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Florida baseball

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.

--Plenty of coaching moves on the footballscoop.com news wire, including former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell joining UF as a quality control assistant.

--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.

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 LampkinDeShon ElliottQuincy 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.

Jim McElwain

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

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]."

Kevin Barbay

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

Friday February 6, 2015 Nine Gators invited to NFL Combine later this month

Updated: 10:39am, February 12

Dante Fowler and Matt Jones

Dante Fowler Jr. (left) and Matt Jones are two of nine Gators invited to NFL Combine.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The NFL Scouting Combine is scheduled Feb. 17-23 in Indianapolis and on Friday the official list of invitees was released. 

Nine Gators are among the more than 300 players invited to participate in the most critical pre-draft event. The combine will be broadcast extensively on NFL Network. UF's nine invitees ranks fourth among all schools nationally.

Linebacker Neiron Ball, punter Kyle Christy, offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, running back Matt Jones, center Max Garcia, offensive lineman Trenton Brown, offensive lineman Chaz Green, defensive lineman Leon Orr and defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. are on the official list of invitees.

Receiver Andre Debose, offensive lineman Tyler Moore, linebacker Michael Taylor, defensive lineman Darious Cummings, receiver Quinton Dunbar, running back Mack Brown and defensive back Jabari Gorman are among the group of Florida regulars not on the invitation list to the combine.

Those players will have an opportunity to perform in front of NFL scouts at Florida’s Pro Day at a date yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, Humphries is one of four players (Fowler, Moore and Jones) to forego their final year of eligibility to enter the draft. While some questioned if he was ready, at least one NFL analyst thinks Humphries is a first-round pick.

Thursday February 5, 2015 National Signing Day a Big Hit with Gator Fans

Updated: 11:28am, February 6

Information Compiled by the UAA Communications Staff.

The Florida football team had a successful signing day on Wednesday, picking up several important pieces to add to the roster as head coach Jim McElwain and his staff continue preparations for the 2015 season.

With all the excitement throughout the day, as evidenced by a quadrupling of traffic on GatorZone.com from a year ago, National Signing Day is a great event for Gator fans to follow on social media as decisions are being announced. To illustrate that, we've compiled some data from our various social media accounts to see how powerful the impact of today's social media can be.

As announcements were being made on Wednesday, the first official announcements were made from Coach McElwain's personal twitter account (@CoachMcElwain). Shortly after, the official football twitter account, @GatorZoneFB, announced each signing with a personalized graphic welcome each new Gator.

For the day, the @GatorZoneFB account made a total of 52 posts that were posted over 1.2 million Twitter users. For comparison, that figure is higher than seven game days from the fall. The posts totaled over 92,000 engagements, a 7.4 percent engagement rate, which is higher than any single game day from the 2014 season.

@GatorZoneFB By the Numbers

1.2 million

Overall Impressions

7.2%

Engagement Rate

6.7K

Link Clicks

6.1K

Favorites

4.1K

Retweets

In addition, the @GatorZoneNews twitter account had a total reach of nearly 750,000 for the 12-hour time span of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

The keywords “Florida Gators” had an even bigger impact, with a potential reach of 11.9 million and over 38,000 mentions. The conversation surrounding “Florida Gators” was 61% positive as measured through social media analytic software.

With the help of social media analytic software, we are able to track the conversation surrounding certain hashtags and keywords for a given time period. The #Gators15 hashtag, created to centralize the conversation around Florida's signing day, totaled nearly 6,600 mentions and had a potential reach of 4.1 million. The conversation had peaks at different points throughout the day, as illustrated by the tweet below.

 

The image in the above tweet seemed to be the hit of the day with Gator fans, as highly-touted offensive lineman Martez Ivey signed his letter of intent to play for the Gators in the fall.

The official announcement of Ivey's signing from @GatorZoneFB produced the single tweet with the highest reach of the day at over 61,000 impressions.The tweet and graphic welcoming Ivey to the Gators' signing class also had the most retweets (477) and favorites (568) of any post on the day.

 

We also found out that The Gator Nation enjoys some light-hearted fun. The tweet below, sent at 2:22 p.m. after Florida had just received official confirmation of several commitments, had the highest number of engagements of any post on the day at nearly 12,000.

An engagement includes any interaction with a single tweet, including clicks anywhere on the Tweet (hashtags, links, avatar, username and Tweet expansion), retweets, replies, follows and favorites. With an overall reach of over 60,000 for the below tweet, the engagement rate of around 20 percent was astoundingly high. 

Dan Quinn

Former UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn introduced as Atlanta's head coach today. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was dressed in his usual dark attire on Tuesday, but this time the threads were more expensive than his preferred black shirts at Florida.

Decked out in a black suit and wearing a red and black striped tie, Quinn was introduced as new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Quinn finished a two-year stint as Seattle’s defensive coordinator on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.

“So fired up to be here,’’ Quinn told the audience at his introductory press conference. “The ending [of the Super Bowl] was as difficult and hard as it could be, but I knew the next day I was going to have an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Quinn spent two seasons at Florida as Will Muschamp’s defensive coordinator from 2011-12.

He left shortly after Florida’s loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl in January 2013 to replace Gus Bradley, hired as Jacksonville’s head coach, in Seattle.

A veteran assistant with more than 20 years of experience, this is Quinn’s first head-coaching job.

“It was the leadership challenge that you’re after,’’ he said. “It was that challenge that it was gong to take to run an entire football team. This one was the best fit for me.”

Quinn has been linked to several NFL vacancies the past two seasons, but with Seattle playing in the Super Bowl each year, teams opted to go in another direction.

The Falcons waited and Quinn wants to bring the same kind of attitude to Atlanta that he brought to his other stops.

“One of our goals here, we’re going to try and bet the best fundamental team in football,’’ he said “I certainly want to be involved on the defensive side. The brand of football we’re going to play is fast and physical.”

Quinn announced his Atlanta coaching staff on Tuesday, retaining defensive line coach Bryan Cox, the father of Florida junior defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr.

Quinn is the first former Gators head coach or assistant coach to be an NFL head coach since Chan Gailey led the Bills from 2010-12. A former UF player, Gailey started his coaching career as a UF graduate assistant in 1974 and also was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for two seasons (1998-99).

Other former Florida coaches to serve as head coaches in the NFL include Steve Spurrier (Redskins, 2002-03), Lindy Infante (Packers, 1988-91; Colts, 1996-97), Mike Shanahan (Raiders, 1988-89; Broncos, 1995-2008; Redskins, 2010-13), and John Rauch (Raiders, 1966-68; Bills, 1969-70).

Meanwhile, former UF player Mike Mularkey was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.

Jim McElwain

Gators head coach Jim McElwain has player ties in Super Bowl XLIX. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Since Super Bowl I 48 years ago at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Gators have usually been represented in the biggest sporting event of the year.

In that very first Super Bowl between Green Bay and Kansas City, former UF punter/kicker Don Chandler was part of Green Bay’s 35-10 victory over the Chiefs. He was back a year later in Green Bay’s 33-14 win over Oakland in Super Bowl II.

Chandler’s four field goals against the Raiders still stand as the most ever in a Super Bowl, tied by San Francisco kicker Ray Wersching in Super Bowl XVI at the now-decrepit Pontiac Silverdome.

Logo

A year ago in Seattle’s 43-8 rout of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, former UF star Percy Harvin turned Florida fans nostalgic when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

In Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX between Seattle and New England, the only former UF player on either roster is defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the Patriots’ first-round draft pick.

Easley played in 11 games this season and started two, recording 10 tackles and an interception before New England shut him down so he could further rehabilitate a knee injury he suffered as a senior at UF. He is currently on injured reserve.

However, there are plenty more UF connections in the game, including a trio of Seattle assistants, most prominently Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn was Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2011-12 and is heading to Atlanta to become the Falcons’ head coach after the Super Bowl.

Former UF defensive back Marquand Manuel is a defensive assistant for Seattle and Will Harriger, a graduate assistant at UF in 2012-13, is in his first season as an offensive assistant with Seattle.

Meanwhile, Florida’s new coaching staff is well-represented in this year’s Super Bowl.

Head coach Jim McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, associate head coach Randy Shannon, strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Kent, offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive line coach Terrell Williams all have former pupils in the game.

Thanks to research by Florida football sports information director Dan Apple, a look at those connections:

Player                    Team                    Pos.        Connection

Ryan Wendell       Patriots                  OL           McElwain was Fresno State’s OC his senior season in 2007

Vince Wilfork        Patriots                  DL           Shannon was Miami’s defensive coordinator while he was at UM

Deontae Skinner  Patriots                  DL           Practice-squad player coached by Collins at Mississippi State

Darrelle Revis      Patriots                  DB          Kent was strength coach at Pittsburgh when Revis was there

Cliff Avril               Seahawks             DL           Williams was his position coach at Purdue

Alvin Bailey           Seahawks            OL           Summers coached him at Arkansas his redshirt freshman season

James Carpenter Seahawks             OL           McElwain was OC at Alabama during his career

Jermaine Kearse Seahawks             WR          Nussmeier was OC at Washington his final three seasons

Kevin Norwood    Seahawks             WR          McElwain and Nussmeier served as OC at Alabama in his career

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The UF women’s basketball team hosts Missouri tonight in search of a second consecutive win. The gymnastics team hosts Georgia on Friday night, and on Saturday the men’s basketball team welcomes Arkansas to the O’Connell Center.

Meanwhile, baseball and softball seasons are right around the corner and National Signing Day is Feb. 4.

To help you keep up, here are some fresh links from around the Internet:

--In its position-that-needs-improvement series, ESPN.com writer Ed Aschoff writes that position is quarterback for the Gators.

--Chris Walker shows signs of promise in Alabama writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.

--Return of guard Carlie Needles and win over Arkansas encouraging for Gators writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Freshman Alex McMurtry producing for UF gymnastics despite back pain writes Graham Hack of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Cody Jones of FightinGators.com provides some baseball scrimmage observations with Florida preparing for Feb. 13 opener against Rhode Island.

--CBSSports.com columnist Dennis Dodd ranks offseason coaching hires in college football.

--Former UF receivers coach Joker Phillips resurfaces as next receivers coach of Cleveland Browns writes Tom Reed of Clevland.com.

--Gators lefty Delanie Gourley has room to grow in sophomore season writes Luis Torres of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Former UF quarterback Tim Tebow showed off his golfing skills Wednesday writes Kevin Zimmerman of FOXSportsArizona.com.

--Former Gators standout Al Horford, whose Atlanta Hawks have won a franchise-record 17 consecutive games, sees some similarities with the back-to-back champion Florida teams he played on.

Orange & Blue Debut

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are more details to be finalized, but mark your calendar for April 11.

That is the date of the annual Orange & Blue Debut spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Kickoff time and other details will be announced in the coming weeks.

This will be the first spring game for new Gators head coach Jim McElwain, who was introducted as the 25th head coach in school history in early December.

Marcus Maye

As part of its National Signing Day coverage, ESPN will report from UF on Feb. 4. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two behemoths in the modern-day sports landscape – ESPN and National Signing Day – will be dominating the airwaves on Feb. 4.

ESPN logo

ESPN announced Tuesday plans to televise 11 hours of National Signing Day across its various network platforms, including live coverage from 14 campuses.

One of those is Florida.

ESPN reporter Laura Rutledge, a UF graduate, returns to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day Special. The reporters will also provide regular updates on “SportsCenter.”

Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern California, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M are the other campuses ESPN will report live from on National Signing Day.

Monday January 26, 2015 Butler hopeful Gators can parlay Sunday's much-needed victory into something more

Updated: 5:24pm, January 26

Gators

The UF women's basketball team is fighting to finish strong down the stretch. (Photo: Jim Burgess)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Amanda Butler woke up Sunday morning and headed to the O’Connell Center for a rare noon tipoff against Arkansas.

Outside, a beautiful day. The same could be said of inside the O’Dome for the first time in three weeks.

The Gators women’s basketball team snapped a four-game losing streak with a 72-58 victory against the Razorbacks, earning Butler her 150th victory as Florida’s head coach.

The Gators pulled back even with .500 (10-10, 2-5 SEC) in a much-needed victory over an Arkansas team that, like Florida, has struggled in conference play.

Amanda Butler

In her eighth season at her alma mater, Butler has led Florida to the postseason every year (three NCAA trips, four WNIT berths). However, that streak appears in jeopardy as the Gators prepare to host Missouri on Thursday.

Florida has nine regular-season games remaining and five of those are against teams currently ranked in the Top 25.

Nothing has been easy this season, and nothing will be down the stretch.

The Gators are 10th in the SEC, ahead of only Arkansas (1-6), Missouri (1-6), Alabama (1-6) and Auburn (0-6) in the league standings.

On paper Missouri looms as a good shot at victory for Florida, but when the teams met Jan. 11 in Columbia, the Tigers won their only SEC game of the season, 66-47.

Florida shot 23 percent (14 of 61), including 6 of 32 in the second half after holding a slim 24-22 halftime lead.

The Gators needed a win in the worst way Sunday and they got one. It was as if the fog finally lifted and the sun splashed down on Butler’s team.

“It’s always important to win games for various reasons, obvious ones your record and positioning and those sort of things,’’ she said Monday. “You can work really, really hard, but at the end of it all, getting the win and experiencing success in that black-and-white objective column is sometimes more powerful than some of those other ideas that we try to make important.

“I think it puts us in a great place mentally.”

The short-term goal now is to still be in that place when they walk out of the O’Dome on Thursday night.

Mike Holloway

Florida track coach Mike Holloway builds his teams around strong relay squads. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Championships are not until March 13-14 at the University of Arkansas.

A lot can happen between now and then. Still, as early favorites go in the 4x400 relays, the Gators men’s and women’s teams made loud statements over the weekend at the Rod McCravy Memorial in Lexington, Ky.

First, the UF women’s 4x400 relay team of Robin Reynolds, Destinee GauseKyra Jefferson and Claudia Francis set a new school record with a time of 3:29.58, which is the best time in the NCAA and world so far in 2015. The mark was the 12th-fastest all-conditions indoor time and just the 14th sub-3:30 mark in collegiate history in the process.

“I thought we could run fast, but I didn’t necessarily think we would run that fast,’’ Florida head coach Mike Holloway said Monday. “They’re four very talented young ladies. They’ve been there before.”

The Florida men’s 4x400 team of Najee GlassHugh Graham, Jr.Nick Uruburu and Gino Hall made history too, setting a new Nutter Fieldhouse record with a NCAA- and world-leading 3:04.22.

The McCravy Memorial is an early season meet that featured 15 teams, including 12 ranked in the Top 25.

Holloway got a better gauge of where the Gators stand heading into the heart of the indoor season. The impressive relay performances were an added bonus.

“We are never surprised when we run fast relays,’’ he said. “I tell people this all the time I don’t think there is anybody that looks at what we do and goes, ‘wow, I can’t believe Florida did that.’ We have a very talented group of people here. The relays are a staple of what we. We build our team from the relays out.”

That could mean trouble for the rest of the field in March. The Gators are ranked No. 1 in both the men’s and women’s poll. If the Gators go on to bigger and better things the rest of the season, they will look back at the McCravy as a sign of what was to come.

“There was kind of a championship feel to the meet,” Holloway said. “I think that’s why you saw our athletes step up the way they did. They knew coming in that it was going to be a great meet.”

Trenton Brown

Gators offensive lineman Trenton Brown certainly has the size to play in the NFL. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For the past two seasons Max Garcia and Trenton Brown were stalwarts on Florida’s offensive line.

Today at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Garcia and Brown are teammates on the North Team as they try to improve their stock in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators.

Max Garcia

Voted Florida’s Offensive MVP in 2014, Garcia (photo, left) transferred from Maryland and developed into the Gators’ most consistent offensive lineman the past two seasons. He moved to center as a senior and performed admirably considering he had never played the position.

In an interview with 247Sports.com this week, Garcia said he has faced questions about where he sees himself playing after moving to center as a senior.

“Teams are asking me where I feel most comfortable playing,’’ he said. “I’ve been playing center for a year, and I just like having the ball in my hand and being able to direct offensive linemen on the calls before the snap.”

Meanwhile, Brown transferred to Florida from Georgia Military College in 2013 and split time between starting and filling a reserve role. Brown’s size -- he measured 6-foot-8, 376 pounds this week in Mobile -- has draw attention from scouts and media this week.

Brown told 247Sports.com this week that his size -- and work ethic -- have been a topic in his interviews with teams.

“In my interviews, a lot of times the word ‘lazy’ had come up,’’ Brown said. “I’m not lazy. I’m just even-keeled, chill guy. I don’t get too high or too low.”

The Senior Bowl is at 4 p.m. today and will be shown live on the NFL Network.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been on the road recruiting all week and has not seen the latest edition of Sports Illustrated.

SI cover

When informed that Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse was on the cover for his game-winning catch Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, Nussmeier let out one of those gratified chuckles.

“Gosh, that’s great,’’ he said. “It couldn’t happen to a better kid.”

While America is just getting to know Kearse in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, Nussmeier got to know him very well six years ago in his first season as offensive coordinator at Washington. Taking over a program that finished 0-12 the previous season, first-year Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian tabbed Nussmeier to run his offense.

One of the first things Nussmeier did was make sure that Kearse was a featured part of the offense.

“He became our guy,’’ Nussmeier said. “Jermaine was really a guy we counted on. He was just a reliable player, a really good player. It doesn’t surprise me that he has made the big catches he has.”

In three seasons playing in Nussmeier’s offense, Kearse caught 160 passes for 2,570 yards and 27 touchdowns. He finished his career as Washington’s second all-time leading receiver.

Following Kearse’s senior season in 2011, Nussmeier left to become offensive coordinator at Alabama and Kearse joined Seattle as an undrafted free agent. A native of Lakewood, Wash., a Tacoma suburb about an hour south of Seattle, Nussmeier understands how big a story Kearse’s big moment Sunday is back in the Pacific Northwest.

“Anytime a guy gets to grow up in Tacoma, went to Lakes High School, and then to play in his backyard at Washington, and then to stay in his backyard to get to play in the NFL, that’s a big impact in your local community,” Nussmeier said. “Good for him. He’s one of those guys you like to root for. He was a great player when we had him.”

Nussmeier was recruiting most of Sunday and missed the majority of Seattle’s 28-22 overtime win over Green Bay. However, he did get to see Kearse make his now-famous 35-yard touchdown catch on a throw from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Running a straight Go route to the middle of the end zone, Kearse caught the pass with Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams wrapped around him. He unwrapped himself and immediately tossed the football into the stands of a trembling Century-Link Field.

It was Kearse’s only catch of the game after being targeted five times by Wilson. The first four of those passes toward Kearse were intercepted, including two that ricocheted off his hands.

"That throw was more so just a sign of frustration," Kearse said Monday. "Just letting a lot of frustration throughout that whole game out, just trying to throw it as far as possible. It's just something that happened in the moment.”

Doug Nussmeier

As Nussmeier watched, Kearse’s game-winning catch brought back memories.

“I remember one specifically he made for us our [second] year against Washington State to get us in a bowl game,’’ Nussmeier said. “Late in the game he caught a touchdown sort of like he did the other night, in tight coverage, just a phenomenal play. We win the game.”

The catch Nussmeier recalled was a 27-yard touchdown reception by Kearse on a throw from former Huskies quarterback Jake Locker to defeat Washington State, 35-28, with 44 seconds left in the game.

Kearse isn’t the only connection for Nussmeier on the Seahawks. Seattle quarterbacks coach Carl Smith was Nussmeier’s first quarterbacks coach in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. Also, Seahawks quality control assistant John Glenn worked with Nussmeier during his time at Washington.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you have walked down Gale Lemerand Dr. on the University of Florida's campus, you have likely seen the sign: "Gatorade's Birthplace."

The invention of Gatorade by Dr. Robert Cade at UF in the 1960s stands as one of the most important developments in sports science in the 20th Century. The famous sports drink now has its own movie thanks to ESPN.

On Wednesday ESPN released "The Sweat Solution," a 30for30 short film that traces Gatorade's beginnings back to the Florida football program in the 1960s.

Former Gators head coach Ray Graves, who turned 96 in December, is in the film, as is South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, UF's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966.

Check out the video above and enjoy a trip into the past worth your time.

Jake McGee

Tight end Jake McGee (No. 83) has been granted a sixth year of eligibility. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators tight end Jake McGee received good news Tuesday. The NCAA granted McGee's request for a sixth year of eligibility.

McGee transferred to Florida last summer after earning his undergraduate degree at Virginia, where he led the Cavaliers in receiving with 43 catches for 395 yards in 2013.

McGee enrolled in graduate school and was eligible to play immediately at Florida under NCAA rules. However, early in the season opener against Eastern Michigan, McGee suffered a season-ending broken left leg.

He applied for a sixth year of eligibility after the season and tweeted about the NCAA's decision on Tuesday afternoon. 

McGee's return provides first-year head coach Jim McElwain with a proven pass catcher and playmaker at tight end, a position that has lacked significant production since Jordan Reed left after the 2012 season.

Antoinette Bannister

Junior Antoinette Bannister is no longer a member of the UF women's basketball team. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF women’s basketball team already faced a difficult challenge Monday night at home: No. 1-ranked South Carolina.

The undefeated Gamecocks (17-0, 5-0 in SEC) roll into town as the top-ranked team in the nation for the first time in school history. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley has built a program that is receiving its fair share of recognition this season, as is Staley.

Tonight’s game is live on the SEC Network (7 p.m.) with former UF head coach Carol Ross serving as analyst.

Meanwhile, the Gators (9-9, 1-4) have found wins elusive since the start of SEC play, including a 62-56 loss at No. 10 Kentucky on Thursday. Florida led 51-50 with 4:24 left in the game but returned home staggered as the Wildcats closed on a 12-5 run.

It got worse for head coach Amanda Butler over the weekend when news broke that one of her key reserves, junior guard/forward Antoinette Bannister, was charged with theft of a credit card and fraudulent use of a credit card.

Bannister, who played in 13 games and started three, is no longer on the team. She was averaging 6.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game but had appeared in only one of the last six games (three minutes vs. Ole Miss on Jan. 8).

The Gators need something good to happen as they try to turn their season around and avoid dropping below .500 for the first time this season. Although unlikely based on the current circumstances, an upset of the Gamecocks would be one way to do that.

For more on tonight’s game and other news of interest to Gator fans, here are some fresh links from around the Internet:

--Staley wants to see her team break out on offense writes David Cloninger of The State newspaper.

--Former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his second season as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, is set to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons according to the NFL Network.

--Bulls All-Star Joakim Noah to miss tonight’s game against Cleveland, the second in a row the former UF star has missed due to an ankle injury.

--Gators head coach Billy Donovan addresses why Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith were benched for long stretches in Saturday’s loss at Georgia writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.

--Ex-Gator quarterback Brian Schottenheimer expects ‘easy fit’ at Georgia writes the Associated Press via ESPN.com.

--A new experience for former Gators standout Patric Young, who is now playing in Turkey, when fans threw pork legs onto the court during a game last week. Young competed in the Turkish Basketball League All-Star slam-dunk competition on Sunday.

--Recent traffic case against Gators quarterback Treon Harris was dropped writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--Florida offensive linemen Max Garcia and Trenton Brown on North Team for Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Florida's football program was available to purchase on the open market, say, like the NFL's Buffalo Bills were recently, you better bring a big wallet to the negotiating table.

In the annual valuation of college football programs published by The Wall Street Journal, the Gators are worth more than any team in the Southeastern Conference.

In the latest study by Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Florida football program is valued at more than $815 million.

That figure ranks behind only national champion Ohio State ($1.1 billion), Michigan ($999 million), Texas ($972 million) and Notre Dame ($936 million).

Alabama ($760 million) is ranked seventh and Georgia ($710 million) and LSU ($659 million) also crack the top 10, giving the SEC four of the nation's most valuable programs in financial terms.

Texas had held the top spot for three consecutive years until the Buckeyes dethroned the Longhorns this year.

The study ranked teams from 1 to 116. Louisiana-Monroe checked in last in the study. If $815 million for the Gators is out of your price range, the Warhawks are valued at a more affordable $6.4 million.

Wednesday January 14, 2015 Horford's big night, Hutzler hired at Boston College, more Gators tidbits

Updated: 1:15pm, January 14

Coleman Hutzler

Former UF assistant Coleman Hutzler, right, has been hired by Boston College. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Al Horford is healthy. So is the Atlanta Hawks' record with Horford back from a season-ending injury a season ago.

Horford's comeback reached new heights on Tuesday night in Atlanta's 105-87 over the Philadelphia 76ers. Horford registered his first career triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. 

For more on Horford and other items of interest to Gator fans, check out the links below:

--Horford made 8 of 10 shots Tuesday and has been key to Atlanta's winning streak writes Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun.

--Former UF assistant Coleman Hutzler has rebounded quickly as special-teams coordinator at Boston College.

--Longtime NFL coach and former Gator Chan Gailey, out of the NFL since 2012, will join the New York Jets as offensive coordinator reports Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

--Gators head coach Billy Donovan and new Auburn coach Bruce Pearl renew their rivalry Thursday night writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.

--Kiersten Wang is back from injury as Gators gymnastics team prepares for home opener writes Graham Hack (finely suited last name for a sports writer) for the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Former UF golfer and current PGA star Billy Horschel not satisfied with FedExCup title writes David Jones of Florida Today.

--Jeff Driskel is ready for brighter days ahead writes Sean Isabella of the Monroe (La.) News Star.

--The UF women's basketball team is in need of a win writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.

Tuesday January 13, 2015 Former Gators record holder in women's discus passes away

Updated: 2:57pm, January 13

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jacqueline Mary Gordon enrolled at UF in the summer of 1975, two years after the birth of the Gators women’s track and field team in the wake of Title IX.

Gordon grew up in Annandale, Va., and chose Florida over Penn State, Virginia and UCLA according to a sports publicity questionnaire she filled out while at UF.

Jackie Gordon

The two-sided sheet of paper and three photos are all the items in a manila folder for “Jackie Gordon” filed away in the UF sports information office’s morgue.

A political science major, Gordon threw the shot put and discus for the Gators and made her mark in the sport, earning outdoor All-American honors twice (1976, ’78) in the discus.

A four-time state discus champion in high school, she set a then-UF record at the 1978 Penn Relays with a throw of 157 feet, 6 inches.

Gordon’s record has long since faded from the top 10 in school history as athletes and training methods have improved drastically since her college career. The current school record in the discus belongs to Rachel Longfors (188 feet, 7 inches), set in 2004.

After leaving UF Gordon attended law school at the University of Virginia and began a successful law career and real estate business. She turned 58 on Dec. 10.

One of the questions on that questionnaire she filled out all those years ago was a simple one: Why did you choose Florida?

“Had what I wanted and needed academically, athletically and socially. Also, Brooks Johnson was coming here.”

Johnson has been a prominent track and field coach since the 1960s and spent time at Florida during Gordon’s career.

Sadly, a recent email arrived with news of Gordon’s passing:

*****

Jacqueline (Jackie) Mary Gordon passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015. She was born on Dec. 10, 1956 in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John “Flash” and Barbara Gordon.

At W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va., Jackie was a five-sport athlete, was selected Woodson’s Athlete of the Year her senior year, and won state AAA championships in discus and shot put. She held a state record in discus that was not broken for over 30 years.

While at the University of Florida for undergraduate school, she was a member of the track & field team, selected Lady Gator Athlete of the Year and was an All American in discus. She graduated in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and went on to law school at the University of Virginia.

After graduation in 1982, she practiced in Dallas for four years, until moving back to Virginia to join McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe for several years. She continued practicing real estate law and was a member of the Virginia and D.C. bar associations.

She was elected to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame, the W.T. Woodson High School Athletic Hall of Fame, and selected for the Advisory Board of the Virginia High School League.

Jackie enjoyed supporting her alma maters, their athletic programs, mentoring student-athletes and was an avid sports fan. She is survived by two brothers, David and Garry Gordon, two nephews, three nieces and her beloved dog, Discus.

A private family service was held and memorial donations may be made to the Virginia High School League http://www.vhsl.org/doc/upload/foundation-2013-case.pdf.

*****

You can share a memory of Gordon or your condolences here.

Monday January 12, 2015 Bridget Sloan's foot not broken; Gators now waiting on MRI results

Updated: 6:39pm, January 12

Bridget Sloan

The Gators gymnastics team is awaiting MRI results on Bridget Sloan's injured right foot. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior All-American gymnast Bridget Sloan delivered the goods early in Florida's season-opening victory at Ball State on Sunday. Competing in her home state, the 2008 Olympian and 2009 all-around world champion posted a 9.95 on the uneven bars and later scored a perfect 10.0 on vault.

However, Sloan suffered an injury to her right foot on her last tumbling pass during floor exercise and immediately needed medical attention. The injury forced Sloan to skip the beam event, the meet's final rotation, and cast a big question mark over the two-time defending national champion Gators as they move forward.

On Monday Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn said X-rays revealed that Sloan did not break her foot.

"There is no fracture, so that is great news,'' Faehn said. "Hopefully it's just a bump in the road and we're able to get past it."

Sloan was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday evening to determine if there is any ligament or tendon damage to the foot. The Gators expect to know Tuesday the results of the MRI and have a better idea about Sloan's timetable to return.

The Gators host Auburn in their home opener Friday night starting at 6:45, the new start time for home meets this season.

It was challenging for the team [to see her get hurt]. They were rattled. I tried as hard as I could to get them together."

Sloan wasn't the only Gator injured Sunday. Senior Jamie Shisler suffered an Achilles tendon injury and will miss the season, Faehn said. Shisler was scheduled to perform during the exhibition period Sunday but was injuring during warm-ups.

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