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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FOUR BITS: track, tennis, lacrosse, softball

1 » Neither the top-ranked men nor the third-ranked women were able to bring home a team title in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championship for the Florida Gators, but the track & field program did conclude the four-day event with five individual titles. Sophomore Kyle Strawn started things off on Thursday by winning the SEC title in the men’s hammer throw; his championship toss went 66.90m/219-6 and also marked a personal best. Florida added a second individual SEC crown on Friday when redshirt freshman Jimmy Clark gutted out a tough 10,000 meters in 29:44.54 to win the Gators’ first title in the event since 1987. Though Florida went title-less on Saturday, the Gators added three on Sunday to close the event. UF swept the triple jump with senior Omar Craddock (16.46m/54-0) and sophomore Ciarra Brewer (13.85m/45-5.25) defending their 2012 titles by winning the men’s and women’s championships, respectively. Freshman Marija Vucenovic also got in on the fun by winning the women’s javelin with a throw of 51.30m/168-4.

The Florida men (123.00) finished second to Arkansas (152.50), while the UF women (106.00) placed fourth. The Gators were hoping to win the athletic program’s ninth SEC team title of the season but must instead settle for a school record-tying eight as the league’s 2012-13 season has officially come to a close.

2 » No. 1 Florida women’s tennis began competing in the 2013 NCAA Tournament over the weekend and swept both of its opponents, defeating the Marist Red Foxes and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 4-0 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Gators ran through the Red Foxes without dropping a single game, winning both doubles matches 8-0 and all three singles contests 6-0, 6-0. Georgia Tech was a tougher out for Florida but still went down rather easily as UF won the doubles point with 8-6 and 8-2 victories and took singles in short order. No. 1 senior Lauren Embree beat No. 98 Elizabeth Kilborn 6-0, 6-0 in her last home match, and No. 116 senior Caroline Hitimana led 6-1, 3-3 in her match but did not finish; both players were involved in victories that led to the doubles point. Embree received a standing ovation after he victory; she and Hitimana leave UF never having lost a team match (55-0) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. Action continues for Florida on Friday when it takes on Duke in a round of 16 match in Urbania, IL.

Read two more Gators news BITS (with an extra)…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: track, tennis, lacrosse, softball

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4 BITS: gymnastics, tennis, Lochte, Muschamp

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the NCAA Super Six for the seventh time in the last eight seasons on Friday by winning its session with a score of 197.775, which also wound up being the top overall mark during the two-session semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Championship. Additionally, Bridget Sloan became the second Florida freshman to win the NCAA’s all-around individual national title in as many years after she posted a combined 39.600 on Friday with a 9.925 in the uneven bars, 9.900s in the floor exercise and balance beam, and a 9.875 in the vault. The Gators have never won an NCAA team title but came excruciatingly close one season ago, falling by 0.075 points in the Super Six. Alabama, which won the 2012 championship, returns to this season’s Super Six field along with Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and UCLA. The Crimson Tide, Bulldogs and Bruins are three of just four teams in the history of the sport that have won NCAA gymnastics titles (Utah); the Gators are hoping to become the fifth on Saturday in Los Angeles, CA in a meet that begins at 7 p.m.

2 » (3) Florida women’s tennis and (3) Gators men’s tennis each won their 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal matches on Friday. Each had byes in the first two rounds of the tournament. The women took down the (6) Vanderbilt Commodores 4-1, and the men swept the (6) South Carolina Gamecocks 4-0 as both teams advanced to the semifinals of their respective tournaments. Florida’s women’s team will go head-to-head with (2) Texas A&M on Saturday at approximately 3 p.m. The Gators men’s program will square off with (2) Tennessee at 11 a.m. The women’s team is hoping to win its fourth-straight SEC Tournament title, while the men are trying to capture their first since 2011.

3 » Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte, in an effort to promote his new reality program “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” (which premiers on Sunday at 10 p.m. on E!), appeared on FOX 29 in Philadelphia, PA for an interview on Friday and made, well, made the female host cry. Rather than shedding tears after Lochte told a touching story or because she was so overwhelmed by what some women perceive to be his attractiveness, Sheinelle Jones broke into tears from laughing at, well, Lochte’s stupidity. Check out the video below to see for yourself.

Lochte’s athletic accomplishments have instilled a sense of pride in Gators fans – especially during the 2012 London Olympics – but his interviews and upcoming reality show may bring forth a different emotion: embarrassment.

4 » A feature story by Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com takes a look at Florida head coach Will Muschamp and how he has changed from a personality standpoint now that he is entering the third year at the helm of the Gators. “Something two years ago would have happened, [and] I would have probably blown my head off thinking about it,” he conceded. “Now I roll with the punches a little better than maybe I did before.” Interestingly enough, his parents disagreed on how Muschamp’s demeanor may appear in his third year with the team. His mother, Sally, thinks he may be calming down a bit – “I think he’s enjoying everything more now.” – while his father, Larry, doubts that will be the case – “I don’t think he’ll be settling down a whole lot.”

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16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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.

» Though President Barack Obama‘s official 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket will be released on Wednesday at 9 a.m. on ESPN, the network released his Final Four late Tuesday night. President Obama chose the Florida Gators to win the South Region and also has Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State advancing to the Final Four.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had a hellacious experience during his team’s game on Monday evening. With 5.7 seconds left in overtime and Chicago trailing Denver by a single point, Noah got in perfect position underneath the basket and tipped in what otherwise would have been a missed shot. Though Noah scored the apparent game-winner and the referees did not call interference on the play, they checked the replay and eventually reversed their decision. The problem? Referees are only allowed to use replay to review on-court calls of interference, not to check on non-calls. Take a look at the video below to see what transpired on Monday.

Read 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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