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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Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators defensive end Justin Trattou was cut by the New York Giants on Thursday after missing all of training camp up to this point with a variety of injuries. Trattou was active for a number of games last season and won a ring last season as New York defeated New England 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

» Speaking of the Giants, the team brought former Gators defensive tackle Marcus Thomas in for a visit Thursday. New York is looking to upgrade the interior of its defensive line and Thomas is one of the biggest names on the free agent market after failing to come to an agreement with the Denver Broncos, where he started 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Thomas recently tweeted that he would be willing to play “for practice squad money.”

» The New York Jets are rumored to be one of a handful of finalists bidding for the services of former Florida running back Jeff Demps, so of course quarterback Tim Tebow was asked about the possibility during training camp on Thursday. As expected, Tebow supported the potential addition of Demps but said he would not pressure him to join him with the Jets. “They asked me about him,” he said according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he’s someone that I was proud to play with in college. He did a great job for us, and I feel like wherever he goes, he’ll work hard at and do a good job for that team.”

» ESPN’s Andy Katz spoke with Yale head coach James Jones recently about his team getting an unusual visit from the UF basketball team this season. Jones “credited a Yale administrator who once worked at Florida as well as Gators head coach Billy Donovan” for creating the home-away-home series that gets a high-profile team to visit Yale. “Donovan…isn’t adverse to playing home games for players in odd places,” Katz wrote. “He once played at UNH for New Hampshire native Matt Bonner. This is a ‘home’ game for Rhode Island native Erik Murphy.”

Read nine more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

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SIX BITS: Jenkins, Dunlap, Tebow, Lochte

1 » After weeks of posturing, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and the St. Louis Rams finally came to terms Tuesday evening on a four-year rookie contract that will pay Jenkins $5 million over its duration including $3.1 million guaranteed. As first reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the contract ensures that Jenkins will be in camp on time. He will compete for a starting role immediately and could prove to be the steal of the drat that St. Louis hoped he was when the team selected him No. 39 overall.

2 » Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has proven that he can be an effective pass rusher when he is on the field; unfortunately nagging injuries have kept him from being as consistent as either he or his team would have liked over the first two years of his career. In a recent conversation with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer indicated that Dunlap could be dominant if he finds a way to become a tougher player. “He doesn’t know how to fight through nagging things yet,” Zimmer said of Dunlap. “In this game, you can’t be a track guy. You’ve got to be a football player. Because you’re going to have bruises and bumps and be sore, so you’ve got to fight through it. That’s a little bit of immaturity and growing up. Usually they say with defensive linemen it takes about three years before they really kind of figure it out. So this is his third year, and I’m hoping he can live up to my expectations.”

3 » The ways in which the New York Jets plan to use quarterback Tim Tebow seemingly increase by the day, which is why it should probably come as no surprise that the team is now considering using him on its kickoff coverage team. According to the New York Daily News, Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff thinks there may be a benefit to throwing a quarterback on the field for one of the roughest plays in all of sports. “There are certain situations [on kickoffs] where he might be on the field that he could be utilized possibly to block or possibly to field a ball,” Westhoff told the paper. “If a team squibs it at you or pops it at you, he might be the perfect guy to put in that could make an adjustment. If they kick it deep, he could block. If they squib it or pop it, he could be a guy that we’d have with a ball in his hands.” He went on to clarify that stance. “His role with me won’t be a paramount role,” Westhoff added. “I’m not counting on Tebow coming in and being a hardcore special teams player. That’s not what we want. We have a limited role for him, but it will be one that presents problems. That’s what Tebow is all about. He presents problems to good football teams in a lot of aspects. You have to be aware of it. If you’re not aware of it, it could jump up and smack you.”

Read three more BITS on Lochte, Florida/Georgetown and Taylor…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Jenkins, Dunlap, Tebow, Lochte

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FOUR BITS: Jenkins, Charity Challenge, band

1 » St. Louis Rams second-round draft choice, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, remained unsigned as of Wednesday, and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole explained that there is “one major hurdle to clear” before the process can be completed. “The Rams…[are] asking for safeguards in Jenkins’s rookie contract,” Cole reports. “According to two sources close to the situation, the Rams have proposed a deal to Jenkins’s agent Malik Shareef that features the signing bonus being split into four equal parts over the course of the contract – protection against Jenkins not panning out with the club.” He goes on to note that Shareef has declined the deal ($5 million total, $2 million signing bonus) because “according to sources, Shareef is concerned about how he will be viewed by other potential clients (and how he’ll be criticized by other agents) for taking such a deal.” Sources close to the team also told Cole that the Rams will give Jenkins interest in the held over money and that St. Louis eventually expects to consummate the deal.

2 » A Florida Gators spokesman on Thursday confirmed to OGGOA that the team will no longer be holding the annual Gator Charity Challenge (which was put on four-straight years including last year on July 29) but plans to replace it with another event in the future. “Although the Florida football program will not host the Charity Challenge event this fall, the program remains committed to charity work and serving the community through the efforts of the Goodwill Gators initiative,” Florida explained. “The Goodwill Gators program is active year-round and allows UF student-athletes to build a strong relationship with the Gainesville community. The football staff is also looking into alternative events for future years in place of the Charity Challenge. Student-athletes on the football team volunteered a total of 475 hours of community service during the 2011-12 year, working with 8 schools, 12 non-profit organizations and 3 civic organizations. Since the new coaching staff took over in January of 2011, the football program has tallied 778 hours of community service to date working with 37 unique entities, including 14 schools, 18 non-profit organizations and 5 civic organizations. Every football student-athlete volunteered during the 2011-12 year, highlighted by the St. Augustine Thanksgiving Food Distribution in which the entire team participated.”

3 » The University of Florida Fightin’ Gator Marching Band is scheduled to leave Monday to represent the United States at the 2012 London Olympics. According to UF’s itinerary for the event, the band (more than 230 members strong) will spend a full week in London, hold three performances (including one just before the Opening Ceremony) and take in plenty of sights and sounds. “The Gators have been raising funds and working intensely to make this dream a reality for six months, and for many it is the pinnacle of their performance career to date,” said Jay Watkins, associate director of bands. “The band is deeply honored by the unique invitations they have received.”

4 » Four-star defensive tackle and Gators 2012 commit Dante Phillips (Venice, FL) has found a new home after the admissions board at UF denied his enrollment this summer. Phillips on Wednesday announced that he signed his scholarship papers to play for Tennessee, meaning he will be going head-to-head with Florida each season.

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FOUR BITS: Spofforth, Harvin, Jenkins, Dickey

1 » Set to compete in the pool for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, former Florida Gators swimmer Gemma Spofforth recently opened up to The Guardian about losing three family members within five years to cancer and how her despair got so deep that she had to pull herself out of it. Spofforth’s forthcoming autobiography Dealing With It: Five Years of Mourning details her journey including the lowest point of her life – one in which she contemplated suicide. “Is the concrete hard enough? I could jump right now. I could escape. I would not have to deal with it, wouldn’t have to think, wouldn’t have to worry,” she writes while remembering thoughts she had when standing on a hotel balcony in Australia. Still living in Florida, Spofforth “has been working as a volunteer on a suicide crisis line in Florida,” according to The Guardian, and has learned how to both deal with grief and “compartmentalize her emotions.” She is currently on course to earn a Master’s degree in mental health counseling, which she will complete after she competes in the women’s 100 meter backstroke at the Olympics in her home country of England. Spofforth is a former world record holder in the 50 meters and current world record holder in the 100 meters; she also won five NCAA titles.

2 » Confirming a statement former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin made on June 25, in which he said that despite his ongoing issues with the Minnesota Vikings he would appear on time for training camp, a source close to the team told the same thing to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday. Harvin, who was on the field for just 58.4 percent of his team’s offensive plays in 2011, wants to see increased playing time and additional red zone touches. He is also hoping for lucrative contract extension despite the fact that he is under team control for two more seasons and could be franchise tagged in 2014.

3 » Denying that he is currently at odds with the St. Louis Rams about a pre-draft agreement he made to hire a certain financial advisor before signing his rookie contract, cornerback Janoris Jenkins said Saturday that he is ready to begin his first professional season. “I’m excited about playing for Jeff Fisher,” he said in a statement as published by Scout.com. “I have a lot of respect for him and he’s a great guy. He’s a highly respected coach in this league.” A Yahoo! Sports report that surfaced Friday noted that Jenkins was not yet under contract due to not meeting terms of a pre-draft agreement (that is not allowed by the collective bargaining agreement but was supposedly made) between Fisher and Jenkins’s agent Malik Shareef. Fisher asked that Jenkins hire Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment as his financial adviser despite Jenkins already having Rich DeLuca of Merrill Lynch working for him. Jenkins has not made that switch even though he apparently signed one piece of paperwork that would have begun facilitating the change. “Contract talks are going fine,” Shareef told Scout. “We fully expect to have Janoris’s deal done soon.”

4 » It was announced Friday that former Florida quarterback Doug Dickey and running back John L. Williams will be the next two Gators players inducted into the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame. The duo will be joined by Bulldogs QB David Greene and wide receiver Charles Whittemore for the induction ceremony on Oct. 26, one day before the latest edition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Jenkins, Walker, Hill

1 » Florida Gators junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson, who has signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, was presented with the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award on Saturday night. Johnson became the first player in team history to bring home the award and added yet another honor to the numerous postseason recognitions earned by Gators juniors who will play professionally next season. He finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record, 3.90 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 90 innings along with a .307 batting average and 41 RBIs.

2 » According to sources close to the team that spoke with Yahoo! Sports’s Jason Cole, the relationship between cornerback Janoris Jenkins and the St. Louis Rams (which selected the first-round talent with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) is “off to a rocky start because of a verbal pre-draft agreement” that is not permissible but is also not being honored. One reason why Jenkins has not signed his contract with St. Louis yet, Cole reports, is because head coach Jeff Fisher wants him to be financially advised by Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group while Jenkins and agent Malik Shareef seem “content” with the management team in place. Pre-draft agreements of this kind are not allowed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, something that Cole reports both parties are aware of, but what appears to be one looks to be the reason why Jenkins is not yet an official member of the Rams organization.

3 » The No. 6 overall recruit in the class of 2013, five-star power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL) continues to be the apple of Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s eye. Not only is Walker an extremely talented player at a much-needed position for the Gators, he is also a local product and friend of current Florida commit five-star point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), the No. 7 overall recruit in the country. Walker recently told SLAM Online that he plans to schedule seven visits and make a decision at the end of the summer. “My plan is to commit either right after this summer or towards the beginning of the school year; I’ve always wanted to decide early in the process, to get comfortable and just enjoy my senior year of high school without all the distractions,” he said. Many analysts believe Walker is truly between UF and Kansas; each school has a current teammate of his already committed. “Me and Kasey talk about [playing at Florida together] all the time, and to be honest, I would love to play with him,” Walker said. “Kasey is the truth – he can score, find the open man and create for others. It would be really good to play with him.”

4 » The AAU team that Walker and Hill currently share – the Florida Rams – made headlines on Thursday when it was one of four summer league teams officially banned from NCAA-certified events by the organization. The NCAA announced their ruling after it was determined that the Rams and three other teams had associations with a sports agency called ASM Sports. Though the teams will not be able to participate in events this summer, the players will retain their eligibility and be able to play as long as they join different teams or have their team recreated in a brand new form. Walker and Hill will both be affected by this, and it will be interesting to see if they find a way to remain together and continue playing this summer.

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TWO BITS: Jenkins shining, Tebow improving

1 » He may not have been drafted as early as he would have liked but new St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins is already drawing rave reviews from his performances at rookie minicamp. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher was interviewed on ESPN’s NFL 32 program on Tuesday and said that Jenkins is proving his evaluators right so far. “[Jenkins is] very talented – obviously we know that and that has shown just in the last couple of days,” he explained. “He’s got excellent football intelligence and he carries things from the classroom to the field. He’s going to be a really good player soon for us.” Fisher also discussed the process that the Rams’ front office went through in evaluating Jenkins’s off-the-field issues. “It started with the 15-minute interview at the Combine and then the visit where we had him for the day,” he said. “Believe me, no one did more research [than we did]. Everyone we talked to along the road, whether it was in Pahokee, Florida, the University of Florida or people from North Alabama, everyone to a man said, ‘Take this young man.’ This stuff is behind him.” Speaking of Jenkins, below is a video interview he did with ESPN after being selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.

2 » Despite coaches saying after trading for him that quarterback Tim Tebow would play a number of other positions this season for the New York Jets, Tebow told the media last week that he has only taken snaps as a signal caller so far during minicamp. Not only is Tebow only working at quarterback at this point, he has also received rave reviews from both offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh in regards to the progress he has made at his position. “I think he can be very good,” Cavanaugh told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. “I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him over an extended period of time…not just watching him play on film. I think he’s certainly got the arm strength. He has good mechanics. They’re getting better every day.” He also explained to the paper that improved footwork and additional work inside the pocket can help Tebow get even better. “I think with Tim, he’s more focused right now in the offseason on just working on the fundamentals of trying to be rhythmic in the pocket,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s shown great progress. I’m real pleased with him. [...] He doesn’t let a day go by when he’s not focused on trying to get better at something.”

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Carthon named Rams’ pro director of personnel

Former Florida Gators running back Ran Carthon has been named the new director of pro director of personnel for the St. Louis Rams, the organization has announced.

Carthon, who led Florida in rushing with 595 yards and six touchdowns in 2003, finished his career with the Gators having played in 48 games (11 starts). He accounted for over 1,300 yards on 270 carries and scored 12 total touchdowns.

Since ending his NFL playing career following three years (2004-06) with Indianapolis Colts, Carthon has been working as a scout with the Atlanta Falcons (2008-11).

For him, the opportunity in Atlanta was a lifelong ambition come true.

“Scouting is something I’ve always been interested in,” he told OGGOA in March. “I used to sit home and record every draft from 1995 to 2003. I would sit by the TV and have my legal pad and kind of do my own little mocks with the magazines and all that.

“When I was in school, whatever team my dad [Maurice Carthon] was with and whatever coach came down, I would always get with them to watch film when they watched our guys for Pro Day. I would be on the field timing 40s myself, timing drills and doing all those things. It was something I always wanted to do.”

Scouting always came naturally to Carthon, who returned to Florida in 2008 to get his degree. After graduating he sent letters to every NFL team looking for an opportunity but got his big break when former Gators head coach Urban Meyer allowed him to participate in Pro Day and bump into some coaches and scouts.

“I wasn’t there working out, but I came and I met some of the scouts and got some cards and kind of kept in touch with guys throughout that process. I was able to get an interview with the Falcons and was able to land the job,” he said.

Carthon has been a popular figure in Atlanta’s front office and even created a Fatherhood Ticket Program that earned him recognition from the White House for responding to a call from President Barack Obama to help strengthen the bonds of fathers and families.

He now has a new challenge in St. Louis and should do quite well if he continues to possess the same passion and fortitude he has throughout his career.

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