1 » No. 7 Florida Gators soccer (7-1-1, 1-0 SEC) has been on a roll at the start of the season, outscoring its non-conference opponents 18-6 and registering four-straight home shutouts over a two-week span in the middle of September. Florida opened SEC play last Friday with a 3-0 shutout of Alabama at home but will hit the road this weekend for a two-game stretch – first and only time it will happen this season. ESPNW took a look at the Gators’ hot start in its latest power rankings, slotting UF at No. 10 in the nation. Sunday’s match will air live on ESPNU at 2 p.m.
2 » Red Bull held its annual Flugtag event at Bayfront Park in Miami, FL, last weekend. Though dozens of groups came out to participate in the event – a competition where homemade, human-powered flying machines are launched off a pier to see if they will glide – one particular group of Florida fans gained some popularity at the event with their contraption. The pictures below are courtesy of George Martinez and gmartnx.com.
1 » The exploits of some of his former Florida Gators have kept New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow off the front page, but the spotlight is back on Tebow now that training camp has begun and some practices are open to the media. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was at Patriots practice recently, saw Tebow play first hand and offered this opinion on his weekly MMQB column.
Take this for what it’s worth: Tim Tebow made three beautiful downfield throws that I saw, completions thrown 25 yards or more hitting receivers in stride. Tebow was also the personal protector on punts (kudos to you, Mike Westhoff, for getting him started on that last summer) and ran down on punts with energy. I bet the Patriots keep three quarterbacks, knowing they’re able to use Tebow as a utility player. Not necessarily a guy they’d have active every week, but a guy they could use in certain matchup situations against some teams.
2 » Former New England signal caller Doug Flutie spoke out about Tebow, telling ESPNBoston.com that he believes Tebow is in a good situation but hopes he gets an opportunity to contribute. “If he’s just going to be the No. 3 quarterback and run the scout team, you want a guy who is going to be giving his heart and soul in every practice and running scout team to the fullest, hoping he can get better and doing everything he can,” Flutie said. “I think legitimately, Bill [Belichick] brought him in to be a quarterback, a No. 3 guy, that if they get down to their No. 3 they can be competitive with Tebow on the field, running a specified style of offense that is going to cater to his skills. A lot of teams can’t say that if they are down to their No. 3. I see that as a developmental thing for Tebow.”
3 » Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper returned to practice on Tuesday after missing a couple of days while undergoing team-sponsored counseling following the release of a video that shows him uttering one of the ugliest words in the English language. Also in King’s MMQB column, he takes a look at Eagles head coach Chip Keilly and why, following the reinstatement and rejuvenation of Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount, he is more apt to give Cooper a second chance than some others in the league. “Chip could have kicked Blount to the curb. He chose to believe in him. And it worked out,” former NFL head coach Tony Dungy told King. “With Riley Cooper, this kid made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. The big issue, too, is the alcohol. That has to be dealt with. But Chip will make the right decision. He doesn’t care what the popular opinion. He cares about what’s right.”
1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.
2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.
On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.
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 Elamtweeted 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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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