive. Miller went a perfect 6-for-6 from downtown for 18 points and added four rebounds in just 15 minutes.

Also coming off the bench for the Heat was PF Udonis Haslem, who registered four points and two boards. Like Haslem, San Antonio Spurs PF Matt Bonner was efficient with three points and six rebounds, but San Antonio Fell to Miami 120-98.

Still fighting through a hand ailment, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had arguably his best game of the season, posting his third double-double of the year with 13 points (6-of-10 shooting) and 12 boards (six offensive) to go along with three dimes in 28 minutes. Chicago took down Phoenix 118-97.

Wrapping things up were former teammates going head-to-head as the Houston Rockets and surging rookie F Chandler Parsons defeated the Detroit Pistons and PF Vernon Macklin 97-80. Parsons once again earned the start and played 31 minutes (second-most on the team), scoring seven points and adding seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Macklin only saw one minute of on-court action.

And though the game occurred one day earlier, former Florida C Marreese Speights, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, had his most impressive showing of the season on Monday. Speights started and saw 34 minutes of action, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 boards (four offensive) for his first double-double this year. Memphis wound up beating down Chicago 102-86.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

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