Foley defends Florida’s handling of Hernandez

Though New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has yet to be charged with a crime, a North Attleboro, MA, homicide investigation that appears to be focused on the player and his home has brought the his past decisions into question.

When New England selected Hernandez with the No. 113 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, it did so knowing he had plenty of red flags.

He had supposedly smoked marijuana and hung out with a bad crowd in high school. He got arrested as a 17-year-old freshman with the Florida Gators after he got into a fight with a bouncer at a bar. (Hernandez was charged as a juvenile and accepted deferred prosecution). He was also questioned in a 2008 shooting in Gainesville, FL, though he spoke with police as a potential eyewitness and not a suspect, a fact conveniently left out of many reports about the incident.

Most alarming for the Patriots and other NFL teams, however, was information they learned that was also contained in a report published by the Boston Globe shortly after Hernandez was drafted by New England.

The story, citing sources from three NFL teams that knew about Hernandez’s background and supposed problems at Florida, noted that he did not just fail a drug test in 2008 (which led to a one-game suspension, the only contest he missed during his three years with the Gators). Rather, a “longtime executive” claimed, Hernandez failed from 4-6 drug tests while at Florida and was not punished accordingly.

“He had multiple positive tests, so he either had issues or he’s dumb. One or two tests? Fine. But four, five, six? Come on, now you’ve got an addiction,” the NFL executive said.

Though the Gators did not address the Globe report at the time, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley did just that on Tuesday.

Continue Reading » Foley defends Florida’s handling of Hernandez

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FOUR BITS: transfer, Sugar Bowl, graduation

1 » Florida Gators freshman defensive back Willie Bailey, a three-star recruit out of Hallandale, FL who did not see the field in his first season with the team, has decided to transfer and pursue his college football career elsewhere. According to Bryan Holt of InsidetheGators.com, who spoke with Bailey’s high school coach ($) and confirmed that the decision has been made, the transfer was a long time coming though he left still very fond of Florida. The Gators are expected to see plenty of attrition this offseason with some players transferring, others graduating with eligibility remaining and even other potentially leaving early for the NFL. The school has not yet confirmed Bailey’s transfer, and the player has not determined his future destination.

2 » It is still very early in the 2012-13 season, but Florida basketball has been turning heads with its play through seven games this campaign. The Gators are now ranked second nationally in scoring defense and third in scoring margin, meaning the team is still putting up plenty of points while holding opponents to low averages. Perhaps most impressive is that Florida has accomplished all of this without a full complement of players. Read more about what the Gators have done so far and what can be made of the team’s early non-conference success in my newest commentary for ITG.

3 » Florida is having a tough time selling tickets to the 2013 Sugar Bowl, and a recent report from the Orlando Sentinel makes the situation seem dire. According to the Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson, who spoke with UF senior associate athletic director of communications Steve McClain, the Gators have sold just 6,500 tickets to the game despite being contracted to purchase a total of 17,500. Florida’s opponent in the game, the Louisville Cardinals, has already sold more than 14,000 tickets out of its 17,500 allotment. This is the second time in as many Sugar Bowl appearances that the Gators have struggled selling tickets. Florida only sold approximately 12,000 tickets to the 2010 contest, which was also quarterback Tim Tebow’s last game in a Gators uniform. The Southeastern Conference can buy up to 3,000 tickets out of Florida’s allotment, which means the school is still on the hook for approximately 8,000 tickets. More tickets will certainly be sold in the next two weeks, but UF will not come close to selling out of its allotment as fans prefer to save significant money and watch at home or purchase tickets closer to the game at cheaper prices due to the overwhelming inventory available. If more than 7,000 tickets go unsold after the SEC helps out, those tickets will cost the university approximately $1 million.

4 » A total of 25 former and current Gators student-athletes are set to receive their degrees during fall commencement on Dec. 15. Below are some standout names on the list, which can be viewed in full by clicking here.

David Eckstein^ – Baseball – Political Science
Daniel Pigott – Baseball – Building Construction
Jon Bostic – Football – Health Education and Behavior
Frankie Hammond, Jr. – Football, Track & Field – Telecommunication
Omarius Hines – Football – Anthropology
Omar Hunter – Football – Anthropology
Lerentee McCray – Football – Anthropology
Matt Patchan* – Football – Anthropology
Sam Robey – Football – Criminology
Caleb Sturgis – Football – Sport Management
McKenzie Barney – Soccer – Telecommunication
Erika Tymrak – Soccer – Criminology
Kathryn Williamson – Soccer – Psychology
Teresa Crippen – Swimming – Sport Management
Genevieve LaCaze – Track & Field – Applied Physiology and Kinesiology
Tangerine Wiggs – Volleyball – English

^ Eckstein (1994-97) is 37 years old.
* Patchan has a year of eligibility remaining.

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Florida spring practice will be closed to public

The Will Muschamp era of Florida Gators football will begin with a measure put in place that even former head coach Urban Meyer did not institute during his time in the orange and blue: 2011 spring practice will be closed to the public.

“With a new coaching staff here teaching our system, we feel like minimizing our distractions is important,’’ Muschamp said in an official statement. “We realize that there is high interest from the fans, and we are extremely appreciative of the support that The Gator Nation gives us. We hope that they understand that this decision has been made in the interest of helping our program be successful on Saturdays this fall by allowing our team to learn and develop together in this type of environment.

“We also respect that the media have a job to do and understand that this creates a challenge for them, so we ask for their patience with us as we work through our first spring practice here at Florida.’’

Fans will be able to get their first look at the new Gators team on April 9 at the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut spring game. The event will air live on Sun Sports beginning at noon. Tickets are free for students, Gator Boosters and members of the Alumni Association and F Club. A limited number of free tickets are available to the public; otherwise the cost is $5 per person.

Florida also announced Wednesday that Pro Day will be held for those players hoping to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft on March 15 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Among those expected to participated, according to UF, are center Mike Pouncey, safety Ahmad Black, punter Chas Henry and guard Carl Johnson.

OGGOA has previously been informed that running back Emmanuel Moody, defensive linemen Terron Sanders and Justin Trattou will also be participating along with a number of other former seniors/graduates.

In the past, Pro Day had been open to both the public and the media. This time around, only the media will be allowed to attend.

“Pro Day is an extremely important day for the career hopes of these players, and they’ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for it,” Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain said in a release.

“We feel that creating a more private environment and minimizing potential distractions will help give them the best chance to perform up to their potential. We also feel like it’s become more important than ever for us to monitor who is around our team and student-athletes, and taking this step provides us an even greater ability to manage that.”

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FOUR BITS: Scouts, Lawrence, Johnson, Tebow

1 » When Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban decided to close off his team’s practices to NFL scouts, there was some outrage that he may have gone too far. The Tuscaloosa News qualified the action by stating that Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer had mandated the same thing. The only problem? He didn’t. Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain pointed out Wednesday that the Gators have not changed their policy and scouts will still be allowed to attend during designated periods (usually during the regular season and select two-a-days). However, as noted before, Meyer has indeed closed practice to the media and fans in an effort to keep out questionable characters or “scumbags” as he so eloquently put it.

2 » On Aug. 5, Meyer announced that redshirt sophomore wide receiver T.J. Lawrence had requested and received a release from his University of Florida scholarship. Wednesday, Lawrence told The Lakeland Ledger that he has decided to transfer to the Florida A&M Rattlers. “It’s a big shocker because a lot of people wouldn’t expect Florida A&M University, but I’m going there to be a two-sport athlete,” Lawrence said. His main motivation for leaving UF was a lack of playing time.

3 » Interesting video from The Gainesville Sun of redshirt senior guard Carl Johnson interviewing freshman running back Mack Brown at Florida Media Day.

4 » Focus on the Family, the anti-abortion group that purchased a Super Bowl ad featuring former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam Tebow, has decided to purchase statewide television advertisements during every Denver Broncos game for the upcoming season. Though the new ads will not feature or mention Tebow, the fact that the company is based in Colorado and already has the recognition of having previously worked with Tebow certainly served as a motivating factor in this decision.

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USC to Florida: Hope we didn’t embarass you…

On June 11, USC Trojans and director of compliance Matt Billings contacted Pac-10 associate commissioner for governance and enforcement Ron Barker and accused five programs – including the Florida Gators – of illegally contacting sophomore running back Dillon Baxter about transferring from Southern California after the school was hit with a variety of program-wide penalties by the NCAA.

Less than a month later, the New York Times’ Pete Thamel reports that Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett sent a letter to the Gators apologizing for the previous accusations. Specifically, Garrett tried to make amends for “any inconvenience or embarrassment” the allegations caused Florida, admitting that Baxter told him he did not speak to UF.

USC had also previously slandered Alabama, Oregon, Washington and Fresno State.

The Mobile Press-Register is also reporting that the Crimson Tide received a the same apology letter from Garrett, dated July 1. ESPN has learned that the Huskies and Ducks have also been sent letters. The generic message sent to each respective athletic director read as follows:

This comes after the school sent an e-mail to the Pac-10 last month.

“I just met with (Baxter) and he told me that he received phone calls from five institutions (June 10th),” Billings originally wrote to Barker. “All of the institutions asked if he was interested in transferring [from] USC due to the NCAA decision. Would you please speak with these schools to remind them they cannot speak to this student athlete?”

When asked for proof the communications took place, Baxter told Billings he had lost his cell phone and was unable to provide further specifics or documentation.

Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain immediately denied the accusation in early June, as did representatives from Alabama and Oregon.

UPDATE: The Orlando Sentinel spoke with the Gators’ own senior associate athletic director of compliance – Jamie McCloskey, who told the paper that coaches “knew the rules,” insinuating that “normally the process would not be through the media.”

“Our coaches understood the process and who to contact,” he added. “They were upset that someone would make that allegation and feel that they have to respond to it.”

Image of the letter courtesy of ESPN affiliate Gator Country.

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Hammond arrested for DUI, alcohol possession

Florida Gators redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. was arrested early Sunday morning on charges of driving under the influence and possessing alcohol as a minor, according to an Alachua County police report.

Both appear to be his first offenses.

Hammond, who impressed during spring practice and was set to get major playing time in 2010 as a top receiver, was booked at 4:47 a.m. by the University Police Department.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, which obtained the police report from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Hammond was allegedly “speeding, swerving and driving” with two open 750-ml bottles of Crown Royal whiskey in his car (one in the back seat, one in the trunk). He was traveling faster than 45 miles per hour on Gale Lemerand Drive at 2:09 a.m.; University of Florida campus is a 20-mph zone.

The police report described Hammond as “uncoordinated” with “glassy” eyes and slurred speech. He failed his on-site sobriety tests and registered breath samples of more than double the legal limit (.08) at .188 and .191.

Hammond has been released from jail after meeting with an Alachua County judge and has already been suspended from all team activities, according to Gators associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain.

OGGOA will update this story when more information is available.

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UF accused of illegal contact with USC RB Baxter

ESPN‘s Joe Schad reports that the Florida Gators are one of five programs being accused of illegally contacting USC Trojans running back Dillon Baxter about a transfer.

Florida – along with Alabama, Oregon, Washington and Fresno State – allegedly reached out to Baxter (a true freshman) on June 10, according to USC. This potentially occurred one day before the NCAA announced that schools could recruit the Trojans’ juniors and seniors. Players wishing to leave will not have to sit out a year.

Baxter does not fall under these guidelines and told USC director of compliance Matt Billings about the illegal contact immediately; the Trojans have officially requested that the Pac-10 reach out to and speak with the accused parties.

“I just met with (Baxter) and he told me that he received phone calls from five institutions (June 10th),” Billings wrote to Pac-10 associate commissioner for governance and enforcement Ron Barker, according to ESPN. “All of the institutions asked if he was interested in transferring [from] USC due to the NCAA decision. Would you please speak with these schools to remind them they cannot speak to this student athlete?”

Gators associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain, Crimson Tide associate athletics director for football communications Jeff Purinton and Ducks head coach Chip Kelly have all denied the respective accusations.

The allegations, if determined to be true, would amount to secondary violations.

OGGOA will have more on this breaking story as it is made available.

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Former Gators walk-on defender Lamar Abel dies

Former Florida Gators walk-on defensive lineman Lamar Abel (1989-2010) has passed away. He was 21-years-old.

Though details surrounding his death are yet not available, University of Florida spokesman Steve Orlando told the media he was volunteering with his fraternity at a roadside cleanup event in Gainesville, FL, when he became sick. He was taken to Shands Hospital at the project’s conclusion, but the doctors could not save him. The Miami Herald reports that he died of cardiac arrest.

Abel joined the Gators as a walk-on before the 2007 season and dressed for five games that year. He did not see game action until 2008 against The Citadel, but he did wear his No. 62 on the field four other times that season (Hawaii, Miami, Arkansas, Oklahoma [BCS National Championship]).

Head coach Urban Meyer awarded him the Scout Team Player of the Week award before the South Carolina game that year.

Abel did not return to the team for the 2009 season.

“We are deeply saddened to hear the tragic news,” offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said in a statement. “Lamar was a proud member of our program and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”

He was a junior majoring in finance at UF.

“He was a kid with a great attitude,” Ely High School head coach Greg McGirt told the Miami Herald. “He always hustled. Was very respectful to the coaches, never talked back. Just a great teammate. He always did the right thing.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Abel family. We will update this story as more information is made available.

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