Friday March 27, 2015 McElwain talks Gators on SEC Network
Updated: 9:02am, March 27
Welcome to Carter's Corner!
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The SEC Network spent parts of Wednesday and Thursday in town for its coverage of spring football.
Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who played for Gators head coach Jim McElwain at Alabama, and former LSU and Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland visited with coaches and players.
Here is video of an interview they did with McElwain about his new team:
Updated: 9:24am, March 27
The Gators host Alabama for a three-game series starting tonight. (Photos by Tim Casey)
Editor's note: Thursday night's game was rained out, so the teams will play a doublheader today starting at 3 p.m. Florida will start Aaron Rhodes in Game 1, Logan Shore in Game 2.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For the past two seasons, it’s normally sophomore Logan Shore on the mound for the fifth-ranked Gators (21-5, 3-3 SEC) when they open a weekend series.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan is altering the routine – with help from the schedule – tonight in the first game of a three-game series against Southeastern Conference rival Alabama.
Instead of moving Shore up a day, O’Sullivan is turning to junior right-hander Aaron Rhodes (0-0, 4.05 ERA). Rhodes has pitched 13 1/3 innings in seven relief appearances this season, surrendering eight hits, five walks and striking out 13.
Shore will stay in his normal Friday slot and Dane Dunning will start Saturday. Sophomore lefty A.J. Puk (4-2, 4.72) ERA won’t start against the Crimson Tide (13-10, 3-3) after an erratic performance (2 1/3 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO) in a 5-2 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday.
“Right now, we need to maybe lean on a [upperclassman] who has been there and done that, and that’s why we’re turning to Rhodes,’’ O’Sullivan said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know if it’s a permanent move, but right now I think it’s the best thing for this team.
“We’re going to run A.J. right back out there. His stuff is dynamite. We’ve just got to get him going, it’s that simple.”
While Rhodes (photo, left) has not started this season, he started four games a season ago and earned Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors for his 1-hit shutout against Missouri.
Meanwhile, O’Sullivan is banking on Shore (3-2, 2.17 ERA) returning to form after back-to-back un-Shore-like outings. In his first two SEC starts of the season, Shore is 0-2 and has allowed five home runs in 9 2/3 innings.
A sophomore from Coon Rapids, Minn., Shore was 7-4 and allowed only one homer in 389 opponent plate appearances in 2014.
O’Sullivan said Shore has left some of his pitches up the last two starts and has paid the price.
“I feel very encouraged about the week he’s had,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He’s going to be fine. It’s just that he’s going through a tough time and you just got to battle through it, and he will.”
Senior third baseman Josh Tobias returned after missing the Ole Miss series and basically picked up right where he left off.
Tobias went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in 9-6 come-from-behind victory at Stetson on Tuesday night. Tobias’ two-run homer in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie and gave UF a lead it never relinquished.
“That was definitely something we needed,’’ UF outfielder Harrison Bader said. “It was a huge swing.”
Tobias (photo, right) has been delivering huge swings nearly all season. After coming off the bench early in the season, Tobias swung his way into a regular spot in the lineup.
Tobias is batting a team-high .391 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. A switch-hitter in high school, Tobias hit right-handed his first three seasons at UF and often found himself on the bench because of a lack of production.
He decided to return to switch-hitting this season and has not regretted it. Tobias is hitting .333 right-handed and .436 left-handed. Tobias’ .391 cumulative average is 122 points above his career average (.269) entering this season.
“I’ve never seen this in my career before, a guy hit one way for three years and all of a sudden as a senior come back and swing the bat from the other,’’ O’Sullivan said. “You are not going to see this very often.”
Tobias has always been excellent defensively, which kept him in the lineup at times his first three seasons. Nothing has changed. Tobias has not committed an error this season.
The Gators are 16-0 when they score first, 5-5 when they don’t.
In last weekend’s series at Ole Miss, the Gators fell behind in the first inning in each of the first two games of the series. They lost both.
O’Sullivan wants his team come out with a sense of urgency against Alabama.
“Three of the five losses we’ve had, we fell behind in the first,’’ O’Sullivan said. “We haven’t really shown a whole lot of fight.”
Sophomore outfielder Buddy Reed understands the importance of fast starts, especially in conference play.
“Ole Miss was a tough place. We didn’t obviously play our best baseball,’’ Reed said. “We had great hitting at the end of [Tuesday’s game at Stetson]. That is definitely a big confidence booster going into this weekend.”
The Gators have won 21 of 26 games without sophomore first baseman Pete Alonso, who has not played due to a broken foot.
Still, they would like to have him back as soon as possible. O’Sullivan is confident the time is near.
“He’s been doing a lot of baseball activities with his [protective] boot on,” O’Sullivan said. “I think we probably need some time to get him acclimated without the boot on.”
The next step in Alonso’s recovery is for X-rays scheduled Friday to come back clean.
O’Sullivan said he kept right-hander Alex Faedo on strict pitch count Tuesday at Stetson to ensure he could be available for this weekend’s series. Faedo allowed only two hits and one run in five innings against the Hatters, throwing 60 pitches … The Gators were just one of four SEC teams to win their Tuesday midweek games. The SEC was 4-10 on Tuesday, with Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M victorious; Alabama lost to South Alabama 3-0 … Freshman lefty Logan Browning earned his first UF career win Tuesday. Logan’s father, Tom Browning, won 123 games in his big-league career from 1984-95 … This is the first time Alabama has visited McKethan Stadium since 2011, when Florida swept a three-game series … Reed enters the Alabama series with a 13-game hitting streak. The school record belongs to Tim Olson, who had a 29-game hitting streak during the 2000 season.
Updated: 10:29pm, March 25
Quarterback Treon Harris did not practice Wednesday. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Late Tuesday afternoon, Gators quarterback Treon Harris finished practice with his teammates and boarded a bus back to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from the soccer practice fields.
Not long afterward, Harris shared his emotions on Twitter when he learned of the shooting death of his cousin, 16-year-old Richard Hallman of Miami.
"Never thought I could hurt this bad,'' Harris expressed in one Tweet.
Suddenly, the quarterback battle between Harris and Will Grier this spring didn't seem that important.
Harris did not practice Wednesday and Florida head coach Jim McElwain is uncertain of when he will return.
"Really kind of puts everything in perspective when you kind of do this kind of stuff and get involved in these young men’s lives,'' McElwain said. "Treon Harris didn’t practice today, a heck of a tragedy in his family occurred back home.
"He’s still here, but you really kind of wonder sometimes the true importance of what we do when it comes to family and how important third-and-6 is. Right now, our hearts go out to him and his family and what he’s going through and we’re here to support him and his mom and aunt in every way we can."
A sophomore from Miami, Harris played at Booker T. Washington High, the same school his cousin attended and played football.
The Gators do no practice Thursday and are scheduled to have their first scrimmage of spring camp on Saturday. McElwain did not put a timetable on Harris' return.
"He’ll get back when it’s time to get back,'' McElwain said. "Obviously, family first in everything that we do in our program here at the University of Florida, and we’re with him in every way."
Coincidentally, former Gators linebacker Ben Hanks was touched by similar tragedy Tuesday night only blocks from where Harris' cousin was killed. A 10-year-old boy playing outside was shot in the head by a stray bullet and died.
He was a player in the Pop Warner football league that Hanks represents as commissioner.
Redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson is one of the most intriguing players on the roster.
You don't need to be a football junkie to see that Jackson clearly has gifted physical tools to succeed. He is a defensive back, but it's not hard to imagine Jackson playing receiver or running back with the way he moves.
J.C. Jackson's natural athletic ability makes him a versatile option.
The same thought has occurred to Florida's new coaching staff.
"You know, we talked about [moving him to offense] in the offseason, but he’s a guy I think that is going to have some return role maybe, too, where we can get the ball in his hands,” McElwain said. “There’s been some pretty good progress at some of the wideout spots, but he's a guy that we’ve talked about and yet as of right now he’s obviously full-go on defense."
Former Gators defensive lineman Henry McMillan stopped by Wednesday's practice with his young son. Shane Matthews has been by a couple of times.
Eli Williams and Cheston Blackshear recently visited on the same day. And on Tuesday, "Ricky the Rocket" Nattiel, one of the most excited UF players of the 1980s, came by to meet McElwain and watch practice. (Photo at left is of Nattiel).
While he is new to the Florida program, McElwain has enjoyed catching up with players from UF's past.
"There's been a lot of them. That's exciting to see,'' McElwain said. "For me, that’s really what the program is all about. Those guys that gave their all for this university and for them to come back and support these current Gators, that’s something that’s pretty special."
QUOTE OF NOTE
"He’s such a people person. You can go to him and talk to him about anything else besides football.'' -- Linebacker Daniel McMillian on why he loves playing for McElwain
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"It was the best thing that could have happened. It got a lot of attention and just put me in a place where I was out there publicly and people knew who I was. I really didn't get a lot of grief from it. A lot of people were really more focused on how well I did in the game than anything. I feel like it was that way because I embraced [the incident]." -- Gators running back Adam Lane on his infamous accident in the Birmingham Bowl
Note: I will have an actual story on Lane later this week. He is a worthy subject. While I was mildly surprised he faced this question today from a reporter, his answer is worthy of sharing.
QUOTE OF NOTE III
“This is pro-style. Straight pro-style everything -- downhill, one-cut [running]. I feel like this offense should be great and I’m excited to carry the ball. I can’t wait." -- Running back Kelvin Taylor on the new offensive scheme
The Gators practiced in full pads Wednesday and tackled to the ground for the first time in camp. “We got some really good live drills in,” McElwain said. “Third-and-short was really good from both sides of the ball." ... With no need for a full-time fullback in his offensive system, McElwain mentioned that redshirt defensive lineman Taven Bryan has the potential to be used in the backfield in jumbo packages.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida football team’s practice scheduled for this afternoon has been cancelled due to inclement weather.
The Gators will make up the practice – their fifth of spring camp – on Tuesday.
The team was going to practice at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but it has been stormy in the area for the last couple of hours and field conditions remain less-than-ideal.
In other news, you may have heard Florida is building an indoor practice facility.
Meanwhile, here are some links around the Internet of interest to Florida Gator fans:
--Athlon Sports offers up its Florida Gators 2015 spring football preview written by Braden Gall.
--Idaho schedules Missouri in 2017, cancels trip to play Gators via Spokesman.com. The schools postponed and later cancelled their 2014 game at The Swamp.
--Daytona native, UF grad Matt Every wins second straight Arnold Palmer Invitational writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--As a sidebar to Every’s win, a random fan chipped in with a good read on his winning putt writes Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com.
--The accidental death of former walk-on Gators kicker Danny Krysalka hit his Ocala community hard writes Austin Miller.
--Steve Spurrier tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’d rather be known as a good coach than as a Heisman winner.
--Gators assistant coach John Pelphrey named to Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame via Kentucky.com.
--Charlie Weis Jr., who volunteered around UF’s football office when his dad was offensive coordinator in 2011, has joined Alabama’s support staff writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
--Eagles coach Chip Kelly says he has always been a fan of Tim Tebow writes Dan Hansuz of NFL.com.
--Former Gators standout, Bulls C Joakim Noah has Hulk Hogan in his corner via RedEyeChicago.com.
Updated: 10:52am, March 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida football family lost a member over the weekend when former UF fullback Vince Kendrick died. Kendrick turned 63 on March 18.
He passed away Saturday morning after a battle with cancer.
Kendrick, one of UF’s first African-American players, played for the Gators from 1971-73 and later returned as an assistant coach, serving as running backs coach on Charley Pell’s staff from 1979-83.
As a player, Kendrick might be best remembered for an apparent game-winning catch in the final seconds of a 28-24 loss to North Carolina in Jacksonville.
“I knew where I was on the field,’’ Kendrick told reporters afterward. “I purposely tried to time my jump and land with both feet in bounds. I thought I did.”
The fourth-and-goal play from North Carolina’s 9-yard line ended with Florida quarterback David Bowden hitting Kendrick for the go-ahead score with 17 seconds left at the Gator Bowl.
However, the game ended in controversy when field judge Mark Kane – news accounts from the day like to point out Kane was from Charlotte, N.C. – ruled that Kendrick was out of bounds.
The Gators finished the regular season 5-5-1 and North Carolina finished 10-1 and advanced to the Sun Bowl.
Kendrick spent a brief time in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs and Atlanta Falcons before returning to UF as an assistant coach.
In the Bucs’ inaugural season of 1976, Kendrick scored the first touchdown in franchise history in a 10-6 preseason loss against Green Bay at old County Stadium in Milwaukee.
He retired from football due to bad knees but recalled his time on the winless Bucs of ’76 with fondness in 2003 as Tampa Bay prepared to face Oakland in the Super Bowl.
“When I left it forced me into coaching,’’ he told the Gainesville Sun. "It was a blessing in disguise. But that year, losing every game, it was not fun.”
Kendrick lived in Deerfield Beach, Fla., where he retired as the city's longtime parks and recreation director.
A viewing will be held on Friday at Brown's Funeral Home in Lantana, Fla., located at 1004 S. Dixie Highway from 5-6 p.m. (family) and 6-8 p.m. (community and friends).
Funeral services for Kendrick will be held Saturday at 11 a.m., at Westside Park, 445 SW 2nd St. in Deerfield Beach.
Thoughts and prayers are with the Kendrick family.
Updated: 9:58pm, March 14
Updated post: 9:58 p.m.
Hey folks, thanks for checking out the live blog tonight. I'm going to start writing a story for GatorZone.
The Oregon men clinched the national title by scoring 24 points in the 3,000 meters. The Ducks had five runners in the event. The Gators can still close the gap -- they currently trail 74-50 -- but not all of it.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas women clinched the title, the first women's national championship in school history.
Overall, the Gators won five individual national championships and still have the 4x400 men's relay left to run.
For the Oregon men, it's their second consecutive national title and third in seven years, matching the Gators over that span.
Updated post: 9:03 p.m.
If you like national champions, the Gators have pumped four out in the last half hour or so.
The two latest are Marquis Dendy, who adds a triple jump national title to his long jump from Friday night, and Kyra Jefferson, who claimed the national title in the women's 200 meters.
Jefferson set a school record with a time of 22.63, edging Oregon's Jenna Prandini (22.74).
As for Dendy, he won with a jump of 17.37 meters/57 feet to sweep the jump titles. The jump was the third-longest in NCAA history and longest since 1986 according to the U.S Track and Field's Twitter feed. The triple-jump crown is Florida's fifth in the past seven years.
Updated post: 8:50 p.m.
It has been a memorable few minutes for the Gators at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
Shortly after Ciarra Brewer claimed the national title in the women's triple jump, Stipe Zunic broke his own school record in the shot put to win a national title.
Zunic's toss of 21.11 meters/69-3.25 foot earned the Florida men their second individual national title of the meet. Zunic joined Marquis Dendy, who won the long jump on Friday night.
UF track and field sports-information specialist Kelly Reynolds also points out that Zunic's throw set a new Croatian national record. Zunic is from Zadar, Croatia.
Updated post: 8:42 p.m.
Florida's Ciarra Brewer just captured the Gators' second individual national title of the meet, earning the title in the triple jump with her school-record leap of 14.01 meters/45 feet, 11.75 inches.
Brewer's jump bettered the previous school record (13.88/45-6.50), set by Shara Proctor in 2010.
Updated post: 8:10 p.m.
Gators junior Najee Glass' quest to add a national title to his SEC title came up short in the men's 400 meters.
Glass (photo, left) placed third, finishing with a time of 45.77 seconds. LSU's Vernon Norwood won with a time of 45.31 seconds, followed by Texas A&M's Bralon Taplin (45.55). Teammate Armon Hall had to pull up in the race and did not finish due to injury.
Still, Glass picked up six points for the Gators in the team standings that could factor in huge as the event progresses.
On the women's side, Florida's Robin Reynolds (53.14) finished eighth in the 400 to pick up a point for the Gators.
In the 60 meters, Shayla Sanders just finished sixth with a time of 7.26 seconds. Video below --
Oregon currently leads the team standings on both sides. The UF men (22 points) are fourth, trailing the Ducks by 28 points. The women are tied for 10th with 12 points.
Updated post: 7:38 p.m.
Gators senior sprinter Bridgette Owens finished runner-up in the 60-meter hurdles. Owens posted a time of 7.88 seconds, setting a school record and the fifth-fastest performance in the event for a women this year.
In a photo finish, Owens narrowly lost to Kentucky's Kendra Harrison (7.87).
You can watch below:
Updated: 7:30 p.m.
Updated post: 7:10 p.m.
Florida's Ciarra Brewer and Gissell Warner were introduced shortly ago leading up to women's triple jump at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark.
On her first jump, Brewer just set a new school record, flying 14.01m/45-11.75 feet.
Brewer already had the best performance for the Gators in the event this season, posting a jump of 45 feet, 2.25 inches at the Rod McCravy Invitational in January.
Updated post: 6:45 p.m.
In case you are wondering, the Gators have won three national titles in men's indoor track and one in women's.
The Florida men captured three consecutive NCAA Indoor titles from 2010-12 with individual champions Jeff Demps (60 meters), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Will Claye (triple jump), Omar Craddock (triple jump) and Tony McQuay (400 meters) combining for seven individual titles over that span.
Demps was the national indoor 60-meter champion all three seasons.
Meanwhile, the UF women's team earned its only national indoor title in 1992 led by individual champions Leah Kirklin (triple jump) and Nekita Beasley, Michelle Freeman, Kim Mitchell and Anita Howard in the 4x400 relay.
UF senior Marquis Dendy seeks a triple jump title after his long jump title Friday. (Photo: Cheryl Treworgy)
The Gators won four consecutive national indoor titles in the triple jump from 2009-12 as Christian Taylor (2009-10), Will Claye (2011) and Omar Craddock (2012) locked down the event for Florida.
Senior Marquis Dendy, who won the national indoor long jump title on Friday night -- the second of his career -- will try to claim the triple jump as well shortly.
Dendy is one of several UF track and field athletes going for national titles tonight at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
You can follow live scoring at this link or follow @GZTrackField on Twitter for regular updates. You can also check back into this blog throughout the event for updates.
Updated: 11:44am, March 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Getting ready for Gators head coach Jim McElwain’s press conference. You can watch a live stream of the press conference in the video above. It is scheduled to start at noon.
For now, some links from around the Web …
--Former Gators outfielder Preston Tucker has earned nickname “Bamm-Bamm” as he climbs his way toward majors in Astros’ organization writes Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle.
--Tim Tebow has not signed with the Texans as some reported Monday, but he could be coming to an NFL veterans combine near you writes Cindy Boren of The Washington Post.
--The accidental shooting death of former Gators walk-on kicker Danny Krysalka is reported on by Andy Fillmore of the Ocala Star-Banner.
--Former UF defensive lineman Earl Okine, who has bounced around during his pro career, has signed with the Colts.
--Thoughts and prayers to Kentucky gymnast Shelby Hilton, a senior from St. Petersburg who fell on her head at the O’Connell Center on Feb. 27. She was admitted to Shands and doctors discovered an illness unrelated to her fall.
--Golden State coach Steve Kerr discusses former Gator standout David Lee’s irregular place in Warriors’ rotation by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.
Updated: 5:33pm, March 6
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A big question for the Gators entering spring practice is whether Treon Harris or Will Grier will be the starter next year.
Or will both play a role? Or could the Gators add a graduate-student transfer who could play right away?
You get the idea. There are more questions than answers at this point as Gators head coach Jim McElwain prepares for his first spring camp at Florida.
Meanwhile, former NFL head coach and current Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden had some interesting things to say about McElwain’s former quarterback, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.
Grayson is one of five top college quarterbacks invited to participate in Gruden’s Quarterback Camp hosted by ESPN’s Wide World of Sports later this month.
Grayson threw for 9,190 yards and 64 touchdowns at Colorado State – as a program Florida has thrown 67 touchdowns the past five seasons – and was Mountain West Conference offensive player of the year in 2014.
Grayson will join Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty at the Gruden Camp.
"There's a lot of parts of Colorado State's system that I recognize, unlike a lot of college football that's running up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option football," Gruden said in a CSU news release. “There's some principles at Colorado State that will serve Grayson well.”
Gruden expects Grayson to match up well with the four others at his camp, including the past two Heisman Trophy winners.
“He's a dark horse in this (quarterback) class,” Gruden said.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Dante Fowler Jr. going to Jacksonville. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – You know you have made it big when other media folks who cover the NFL Draft for a living often write stories about each of your new mock drafts.
Such is life for longtime draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., who released his NFL Mock Draft 3.0 on Thursday (ESPN Insider access required).
While the draft isn’t until April 30-May 2 in Chicago, the mock-draft season is in full bloom and Kiper’s latest one has two Gators in the first round: defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. and offensive lineman D.J. Humphries.
Kiper has Fowler going third overall to Jacksonville.
“He doesn’t have to be a sack machine to be a really good player, and I do think the pass rush will continue to get better, which is what Jacksonville desperately needs,” Kiper wrote to close his analysis of Fowler.
Meanwhile, a strong performance at the NFL Combine last month has raised Humphries’ stock significantly. He opted to leave school a year early and Kiper can see why.
“He lacks polish, but he plays mean, keeps a wide base that makes him tough to get around, and the physical traits are there for him to potentially stick at left tackle,’’ Kiper wrote.
He has Humphries going No. 25 overall to the Panthers.
Updated: 12:25pm, March 5
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former UF football player Chris Johnson was a standout at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala prior to joining Florida’s program and later transferring to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
The 22-year-old Johnson died last weekend in Pennsylvania.
Duquesne announced a memorial mass for Johnson that will take place Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, those in Johnson’s hometown can pay their respect and celebrate Johnson’s life at multiple events next week in Ocala. Here is a schedule passed along by John Brantley Sr., the former UF quarterback and head coach at Trinity Catholic High:
FRIDAY, MARCH 13
A viewing at Unity Gospel Family Worship Center from 5-8 p.m., 3200 NE 25th Ave.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14
A memorial service at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church at 10 a.m., 5 SE 17th St.
A graveside ceremony following the service and then a gathering with food and refreshments at the Knights of Columbus building at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church.
Updated: 6:46pm, March 2
Former UF football player Chris Johnson (No. 32) died over the weekend in Pennsylvania. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The cryptic tweets began to pop up on Twitter during Saturday night’s Gators-Tennessee basketball game.
None were from traditional media or bloggers who cover the Gators regularly.
A quick Twitter search of “Chris Johnson” and “Chris ‘Juice’ Johnson” discovered what appeared to be a small group of friends and former classmates of Johnson’s at Ocala Trinity Catholic High School sharing their sadness about his death.
No one seemed to have any details.
Sadly, shortly before midnight, the first news story appeared on Ocala.com, the website of Johnson’s hometown newspaper. The 22-year-old Johnson, who signed with the Gators in 2011 and played 26 games over the next two seasons -- primarily on special teams -- was dead.
Of course, it was shocking news. Life has barely begun at 22, and certainly not supposed to end.
Soon, the Ocala.com story began appearing on my timeline often as word spread. And then early Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted a story on its website that confirmed Johnson died on Friday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound according to the Alleghany County (Pa.) medical examiner’s office.
More stories surfaced on the Internet throughout the day Sunday spreading the news, and many current and former UF student-athletes reacted to the tragedy, sharing their memories of Johnson as detailed here by the Orlando Sentinel.
Johnson’s most significant moment as a player at UF happened on Oct. 20, 2012. In Florida’s 44-11 victory over South Carolina at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with ESPN “GameDay” in town for the SEC East showdown, Johnson brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
Late in the second quarter South Carolina’s Damiere Byrd fielded a kickoff and returned it to the 16-yard line when Gators receiver Solomon Patton forced a fumble. Johnson scooped up the loose football at the 14 and raced toward the end zone.
As South Carolina’s Justice Cunningham gripped Johnson’s legs and brought him down to the turf, Johnson stretched every inch of his 5-foot-10 frame trying to get the football to break the goal line.
Johnson fell a yard short, but two plays later Jeff Driskel hit Jordan Reed for a 1-yard touchdown pass and 21-3 Florida lead that was never threatened.
The play was the first memory that flashed in my mind when I heard of Johnson’s death. The second was his big grin whenever I saw him around the locker room or at practice.
I won’t pretend to have known Johnson very well other than for a couple of quick chats about topics I can’t recall, but it was obvious he was well-liked by his teammates and was a solid contributor on special teams in his two seasons.
His final game for the Gators was in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville in January 2013 when he was ejected for throwing a punch on an on-sides kickoff. It was a forgettable night for the Gators and an unfortunate moment for Johnson, who transferred to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for his final two seasons.
While the details of Johnson’s death remain scarce, somewhere along the path from his shining moment at UF to his death on a cold Pennsylvania day, Johnson apparently lost hope.
If you have lost hope, they can help.
The hope here is that the player his teammates and coaches simply referred to as “Juice” can rest in peace.
Senior Josh Tobias tied a school record Sunday with his eighth hit in eight at-bats. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At some point in Florida’s 6-2 win against Stony Brook on Sunday afternoon, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan heard someone mention Josh Tobias’ prolific streak in the batter’s box.
O’Sullivan turned to the chatterbox with his own punch line.
“Say another word and you’re out of here,’’ O’Sullivan said.
In the superstitious world of baseball, the predominant thought is why risk jinxing a no-hitter or a hitter’s hot streak by talking about it.
Tobias had the kind of weekend in Florida’s three-game sweep of the Seawolves that fit the bill.
And it came after the senior third baseman wasn’t even in the starting lineup on Friday night.
Tobias went 5-for-5 in Saturday’s 14-3 victory, and on Sunday he tripled off the right-field wall his first at-bat and followed that up with a solo homer in the third. He flew out to right field in his final two at-bats Sunday.
That was after seven hits in seven at-bats. But wait. Tobias singled in his final at-bat Tuesday in a victory at Florida Atlantic. The 8-for-8 streak tied a school record for most consecutive hits, matching Kurt Keene’s mark from 16 years ago.
“I don’t know if I can remember an 8-for-8,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s remarkable.”
The performance raised Tobias’ season average to .409 and penciled him into the lineup when the Gators play at UCF on Tuesday night.
Tobias used the same approach in answering questions about eight consecutive hits as when he stepped to the plate.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much,’’ he said. “I was just trying to barrel the ball really and hit a line drive somewhere. I got some pitches up and put a good swing on them and they happened to go out, happened to find a gap. I kept it really simple.”
He was unaware of matching the record until someone told him after the game.
“That’s an honor,” he said. “It’s my last year here so it’s kind of nice to leave your name in the record books.”
One of only two seniors on the team, Tobias has played in 10 games and started five. He has always been above average with the glove, but inconsistent results at the plate have kept him out of the lineup at times during his UF career.
O’Sullivan said that will change if Tobias can produce regularly when he’s holding a bat.
“That was a weekend that Josh probably won’t ever forget,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He doesn’t have to have this type of weekend every weekend. Certainly Josh has put himself in a position to where we’ll keep him running out there.”
Updated: 11:39am, February 28
Bridget Sloan made a triumphant return to the O'Connell Center on Friday night. (Photo: Jim Burgess)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bridget Sloan unveiled a different look on Friday night at the O’Connell Center.
She ditched the warm-up attire and bulky protective boot she had worn at previous home meets. Instead, Sloan was in her leotard and more importantly, back on the floor competing.
The junior All-American suffered a severely sprained right ankle in the Gators’ opening meet of the season at Ball State. So for the first two months of the season, she served as the team’s head cheerleader during home meets.
The role suited Sloan’s bubbly personality, but she had bigger things in mind.
“Competing at home is honestly one of my favorite things about college gymnastics,” she said. “Obviously the O’Dome has a very special place in my heart, but being back here and competing it was just incredible.”
Sloan returned to action a week ago at LSU, easing into the lineup on the bars. She made her home debut Friday night in Florida’s win over Kentucky and didn’t disappoint.
Once again competing only on bars, Sloan nailed a career-high-tying 9.975 to electrify the O’Dome crowd and provide the Gators with a jolt of energy as only she can.
“Her energy is so fun,’’ said teammate Rachel Spicer. “It keeps us light.”
The 2009 World Champion and arguably the biggest talent in college gymnastics, Sloan had doubts she would be able to return this season when she injured her ankle during the floor routine at Ball State in her native Indiana.
But intense physical therapy, daily workouts and twice-a-week acupuncture sessions has her reinvigorated as the back-to-back national champion Gators prepare for the stretch run toward the postseason.
In typical Sloan fashion, she was on a mission to make her home debut Friday night one worth remembering.
“I was really going for that 10,’’ Sloan said. “I kept telling everyone, ‘tonight is going to be the night; tonight is going to be the night.’ I guess it will have to wait. Either way, I was so happy with the way things went. I’ll take a 9.975 any day.”
The 9.975 was the fifth of her career on bars, the only event in which she has not scored a perfect 10 during her UF career.
Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn has seen enough since Sloan’s return to feel confident about her potential to provide the Gators a huge boost in the postseason.
The plan is for Sloan to continue to ease back into competition. She warmed up on beam Friday night and also practiced her floor routine before the meet started. Faehn expects Sloan to be ready for competition on beam perhaps as early as next week.
“That was a beautiful routine from Bridget. And it was nice to see her really going for the stick, which shows us that her ankle is getting stronger,” Faehn said. “It’s great having her doing more out on the competition floor.
“She is excited. she is motivated. I think this will only continue to help her.”
Sloan’s return can only help a Florida team that is a strong contender for a third consecutive national title. She has clearly turned her focus to the future instead of the challenges she faced in the wake of the most serious injury of her college career.
“I really didn’t know if I was going to be back at all,’’ Sloan said. “When I first injured myself at Ball State, I thought I was done for the season. Luckily my body is just really responsive to treatment. I can make the impossible possible if I believe I can. I definitely believe I can and my team believes I can. That’s what drives me, having my team behind me.”
Two months later, the impossible appears on the verge of turning into reality.
Faehn is ready for the mission to be complete.
“She has that competitive fire. She definitely wants to be out there doing everything as quickly as possible,” Faehn said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be there.”
Updated: 4:17pm, February 27
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Andrew Mike has added team-high 26 pounds. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s updated football roster reveals some significant weight gain among the offensive and defensive linemen.
The biggest gainer is redshirt freshman offensive lineman Andrew Mike, who was listed at 6-foot-6, 276 pounds last season. Mike now checks in at 302 pounds, a 26-pound boost for a young player the Gators hope to contribute in 2015.
Another redshirt freshman offensive lineman, Kavaris Harkless, is now listed at 292 pounds, adding 10 pounds to his 6-5 frame. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Dillard is now at 309 pounds, up from 297 pounds last season.
Redshirt offensive lineman Antonio Riles Jr., who is 6-foot-4, has added 17 pounds and is listed at 312 pounds. Meanwhile, sophomore David Sharpe, who played a year ago at 330 pounds, is now listed at 6-6, 350 pounds. Sharp is the heaviest player on the roster.
On the defensive line, redshirt freshman Taven Bryan is up to 275 pounds. He was listed at 6-5, 260 last season. Junior Joey Ivie, a member of the regular rotation last season, has increased his weight from 285 pounds to 293. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley has added eight pounds and now checks in at 6-3, 320 pounds.
Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, who recorded 21 tackles in 12 games last season, has bulked up to 319 pounds, a 24-pound increase over his 6-2, 295-pound measurables from last fall.
Both early enrollees have benefited from Florida’s offseason conditioning program heading into spring practice. Freshman tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has added 13 pounds and is now listed at 6-3, 225 pounds. Freshman receiver Kalif Jackson (6-4, 201) has added 10 pounds since he joined the program.
Overall, 10 scholarship players have added 10 or more pounds from a season ago, including redshirt freshman defensive back Deiondre Porter (from 165 to 176) and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Justus Reed (from 213 to 226).
Updated: 10:39am, February 26
VIDEO: New UF President Kent Fuchs discusses role of athletics at a university such as Florida in this interview with WCJB-TV20 (around the 1:05 time stamp)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Hey folks, good Thursday morning to you.
Getting ready to write a feature on Gators gymnast Rachel Spicer and why tomorrow night’s home meet at the O’Connell Center has extra, extra meaning to her this year.
For now, here are some fresh links from around the World Wide Web with items of interest to Gator fans:
--UF recently extended its deal with Nike to be its official athletic supplier through 2024 writes Matthew Kish of the Portland (Ore.) Business Journal.
--Former UF standout Udonis Haslem, playing more in absence of Miami Heat teammate Chris Bosh, knows what Bosh is going through with blood clots on his lungs writes Shandel Richardson of South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Gators head coach Jim McElwain has a pretty good job according to ESPN.com. (File photo)
--ESPN.com writer Edward Aschoff ranks Florida’s head coaching job as the best in the SEC.
--Fans storming the court has always been unpopular with Gators AD Jeremy Foley writes Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel.
--David Morrison of the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune has updated his SEC Coaching Staff Turnover chart to reflect football staff changes at each SEC school since 2001.
--D1Baseball.com writer Aaron Fitt filed this lengthy post with his impressions from the Miami-Florida series.
--Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. on Giants’ radar writes Nick Powell of NJ.com.
--Who is Lynden Trail? SI.com writer Andy Staples explores that question regarding the former UF player who found success at Norfolk State.
--Former Gators defensive lineman Leon Orr discusses some of the tough questions he faced at the NFL Combine writes Landon Watnick of Rivals.com.
--Actor James Franco, one of the stars of the controversial film “The Interview,’’ spoke at UF on Wednesday night writes Cyanne Dunn of the Independent Florida Alligator.
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at last year's UF Pro Day. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In preparation for the NFL Draft, nine Gators participated in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week.
They will have another opportunity to impress NFL scouts in familiar territory when UF hosts its annual Pro Day on April 7. Several UF players not invited to the combine are also expected to attend.
The annual event held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium starts with players performing drills in the weight room and later includes an on-field workout.
Updated: 7:47am, February 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Jim McElwain was interviewed by Chris Fischer of WTSP in the Tampa Bay market on Thursday.
McElwain discussed many of the same issues he already has in his two-plus months on the job, including the goal to modernize the program's infrastructure.
My favorite quote comes when McElwain is asked what has him convinced that the 2015 Gators can compete for the SEC East title.
"I didn’t come to have a participation ribbon, you know. I think everything you go out – no matter what you do in life – you go out to be the best and to win,'' he replied. "I try to approach every day just like that. You got to win the now, and the only way you win a championship is by getting better today.”
You can watch the entire interview in the video above.
Ryan Larson connects for one of Florida's six home runs in sweep of Rhode Island. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A recent headline in Baseball America magazine asked: Can new baseball revive longball?
The question headlined a story about the flat-seamed baseballs the NCAA approved to be used in competition this season. According to Baseball America, in testing done by the NCAA, flat-seam balls thrown at the same speed and struck with the same bat speed travel 15-20 feet farther than the raised-seam balls the NCAA had been using.
If the first weekend of the season is an accurate sample, the answer is a resounding “YES.”
The Gators can attest to that.
In a three-game sweep of Rhode Island to open the season, Florida scored 37 runs and hit six home runs. A year ago the Gators hit 26 home runs all season and didn’t connect for their sixth longball until the 21st game.
“I think the ball maybe has something to do with it,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan told reporters Saturday after a 22-3 rout in which the Gators hit four three-run homers. “I think you’re going to see as the season goes on that there’s going to be more offensive production. I didn’t know how much the ball was going to change it, but I knew it was going to change it some. Maybe it’s going to be a little more than we thought.”
Barry Allen, a longtime college baseball chronicler and a statistician and researcher for FOX Sports and ESPN, posted a tweet late Sunday night that garnered attention on social media.
According to Allen, in 41 games involving Southeastern Conference teams on the first weekend of the 2014 season, there were 21 home runs hit and an average of 6.6 runs per game. In 43 games to start the 2015 season, there were 34 home runs and 9.1 runs per game.
That’s a game-changer for a college game that had turned 180 degrees from the gorilla ball era of the 1990s that routinely featured 16-14 slugfests that more resembled softball contests in your uncle Chuck’s Tuesday night beer league.
The introduction of the new BBCOR (Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bat in 2011 to improve player safety – the bats are designed to play more like wood bats – had a damaging effect on home runs. In records dating to 1970, teams averaged a record-low 0.39 home runs per game last season.
The Gators, after clubbing 75 home runs in 2012, only hit a combined 54 over the next two seasons. Part of that was a drop-off in offensive firepower, but the combination of the BBCOR bat and raised-seam ball certainly played a role.
The lack of power dampened some of the excitement around the game, including at spacious TD Ameritrade Park, which opened in 2011 and is home to the College World Series. In 29 games at the CWS over the past two seasons, only six home runs were hit – or the same number Florida hit in three games over the weekend.
A look around the SEC scoreboard this weekend revealed that McKethan Stadium wasn’t the only place balls were flying out of the park.
While the flat-seam ball used in college isn’t wound as tightly as the ones used in professional baseball, it has closed the gap between what college players once used and later had to adapt to in the minor leagues.
So what does the first weekend of the season mean? No one can say for sure this early, but the new flat-seam ball seems to have added hope back into the life of the longball, which appeared on the verge of extinction the past few seasons.
The Florida baseball team opens the season with a three-game home series. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gator sports calendar is full this weekend.
The UF baseball team opens the season at home Friday, the UF softball team hosts N.C. State in its home opener, the UF gymnastics team is at home against Missouri, the UF lacrosse team is home Saturday, the UF men’s golf team hosts the SunTrust Invitational, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams and track teams are on the road.
Did you get all that?
Here are some fresh links to help you get caught up:
--Gators lose heartbreaker on last-second shot to Ole Miss writes Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.
--This is a couple of weeks old, but a good read on Gatorade’s 50th anniversary from Neil Amdur via Miami Herald.
--Gator gymnasts doing a good job of dealing with injuries writes Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun.
--Florida AD Jeremy Foley says facility upgrades will get done writes Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun.
--The UF men’s golf team seeks a strong performance at SunTrust Invitational writes Ryan Summers of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--FightinGators.com writer Cody Jones previews the UF baseball team as it opens season this weekend.
--Freshman showcasing versatility for UF softball team writes Luis Torres of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Gators women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler impressed with way her team played in Thursday’s win at Georgia. Watch an SEC Network video interview here.
Updated: 11:45am, February 7
A look at new Gators DL coach Chris Rumph at work. (Video: Longhorn Network)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The newest addition to Jim McElwain's inaugural staff at UF, defensive line coach Chris Rumph, was on McElwain's radar from the moment he took over the Florida program.
The two worked together at Alabama in 2011 and developed a mutual respect for one another.
Rumph has a reputation as an excellent X's and O's coach and equally important, he is a proven recruiter who has deep ties in the Southeast after stops at Memphis, Clemson and Alabama.
While McElwain hired Terrell Williams to be his defensive line coach with Rumph having just completed his first season at Texas, when the Miami Dolphins convinced Williams to return to the NFL following his one-month stay at Florida, McElwain focused on hiring Rumph away from the Longhorns.
A deal was struck this week and on Friday, Florida officially announced the hiring of the 43-year-old Rumph.
In Texas, Rumph's departure was perceived as a big loss. In Florida, another victory for McElwain in the wake of a strong finish on National Signing Day on Wednesday.
"He joins a group of like-thinkers on our staff and is someone who will positively affect our players’ lives – both on and off the field,'' McElwain said.
It's understandable why Texas fans were disappointed in Rumph leaving. The Longhorns are in a similar situation as Florida, trying to rejoin the nation's elite after a leaner-than-normal stretch.
Both programs are 29-21 in their last 50 games, well below the expectations of their fan bases.
Like McElwain, Texas coach Charlie Strong knows Rumph is one of the country's top assistants. A year ago Strong hired Rumph away from Alabama after Rumph spent three years on Nick Saban's staff.
In his only season at Texas, Rumph played a critical role in accelerating the development of defensive lineman Malcolm Brown, who led the Longhorns with 15 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks last season. He is projected as a first-round draft pick by most analysts following his breakout senior season under the tutelage of Rumph.
Rumph also played a significant role in a strong Texas recruiting class, which ranked the best in the Big 12 Conference on Wednesday. Rumph served as the chief recruiter for Texas signees Du’Vonta Lampkin, DeShon Elliott, Quincy Vasser and Charles Omenihu.
Rumph inherits a defensive line at Florida that includes Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, Bryan Cox Jr., Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie among regulars in the rotation a season ago.
Rumph has talent to work and a proven track record of producing results. In addition, Rumph has SEC playing experience, which never hurts in trying to connect with young players. Rumph was a four-year letterman at South Carolina and was a sophomore in 1992 when the Gamecocks joined the SEC.
That's a win-win combination for the Gators.
Needless to say, it's been an interesting couple of days after Wednesday's National Signing Day. You folks know why. As an employee of the University Athletic Association, I am not permitted to write about recruits until they are officially signed.
Want to get that out there for those of you who have emailed with questions. As of now, Florida's 2015 signing class includes 20 players, including a pair of early enrollees in tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe and receiver Kalif Jackson.
Under the circumstances, McElwain and his staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for salvaging what was a minimal-impact class a month ago and turn it into a top 25 class.
Florida coach Jim McElwain discusses the Gators' haul on National Signing Day. (Photo: Tim Casey)
SportsIllustrated.com ranked Florida as one of the "winners" on National Signing Day, and they weren't the only ones. SBNation.com writer Andy Hutchins, who writes about Florida for AlligatorArmy.com, offered more insight into a class that came together late, but came together nicely.
Of the 20 players currently signed, 14 played offense in high school, including a pair of players listed as athletes -- D'Anfernee McGriff from Tallahassee Lincoln and Kylan Johnson of Skyline High in Texas.
With an offensive background, McElwain has a lot of new weapons as he revamps that side of the ball, although there is always the potential for position changes as coaches begin to evaluate the team's needs and each player's strengths through spring practice and fall camp when the newcomers arrive.
The biggest takeaway McElwain offered was how the program built much-needed momentum.
"We still have a couple of [scholarships] that we will hold for some possible late additions as we move forward, and then obviously look for guys in next year's class as we get into possible early enrollees,'' he said. "We are already looking towards the 2016 class. That was kind of the plan going in. I thought we executed our plan very well.
"And you know what, there are a lot of positive things for the Gators."
With the departure of Jeff Driskel to Louisiana Tech, Florida currently has three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster: Treon Harris, Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg.
The Gators would like to add at least one more. While they didn't sign a quarterback on Wednesday, there is always the possibility of a late addition or transfer over the summer.
Two quarterbacks the Gators tried to swing in recruiting, Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Deondre Francois (Florida State), opted to honor their original commitments.
Still, McElwain had no need for a Kleenex.
"I really feel good about our quarterbacks,'' he said. "Obviously it's a position you recruit every year. You don't settle. You try and go out and get what there is. There may be some that are still out there as this kind of goes forward."
In an off-the-record, get-to-know-you meeting with Florida beat reporters last month McElwain may have become the first Gators football coach to promote the mindset of a British economist who has been dead for more than 70 years.
John Maynard Keynes once championed the thought that "the difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones.”
McElwain called on the knowledge of Keynes once again this week in an interview with Pat Forde of Yahoo.com in a story about his quest to rebuild the Gators.
In his short time on campus, it's obvious McElwain arrived with a plan that he strongly believes in and one he is confident will produce the kind of success the Gators are accustomed to.
Offensive lineman Tyler Jordan (6-foot-4, 275 pounds) out of Bishop Kenny High in Jacksonville earned a special distinction when he committed to the Gators soon after McElwain took over the program.
Imatorbhebhe was the first player to commit to McElwain and enrolled in school soon afterward. Meanwhile, Jordan became perhaps the Gators' most prominent recruiter on social media among commitments, promoting the program and the new coaching staff to other players over the past month.
"I've got to tell you, Tyler, Kalif, Bhe-Bhe, those young guys were the first to jump in,'' McElwain said. "Those guys were fantastic. And Tyler, in particular, he was real positive on his visit that he made up here and did a good job of staying in touch. They were recruiting teammates."
They work behind the scenes but play as vital a role in recruiting as the coaching staff.
Drew Hughes, Florida's director of player personnel under former head coach Will Muschamp, and Kevin Barbay, the former director of player personnel under McElwain at Colorado State, received some public recongnition from McElwain this week.
"I thought Drew did a really good job,'' McElwain said. "He's a guy that was able to hold it together. We were able to add Kevin [too]."
Barbay (photo, left) comes to Florida after a season at Colorado State. Prior to that, Barbay spent two seasons as receivers coach at Lamar and two years as athletics director/football coach at Warren (Texas) High.
As McElwain continues to revamp the program from the inside out, building a deeper player personnel department is one of the goals.
"We are still in the process of adding some people that have a lot of experience in those areas that are going to help us,'' he said. "That's part of the infrastructure change that we are getting ready to make."
QUOTE OF NOTE: "The guy is a great ball coach and he had obviously some insights that I'm sure they were able to use. Yet, it's never about anybody else. It's about what we have and who we are. We are very secure in that and know we are going to move forward and be successful in what we are trying to accomplish.'' -- McElwain on impact of recruiting against Muschamp, now defensive coordinator at Auburn