11 Gator Bites for Thursday, December 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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» The New York Jets finally decided to bench quarterback Mark Sanchez after a five-turnover performance on Monday night. Despite the fact that Tim Tebow had been Sanchez’s back-up all season long, the team decided to promote third-stringer Greg McElroy to starter, leapfrogging Tebow and breaking a promise the team made to him when they traded for him in the offseason. When Denver was shopping Tebow and had equal offers from New York and Jacksonville, the player evaluated the situation to determine which would be his best destination. Sources close to the player told me at the time that Tebow chose the Jets for two reasons. New York told him that they would utilize him in a number of roles right away and that he would also get a legitimate chance to start for the Jets should Sanchez either be injured or benched. While the team did put him in occasionally as Wildcat quarterback and as a punt protector, he was barely used in the offense and never correctly. He was inactive the first time New York replaced Sanchez during a game and has now been jumped over by McElroy for the starting job this week.

» Sports Illustrated’s Peter King summed up the situation well Wednesday on Twitter: “I think what happened w/ Jets is they saw Tebow have some bad practices, then he wasn’t electric on early touches, and they gave up on him.” Putting it another way was ESPN’s Ed Werder, who tweeted: “Jets traded 2 draft choices, paid Broncos part of Tebow’s signing bonus, ignored Bronco performances, never gave him chance” With all of that being true, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian O’Connor went off on the franchise in his latest column. “The Jets used Tebow, and then abused him,” he wrote. “They used him to sell tickets and PSLs and steal a few more headlines from the local big-boy franchise that had just won another Super Bowl title. They abused him Tuesday by declaring that a seventh-round pick who has been inactive for 13 out of 14 games gives the Jets a better chance to do something they fail to do: win.” O’Connor also looked to Tebow’s record, noting that he was 8-4 last season before falling to New England in the playoffs and is 9-7 in 16 career starts, which included three with an interim coach and did not include last year’s victory in Miami when he came in for Kyle Orton. “How is he less qualified to face San Diego than McElroy, who has one moderately successful relief appearance behind him and who has eternal backup written all over him?”

Check out NINE more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » 11 Gator Bites for Thursday, December 20

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FOUR BITS: Rosario, Donovan, McQuay, 2011-12

1 » Florida Gators senior guard Mike Rosario, playing with the Puerto Rico National Team in the 2012 Centrobasket Championship, registered seven points and three rebounds in his team’s easy 92-60 win over Panama on Monday. Puerto Rico is set to take on the Bahamas at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday as they continue in the event and hope to earn a bid to the 2012 London Olympics.

2 » In Brazil with the USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team, Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan improved to 3-0 in international competition as the Americans defeated host Brazil 83-64 on Monday in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. The United States has already qualified for the 2013 FIBA U18 World Championship set for next summer but still has plenty to accomplish in this tournament. The U.S. will take on Argentina on Tuesday in a semifinal game for the opportunity to play for the tournament title against either Canada or Brazil.

3 » Gators junior runner Tony McQuay was named a semifinalist for The Bowerman the biggest award in collegiate track & field on Tuesday, becoming the fifth student-athlete from Florida to receive the distinction in the last three years. Though UF has yet to bring home the prestigious award, McQuay has as legitimate of a shot as anyone before having won the national title in both the indoor and outdoor 400-meter dash. He also anchored the Gators’ 4×400-meter team that captured the outdoor national championship and was one of the two top performers for the Florida men’s track & field team that swept the indoor and outdoor 2012 NCAA Championship.

4 » The 2011-12 athletic season has come to an end for the Gators and though some highly ranked Florida teams missed out on opportunities at national titles (baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse, softball), UF also brought home a school record three NCAA Championships thanks to sterling efforts by men’s track & field (indoor and outdoor) and women’s tennis. The NCAA Indoor title for men’s track and field marked the third-straight for the program, and women’s tennis completed their quest to win back-to-back titles with their victory this season. The Gators also won eight individual national titles including six in track & field and one in gymnastics.

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TWO BITS: Pouncey’s progress, Taylor’s honor

1 » Just like his brother one year ago, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is quickly finding out that he will be able to compete quite well as a rookie in the NFL. Going up against massive defensive tackle Paul Soliai during the first few days of training camp, Pouncey stood his ground and pushed right back. “He was aggressive,” Soliai told the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s pretty tough. He wasn’t scared; he wasn’t afraid.” Head coach Tony Sparano, a former offensive line coach, also heaped praise on Pouncey’s performance during his first few professional practices. “There are so many natural things that he did … that made him stand out,” Sparano said. “Some things that he did in the run game. Some things that he did in the protection drills, one-on-one, those types of things. This guy – there was some awareness out there.”

2 » One of the top track & field athletes during the 2010-11 season, Florida Gators junior jumper Christian Taylor is now one of three male finalists for The Bowerman – the track & field equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Though a committee will be voting for the winner, The Bowerman also allows the fans to choose who they think deserves the award; the athlete with the largest margin receives one extra vote. To lend your support to Taylor and Florida, click here.

Extra BIT » Former Gators assistant golf coach Steve Bradley was named the head coach for the Mercer Bears on Tuesday. During his three years at Florida, Bradley helped the Gators reach the NCAA Tournament thrice and saw the team capture the 2010 SEC Championship, too.

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FOUR BITS: Honor roll, Claye, Loeffler, Mitchell

1 » Forty-six student-athletes attending the University of Florida were named to the 2010 Southeastern Conference Fall Academic Honor Roll on Wednesday in a release by commissioner Mike Slive. The football and soccer teams led the way with 19 players apiece receiving the honors; volleyball added the other eight. Notable players on the list include senior punter Chas Henry, senior defensive end Duke Lemmens, senior DE Justin Trattou, redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis, freshman quarterback Trey Burton, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. and redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Florida’s total of 46 was tied (Vanderbilt) for third-best in the SEC, following South Carolina (79) and Georgia (47).

2 » Florida Gators junior jumper Will Claye has joined sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps and junior jumper Christian Taylor on The Bowerman’s 2011 watch list. Awarded by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), The Bowerman honors the sport’s best overall athlete each year.

3 » Left without a job when new Gators head coach Will Muschamp decided not to retain him as quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler has found a new position as offensive coordinator and QB coach of the Temple Owls under former Florida offensive coordinator now Temple head coach Steve Addazio. Loeffler is the sixth assistant coach with a Gators connection to be hired by Addazio for his first staff. He joins Owls defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, wide receivers/special teams coach Zach Smith, offensive line coach Justin Frye, defensive line coach Sean Cronin and strength and conditioning coach Frank Piraino. OwlScoop.com first reported the signing via Twitter.

4 » While Florida waits for redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario to complete his transfer season, Rosario’s former team, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, is benefiting from a UF transfer. Former Gators forward Jonathan Mitchell, now a senior, had a game-winning four-point play for the Scarlet Knights in their 77-76 upset victory over No. 10/9 Villanova on Wednesday. Check out the video by clicking here.

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FOUR BITS: Demps and track, Driskel, Applewhite

1 » Florida Gators sophomore/junior running back Jeff Demps had a tough go of it in 2010. After carrying the ball a career-high 26 times against the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 18, Demps sat out or played sparingly the rest of the season with an injured foot but still led the team in rushes (92) and rushing yards (551). Florida track head coach Mike Holloway, who helped Demps win the 60-meter indoor (6.57 seconds) and 100-meter outdoor (9.96 seconds) National Championships last year, said his star will sit out the first competition and may not run until midseason. “Jeff has never run in the first competition, so our goal with Jeff is we’re going to take it day by day and see how he progresses,’” said Holloway during a press conference Monday. “He’s doing fine right now. Our goal is for him to open up in the middle of the season like he did last year. He’s come off a long football season. He’s human and I’m not just going to throw him out there when he’s not quite prepared for it just yet.”

2 » Though he will likely miss a portion of the season, Demps was named to The Bowerman’s 2011 preseason watch list on Wednesday. Awarded by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), The Bowerman honors the sport’s best overall athlete each year. Joining Demps as a preseason watch list member is Gators junior jumper Christian Taylor. Sophomore jumper Will Claye also received honorable mention from the USTFCCCA.

3 » OGGOA reader Austin Hittel sent in a personal video he made of new Florida five-star 2011 quarterback commitment Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL) after watching him play a few games this season. Driskel actually sat down with Austin and helped him film some additional scenes for the short, which is both well-produced and executed nicely. With National Signing Day less than a month away and Driskel already on campus, we figured this is something you, our readers, would be interested in. If you have any thoughts for Austin, leave them in our comments section.

4 » Texas Longhorns co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, believed to be a candidate for the Gators’ offensive coordinator position immediately after Will Muschamp was hired as the team’s new head coach, said on Monday that leaving the Longhorns was never a consideration for him. “People called, but I wasn’t interested in anything,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “I’m going to be here. This is my university. I want to help get this fixed.”

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FOUR BITS: Smith, Bowerman, women’s basketball

1 » Florida Gators senior sprinter Calvin Smith advanced to the semifinals of the men’s 400-meter dash at the USA Track & Field Championship at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, IA on Thursday. Smith placed second in his heat and moves on to the next race, which will also include former Florida sprinter, Olympic gold medalist and, four-time World Champion and indoor 400-meter world record holder Kerron Clement.

2 » Three Gators track & field athletes – sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps, senior thrower Mariam Kevkhishvili and sophomore jumper Christian Taylor – have been named as top 10 finalists for The Bowerman, the sport’s highest honor. The men’s and women’s categories, respectively, will be knocked down to three finalists in the next few weeks, and voting from the 100-member panel will commence from there.

3 » Like its male counterpart, the Florida women’s basketball team has agreed to face the Central Florida Knights in 2010; however, instead of a regular season game, the two teams will square-off in the first round of the 2010 Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Nov. 13. The game time will be scheduled at a later date.

4 » Probably more than any other sport, college basketball coaches are hired based on relationships, working experience and recommendations. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino played an instrumental role in Billy Donovan’s elevation to the top job with Florida, and the Tuscaloosa News reports that he also helped Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant get his new job because of his relationship with Donovan. “When Alabama was getting ready to make a change, a good friend of mine, (UA trustee) John McMahon, called me to see about my interest in the job and I said, ‘John I’m not going to move any more in my life,’” Pitino said. “We talked about certain people and I said, ‘You just mentioned someone that I think is one of the premiere young coaches in basketball. He has all the intangible things that will make a great coach some day.”

Pitino also raved about Grant’s potential. “Look at what Billy Donovan has been able to do,” he said. “Anthony can do the same thing. […] I think he’s going to take Alabama to great heights. It’s going to take a little time here. He’s got guys leaving that shouldn’t leave, and he’s going to get the players in that he’s comfortable coaching and he’s going to take them to the top of the SEC.” Pitino even helped facilitate the move, which you can read more about here.

Photo Credit: CBS via University of Florida

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Three Gators earn SEC track & field awards

Florida Gators track & field captured three end-of-season honors from the Southeastern Conference on Monday. Head coach Mike Holloway was named the SEC Men’s Head Coach of the Year, senior thrower Mariam Kevkhishvili was named the SEC Women’s Field Athlete of the Year and sophomore jumper Christian Taylor was named the SEC Men’s Field Athlete of the Year.

The University of Florida took home more total awards in this period than any other school, with Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee each receiving two honors.

Holloway is racking up the awards this season. He has already been named the 2010 SEC Indoor Women’s Head Coach of the Year, 2010 USTFCCCA National Men’s Indoor Head Coach of the Year and 2010 USTFCCCA Indoor South Region Men’s and Women’s Head Coach of the Year.

One of the most accomplished athletes in school history, Kevkhishvili is hoping to complete an undefeated season and is on the watch list for The Bowerman. A four-time National Champion and seven-time All-American, she won the 2010 SEC Outdoor Championship for shot put (her third in four years) and leads the nation with a career-high mark of 18.46m/60-6.75.

Taylor also had a great year, winning the 2010 SEC Outdoor Championship in triple jump and as the third leg of the 4×400-meter relay team. He also finished second in individual point standings at the event.

The Gators track & field program has already captured three titles this season. The men won the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championship and 2010 SEC Outdoor Championship, while the women took home the 2010 SEC Indoor Championship. Both programs begin competing for their 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championship in the next few days.

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FOUR BITS: Baker, The Bowerman, Tebow, Nike

1 » Former Florida Gators wide receiver Dallas Baker, most recently waived/injured by the NFL‘s Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 6, 2009, has signed on with the Jacksonville Sharks of the newly revamped AFL. The Sharks are one of two new franchises being introduced to the league this year, and Baker joins fellow Gators cornerback Dee Webb on the team. The Sharks are 1-0 already this season with a 54-38 victory over the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz last week.

2 » Each year, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association hands out The Bowerman award which recognizes the most outstanding collegiate men’s and women’s track & field athlete. Three current Florida student-athletes are on The Bowerman’s watch list as of April 7: women’s senior thrower Mariam Kevkhishvili, men’s freshman sprinter Jeff Demps (new addition) and men’s sophomore jumper Christian Taylor. The Gators also boast women’s senior jumper Shara Proctor and women’s junior/senior distance runner Charlotte Browning as honorable mentions at this time. The award will not be handed out until December.

3 » Sourcing NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt, Jerry McDoanld of InsideBayArea.com says the Oakland Raiders have a high level of interest in former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. According to Brandt’s story, Tebow was asked by the Raiders’ coaching staff to break down a play. He replied, “This is how it’s called with Florida, this is how it’s called with your organization and this is how it’s called with West coast teams.” Brandt went on to say, “I think that when you get a quarterback and he reacts that quickly, you know that the guy is not only pretty smart, but he does have that mental quickness to adjust very fast.”

4 » Apparel and shoe company Nike has officially announced its partnership with Tebow. Click the link below to read the full press release.
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Baker, The Bowerman, Tebow, Nike

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