FOUR BITS: Donovan, Chandler, Tebow, Trail

1 » For the second-straight year, Florida Gators head basketball coachBilly Donovan is participating in the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, a charitable contest where coaches are vying to win money for an organization they choose to represent. Donovan, who is in the contest for the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, could win $100,000 for the organization just as he did one year ago when Florida fans cast the most online votes for him and the foundation. The eight-week-long contest began Jan. 18 with a winner being announced March 9. There were only 14 participants in 2011 but that number has increased to 48 this year. For more information and to vote for Donovan and the foundation (which supports Shands Hospital at UF), go here and click on South Region. Former Gators assistant coach Anthony Grant (Alabama, The Sweet Home Fund) and head coach Lon Kruger (Oklahoma, Coaches vs. Cancer) are also participating though Grant is also in the South Region with Donovan.

2 » Former Florida wide receiver and 11-year NFL veteran Wes Chandler has agreed to be the WR coach at California, the school divulged Wednesday evening. Though it will be just his second stint on the college level (Central Florida, 1994-95), Chandler has coached receivers in NFL Europe (1995-1999), the NFL (2000-2008) and the UFL (2009). He was a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC player with the Gators who made it to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams in his NFL career. Chandler was also inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in 1989 after catching 92 passes for 1,963 yards and 22 touchdowns in his four years at Florida. He was the team’s leading receiver for three-straight years from 1975-77.

3 » On ESPN’s Jim Rome Is Burning Wednesday, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was asked about quarterback Tim Tebow, the impact he had on the team this year and how good he can be in the future. “I think Tim has a lot to prove still,” Bailey said on the show. “He’s proven he can win some tough games. Now it’s just being consistent. One thing about him, he’s going to work at it, and I’m behind him 100 percent.” Bailey also said “the sky is the limit” for Tebow and believes that he will have plenty of time to improve his arm starting this offseason, Tebow’s first as the primary signal caller with the club.

4 » Another former Gators player has found a new home with defensive end Lynden Trail enrolling at Norfolk State this week. Trail, who transferred following the 2011 regular season, transferred for playing time reasons after failing to dress most games and not stepping on the field once this past year.

Extra BIT » You want Tebow pizza? You got it.

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FOUR BITS: Larson, Pryor, Leak, Demps, lax

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson has officially entered a not guilty plea on reduced charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing. The Gainesville Sun reports that junior F Erik Murphy, the other player cited in the incident, has yet to enter a plea. Both men, along with student manager Josh Adel were arrested on felony burglary charges in April after they were caught allegedly forcing their way into a vehicle. Charges against Adel (for accessory to burglary) were thrown out; those for Larson and Murphy were reduced to misdemeanors.

2 » With former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor leaving his school in the dust, his next career move becomes just as (if not more) interesting as that of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Pryor has similar options to Jenkins but has seemingly decided to leave college altogether. Though he could enter the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft in July, it is looking more and more like he will play professionally in another league in 2011 with the CFL (Canadian Football League) and UFL (United Football League) leading the charge for his services. The Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, according to the Associated Press, own Pryor’s negotiation rights within the league and could bring him aboard if he chooses to enter their league. Theoretically, that could spell doom for former Gators QB Chris Leak, who signed with the team as a free agent on May 5 and is fighting for the No. 2 job on the team. UPDATE: Pryor’s attorney said Thursday that he will not entertain offers from the CFL.

3 » Florida senior running back Jeff Demps, widely considered the fastest man in college football and one of the fastest overall in the entire country, failed to qualify for the finals of the 100-meter dash at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Wednesday. Demps turned in a 14th place performance of 10.40 seconds. He won the title last year with a time of 9.96 seconds.

4 » After another stellar season in which they were continuously ranked in the top five teams in the country, beat what ended up becoming the 2011 NCAA Champions and had a chance to qualify for the national championship game, Gators lacrosse was awarded the No. 5 ranking in the final standings released by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association. No. 5 is the highest a second-year program has ever been slotted to end the season, just another in a long list of accomplishments for the young Florida team and head coach Amanda O’Leary.

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Two former Gators selected in 2011 UFL Draft

The 2011 NFL Draft came and went last weekend with four former Florida Gators selected during the three-day event.

Center Mike Pouncey was chosen by the Miami Dolphins in the first round, tackle Marcus Gilbert was picked in the second round and is headed to join Pouncey’s brother with the Pittsburgh Steelers, safety Ahmad Black had to wait until the fifth round to be selected by his childhood favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Washington Redskins gave guard Maurice Hurt a chance in the seventh round.

The United Football League held its third draft on Monday with two former Florida players earning unique opportunities.

Cornerback Reynaldo Hill, a four-year NFL veteran (Tennessee Titans, 2005-08), was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the first round by the Omaha Nighthawks. Hill was a seventh round pick by Tennessee in 2005 but has been out of the league for years.

Defensive tackle Ian Scott, a seven-year veteran and fourth round pick by the Chicago Bears in the 2003 NFL Draft, was chosen No. 30 overall in the sixth round by the Virginia Destroyers and head coach Marty Schottenheimer. After playing for Chicago (2003-06), Scott had a short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles (2007) before finishing his career with the San Diego Chargers (2008-09).

The duo join former Gators guard Tavares Washington in the UFL; Washington has played the last two seasons for the Las Vegas Locomotives.

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FOUR BITS: Drayton, Hilliard, Dwyer, O’Day

1 » Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, will leave the team to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes as early as next week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has confirmed. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp when he took over the program in early January, Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He will likely coordinate the Buckeyes’ recruiting for the state of Florida, a job held by the team’s preceding wide receivers coach. Drayton was on Florida’s staff when they defeated Ohio State and captured the National Championship in 2006.

UPDATE: UF has released the following statement on Drayton’s status: “Coach Muschamp is on the road recruiting and our coaching staff remains intact at this time.”

2 » Former Gators wide receiver Ike Hilliard, a 12-year NFL veteran who officially retired last July by signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants, will join the Miami Dolphins as the team’s assistant wide receivers coach. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career. He has coached receivers for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL since 2009. Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first title. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns. His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

3 » Though it is looking more and more like four-star quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) will eventually head elsewhere, he is still considering traveling to Florida for his last official visit (his other choice would be Miami). Either way, Dwyer High School head football coach Jack Daniels isn’t sure Brissett, or four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) – who the Gators are also recruiting heavily – will announce their commitments on or before National Signing Day. “I think at best it’s 50-50,” Daniels told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg. “We are going to sit down [Wednesday], have lunch and talk about it. I don’t think they will be ready. We need to talk about it and try and get a feel for where they are both at.”

Brissett and Maggitt both have Florida and Wisconsin in common as schools they are considering; the former is also weighing offers from Miami and Washington, while the latter has Tennessee vying for his services as well. The goal is for both players to commit on or before Feb. 2, if possible. “I am not going to make them do it if they are not ready but it’s not looking that good,” Daniels said. “When they get back for this weekend’s visits we need to sit down and work it out if we can.”

4 » Former Gators pitcher Darren O’Day has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Texas Rangers. O’Day, a reliever for Texas during their World Series run, posted a 6-2 record with a 2.03 ERA in 2010 and has been with the club since 2009.

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WR Ike Hilliard signs with Giants, retires

Former Florida Gators star and 12-year NFL veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard will retire from football Friday after signing a one-day contract with the New York Giants.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Hilliard racked up 546 receptions for 6,397 yards and 35 touchdowns over his professional career while playing eight seasons for the Giants and four for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He last stepped on the NFL gridiron in 2008 and has since been working as a wide receivers coach with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL.

At Florida, Hilliard was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and consensus first-team All-American in 1996, the year the Gators won their first National Championship. He was only at the University Florida for three seasons, declaring for the draft as a junior after collecting 126 receptions for 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns.

His 2,214 career yards are good for seventh-most in team history, while his 29 career scores rank him second overall. Hilliard also holds the UF record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game (four vs. Tennessee in 1995).

Photo Credit: University of Florida

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TWO BITS: Ingram’s return, Rivers’ planned visits

1 » Last week, former Florida Gators tight end Cornelius Ingram opened up to the Philadelphia Enquirer about his recovery from a second ACL surgery and ambition about returning to the practice field for the Philadelphia Eagles. Thursday, he spoke with the Associated Press about the same subject. “Any time you get hurt, suffer a major injury, it’s going to be tough,” Ingram said. “When it’s the same injury, the same part of your body, it’s tougher. [It was] terrible, just terrible. But what could I do, except rehab, and work hard to get back.” Ingram now says he is 100 percent healthy and is practicing at full speed. “It feels great,” he said. “Mentally, you have to get that confidence back; you have to learn to trust your knee. It’s scary, because it’s always in the back of your mind, especially when it’s happened twice. But right now I have the confidence. I’m ready to go. I couldn’t wait to get back on the field here. Now, I can’t wait to get to training camp.”

2 » In his latest Dime Magazine hoop diary, five-star 2011 guard recruit and former Gators commitment Austin Rivers once again discusses his recruitment. “I still keep in touch with Coach K at Duke and Coach [Billy] Donovan at Florida,” Rivers said in the middle of the piece. “I only get five official visits so I want to definitely go back to Duke. I’ve got to go to UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Florida, too.” Previously, Rivers had not mentioned taking an official visit to Florida, seemingly because he knew the program so well. Apparently that has changed.

Extra Bit » Former Gators and NFL star Ike Hilliard has been named the wide receivers coach of the UFL’s Florida Tuskers according to a press release from the league. He was a volunteer assistant coach on the team last season and was recently hired to a full-time position by new Tuskers head coach Jay Gruden.

Photo Credit: Tracy Wilcox/The Gainesville Sun

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SIX BITS: Injury update, crowd noise, practice, Nelson honored, no Miami, Watkins signed

Senior quarterback Tim Tebow on his final home game »

1 » While speaking with the media on Wednesday afternoon, Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer updated the statuses of some of his injured players. Redshirt junior linebacker A.J. Jones, who sprained his MCL Saturday against the Florida International Golden Panthers, is officially out for the Florida State Seminoles game and will also miss the SEC Championship in two weeks. Junior Brandon Hicks will start in his place. Redshirt junior transfer running back Emmanuel Moody (ankle) is questionable while senior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (shoulder) and redshirt junior defensive tackle Terron Sanders (rib) are probable.

2 » In order to get ready for the extreme volumes produced by the crowd in The Swamp, FSU coaches piped noise into Doak Campell Stadium during practice on Tuesday. Redshirt freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel, who is starting in place of the injured Christian Ponder, benefited from the move, which should allow him to feel slightly more comfortable on Saturday. “It’s something you have to learn,” head coach Bobby Bowden said. “He’s had experience playing away from home at Wake Forest with about 40,000 people, and he’s played here in front of our crowd. Now he’s going to play down there, where it’s probably as loud a noise as he’s ever heard.”

3 » Due to inclement weather in the Gainesville, FL, area, the football team has had its practice schedule shifted around. This should not be much of an issue overall, though anything that could possibly take a team out of rhythm should be noted. However, with this veteran group, an issue like this should be minor.

Three more BITS on David Nelson, the ‘Canes and Jason Watkins after the jump…
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Injury update, crowd noise, practice, Nelson honored, no Miami, Watkins signed

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Three former Florida Gators set to debut in UFL

The upstart United Football League begins its first season Thursday night as the California Redwoods take on the Las Vegas Locomotives from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, NV, at 9:00 p.m. With a mission “To fulfill the unmet needs of football fans in major markets currently underserved by professional football by providing a high quality traditional football league comprised of world class professional football players,” the UFL is looking to make an impact in the professional football industry. Three former Florida Gators are featured on the four UFL opening day rosters, and while depth charts have not been made available, it is my belief the first two players listed are starters:

OL Jason Watkins – 6’6”, 307 lbs. [New York Sentinels]
Watkins (2004-2008), saw action in 53 games as a Gator, starting all 14 contests in 2008 at right tackle. He helped the Gators win two National Championships (2006 and 2008) as a member of the offensive line and also assisted quarterback Tim Tebow in breaking multiple passing and rushing records.

OL Carlton Medder – 6’5″, 319 lbs. [New York Sentinels]
Medder (2003-2007) saw action in 40 career games while at Florida, earning 27 consecutive starts between his junior and senior seasons at right tackle including the 2006 BCS Championship game.

OL Tavares Washington – 6’3”, 300 lbs. [Las Vegas Locomotives]
Washington (2003-2005) played in 18 games in two seasons and started 10 of 12 games in 2005 after beginning his career at UF as a junior college transfer in 2002.

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