FOUR BITS: Pro Day, Tim Tebow, tennis, WBK

1 » Though the date has been set for at least a few weeks now, the Florida Gators officially announced this week that the team will hold its Pro Day on March 13. Free and open to the public, Pro Day will feature a number of draft-eligible Gators working out for NFL scouts and coaches from around the league right on Florida Field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida also announced that seven players who graduated in 2011 – quarterback John Brantley, defensive end William Green, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, defensive back Moses Jenkins, running back Chris Rainey and wide receiver Deonte Thompson – are scheduled to participate. Also in attendance to work out for scouts will be former Gators including DT Troy Epps, DT Lawrence Marsh, DB Dorian Munroe, DB Wondy Pierre-Louis and WR Justin Williams.

2 » EA Sports announced via their Facebook page that QB Tim Tebow is one of two Denver Broncos players representing his team in the online voting for cover athlete for the Madden NFL 13 video game. Voting begins March 7; after the field is cut down to 32 players, head-to-head votes will take place until the final cover athlete is picked. Tebow, who was on the cover of NCAA Football 11 two years ago, may actually want to avoid winning this contest due to the dreaded and much-publicized Madden curse.

3 » No. 15 Florida women’s tennis (6-1) swept the Florida State Seminoles (5-4) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex for the team’s 99th consecutive home victory. The Gators, now 52-1 all-time against the Seminoles, beat their in-state rivals 7-0. The No. 13 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen won 8-2, leading the way for three doubles victories. No. 1 Will (6-1, 6-2), No. 39 Oyen (6-2, 6-1), No. 18 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 23 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-2) and sophomore Olivia Janowicz (6-4, retired) all won their singles matches as well in the rout. Florida will compete in back-to-back road meets against Tennessee on Friday and Georgia on Sunday before returning to Gainesville, FL looking for their 100th straight win at home next Friday against Vanderbilt.

4 » Eight-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) is set to begin action in the 2012 SEC Tournament by taking on the nine-seed Auburn Tigers (13-16, 5-11 SEC) on Thursday at 1 p.m. With the game airing live on FOX Sports Network, fans can watch as Florida tries to pull out a victory for the opportunity to square-off with one-seed Kentucky on Friday at 1 p.m.

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Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2010 (check out our post tomorrow), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players signing huge contracts to current team members being a part of some of the biggest news stories in sports this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

10 » FIVE BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2010 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon and suddenly in all but one case. Lamar Abel (21), a walk-on defensive lineman, suffered cardiac arrest while volunteering at a roadside cleanup event with his fraternity in Gainesville, FL. Former safety John Curtis (24) committed suicide in Bellvue, WA. Hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams (45) passed away after an acute asthma attack. Former Gators basketball player and friend to the program Augie Greiner (76) died in his home. And long-time donor and Bull Gator George Steinbrenner (80), most famously known as the owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in a Tampa, FL, hospital. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

9 » ERIN ANDREWS GETS JUSTICE, STARS ON TV, RE-SIGNS WITH ESPN

Former Florida dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews had a much better go of it in 2010. Though her stalker plead guilty to his charges in court in December 2009, she spent a good portion of 2010 making sure he was brought to justice (27-month prison term) while also spreading word across the country that violence against women from sexual predators cannot and should not be tolerated. Simultaneously, Andrews participated in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and even dropped a few Gator Chomps along the way. She ended up finishing third in the competition but parlayed her talent on the sidelines into an enhanced gig with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Andrews signed a new two-year deal with ESPN, which included a role hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU, appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and more of a presence on the family of networks. She also spoke with OGGOA on two occasions, first in a wide-ranging interview that received significant publicity and later to share her thoughts on the resignation of head coach Urban Meyer.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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FOUR BITS: Troy coaches USA, Spikes suspended

1 » Florida Gators head swimming coach Gregg Troy was named the head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team on Wednesday. Troy, who was named the 2010 Coach of the Year by USA Swimming and earned three similar awards this year, is only the second Florida coach in school history to lead a U.S. Olympic National Team (Jimmy Carnes in track and field). “It’s certainly a tremendous honor any time you have the opportunity to represent your country,” Troy said in an official press release. “If you ask any young swimmer what tier goal is, they’ll all tell you it’s to go to the Olympics. I think coaches are no different. I’m fortunate to have an athletics department at Florida that makes [coaching] available to me, as well as a tremendous coaching staff that I work with here that can help me go forward towards London.”

2 » New England Patriots rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes was suspended four games by the NFL on Friday for violating the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy, according to the Boston Herald. Spikes, who will not appeal the suspension, is a rookie starter for New England who is fourth on the team in tackles with 61. He is expected to be back in time for the first round of the playoffs.

“I’ve been contacted by the NFL and informed that I will be suspended four games for the detection of an illegal substance in a drug test,” Spikes said in a team statement. “The substance was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug. The integrity of the game is very important to me. I understand the league’s ruling and apologize to my teammates, the fans and the Patriots organization for this mistake.”

3 » Also receiving some bad news on Friday was Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has recovered from his other injuries but has been dealing with a severe case of migraine headaches for the last two weeks. Harvin missed last Sunday’s game and is listed as doubtful this week (25 percent chance to play). He has been Minnesota’s most consistent pass catcher this year – with team-highs in yards (627), receptions (51), targets (81) and receiving touchdowns (4) – and is also the primary kickoff returner with 40 attempts for 933 yards and a touchdown.

4 » The Columbus Lions of the Southern Indoor Football League announced the signing of two former Gators – cornerbacks Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson – on Friday. The Lions are defending SIFL champions.

Photo Credit: David Silverman/New England Patriots

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FOUR BITS: Dunlap, Tyus & Donovan, Pierre-Louis

1 » Former Florida Gators defensive end Carlos Dunlap has decided to make it his mission to silence his doubters and do whatever it takes to help his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals, improve on defense this year. “My plan is to help contribute in the pass-rushing game,” Dunlap told the Dayton Daily News. “That’s one of the things I heard coach [Marvin Lewis] say the team lacked last year. Although I feel rushing the passer is one of the things I do well, it’s certainly not my best attribute. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get on the field and help the team win games. […] I want to go after defensive rookie of the year honors. People’s negative comments help motivate me. They say I should have been a first-rounder but I’m not. So all I can do now is make everyone who passed on me pay.”

2 » Though Dunlap is confident in what he can do this year, his team’s owner, Mike Brown, may see his selection with the No. 54 overall pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft as just another risky decision by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. As Cincinnati was in the process cleaning up its image as a franchise accepting of bad behavior, they have recently signed or drafted players charged with drug possession (wide receiver Matt Jones), DUI (Dunlap and WR Chris Davis) and numerous arrests (defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones). How Dunlap turns out – and whether or not he gets into further trouble – could be a strong indictment on Lewis’ job security.

3 » Florida junior forward Alex Tyus, who has kept relatively quiet throughout the entire process of deciding to return to school, has accepted that he will not start at small forward for the Gators, according to his fiancée Alli Cecchini. “He understands Chandler [Parsons] has won that position,” she told the Orlando Sentinel. “He hasn’t proven himself to be a 3 here. His chance to show he can play the 3 is at the professional level, but for now he respects where the team is coming from.” Cecchini also said that, contrary to what some may believe, Tyus remains close with head coach Billy Donovan. “We have a great relationship with Donovan, we talk to him all the time,” she added. “It’s not like a strained relationship at all.”

4 » Though some are discounting any chance he might have in making a team, former Gators cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis has already worked out for his second in a week, visiting the Baltimore Ravens after being dismissed by the New York Giants a few days ago. Pro Football Talk reports that Pierre-Louis “will be sent packing by the Ravens,” but The News-Press believes Baltimore has legitimate interest in him for a special teams position. “It’s not really that much different [than college],” Pierre-Louis said. “It’s a little bit faster because everybody knows what to do and where to go.”

Extra Bit » Florida junior Alexandre Lacroix and redshirt senior Antoine Benneteau have each been named to the 2010 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division I Men’s All-American Team, according to a release from the University of Florida. Lacroix, who posted a 32-9 record this season as a singles competitor, earned recognition in both categories (singles and doubles); Benneteau, however, only earned the doubles honor (Lacroix is his teammate and the duo holds a 17-5 record).

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Boston paper goes on offensive after Hernandez

The Boston Globe’s Monday report that former Florida Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez’s “character concerns” were the result of “multiple failed drug tests for marijuana” during his time at Florida led the New England Patriots’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft to release a statement through the team Tuesday proclaiming that he only had “one single violation of the team’s substance testing policy over the course of three years.” Hernandez called the initial report “inaccurate,” while promising to “make better decisions going forward” in his professional career.

Wednesday, Globe writer Albert Breer (who sourced three NFL teams in his original article), now claims that he has five different teams substantiating the story that Hernandez failed “absolutely, positively more than two” tests while with the Gators.

Because the University of Florida has a policy not to discuss student-athletes’ drug test results, the truth my never be known. However, Hernandez’s fall in the draft makes it is obvious that (at least) the vast majority of NFL teams believe the story as the Globe is reporting it rather than how the player is explaining it.

Following up on the smoking marijuana portion of the story, the Orlando Sentinel‘s Jeremy Fowler spoke with former Florida cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis, who estimated that about 75 percent of the 2006 team engaged in the activity. However, Pierre-Louis also defended head coach Urban Meyer‘s efforts to rid the program of this problem and discipline players who tested positive.

“I know a lot of players who didn’t smoke because they wanted to stay on the team,” Pierre-Louis said. “I think every year the percentage is going down. Coach Meyer knows what he’s doing. People still do it anyway, but maybe more people are doing it undercover.”

Photo Credit: John Biever/Sports Illustrated

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FOUR BITS: Tebow & McDaniels, Stamper, Patriots

1 » Apparently the already close relationship between former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his new head coach, Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos, was like an old-fashioned story – love at first sight. The Denver Post reports that occurrence took place at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine when the two met in a private room along with other Broncos’ staffers. “I was jacked leaving that room. I didn’t even want to visit another room. It was not enough time,” Tebow said. “We were excited, we were enthusiastic. There was passion. It was just intense, and it was ball, and it was juice. The juice level in that room was high, and it was awesome.”

2 » Two bulging discs in his back prevented former Gators linebacker Ryan Stamper from showing teams what he was made of prior to the 2010 NFL Draft – even though there was plenty of interest. What his injury did not faze was the Detroit Lions’ interest in signing him to an undrafted free agent contract. “It was frustrating to sit back while everybody else was working out,” Stamper told the Orlando Sentinel. “All teams had on me was game film and they kept saying they wanted to see me live. It was impossible to work out because every time I tried, it felt like I couldn’t walk the next day.”

3 » The New England Patriots drafted three former Florida players over the weekend – defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. However, only one of the three already has ties (albeit limited ones) to the area. According to a variety of reports, Spikes has been dating Callie Rivers, a volleyball player at UF who happens to be the daughter of Boston Celtics‘ coach Doc Rivers and brother of former Gators five-star basketball commitment Austin Rivers. Needless to say, her father is happy to have Spikes close and even gave Patriots head coach Bill Belichick a recommendation. “Big guy, big for an inside linebacker,” Belichick told the Boston Herald. “Very highly respected […] and, of course, came with a good recommendation from Doc. Of course, I appreciate that. He can keep an eye on him up here, keep his daughter a little closer to home.”

4 » Already a close personal friend with Gators head coach Urban Meyer, Belichick spoke fondly of the Florida football program when asked why he drafted three players from it over the weekend. “[When] we were in Florida, I felt like we were working out half of the first and second round,” he said. “We saw all those guys [...] it was the day after their Pro Day down there. It was a good meeting like it always is with Florida. Those kids are very focused on football. Football’s important to them. They’re in a good program. It’s important for them to win. They know what they are doing. They’ve worked hard both on and off the field. They’re extremely well-coached by Coach Meyer and his staff, so it’s a lot of fun to sit down and talk football with them.”

Extra Bit » Former Gators cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis has been given a tryout with the New York Giants and will attend the team’s mini camp hoping to earn a contract, according to the Naples News.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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OGGOA’s comprehensive 2010 NFL Draft preview

When I sat down and thought about the best way to preview the 2010 NFL Draft from a Florida Gators perspective for OGGOA‘s readers, I realized trite things like mock drafts, destination predictions and the like are really a bunch of hogwash. At the end of the day, few things are certain when it comes to the NFL Draft – trades can occur at any moment and each team views its most pressing needs and what each player brings to the table differently than analysts and commentators do.

So rather than try to predict the unknown variables and tell you what could happen, we will stick with what likely will happen. And you can check it out…after the break!
Continue Reading » OGGOA’s comprehensive 2010 NFL Draft preview

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FOUR BITS: Haden, Tebow, eye black rule, Jones

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Joe Haden has been announced as one of 12 players selected to be featured on ESPN‘s three-time Emmy Award-winning program Sport Science. All 12 special segments will air throughout the network’s coverage of the 2010 NFL Draft from April 22-24. Other big names who will be featured include Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

2 » Palm Beach Autographs will host another University of Florida-themed signing session this weekend in Jacksonville, FL. Featured at the event will be Haden; center Maurkice Pouncey; wide receivers Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Brandon James; linebackers Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and Ryan Stamper; and cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis. Autograph prices range from $10-$50, or you can buy a combo package for $145. For more information, check out their Web site.

Two more BITS on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ interest in Tim Tebow, a new NCAA eye black rule and an honor for A.J. Jones…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Haden, Tebow, eye black rule, Jones

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