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Gators assistant coach Travaris Robinson is heading to Auburn. (Photo: Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is headed back to Auburn, his alma mater.
About 20 minutes after Robinson helped the Gators win the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina, Auburn announced Robinson was joining head coach Gus Malzahn's staff as secondary coach.
The move reunites Robinson with former Gators head coach Will Muschamp, who returned to Auburn last month as defensive coordinator. When Muschamp was Auburn's defensive coordinator in 2006-07, he hired Robinson as a graduate assistant and hired Robinson again when he became UF's coach in 2011.
The move had been speculated about since Muschamp was hired by Malzahn.
"I'm very excited about returning to Auburn where I played, received my degree and was a graduate assistant," Robinson said in a statement released by Auburn. "Auburn has provided me so many opportunities and I'm excited to be able to give back to a place that has meant so much to me. I have a lot of respect for Coach Malzahn and I'm looking forward to working for him. My family and I are glad to be back home."
Robinson played at Auburn from 1999-2002, where he was an All-SEC selection as a senior. He is considered one of the top recruiters in the country and helped Florida build one of the deepest secondaries in the country during his four seasons with the Gators.
Meanwhile, new Gators head coach Jim McElwain is expected to announce more hires to his inaugural staff in the coming days.
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has requested a release from his scholarship to transfer. (Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- In what appears to be Jeff Driskel's final game for the Gators, the fourth-year junior quarterback's final play was a victory snap.
Driskel's 9-yard run for a first down with 58 seconds allowed the Gators to run out the clock in their 28-20 win over East Carolina on Saturday in the Birmingham Bowl.
With starter Treon Harris slowed by an elbow injury, Driskel took over in the third quarter and finished 8 of 17 for 48 yards. He added seven yards on three rushes.
Prior to the game, new Gators head coach Jim McElwain said Driskel has requested and received permission to be released from his scholarship with plans to transfer.
"We all have choices and I’m not going to hold him hostage, certainly,'' McElwain said.
Driskel began the season as Florida's starter but lost his job to Harris following a home loss to Missouri.
Interim head coach D.J. Durkin said Driskel responded well to his unexpected opportunity Saturday.
"I think he was outstanding,” Durkin said. “I think it says a lot about him as a person. The amount of adversity he’s had to go through in his career, to be honest, I don’t know if I could last through that. That says a lot about him and a lot about our team. Our guys believe in him; he believes in his teammates.”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Gators will be without two key contributors when they face East Carolina on Saturday in the Birmingham Bowl.
Interim head coach D.J. Durkin said Wednesday that receiver/kick returner Andre Debose and starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings did not make the trip.
The Gators won't have the services of kickoff/punt return specialist Andre Debose Saturday.
According to Durkin, the 24-year-old Debose made the decision and arrived at a “mutual agreement” with coaches.
“He’s moving on with his career,’’ Durkin said. “He’s been here six years and done a lot of great things for the Gators. And he and I have a good relationship. We joke he’s as old as some of the coaches and we’ve been here a long time together. You know sometimes things just work out that way and he’ll be just fine and so will the Gators."
Debose was a non-factor in the passing game after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this season, but he did play a pivotal role on special teams.
He led the SEC in punt returns (14-yard average on 23 returns) and had a 62-yard punt return touchdown against LSU, his fifth career kick return for a score. Debose returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career and could get a look in the NFL as a return man.
Meanwhile, Cummings was suspended for a violation of team rules and will miss his final game as a Gator. The senior transferred from a Mississippi junior college and played two seasons at Florida after starting his college career at Florida State.
He started 11 games this season and had 30 tackles, five for loss.
Wednesday December 31, 2014 Morrison Thanks Muschamp for Having Faith in Him When Others Didn't
Updated: 10:17am, January 1
Antonio Morrison leads the Gators in tackles heading into Saturday's Birmingham Bowl. (Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison had something to say.
Following Florida's first practice here Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's Birmingham Bowl, Morrison didn't want to talk about his future.
He wanted to address the past.
Specifically, the junior linebacker wanted to say "thank you" to former Gators head coach Will Muschamp in a public forum. Morrison had not spoken to the media since Muschamp's final game a month ago.
"He's the greatest coach I ever had,'' Morrison said. "I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to come down here and play at Florida because a lot of guys from the Midwest don't get the opportunity to come down to Florida and play in the SEC.
"I remember the first time they called and offered me. I was so excited to hear from them."
A native of Bellwood, Ill., Morrison helped Bolingbrook High win its first state championship in school history his senior season.
Morrison missed the state title game due to an injury, but by that time, Muschamp and former Florida assistant Bryant Young, Morrison's primary recruiter, had seen enough to know they wanted the tough-as-nails Morrison to be a Gator.
While undersized (6-1, 222 pounds) compared to some of the conference's top linebackers, Morrison immediately made an impact in 2012 as a freshman, most notably a hit on former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel that forced a fumble and turned momentum the Gators' way in a 37-26 win at FSU.
He became a starter as a sophomore but missed the final three games of the season with a knee injury. Morrison rededicated himself to the game -- and to taking a more mature approach in his preparation -- to have a breakout season as a junior and earn a spot on the All-SEC second-team.
Morrison leads the Gators with 98 tackles and needs two tackles in the Birmingham Bowl to become the first Florida player to reach 100 in a season since Ahmad Black in 2010.
Still, Morrison had doubters back home after the Gators offered him a scholarship.
"My high school coach, the first thing he told me, 'you can't play there, those guys are 20 pounds heavier and run way faster in the 40,' " Morrison said. "I took that to heart man. To hear my high school coach tell me that, that made me even more motivated to come to Florida."
Morrison relayed that story to Muschamp when he arrived and immediately went to work, playing behind a talented group of UF linebackers as a freshman that featured three future NFL players in Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray.
Morrison has not revealed publically whether he intends to return to school his senior season or apply for the NFL Draft.
Whatever his decision, he appreciates Muschamp's faith in him as a player in the SEC when others had none.
"I just want to thank him for giving me that opportunity, and how much I developed as a player and have my teammates think of me enough to give me all those rewards [at the team banquet],'' he said. "I worked hard through high school and when I came here, I just worked hard and I showed it."
Monday December 29, 2014 Links blog: Birmingham Bowl preview, Durkin's future, Spurrier refutes Shockey story, more
Updated: 2:33pm, December 29
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators returned to practice following their Christmas break on Sunday and practiced again this morning in preparation for Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl.
Needless to say, it’s been a strange month for the players, coaches and team staff as the program transitions from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain as head coach.
Check out GatorZone.com later for a look back at the 2014 season.
For now, here are some fresh links covering items of interest to Florida fans:
--Gators interim head coach D.J. Durkin will have options – good ones – after Saturday’s game. The news Monday that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has agreed to become Michigan’s new head coach has many media outlets linking Durkin to Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. The two worked together when Harbaugh was Stanford’s head coach.
--Two East Carolina defensive starters are ineligible for the Birmingham Bowl writes Sammy Batten of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.
--Here is a Birmingham Bowl breakdown via FoxSports.com.
--Former Gators head coach Steve Spurrier disputed a claim by former Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey regarding famous Bourbon Street brawl between Gators-Canes writes Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald.
--Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel is exploring a graduate transfer to Duke writes Laura Keeley of the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer.
--New Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a standout player during his days at Idaho writes Jon Kasper of the Big Sky Conference.
--Gators cornerback J.C. Jackson, redshirted due to shoulder surgery as a freshman, escaped serious injury but a former high school teammate did not on their return home over Christmas break.
Tuesday December 23, 2014 McElwain ready for opportunity to coach and teach Gators QB Treon Harris
Updated: 2:50pm, December 23
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago Treon Harris had just won his second consecutive state championship at Miami's Booker T. Washington High and was verbally committed to play at Florida State.
Meanwhile, Jim McElwain had just won the New Mexico Bowl over Washington State in his second season as head coach at Colorado State, confident that with junior quarterback Garrett Grayson set to return in 2014, the Rams' offense was in capable hands.
McElwain was right as Grayson threw for more than 4.000 yards his senior season and the Rams won 10 games for the first time in 12 years.
Fast forward to today, and Harris is Florida's starting quarterback heading into the Gators' Jan. 3 matchup against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. McElwain is in his third week as Florida's head coach, evaluating Harris and other players whom he will be coaching in spring practice.
A longtime quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator, McElwain has a proven track record developing quarterbacks, most recently Grayson and Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron at Alabama.
Soon Harris will be one of his pupils. McElwain shared some thoughts on Harris on Monday night during an interview on the SEC Network.
"Treon has been a guy who has been awful fun to watch,'' McElwain said. "He can spin it; he's competitive. You can see when he's sure he knows what to do. The ball gets out quick. Really looking forward to working with him, as I am all the players."
Harris replaced fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel as Florida's starting quarterback in the Georgia game and went 3-2 as the starter. Harris endured a high-profile off-the-field incident during the season and then earlier this month was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor of operating a motor vehicle without a driver's license.
During a radio interview Tuesday morning with an Orlando radio station, the subject of Harris came up once more, specifically his decision-making and responsibility as a team leader.
"I really look forward into getting into his life and being a big part of his life, as I am all the players, because we're all in a fishbowl," McElwain said. "No matter what, we've got to understand that everything we do has consequences. We all have freedom of choice and yet we don't have freedom of consequences.
"It's like when I get that speeding ticket. I always just smile and give me the ticket because I made the choice, right? At the same time we've got to understand that there's certain things that, especially at the quarterback position, that we need to do to affect the people around us in a positive way."
Monday December 22, 2014 McElwain talks recruiting, has several media spots today
Updated: 12:29pm, December 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida head coach Jim McElwain did another media spot Monday morning, this time with Tampa radio station WDAE 620-AM.
McElwain did a phone interview Saturday with ABC’s Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer during the Las Vegas Bowl. He is scheduled to appear on the Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio at 6 tonight and “SEC Now” on the SEC Network, which airs from 7 to 8 p.m.
McElwain spoke about Florida’s recruiting efforts this morning on WDAE. With National Signing Day in early February, the Gators will try to pick up speed after the holidays to close with a solid class.
“We're going to be pretty balanced at a lot of spots this year," McElwain said. “We've got a lot of scholarships to give, and for us the biggest thing is making sure we get the right fit. Not only great players, but great character and guys that fit the University of Florida.”
A stout defense is one of the biggest benefits McElwain inherited when he was hired to replace former head coach Will Muschamp. With his offensive background, you can guess where much of McElwain’s focus is on the recruiting trail.
“Really it all starts with explosive playmakers at each position,” he said. “It's interesting when you talk about that, that doesn't mean it has to be a guy that has the ball in his hands all the time. It can be a guy that can change a game, whether it be on the offensive line.
“It doesn't matter what position that is. Obviously we need to get our numbers back up with the offensive line position. That's something that we're really pounding on right now.”
To listen to WDAE’s entire interview with McElwain, check out below:
Saturday December 20, 2014 McElwain: Gators Must Start Getting Best Players in State to Return to Top
Updated: 5:40pm, December 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New Gators head coach Jim McElwain spent part of Saturday afternoon watching his former team play in the Las Vegas Bowl.
In the second quarter of the Colorado State-Utah matchup, McElwain joined ABC announcers Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer for a phone interview.
Musburger asked McElwain what it was like to watch the Rams from afar after leading them to a 10-2 regular-season record and then taking the Florida job less than a week later.
"I've got to tell you, this may be the toughest thing I've ever done,'' McElwain said. "Seeing those guys out there, I just can't tell you how proud I am of everyone in the organization."
McElwain's offensive coordinator at Colorado State, Dave Baldwin, is serving as Colorado State's interim head coach. Meanwhile, McElwain is busy trying to fill out his inaugural Gators staff.
He announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins on Tuesday, his first hire since being introduced as the 25th coach in Florida football history Dec. 6.
He did not place a timetable on hiring assistants.
"It takes patience because you only have one chance to get it right,'' McElwain said. "At Colorado State I really assembled some outstanding coaches with recruiting relationships in some areas we needed to make some headway in and that's kind of the same thing we're doing here."
As McElwain gets acclimated at Florida, he is evaluating the current roster and has watched the Gators practice for the Birmingham Bowl under interim head coach D.J. Durkin. Beyond that, his primary focus is on building a successful program like he did during his three seasons at Colorado State.
The Rams were 9-27 in the three seasons prior to McElwain's arrival. He posted a 22-16 record with the Rams and had back-to-back winning seasons after a 4-8 record in his first season.
"Number one, just getting a feel for the infrastructure and how it's built, and then, really putting the plan in motion,'' he said of the learning curve when taking over a program. "It takes time. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Much of McElwain's first two months on the job will be focused on National Signing Day and trying to salvage a solid recruiting class. When Florida parted ways with Will Muschamp, Florida lost momentum in recruiting.
McElwain spent his first full week on the job traveling the state and region with secondary coach Travaris Robinson for recruiting purposes.
The mission is clear.
"You've got to take care of your own state, first,'' McElwain said. "And then from there, find them regional. You've got to be smart, and wise, and yet get the right fit for the area that you're in."
At Florida, McElwain has a much deeper in-state talent pool than he did at Colorado State.
However, he has Florida State, Miami, USF and UCF to compete with for recruits.
In his view, it's no secret what Florida must do to climb the recruiting rankings and ultimately, the national polls.
"When the Gators were on top, they had the best players in the state of Florida," McElwain said. "And that's something we've got to come back and do."
Friday December 19, 2014 No change in bowl status for Harris, Tabor; Cox is out, plus more tidbits
Updated: 7:02pm, December 19
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators starting quarterback Treon Harris is in the headlines today for off-the-field reasons.
The kind of headlines new head coach Jim McElwain would prefer to live without as he gets settled into his new job.
According to reports, the 19-year-old Harris was charged with operating a motor vehicle without a license, a second-degree misdemeanor. Harris was driving a vehicle on Saturday night that was stopped on Stadium Road at 11:29 p.m. according to the University of Florida Police Department.
Two of Harris’ teammates -- freshmen defensive backs Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson -- were passengers in the vehicle. The Gainesville Sun first reported the story Friday morning, but when you are Florida’s starting quarterback, news spreads quickly and by early afternoon the Harris story was on dozens of newspaper and sports websites.
According to the police report, two small bags of marijuana were found in the vehicle, which is not owned by Harris, Tabor or Jackson, thus no other charges were filed.
Harris and Tabor were named to the All-SEC Freshman Team earlier this month. Jackson was redshirted following shoulder surgery prior to the season. Harris has a court date set for Jan. 15.
The University Athletic Association released a statement this afternoon regarding the incident.
"We are aware of the incident and are dealing with it internally and their bowl status hasn’t changed.”
Meanwhile, here are a few other news items from Florida football:
--Sophomore defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. will miss the Birmingham Bowl following recent hip surgery. Cox finished the season with four sacks, three coming in Florida's 10-9 win at Tennessee.
"Something that was deteriorating over time that he needed to have done,'' interim head coach/defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said.
--Senior tight end Jake McGee is seeking a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. McGee suffered a broken leg in the first half of the season opener against Eastern Michigan in his first game at Florida.
A transfer from Virginia, McGee was redshirted in 2010 and then played for the Cavaliers from 2011-13. He graduated and transferred to UF for his final season of eligibility.
However, his season was over before he worked up a sweat and McGee has applied for a medical hardship waiver.
"He’s trying to do that. We’re trying to get him another year,'' Durkin said. "I totally believe he deserves it and that should work out for him. But we don’t know the answer on that yet."
--At his introductory press conference, McElwain said he looked forward to meeting Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan.
"I'm a huge basketball fan, so I'll probably be bothering the heck out of him,'' McElwain said.
McElwain finally had time to stop by Donovan's office on Thursday and the two chatted for a while. Donovan and his Gators depart today for Sunrise where they face Wake Forest on Saturday in the Orange Bowl Classic.
--Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley discussed McElwain and more on Thursday during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show.
You can check it out here: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=12048492
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel knows the significance of winning a national award. He won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and led the Gators to their first national championship the same season.
For the past decade college football’s most prominent award for community service has been the Wuerffel Trophy. LSU’s Rudy Niswanger won the inaugural award in 2005.
The Wuerffel Trophy was the winner Friday when it was accepted into membership of the National College Football Awards Association at the organization’s winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, joining college football’s other top awards such as the Heisman Trophy, Butkus Award, Outland Trophy and Co.
“This is a big milestone in our efforts to spotlight the great community service work done by football players across the country,’’ Wuerffel said in a news release.
Wuerffel was in New York last week to honor this year’s winner, Ole Miss linebacker Deterrian Shackelford, the 2014 Wuerffel Trophy.
While already an established award, Friday's news adds prestige and raises the Wuerffel Trophy's profile nationally.
“It is a pleasure to welcome the Wuerffel Trophy as a new member of the National College Football Awards Association,” said association president Mark Wolpert. “For the last decade Danny and his staff have done a wonderful job building their organization and have recognized players who not only excel on the field but also in their communities. We look forward to a long relationship with the Wuerffel Trophy.”
The 2014 Wuerffel Trophy will be presented to Shackelford at on Feb. 13 at an awards presentation in Fort Walton Beach.
Wednesday December 17, 2014 Final honor checked off for Hargreaves to earn commemorative brick outside Swamp
Updated: 11:44am, December 17
A spot awaits for Vernon Hargreaves III's commemorative brick outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has been collecting postseason honors at a fast rate of late.
Hargreaves has earned a brick outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with his latest.
On Wednesday Hargreaves was named a first-team All-American by The Sporting News, one of the criteria used by UF to honor its most accomplished players with a commemorative brick.
The bricks are located on the sidewalk outside the Heavener Football Complex.
Besides being recognized for his play by The Sporting News, Hargreaves earned second-team All-American honors by the Associated Press on Tuesday.
To earn a commemorative brick, a player must be named a first-team All-American by either The Sporting News, Associated Press, Walter Camp Foundation, Football Writers Association of American or American Football Coaches Association.
A sophomore from Tampa, Hargreaves has 45 tackles, an SEC-leading 13 pass breakups and two interceptions heading into Florida’s matchup with East Carolina on Jan. 3 in the Birmingham Bowl.
And now his own brick.
Monday December 15, 2014 GatorLinks: Volleyball season ends, Durkin, remember Lynden Trail?, other tidbits
Updated: 4:51pm, December 15
Florida senior Taylor Unroe serves in Saturday's loss to Stanford in the Elite Eight. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It’s that time of year when the fall sports season gives way to the winter calendar. And rumors abound on the coaching carousel.
First, the UF volleyball team’s season came to a close on Saturday night in the Elite Eight. The Gators were swept by No. 1 seed Stanford, ending their season at 28-4.
Next, Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has surfaced as a potential candidate at North Carolina.
A look at those stories and more through these fresh links from around the Internet:
--Gators coach Mary Wise was impressed by Stanford via her quotes in The Ames (Iowa) Tribune.
--Here is a look at the NCAA women’s volleyball bracket with the Final Four set.
--Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says former Gators coach Will Muschamp was “who I wanted and who we needed” as defensive coordinator.
--Durkin is preparing the Gators for the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3 while he serves as interim head coach. Meanwhile, InsideCarolina.com reports UNC coach Larry Fedora has targeted Durkin to lead UNC’s defense.
--The Gators shut down Jacksonville in the second half Sunday to win third straight writes Erica A. Hernandez of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Former UF defensive lineman Lynden Trail discovered success at Norfolk State after transferring from Florida and is headed to the Senior Bowl.
--Another former Gator, receiver Marqui Hawkins, is transferring to Indiana after UAB dropped its football program.
--The Tim Tebow Foundation announced this week that it has opened the Tebow CURE Hospital in Davao City, Philippines.
Saturday December 13, 2014 Muschamp introduced as Auburn's new defensive coordinator
Updated: 4:28pm, December 13
Former Gators coach Will Muschamp is the new defensive coordinator at Auburn. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp was not out of work for long. If you're counting, try 12 days. And he spent most of that time on vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Muschamp returned home this week and late Friday agreed to a deal to return to Auburn as defensive coordinator. Since coaching his final game at Florida on Nov. 29, Muschamp had repeatedly been linked to the opening on Auburn coach Gus Malzahn's staff.
According to reports, Muschamp will be the highest-paid coordinator in college football with an average salary more than $1.6 million over three years.
Auburn officially announced the news late Friday night.
"My family, Carol, Jackson, Whit, and I are excited about coming back to Auburn and I look forward to working with coach Malzahn to win championships," Muschamp said in a prepared statement.
Muschamp was introduced at a press conference Saturday morning at Auburn, where he served as defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007.
"I'm excited to welcome Will back to Auburn as our new defensive coordinator," Malzahn said in a statement. "Will is a one of the top defensive minds in college football who has great passion and energy for the game. He is a tremendous addition to our staff."
Happy for Champ— Nick Washington (@NickWashingtonn) December 13, 2014
In four seasons as Florida's head coach, Muschamp had a 28-21 record. However, the Gators' defense consistently ranked among the best in the country and Auburn was willing to pay top dollar to get Muschamp.
He replaces former Tigers defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who was dismissed after Auburn allowed 31 points or more in its final six SEC games.
Tuesday December 9, 2014 McNeely's whirlwind makes stop in New York as NFF Legacy Award winner
Updated: 1:19pm, December 9
Michael McNeely takes a selfie with fans after his final home game on Nov. 22. (Photo: Tim Casey)
It’s been 38 days ago and a few shifts at Publix.
It’s been four games ago and more than a dozen practices.
It’s been more interviews than Michael McNeely did in his previous four years at UF.
McNeely took more questions on Tuesday morning in New York, this time in the well-heeled surroundings of the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Such is life for McNeely since Nov. 1 when he went from unknown Gators walk-on receiver to instant folk hero thanks to a 21-yard touchdown run on a fake field goal that sparked Florida to a 38-20 victory over Georgia, the Gators' biggest win of the season.
McNeely’s story drew national attention and caught the attention of the National Football Foundation, which honored McNeely on Tuesday as the 2014 NFF Legacy Award winner. The Legacy Award is not your typical college football award.
Established in 2007, it honors individuals who exhibit the NFF’s mission to build leaders through football.
In fact, McNeely is only the second player to be honored, joining former Texas long snapper/Green Beret member Nate Boyer.
Others bestowed with the award over the years include former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, Dexter Shoe Company founder and philanthropist Harold Alfond, and Jeffrey Orleans, former Ivy League executive director.
McNeely was recently accepted into UF’s medical school while carrying a 3.92 GPA, earning a scholarship in the fall, and working Sunday shifts at Publix.
McNeely touched the ball three times this season on offense, scoring twice – his touchdown run against Georgia and a 28-yard touchdown reception in his final home game on Nov. 22.
He shared with the crowd in New York on Tuesday what the past 38 days – and four years – have been like for a player few Florida fans realized was even on the team a few weeks ago.
“This means so much to me,’’ McNeely said.
His message to others out there who dream of playing college football but know they will need to take an alternate route than high-profile recruits?
“I would just say to try your best at everything that you do,’’ McNeely said. “I would have never had this opportunity if my parents had not pushed me to work hard in academics. I got into the University of Florida as a student first.
“I always had a dream of playing D-I football. I continued training for the potential of being on this team and thankfully I was able to make it, and I guess the rest, as they say, is history.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One season after missing a bowl game for the first time in more than 20 years, the Gators learned Sunday evening that they are headed to the Birmingham Bowl to face East Carolina.
The schools have met once before, a 24-17 Homecoming victory for the Gators in 1983. Coincidentally, Florida will play East Carolina in two of its next three games. Florida hosts the Pirates on Sept. 15 in the second game of the 2015 season.
The Gators’ trip to Birmingham represents their first game in the city since a 28-13 victory over Alabama in the 1993 Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the second year of the game’s existence. It was a rematch of the inaugural SEC title game in 1992, won by Alabama.
The game moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 1994.
While Florida introduced new head coach Jim McElwain at a press conference Saturday, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is serving as UF’s interim head coach through the bowl game. McElwain hit the road to recruit Monday and will be on the road for several days.
Here is more information to get you ready for the Birmingham Bowl, which is scheduled for Jan. 3 at noon EST, and the bowl season:
Official Website: http://www.birminghambowl.com/
Bowl Schedule: The folks at SBNation.com created this fun bowl schedule guide and offer their picks.
First Look: ESPN.com offers a quick breakdown of the matchup between the Gators (6-5) and the Pirates (8-4).
Florida Factoid: This is not Florida’s first bowl trip to Birmingham. The Gators defeated Illinois 14-10 in the All-American Bowl at Legion Field on Dec. 29, 1988. Emmitt Smith rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors.
Legion Field: The “Old Grey Lady” is without a regular tenant for the first time in its history now that UAB has dropped its football program. However, city officials want to keep the stadium open for business.
Prolific Pirate: East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy was named winner of the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday, given annually to the top player in the country who started his career as a walk-on. Heading into the Birmingham Bowl, Hardy has 110 receptions for 1,334 yards on the season. He has caught more career passes (376) than any player in FBS history after earning a spot on the scout team in 2010 as a walk-on.
Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill: In his fifth season, McNeill met with local reporters on Monday to discuss the bowl matchup against the Gators.
Saturday December 6, 2014 Tebow Understands Pressure to Win at Florida; McElwain Says Bring It On
Updated: 6:23pm, December 6
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's hiring of head coach Jim McElwain was a popular topic on Championship Saturday.
McElwain was introduced as the 25th head coach in Gators football history during an 11 a.m. press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The SEC Network crew of host Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum discussed McElwain in depth on their pregame show prior to Saturday's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta between Alabama and Missouri.
Tebow, whose Gators had their school-record 22-game win streak snapped by Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game when McElwain was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator, is more familiar with McElwain than he would probably prefer.
He gave the Gators high marks for landing McElwain to replace Will Muschamp in quotes provided by the SEC Network.
"He is bringing an offense that is very multi-faceted and he has had a lot of success,'' Tebow said. "He is able to adapt and grow with his athletes and play to their strengths. What I really like about him is how he rebuilt that program at Colorado State, and he is going to have to some of that at Florida, especially offensively."
A former defensive lineman at LSU and in the NFL, Spears said McElwain's offensive pedigree should have the Gators excited. He said McElwain's knowledge of the SEC is perhaps his most important attribute.
"I like that fact that he comes to Florida with knowledge of the conference and knowledge of playing big games and winning national championships," Spears said. "Florida needs to get back to being one of the best teams in the SEC because that makes the conference better."
A longtime Alabama media personality prior to launching his ESPN radio show last year, Finebaum remains close to the Alabama program. He said McElwain has some advantages in the timing of his arrival compared to Muschamp.
"He has one great advantage -- he gets to replace Will Muschamp as opposed to Urban Meyer; that was one of Will’s biggest obstacles and he never quite got over it,'' Finebaum said. "Everyone in Tuscaloosa loved this guy. That will help him. Will Muschamp could be rough around the edges, not this guy."
Like Muschamp, McElwain has a down-to-earth personality and background working under Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
McElwain has already started evaluating Florida's roster and said Saturday that Muschamp left him some good players.
"Coach Muschamp has been very helpful,'' McElwain said. "He put together a heck of a staff here that's going to go forward as I've talked to them about going and winning a bowl game. That's what it's all about right now. It's about investing in these young men who are here."
While the pressure to win is immediate at Florida, McElwain spoke about embracing that pressure. He plans to apply pressure on opponents more than feel it.
Tebow understands what McElwain is talking about. He relished playing under a microscope at Florida and became an icon in part by the way he handled it.
"It takes time for success, but let’s be honest – this is the University of Florida,'' Tebow said. "You are supposed to recruit, play in big games, and play for a championship. There is not a long grace period – there is a lot of pressure. My question is how well can Coach Mac handle that pressure?"
McElwain won't run from it. In fact, he prefers to hang out with it.
"You know what, if there's no pressure, why wake up in the morning, right?" he said. "That's really what drives me anyway."
Saturday December 6, 2014 Gators Head Coaches Welcome Newest Member of Club, Plus Jim McElwain Unplugged
Updated: 4:55pm, December 6
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The press conference is over. For new Gators coach Jim McElwain, that means the real work is about to begin.
McElwain sounds ready for the task ahead.
"You look out and you see that stadium, you think about all the great players, people, tradition that has been built at the University of Florida,'' he said Saturday. "That's something that is so exciting. I grew up in Montana. These are things you dream about."
As McElwain settles into his new job, his UF coaching colleagues offered up a special welcome for McElwain and his family to the Gator Family.
Check out this video that features messsages from Florida's other head coaches to McElwain to help him feel welcome:
As you can imagine, Saturday was pretty busy for McElwain, who was introduced to Gator Nation at an 11 a.m. press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. However, he was busy making the media rounds well before that.
Here is a glimpse at other McElwain interviews that were broadcast throughout the day on live TV or social media:
First, a "SportsCenter" interview ...
He also made an appearance on ESPN's "SECNation" show ...
And finally, he was perched high above The Swamp in this interview with Gators radio voice Mick Hubert for GatorVision ...
And last but not least, here is McElwain's press conference with local and state media where he discussed a myriad of topics in taking 48 questions ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In today's social-media world, it often starts with one tweet.
That was the case on Thursday when ESPN.com reporter Chris Low tweeted these 19 words into the Twittersphere:
The buyout issues have been resolved, and Florida is expected to announce Jim McElwain as its coach later today.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 4, 2014
And from there the floodgates opened. Here is more reaction on social media on the day the Gators got a new coach:
To my friends who cover Florida: you win today. Mac is smart and accessible. And he will win games. @CoachMcElwain— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) December 4, 2014
From your permanent SEC Western Division opponent, welcome back to league Coach McElwain. Will enjoy continued great competition w/ Florida.— Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) December 4, 2014
Congrats to Coach Mac, Taught me a lot during the season. Very thankful for him. Best wishes to his future pic.twitter.com/1Zhhe30FTB— Ace Boogie✊ (@DGainess1) December 4, 2014
Florida fans rejoice. @CoachMcElwain is the real deal and will have tremendous success in Gainesville. Congratulations to Gators everywhere.
— Greg McElroy (@GVMcElroy) December 4, 2014
Jim McElwain has agreed to become Florida's next head coach. Here's some key facts on the Gators' new leader: pic.twitter.com/iaib6ZcYBN— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 4, 2014
Jim McElwain's university arranged car. Guess he's turning it in. pic.twitter.com/g9CynjRoPp
— Terry Frei (@TFrei) December 4, 2014
Thursday December 4, 2014 Machen on McElwain: 'We look forward to his leadership and pursuit of excellence'
Updated: 5:55pm, December 4
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Florida President Bernie Machen was just getting settled here when Florida hired Urban Meyer as head coach in late 2004.
A decade later Machen is set to retire at the end of the year as the Gators welcome another head coach from the Mountain West Conference to town.
The Gators officially announced the hiring of Colorado State coach Jim McElwain on Thursday to replace Will Muschamp. McElwain led the Rams to a 10-2 record this season and was 22-16 in his three seasons at CSU.
Machen released the following statement on McElwain's hiring:
"It is with great pride and excitement that we welcome Coach McElwain and his family to the University of Florida,” he said. "We look forward to his leadership in the pursuit of excellence, both on and off the field.”
Thursday December 4, 2014 Meet Jim McElwain: A primer on Florida's new football coach
Updated: 1:06pm, December 4
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jim McElwain has spent the majority of his 30-year coaching career outside the spotlight. A career assistant until his three-year stint as head coach at Colorado State, McElwain’s most visible role previously was four years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban.
McElwain was muzzled working under Saban’s “one-voice” policy. However, McElwain’s offenses were not, helping the Crimson Tide win a pair of national titles in his four seasons in Tuscaloosa.
But don’t be fooled. McElwain has a personality to go along with his prolific career as an offensive coordinator. The 24th head coach of the Gators might not be a household name in Gator Nation, but he is well-respected and well-liked by those who know him.
That can be a tricky combination to pull off.
He also isn’t afraid to venture off the beaten path like so many coaches.
Fan interest at Colorado State had dwindled prior to McElwain’s arrival. The Rams were 9-27 in the previous three seasons.
Once the Rams started to win under McElwain, students and fans started to pay more attention.
In mid-October as Colorado State prepared for a key Mountain West Conference showdown with Utah State, McElwain broke away from the office to speak to a couple of classes: Fashion Merchandising and Music Appreciation.
He impressed the professor in the Music Appreciation class by referencing The Cyrkle, a band that charted with hits “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day” in the late 1960s. The students had no clue.
It didn’t matter to McElwain. He had fun.
“There seemed to be a little bit of energy on campus and I thought that was pretty cool,’’ McElwain told The Denver Post.
As for his stop in the Fashion Merchandising class?
“I knew absolutely nothing about it and of course, they laughed at what I was wearing, which obviously meant my fashion was not very good,’’ he said.
The 52-year-old McElwain is headed to The Swamp. He’ll be in charge of the Gators soon.
Let’s take a closer look at the man who was born in Missoula, Mont., consumed episodes of “The Partridge Family” growing up, and whose perfect day is hanging out with his family on Montana’s Flathead Lake eating his those legendary barbecue ribs he is known for amongst family and friends:
McElwain started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Eastern Washington, where he played quarterback from 1980-83. While teaching a golf class, he met Karen, his future wife. The couple has three kids – daughters JoHanna, 23, and Elizabeth, 21, and 19-year-old son Jerret.
Growing up in Missoula, Mont., McElwain’s mother Marjorie and father Frank were educators. Marjorie McElwain was an English teacher who also worked at the University of Montana’s ticket office. Frank McElwain was a high school coach, official and principal who passed away in 2009. Jim developed into a talented quarterback at Sentinel (Mont.) High and is one of five siblings.
HIS LAST INTRO
If you don't know much about McElwain or have never heard him speak, here is a glimpse at his introductory press conference nearly three years ago at Colorado State:
CONNECTING WITH PLAYERS
McElwain’s players speak highly of his approach to the game. When Colorado State played at Alabama last season, McElwain’s return to Tuscaloosa was a big story. Several Alabama players shared McElwain stories with the media, including former Crimson Tide offensive lineman Kellen Williams.
“In camp two or three years ago, he brought in a picture of a dead fish and a picture of a Charlie Tuna,’’ Williams told The Anniston (Ala.) Star. “He said, ‘we have too many dead fish in here,’ and he put up the dead fish. Then he goes, ‘I want you to be like this guy,’ and he put up the picture of Charlie Tuna. Everybody broke out laughing.”
At a recent press conference to preview a big game at Colorado State, McElwain referenced such topics as Johnny Carson’s monologue, Randy Jackson’s role in Earth, Wind and Fire, and how the offense sometimes closes meetings with Winnie the Pooh references.
Hey, it seems to work.
“It kind of keeps us loose, but at the same time he expects us to be on point, doing what we’ve got to do to continue winning,’’ Rams linebacker Kevin Davis told the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera. “Mac’s definitely making it fun, but he’s keeping us on point, keeping us focused.”
McElwain has changed his system over the years to fit his job. The Rams feature a balanced spread attack that includes quarterback (Garrett Grayson) with more than 3,700 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, a running back (Dee Hart) with more than 1,200 yards rushing and a receiver (Rashard Higgins) with more than 1,600 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns.
At Alabama McElwain relied more on pro-style offense that relied heavily on the run with 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. He was known to toss a wildcat package into the game plan on occasion. If there is a common theme, it’s that McElwain has produced results.
When Saban searched for an offensive coordinator after the 2007 season, he landed on McElwain after reviewing what McElwain did in his one season at Fresno State on Pat Hill’s staff. Saban and Hill had worked together under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns.
The numbers: In McElwain’s season at Fresno State the Bulldogs averaged 419.5 yards a game and 32.9 points a game. The previous season Fresno State averaged 338.2 yards and 23 points.
FIRST GAME AS HEAD COACH
Colorado State opened McElwain’s tenure with a 22-17 win over Colorado in 2012. McElwain became the first Rams coach to win his debut since 1970.
Before each game McElwain writes the names of his three kids on three sticks of gum. He writes his father’s name on another piece of gum. He carries the gum in his pocket during every game and afterward hands the three sticks to his kids, the stick with his father’s name to Karen.
“All the hours you put in, all the time you put in, you realize what it’s for and what it’s about,’’ McElwain told The Denver Post. “It’s about my family.”
McElwain attended Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Missoula, Mont., and was a grade behind a famous classmate who has also done well in Colorado: former Broncos quarterback John Elway.
“Yeah, he put up with my cooking. It was unbelievable. He actually smiled and said he liked it. I don’t know if he really did or not.’’ – McElwain on having former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron over one year for Thanksgiving dinner
“The biggest thing about Coach Mac is I think he’s a teacher first. He’s a great teacher of the game. You can tell he really has a passion for that. And he’s extremely gifted at that, just the way he breaks down offenses and helps up understand it.’’ – Former Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones
“When you’re building a house, the most important part’s the foundation. Sometimes guys maybe want to take shortcuts to get instant results, but on the backend, your house falls down. That’s not what we’re about.” – McElwain on approach when he took over Colorado State program
“He was an unbelievable coach for me, not only as a player, but as a person. He just taught me a lot about life, hot to act, what to do, what not to do. He means the world to me.’’ – McCarron on McElwain’s influence
“From an offensive philosophy standpoint, in terms of what we want to accomplish – show balance, make explosive plays, be a good third-down team, make first downs in the red area, don’t turn the ball over – all of these things were very important philosophically to Jim.’’ – Saban on his interview with McElwain
Editor’s note: A variety of sources was used to compile this information, including The Denver Post, US Official Newswire, The Missoulian, The Anniston Star, The Decatur Daily, The Dothan Eagle, ESPN.com, SI.com, and Boulder Daily Camera.