Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

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15 Gator Bites for Wednesday, September 11

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. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jeff Demps missed the entire offseason while running track but officially joined the team on Monday in hopes of earning a roster spot and playing football in 2013. The Buccaneers have a roster exemption or Demps, who will have one full week to prove his worth and take one of the 53 available spots or else be released by Tampa Bay. Though the Bucs will certainly see what Demps can do for them, head coach Greg Schiano was perturbed a few weeks ago when asked where Demps was in the world and why he had not reported at the time.

» Former Florida Gators forward Cody Larson, who lost his scholarship and then quit the basketball team before the 2012-13 season but remained at Florida for academics, transferred to play for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in May and had a waiver to play immediately accepted by the NCAA this month. “We want to thank the committee and the NCAA for taking the time to look at Cody’s waiver,” head coach Scott Nagy said in a school release. “We appreciate the fact that this ruling allows him the opportunity to be eligible to compete immediately.” Larson will have two years of NCAA eligibility remaining but has not played college basketball in two full seasons.

» One of the greatest tennis players in school history, Jill Craybas has decided to retire at age 39 after spending the last 18 years playing professional tennis. One of two Florida women to win the NCAA Singles Championship, Craybas captured the title in 1996 while leading the Gators women’s program to the team NCAA Championship that same season. Inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in 2008, Craybas never won a Grand Slam title but advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2005 after shocking Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 in the Round of 16 that year. She also represented the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “It’s a really tough decision to make because it’s been part of your life for so long. But I feel like lately my priorities have been starting to change, I’ve been starting to want other things in my life,” she told Tennis Panorama about her retirement decision. “I really struggled this past year with my tennis and how I was doing. I started pursuing some other things and started getting interested in other things, but it’s never an easy decision. You never know when you want to stop, but you kind of come to terms with it sooner or later.”

Check out 12 more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » 15 Gator Bites for Wednesday, September 11

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SIX VIDEO BITS: Gators, Bates, Spurrier, Muschamp, Embree, Easley, Williams

1 » Florida Gators football released this 2013 season promo. It’s quite good.

2 » Former Gators linebacker James Bates impersonates and tells stories about former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier. Bates was recently hired as a college football analyst by FOX Sports for the new FOX Sports 1 channel.

Check out four more Gators videos…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX VIDEO BITS: Gators, Bates, Spurrier, Muschamp, Embree, Easley, Williams

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FOUR BITS: Embree, Pounceys, Driskel, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators tennis star Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National College Player of the Year on Wednesday, just months after she was named the organization’s National Senior Player of the Year. Embree, who helped lead Florida to two national titles and eight total league crowns, has been training in Boca Raton, FL, and California over the summer as she prepares to begin her career as a professional. Be sure to check out OnlyGators.com’s extensive feature on Embree from May in which she goes in-depth about the tough conclusion to her college career.

2 » According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins plan to speak to Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, respectively, about their decision to don “Free Hernandez” hats while in a club on Saturday night. Though neither player is expected to be reprimanded by his team in any tangible way, each is considered a locker room leader and centerpiece of his respective team’s future. On Monday, Maurkice Pouncey released the following apology: “I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”

3 » Participating in a “Air-It-Out” competition while serving as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy over the weekend in Thibodaux, LA, Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel put together a strong performance and finished second amongst the top-tier signal callers in attendance (Miami’s Stephen Morris placed first). While Driskel seemed to do everything right while in attendance, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was a whole other story. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Manziel was out at a bar early Friday morning and showed up late for one of his coaching sessions hours later. The next day, he completely missed a Saturday morning coaching session, did not alert anyone he would not be there and then left that afternoon. Manziel told staff later in the day he was not feeling well – his father later claimed he was dehydrated, which, presumably, is simply a nicer word to use than “hung-over” – and the staff responded by suggesting he go home. Adding to speculation that Manziel was indeed hung-over and not simply “dehydrated” are reports that he was spotted still having a good time as late as 1:27 a.m. Saturday morning.

4 » Eight-time MLB All-Star right fielder Darryl Strawberry, who has dealt with his share of drug and health problems over the past 30 years, has turned his life around and now spends his days working as an ordained minister. Using religion partially as his reasoning, Strawberry told USA Today last week that he simply wishes he could have been more like New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow as a young man. “I wish I could have been like a Gary Carter or a Tim Tebow when I was playing,” he said. “I look at Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let ‘em laugh. Let ‘em talk. He’s a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He’s a real man. … I admire him more than he could ever imagine.”

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4 BITS: Hernandez, Raymond, Chiozza, Francis

1 » New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Monday spoke about former tight end Aaron Hernandez and how the “whole organization was duped” by him. Kraft told The Boston Globe that the Patriots knew Hernandez was “immature” but could never have guessed his character issues would lead to such a heinous crime. He also explained how, prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, Hernandez sent a letter to New England admitting to smoking marijuana while playing for the Florida Gators and promising he would “willfully” submit to bi-weekly drug tests as a rookie with a promise to return portions of his salary if he tested positive and was suspended. “I realize this offer is somewhat unorthodox, but it is also the only way I could think of to let you know how serious I am about reaching my potential in the NFL,” Hernandez wrote.

A screen shot of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14 video game, featuring Hernandez as an NCAA Ultimate Team unlockable item, made its way around the internet on Monday. EA Sports has since announced that Hernandez will be removed from the game “via a Title Update in the near future.” Hernandez will also be taken out of Madden NFL 25.

2 » Former Gators tennis star Lisa Raymond‘s bid to win her 12th Grand Slam title fell just short on Sunday when she dropped a mixed doubles match 5-7, 6-2, 8-6 in the finals of the 2013 Wimbledon. Raymond, the defending mixed doubles champion at Wimbledon, has already won five career Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to go along with six women’s doubles titles.

Read two more Florida Gators news BITS (three videos) after the break!
Continue Reading » 4 BITS: Hernandez, Raymond, Chiozza, Francis

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FOUR BITS: Meyer, Merklein, Harvin, Miami

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for a question-and-answer session with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler (believe it or not) that was published on Friday. In the piece, he mentions the Florida Gators on a few occasions, the highlights of which are below. Check out the other topics by clicking here.

On why ‘no question’ he would still be at Florida if health issues never surfaced
“I realized not too long after [around February 2011]. I called Jeremy [Foley] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ Once I felt like everything was under control, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ I just told Jeremy as a friend in conversation. The talk was more about one day getting back into it. He was very supportive. Then I started at ESPN and had a ball with that, but is that enough? Is that what I was called to do? I planned to take more than a year [off] though.”

On regrets for the way his Florida tenure ended
“I didn’t at first. I thought we did a good job. We did our best. I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I’ve always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way, do it ethically and for the best interest of the student-athlete — check, check, check. I’ll always be associated with the school, and my great friends are there and all that. Absolutely none with that. It just wasn’t a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit.”

2 » Florida brought back a huge name in Gators tennis on Friday when the school announced that Mark Merklein has returned to the program as an assistant coach with the men’s team. Merklein, a two-time national champion (doubles in 1993, singles in 1994) and the 1994 SEC Player of the Year, earned four All-American nominations and three All-SEC nods while at Florida and was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. Considered by many to be the best men’s tennis player in school history, Merklein wound up competing as a professional for 12 years and even serving as a volunteer assistant for the Gators from 1998-2002 while he was on the tour. He was the head coach of the USTA Player Development Center for six seasons (2006-11) before being hired by Michigan as an assistant coach for the past two years (2012-13). “When I left I even said to everyone, including Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, that it was a goal of mine to one day come back and coach and win national championships,” Merklein said in a school release. “I’ve said it so much now, it’s time to actually do it and put the work in. I’m excited to do that alongside [head coach Bryan Shelton].”

3 » Wide receiver Percy Harvin has only been employed by the Seattle Seahawks for a few weeks now, but he is already turning heads at the team’s facility. According to The Seattle Times, Harvin’s teammates and coaches have already begun taking notice, and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson is ecstatic about the potential of Seattle’s offense this season. “His talent level is unbelievable, off the charts,” said Wilson of Harvin. “He brings an explosive mentality to the game, which a lot of our guys already have. But to have him is truly tremendous. He’s a guy that’s been one of the best football players in the National Football League for the past several years.” Harvin also told the paper that he expect to play some running back on occasion and will likely be back for kickoff returns.

4 » ESPN’s decision to kick-off Florida second football game of the season, on the road against the Miami Hurricanes, at noon has caused quite a stir amongst fans over the past 24 hours. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off on Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, FL at Sun Life Stadium in a game which everyone involved assumed would be played at night, likely at 8 p.m. Instead, Florida-Miami will take place under the extreme heat of the South Florida sun with kickoff just after noon, earlier than any UF-UM game has been played since at least 1987. The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro did some digging to learn why ESPN chose that time slot.

According to the network, ABC will be airing a NASCAR race at 8 p.m. while ESPN is broadcasting Notre Dame-Michigan. The 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC will be used for regional games (those in Florida will see Oregon at Virginia). Hurricanes AD Blake James apparently tweeted that Miami “requested and lobbied” for the 8 p.m. slot, while ESPN spokesman Mike Humes pointed out that the network values its noon window. “We average probably around three million viewers for that time slot. So it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put the worst game on at noon.’ The noon window does really well with fans,” he said. “We view this as a great matchup. Scheduling games is like putting together different puzzles with different time zones and commitments, and this was the best window.”

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Gators sweep SEC All-Sports awards yet again

Any doubt that the University of Florida had the dominant athletics program in the Southeastern Conference during the 2012-13 school year was put to rest Monday as the university was named the SEC All-Sports Tropy champion for the fifth-straight season by the Halifax Media Group. Sweeping all three titles – overall, men’s and women’s – the Florida Gators won by staggering numbers in each category, literally dominating the competition.

Team (OVERALL)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida160.5.7230
No. 2 Georgia144.0.6372
No. 3 Texas A&M137.0.6284
Team (MEN'S)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida70.5.6651
No. 2 Alabama59.0.5566
No. 3 Georgia58.5.5519
Team (WOMEN'S)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida90.7759
No. 2 Tennessee79.7315
No. 3 Texas A&M80.5.7188

Florida is the only school to sweep all three crowns in a single season, accomplishing the feat for the 13th time, sixth in the last seven years and fifth-in-a-row (2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13). UF has now won 23 overall titles (including seven-straight), 20 women’s titles and 17 men’s titles.

All 16 of the Gators’ sports (nine women’s, seven men’s) were counted with cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field combined into one unit per gender. (The lacrosse program competes in the American Lacrosse Conference.) Scoring was adjusted this year by the Halifax Media Group to account for the two teams (Missouri, Texas A&M) and one sport (equestrian) added to the conference this season.

Florida matched a school and league record by winning eight SEC titles over this period – basketball, gymnastics, men’s swimming, soccer, softball, volleyball, women’s cross country and women’s tennis – compared to three in 2011-12. UF soccer and women’s tennis each captured both the regular season and tournament championships.

The Gators lead the SEC with 213 all-time team titles.

The SEC All-Sports titles were previously awarded by The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group from 1994-95 to 2010-11.

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Florida coaches McCachren, Chafin pass away

Former Florida Gators coaches Jim McCachren (men’s basketball) and M.B. Chafin (men’s tennis) passed away this month.

McCachren, a former captain at North Carolina who went on to serve as a Naval officer in World War II, spent nearly seven decades in Gainesville, FL. He first joined the University of Florida as a physical education professor, a role he held for 50 years, but eventually linked up with the basketball program to become “Coach Mac,” an assistant basketball coach under Sam McAlister, John Mauer, Norm Sloan and Tommy Bartlett.

He served in that role for 26 seasons and never made more than $15,800 in a single year, according to The Gainesville Sun. In fact, he did not get paid at all for nearly half of that tenure. When McCachren retired from coaching, he remained a die-hard Gators fan, attending numerous events including football, basketball and baseball games. He was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

McCachren died over the weekend at the age of 101.

Chafin started his career at Florida as an assistant coach. After 12 years working under Bill Potter, Chafin took over the men’s tennis program and led it for seven years from 1978-84. He was named SEC Coach of the Year in his final year at the helm. Chafin retired in 1984 but remained involved with the school’s athletics department.

He passed way on May 1 at the age of 79 after losing a battle with pulmonary fibrosis.

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