2013 SEC Media Days – Gators ready to rock

Florida Gators at 2013 SEC Media Days: Game times vs. Toledo, Miami set | Muschamp: I’m “100% responsible” for players | Easley steals the show | VIDEOS: Florida players have fun interviewing each other

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley and redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio represented the team on Tuesday by participating at the 2013 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, AL. Below are highlights from Muschamp’s session along with some player comments.

MUSCHAMP FIRES A SHOT AT URBAN MEYER

Before he stepped up to the main podium, Muschamp spoke with reporters in a side session and was asked about Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer turning in Florida and running backs coach Brian White (Meyer’s former team and former assistant coach) for a minor secondary recruiting violation. Meyer and OSU also reported UF for what they perceived to be another recruiting violation last year.

“We appreciate our friends from Ohio making sure we are compliant with NCAA rules,” Muschamp said, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples. “They certainly know something about NCAA rules.”

Muschamp continued: “It’s really a dead issue. In both situations we were turned in by Ohio, the University of Florida didn’t do anything wrong.”

PUNISHMENT STILL UP IN THE AIR

Muschamp also told reporters that he has not decided whether sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison will be suspended for any games due to his arrest on a charge of misdemeanor simple battery one month ago. He has already been disciplined by the Gators but additional punishment has yet to be determined.

Morrison accepted a deferred prosecution agreement from the State of Florida and will pay fines, perform community service and complete other tasks during a six-month probationary period in order to get the charge expunged from his record.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced Tuesday that only two players would be limited heading into fall training camp – redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman and freshman LB Alex Anzalone – both of whom are nursing shoulder injuries after going under the knife during the spring.

He expects both players to eventually return to practice in the fall but noted that each would likely miss 10-12 sessions before being cleared by team trainers. Otherwise, he believes the Gators are “pretty healthy” on the injury front.

Redshirt junior BUCK Ronald Powell, who missed the entire 2012 season with a pair of anterior cruciate ligament surgeries, will be cleared for the start of fall practice.

“Probably the guy I’m most excited to see is Ronald Powell,” Muschamp said. “Here is a guy who has been through a lot of adversity. He’s been cleared to go after it in fall camp. A guy I’m really excited to get back on the field to see is No. 7 running around in orange and blue, a guy that’s been through an awful lot. Two surgeries. Never complained. Never got down about anything. [He] is truly a great individual and excited that he’s a leader of our football team as well.”

POSITION-BY-POSITION ANALYSIS

As part of his 2,400-word filibuster opening statement, Muschamp went in-depth about each position on the Florida football team and often spoke at length about particular players. Below is a breakdown of what he had to say about those positions.

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FOUR BITS: Young, Speights, Cummings, Beemer

1 » Gainesville Television Network‘s Julie Quittner sat down with Florida Gators center Patric Young for an extensive interview that aired in two parts on Thursday and Friday. In the conversation, Young discusses why he stayed for his senior season (“It really wasn’t a tough decision for me. I felt like I had so much more to learn from Coach [Billy] Donovan.), how he is working to improve his free throw shooting, what the team’s expectations are for the 2013-14 season and his thoughts on the suspension of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He also does an impersonation of Donovan.

Check out three more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Young, Speights, Cummings, Beemer

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Urban Meyer: Florida did not enable Hernandez

Updated on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Five days after refusing to speak about tight end Aaron Hernandez, former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer sent a series of text messages to The Columbus Dispatch (and other media outlets) in an effort to tell his side of the story.

According to Meyer, reports about Hernandez’s time at Florida have been exaggerated. He claims that Hernandez did not fail multiple drug tests – as was initially reported shortly after the New England Patriots selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft – and that his family and everyone involved with the Gators did whatever they could to help put him on the right path.

“I just received an e-mail from a friend where there is an accusation of multiple failed drug tests by Hernandez covered up by [the University] of Florida or the coaching staff. This is absolutely not true. Hernandez was held to the same drug testing policy as every other player.

“He was an athlete at Florida 4-7 years ago and there are some comments being made that are not correct. Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide him.

”Prayers and thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. Relating or blaming these serious charges to [the University] of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible.”

Now the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Meyer has taken plenty of heat over the last two weeks for Hernandez after he was charged with first degree murder following a shooting in North Attleboro, MA.

Continue Reading » Urban Meyer: Florida did not enable Hernandez

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Report: Urban Meyer turned in Florida’s Brian White for recruiting violation (Updated)

Updated at 2:45 p.m.

Despite bringing two national titles and dozens of victories to Gainesville, FL, over his six seasons with the Florida Gators, former head coach Urban Meyer has drawn the ire of fans over the last few years for how the team played in 2010 and the way he left the program and subsequently took over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The remaining Florida fans Meyer still had on his side may finally find a reason to turn against him if a recent report that he turned in a Gators assistant coach for a minor secondary recruiting violation is indeed true.

According to FOXSports.com’s Clay Travis, who only cites “sources in New York” in his column, Meyer and Ohio State recently turned in Florida running backs coach Brian White for a “bump” violation (contacting a recruit, usually “accidentally” in person, during a non-contact period) while recruiting four-star 2014 wide receiver Curtis Samuel.

Chances are that Meyer likely reported White not for bumping into Samuel but rather because he believed White offered Samuel a scholarship while at his school, which is a secondary violation. Samuel told InsidetheGators.com that UF head coach Will Muschamp called to extend a scholarship offer following White’s visit on April 16.

Though the NCAA reportedly investigated the potential violation and found that White had done nothing wrong, Meyer going out of his way to report a former assistant – one he originally hired to coach tight ends for the Gators in 2009 – is an action that should undoubtedly put a sour taste in the mouths of Florida fans.

Continue Reading » Report: Urban Meyer turned in Florida’s Brian White for recruiting violation (Updated)

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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: Zunino, APR, Fowler, Marotti

1 » One of the most accomplished players in the history of Florida Gators baseball, catcher Mike Zunino has been called up to the major leagues and will suit up for the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Zunino is hitting just .238 with 11 home runs for the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate. Chances are Zunino’s call up is as a temporary replacement for rookie C Jesus Sucre, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Mariners on Saturday. Unless Zunino starts dominating immediately on the major league level (or even if he does), he will likely be sent back down so the year he is eligible for arbitration is not bumped up a season. “So far the transition has been pretty good,” Zunino told the Seattle Post-Inteligencer as part of a recent feature story. “For me it’s one of those things where it’s all about how you prepare mentally and physically, and taking care of yourself. Ultimately that gives you the best chance to succeed.”

2 » The NCAA released the official Academic Progress Rates for the 2011-12 athletic season with all the numbers coming in positive for the Gators. Florida’s football team finished with an APR of 968, tied with Georgia for fourth-best in the Southeastern Conference behind Missouri, Alabama and Vanderbilt. UF basketball scored a 989, checking in one spot back of UGA.

3 » The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu penned an interesting feature over the weekend on Gators sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. and how his decision to play for Florida has affected his father, a long-time die-hard Florida State fan. “We gave [all the FSU shirts and hats] away,” Fowler said. “Everything FSU is gone. Strictly Gator. All Gator stuff now. It was a little hard for [my dad] at first, but he started wearing some of the Florida stuff to go to the barber shop and everyone would say, ‘You’re wearing orange and blue now.’ Everything FSU is gone. We turned him around. He’s actually glad now that I made the decision to come here. I think in the end, this was the best decision for me. I’m just very happy now.” The feature also looks at Fowler’s successful freshman season, how he is preparing for his second year, and his admiration for his new “big brother,” redshirt junior Buck LB Ronald Powell.

4 » Speaking of features, CBS Sports columnist Bruce Feldman wrote one Tuesday on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer from the perspective of the team’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance, Micky Marotti. In the piece, Mariotti kind of brags that Meyer was able to nab defensive end Noah Spence, who he notes was the No. 1 player at that position end on Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s recruiting board. He also explains how Meyer has changed from his time at Florida. “He’s a lot less likely to fly off the handle,” Marotti said. “I think he’s at a point, where you try to teach and educate and cultivate your players, but ultimately it’s their decision to make the right or wrong decision out there in the world. He’s done a tremendous, Emmy award-winning job coaching our coaches in philosophy, methodology and recruiting. I see it all. He’s really into teaching.”

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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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FOUR BITS: Tebow, WNBA, Muschamp, Embree

1 » Is former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow being “blackballed by NFL teams because of [his] cult-like following [and the] media frenzy” that follows him? That’s the headline of Yahoo! Sports writer Mike Silver’s most recent article, one that is perhaps not that far off from reality. Silver spoke to an NFC head coach who said as much. “He seems like a great guy to have on a team, and I’d be tempted to bring him in as our backup, but it’s just not worth dealing with all the stuff that comes with it,” he said. Silver also learned that New England head coach Bill Belichick, believed to be a fan of Tebow’s, “hates” Tebow as a player, that according to an “organizational source.” “No chance. Plus they wouldn’t like the circus that comes with it,” the source added.

If the fans and media are legitimately the reasons that Tebow is unemployed at this moment, the absurdity of that fact cannot be understated. In the NFL – and most professional leagues – talent is supposed to win out. If you are talented enough to play the game – and smart enough to stay out of the gutter off the field – coaches say you deserve a spot in the league or at the very least a chance to compete. The school you attended, spot you were drafted (if you were drafted at all), race, religion and sexuality are not supposed to matter. Now the message is that if fans like you and the media cover you (too much), you are not welcome. Even if one does not believe Tebow is a starting-caliber quarterback at this time, there are 32 NFL teams, which means there are 64 backup quarterback spots in the league. Try making an argument that Tebow is not talented enough to be a top-32 backup in the league or even deserving of tryouts with teams to showcase his abilities while second-round bust John Beck – a colossal bust of a second-round pick entering his seventh year as a professional with a 3-7 record and QB rating of 67.6 – is working with New Orleans this weekend.

2 » The WNBA may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Los Angeles Sparks have been one team that Gators fans have been able to pay attention to over the years. In this picture taken on Thursday, former Florida head women’s basketball coach Carol Ross (now Los Angeles’ head coach), current Gators assistant coach Murriel Page (UF alumna and former Sparks player) and former Florida guard Bridget Pettis all pose for a picture while doing the Gator Chomp.

Read three more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Tebow, WNBA, Muschamp, Embree

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