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Saturday August 30, 2014 Gators to welcome special guest Gavin Lambert at tonight's season opener

Updated: 9:54am, August 30

VIDEO: Gavin Lambert, a guest at Florida's season opener, at a recent Tampa Bay Rays game.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators are playing host to a special guest on Saturday night.

And no, we're not talking about Idaho.

His name is Gavin Lambert, an 8-year-old from New Port Richey. Lambert suffers from a rare neuromuscular disorder known as Friedreich's Ataxia (FA). The disease is found in about one in 50,000 people in the U.S.

Lambert's fight against the disease has inspired many people, including Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.

Maddon met Lambert earlier this year at a Tampa Bay-area charity event and invited him to a Rays game. The day was one that Lambert and his family will always remember.

Lambert and Longoria

"His experience with the Rays was incredible,'' Gavin's mom, Dawn Lambert, said via email. "We found out Coach Maddon cycles, so we had a jersey made for him, just like the one Gavin wears while riding his trike!"

Not only did Gavin get to spend time with Maddon, he met several Rays players, including third baseman Evan Longoria.

He is looking forward to a similar experience today at The Swamp. Gavin and his family are scheduled to take a tour of the Gators' locker room and stand on the field during pregame warmups.

"We are so excited and are looking forward to an amazing event,'' Dawn Lambert said.

Gavin's struggle with FA prompted the family to document their journey with a website. You can learn more about the disease and Gavin's life with it by visiting kickinfa.com.

Meanwhile, if you bump into Gavin at tonight's game, give him a high-five. He has earned it.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators kick off one of the nation's most difficult schedules Saturday night by hosting Idaho. Eastern Michigan and Kentucky then make stops at The Swamp.

After that opening stretch, the Gators tread into deeper waters.

If they are going to compete for an SEC East title, they will have to play well -- and win some games -- against this formidable lineup: at Alabama, at Tennessee, LSU, Missouri, Georgia in Jacksonville, at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and at Florida State.

To sum up that stretch: Florida's first road game is at No. 2 Alabama. Their final regular-season game is at No. 1 Florida State. And in between there are no slouches, though the Gators should be heavily favored at home against Eastern Kentucky.

I reached out to Associated Press national college football writer Ralph Russo to see when the last time a team opened the season scheduled to face the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked teams in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll on the road in the same season.

Russo called on the services of AP researcher Paul Montella, who pored over the rankings and schedules. Thanks to both for their help.

The Gators are only the second SEC team -- and first in 36 years -- to face the two top-ranked preseason teams on the road in the same season.

While those rankings could easily change during the season, it also won't be a surprise if FSU and Alabama remain atop the poll. They are that good.

Here is a look at those teams that opened the season with the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 waiting at home:

Teams scheduled to play Nos. 1-2 in the preseason poll on the road:

Top 20 Era

1961 -- Wisconsin (No. 1 Iowa; No. 2 Ohio State)
1962 -- Oregon (No. 1 Ohio State; No. 2 Texas)
1969 -- TCU (No. 1 Ohio State; No. 2 Arkansas)
1970 -- Texas A&M (No. 1 Ohio State; No. 2 Texas)
1973 -- Washington State (No. 1 Southern Cal; No. 2 Ohio State)
1978 -- Vanderbilt (No. 1 Alabama; No. 2 Arkansas)
1983 -- Colorado (No. 1 Nebraska; No. 2 Oklahoma)
1983 -- Iowa State (No. 1 Nebraska; No. 2 Oklahoma)
1983 -- Kansas (No. 1 Nebraska; No. 2 Oklahoma)
   

Top 25 Era (1989-present)

2006 -- Penn State (No. 1 Ohio State; No. 2 Notre Dame)
2006 -- Michigan (No. 1 Ohio State; No. 2 Notre Dame)
2010 -- Penn State (No. 1 Alabama; No. 2 Ohio State)

By the time I had a chance to flip on the South Carolina-Texas A&M game Thursday night, Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill was a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

However, prior to the game, fans got a chuckle out of two former Florida Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

Tim Tebow did his best impression of Steve Spurrier's recruiting pitch when Tebow was coming out of high school. Spurrier was just getting started at South Carolina but didn't spend too much time recruiting Tebow.

It's a funny clip and example of Tebow showing another side of his personality in his role as an analyst on the SEC Network's "SEC Nation" show.

Muschamp

Gators coach Will Muschamp announced UF's season-opening depth chart Tuesday. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators face Idaho on Saturday in the season opener with a depth chart that is crowded at key positions.

In Florida head coach Will Muschamp's world, that's a good thing. Muschamp released the first depth chart of the season Monday with few surprises.

The most notable announcement is that true freshman quarterback Treon Harris is listed as the second-team quarterback behind starter Jeff Driskel. Harris earned the job over fellow freshman Will Grier and redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg.

Senior Clay Burton is listed ahead of fifth-year senior Jake McGee at tight end. Still, expect McGee to be a primary target in the offense.

Here is a look at the complete depth chart:

  First Second Third
LT   D.J. Humphries David Sharpe  
LG   Trip Thurman Tyler Moore Antonio Riles
C   Max Garcia Drew Sarvary  
RG   Trenton Brown    
  or Tyler Moore    
RT   Chaz Green Rod Johnson  
QB   Jeff Driskel Treon Harris  
RB   Kelvin Taylor    
  or Matt Jones    
  or Mack Brown    
TE   Clay Burton Jake McGee  
B   Hunter Joyer Gideon Ajagbe  
WR-X   Quinton Dunbar Demarcus Robinson Alvin Bailey
WR-Y   Latroy Pittman Valdez Showers C.J. Worton
WR-Z   Ahmad Fulwood Andre Debose Chris Thompson
         
  First Second Third
DE   Jon Bullard Bryan Cox, Jr.  
DT   Leon Orr Joey Ivie  
NT   Darious Cummings Jay-nard Bostwick  
BUCK   Dante Fowler, Jr. Alex McCalister  
SAM   Neiron Ball Alex Anzalone  
MIKE   Michael Taylor Jarrad Davis  
WILL   Antonio Morrison Daniel McMillian  
DIME (LB)   Neiron Ball Jarrad Davis  
CB   Vernon Hargreaves III Jalen Tabor  
S   Keanu Neal Duke Dawson  
S   Jabari Gorman Nick Washington  
      Marcell Harris  
CB   Brian Poole J.C. Jackson  
      Quincy Wilson  
NICKEL   Marcus Maye Brian Poole  
DIME (DB)   Brian Poole Marcell Harris  
         
  First Second Third
K   Austin Hardin    
    Frankie Velez    
P   Kyle Christy    
    Johnny Townsend    
KOR   Andre Debose Quinton Dunbar Chris Thompson
PR   Andre Debose    
    Demarcus Robinson    
    Vernon Hargreaves III    
LS   Drew Ferris Kyle Crofoot  
H   Jeff Driskel Kyle Crofoot  

Monday August 25, 2014 Take a Minute to Meet ... Gators volleyball player Nikki O'Rourke

Updated: 2:17pm, August 25


VIDEO: Gators coach Mary Wise discusses her team's depth on Monday as Gators prepare for opener.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Nikki O’Rourke is more than a junior defensive specialist for the Gators volleyball team.

O’Rourke is a Florida girl through and through. If she wasn’t playing basketball or volleyball growing up in Clearwater, you usually could find O’Rourke at the beach.

Nikki O'Rourke

Sometimes in far away places.

O’Rourke is a veteran on a Gators team that features five freshmen on this year’s roster. Florida opens the season Friday afternoon at the O’Connell Center against Georgia Southern.

GatorZone.com recently caught up with O’Rourke for a quick Q&A:

Q: Have you had time to get used to some of the new players?

A: We do have a lot of people, 17 total on the team. It’s definitely some new faces on the court and some new personalities to get used to. It’s fun. There are a lot of new characters out there, but it’s a fun playing environment. We have a lot of information to get used to and playing at this high level is definitely harder than playing at lower levels such as high school and club ball.

Q: What do you expect your role to be?

A: Junior season, playing DS. All spots are open right now. It’s great competition in the gym having 17 people just going out and playing hard every day and really competing. It’s definitely a competitive gym. Everyone wants to play. I’m just going out every day and pushing to be the best I can.

Q: So, you like to surf?

A: We go to the east coast [of Florida] quite a bit, over to Cocoa Beach. We have a place over there and we take a lot of family vacations to islands to go surfing and that kind of stuff.

Q: Where are some of the places you have been to surf?

A: We’ve gone to Jamaica, we’ve gone to Eleuthera, which is the only Bohemian island with surf. Been to Costa Rica. We travel quite a bit. It’s awesome.

Q: Is your whole family into surfing?

A: Yeah, my dad and brother. My mom just supports us. She does the watching. As a family we have always been rather beachy people.

Q: They must be athletic like you?

A: My whole family played basketball. I was the only one to pick up volleyball. I played basketball until I was about 12 and then just focused on volleyball.

Former Gators receiver Solomon Patton talks to reporters in Tampa about his quest to make Bucs.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There’s been surprise out of Tampa this week that Bucs rookie Solomon Patton, an undrafted free agent who was UF’s Offensive MVP last season, is contending to make Tampa Bay’s roster.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith placed Patton atop the team’s unofficial depth chart this week at kickoff and punt return.

Patton averaged 30.3 yards on three kickoff returns in last week’s game against Miami and returned a punt 21 yards. He is expected to fill the same role during Tampa Bay’s preseason game against Buffalo on Saturday.

A quick glance at the SEC Football Media Guide tells Patton’s ability as a return man. Patton finished his UF career second on the SEC’s all-time career list for kickoff returns (minimum of 30 returns). Patton averaged 27.7 yards per return, second only to former Arkansas standout Felix Jones (28.2).

Patton told reporters this week that he is pleased at how his first NFL training camp has progressed.

“At Florida, I caught punts in practice but I never did it in the game, nothing like that,’’ he said. “Since Day 1 that I got here, I’ve made sure every day that I was out early, and even after, catching punts just focusing on looking the ball all the way in. I think I did a good job of doing that Saturday.”

Solomon Patton

Patton has approached camp like he did as a freshman at Florida. He’s new, so every day there is something to learn. Patton worked hard in the offseason between his junior season at Florida and his senior season to improve his professional prospects.

The additional work paid off with a team-high 44 receptions, 556 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown at Missouri.

At 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, Patton has taken a fearless approach into training camp after being snubbed in the draft.

“Obviously I’m not the biggest guy out there,’’ he said. “I know that I have speed and I true to use that to my advantage. I definitely see myself as being a real fearless person.”

Patton felt most comfortable in his talks with the Bucs during the free-agent process and decided to sign with Tampa Bay. The Mobile, Ala., native is banking on his UF experience to help him succeed in his bid to make his first NFL roster.

“Going to Florida and playing in the SEC, I played against a lot of big-time players,’’ he said. “I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to come in and fight for that position at returner. Obviously, I would love to play wide receiver. I’m just trying to make plays the best I can and get that chance.”

Gators coach Will Muschamp took the ALS #IceBucketChallenge this week, and more importantly, said he plans to donate money to the ALS Foundation.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators broke camp after Friday morning’s practice and have the weekend off.

With classes set to start Monday at UF and the season opener against Idaho only eight days away, you could say it’s starting to feel a lot like football season around here.

Here are some of the latest links from around the Internet covering the Gators:

--UF has high hopes for transfer tight end Jake McGee writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.

--Andre Debose has been in Gainesville so long he feels like an ACR – Alachua County Resident writes Andy Staples of SportsIllustrated.com.

--Junior running back Matt Jones is healthy and envisions better days ahead reports Associated Press writer Mark Long (via tbo.com).

--Junior-college transfer Drew Sarvary giving center a try, plus more notes from Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--Gators urge students to purchase tickets and come out for football games writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.

--First-year Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has seen the infamous Gator-on-Gator block from last season and says “it happens” writes Jesse Simonton of The Miami Herald.

--Senior receiver Quinton Dunbar might grab greatest season yet in Roper’s open offense writes David Jones of Florida Today.

--Gators continue to finalize plans behind starter Jeff Driskel at quarterback writes Jonathan Czupryn of The Palm Beach Post.

--Redshirt freshman defensive back Nick Washington is settling in at safety for Gators writes Richard Johnson of The Florida Times-Union.

--Secondary battle to continue throughout season writes Cody Jones of Scout.com.

--On the lighter side – and since Muschamp can laugh at himself – Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi wonders if there is a Muschamp doppelganger in Tallahassee.

D.J. Durkin and Antonio Morrison

Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has been impressed by LB Antonio Morrison's fall camp. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For those driving on SW 2nd Ave. Thursday morning, there was more evidence that football season is near.

The Gators relocated camp from Dizney Lacrosse Stadium to the Sanders Practice Fields, where they practice during the season. The facility underwent a face lift over the summer.

The Gators did more than move Thursday. They began to focus on Idaho, their opponent in the season opener Aug. 30.

“Today was our first day of getting into Idaho stuff,’’ defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “It was kind of half and half. We were still doing stuff against our offense and some of the practice was against Idaho looks.”

The Vandals, entering their first season as a football-only member of the Sun Belt Conference, are coached by Paul Petrino, the brother of Louisville and former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino.

Idaho is coming off a 1-11 season that included six losses of 30 or more points.

Durkin covered a wide range of topics during his press conference. Here is a Q&A:

Q: Is the secondary settled behind Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback and Keanu Neal as one of the starters at safety?

A: We're starting to get a better idea of where we're going to have some guys. The thing about the secondary is there's a lot of guys deserving of playing time and they're going to get it. We're going to roll guys in there and play quite a few. We feel really good about the talent and the depth we have back there. A lot of those guys are without playing experience, so we're going to get them out there and see how they do and go from there.

Q: What is overall approach with secondary?

A: We have our packages where we're playing four, five and six DBs at a time, so we kind of already have guys pegged in where we're going to go and start from. It's really not unlike last year. We rotated a corner every series. And the year before we did the same. It's always the way it'll be done. The difference this year being it's not household names yet to everyone.

Q: How much confidence do you have in the linebackers behind the starters?

A: We have four inside linebackers right now that all have playing experience and I feel great about. We can go win anywhere with [those guys]. So Neiron [Ball], Mike Taylor, Antonio [Morrison] and Jarrad Davis, all those guys have played a bunch of snaps for us. Beyond that, then Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian have been repping a bunch throughout camp. They don’t have as much playing experience, but I feel really good about where they’re at.”

Q: What about redshirt freshman Matt Rolin (missed last season with knee injury)?

“We’ve been very careful in implementing him back in. He’s doing all the individual, he’s doing a lot of the drills that are 11-on-11. We’ve been cautious so far in 11-on-11 with him and that’s just to get him back full strength. We don’t want to hurry him into a situation he’s not ready for. But he’s cleared to do all that. It’s kind of us just watching his number of snaps.”

Q: Morrison has lost weight and appears to have a different attitude?

A: He has had a great camp. He has always been a guy very serious about football, practices hard and all those things. I think he has taken that to another level. His preparation off the field is as strong as it is on the field. He really understands how important this year is for him. I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s approaching things and being a leader to other guys. He’s grabbing the defense when he has to.”

Q: Have you seen a shift in the team’s outlook with the first game almost here?

A: You saw it in the meetings last night and that was kind of when we were starting to talk about opponents. We’ve got guys perked up a little more in their seats. There’s kind of a light at the end of the tunnel. When you get to camp, it’s kind of like the dog days of summer, but now as of lately, we’re preparing. They love to compete. They love to play in front of our fans in the Swamp. So there’s a little glimmer in their eyes.

Monday August 18, 2014 Group of Wounded Warriors visit Gators, to be honored during season

Updated: 4:04pm, August 18

Gators coach Will Muschamp and Pat Corcoran

UF coach Will Muschamp shakes Wounded Warrior Pat Corcoran's hand Saturday. (Photo: Dennis Black)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Wherever Nate Helmuth went, so did Toby. It’s been that way since the two became close friends four years ago.

When Helmuth walked to the center of Florida Field following the Gators’ practice Saturday afternoon, his four-legged buddy tagged along.

“He helps me stay grounded and calm around people in social situations,’’ said Helmuth, a former Army combat engineer who served in Iraq.

Helmuth suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service in Iraq and is plagued by PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). He was at the Swamp on Saturday with the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit Jacksonville-based organization whose website declares its mission is “to honor and empower Wounded Warriors.”

The reason for the group’s visit Saturday was to film segments with GatorVision to honor Wounded Warriors on the video boards at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during games this season. UF players also recorded spots to introduce the Wounded Warriors to the crowd.

“We appreciate what you have done for our country,’’ Florida head coach Will Muschamp told the group.

The 32-year-old Helmuth, who lives in Middleburg and is now studying finance at UF, was joined by Gators receiver Ahmad Fulwood during his segment. Toby, his dark Labrador, was by their side.

Meanwhile, Chris Willard watched Helmuth’s interview from a seat inside a Gators’ meeting room before he took a seat in front of the camera.

Willard is a former Army combat medic who was injured by a grenade in 2009 in Iraq. An avid bicyclist who now walks with a noticeable limp, Willard suffered a serious leg injury in the explosion. The Wounded Warrior Project helped him recover by putting him on a bike that he could pedal with his arms.

Willard grew up a Florida fan and appreciated an opportunity to break the team from its post-practice huddle Saturday.

“Every man on my father’s side has served in the military,’’ said Willard, who is attending school to become a physician’s assistant. “My first Gators game was a Gator Bowl that my dad took me to when I was a kid.”

For more on the Wounded Warrior Project, check out the video below that tells retired Army Sgt. Maj. Pat Corcoran's story, one of those to be honored at the Swamp this season:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Other than a bone bruise to the left knee of sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators have had a relatively quiet camp in regard to injuries.

Considering the way 2013 went on the injury front, they deserved a reprieve from the injury bug.

Thomas Holley

However, Gators head coach Will Muschamp announced Monday that freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley will miss the season and redshirt. Holley is scheduled to undergo surgery today to repair a hip labral tear that he suffered in high school.

“He had a sports hernia in high school. Had it repaired before he came here,’’ Muschamp said. “That’s where we thought his discomfort was. On the initial physical, we found a labral tear on his hip and impingement on his hip.

“He just had some discomfort in running and changing direction. Our medical people did an outstanding job of finding it. I’m disappointed for Thomas, a guy who certainly athletically we’re very excited about.”

Muschamp said the recovery process is expected to be about four months. Holley, like former Gators standout Dominique Easley, is a product of the New York City area. Holley led Lincoln High of Brooklyn to the PSAL championships a season ago in only his second season of football.

The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Holley first gained notoriety as a basketball recruit but opted to play football in college.

Meanwhile, Muschamp said offensive line Trenton Brown (foot contusion) sat Monday’s practice but should be back Tuesday, and that safety Marcus Maye (hamstring) and offensive lineman David Sharpe (ankle) are projected to return early next week.

Thursday August 14, 2014 Open Positions: Secondary battles continue for Gators

Updated: 4:19pm, August 14


VIDEO: Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin discusses camp following Thursday's practice.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With the season opener two weeks from Saturday, the competition for playing time remains fluid in Florida’s secondary.

That’s fine with defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin as the Gators search to fill the void left by the loss of four experienced players from a year ago (Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs).

“We've had great competition,’’ Durkin told reporters Thursday. “Competition makes everyone better. They're battling really good. They've all had days where you could say this guy is better than the other. The good news is they're all competing and playing well. They're going to help us.”

When camp opened the only starting position locked down belonged to sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. While Hargreaves missed time due to a bone bruise on his left knee, he is back at practice in a non-contact jersey as a precautionary measure.

“He’s got plenty of time to get himself ready,’’ Durkin said.

Meanwhile, head coach Will Muschamp essentially named sophomore Keanu Neal a starter at safety earlier this week, calling Neal “our best safety.” Neal has played well in camp, also catching Durkin’s attention.

“He plays really fast,’’ said Durkin, entering his second season as Florida’s defensive coordinator. “He plays at a high level at all times when he’s on the practice field. He is a very physical guy. He can cover and he plays the game with speed.”

Under Muschamp, the UF defense has played in a nickel package approximately 75 percent of snaps, meaning depth and versatility are placed at a premium in the secondary.

That same approach holds true in 2014. The Gators coaching staff is taking a long look at a number of players, including true freshmen Jalen Tabor, J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson, Quincy Wilson and Deiondre Porter.

Tabor, who made an athletic interception in Thursday morning’s practice, and Dawson arrived as early enrollees in January. Tabor is a cornerback while Dawson can play corner or safety. Dawson has missed time this week with a shoulder injury but made a good impression in the spring.

“Duke is definitely in the mix and we’re counting on him to play and contribute this year,” Durkin said. “He is very versatile.”

As for Tabor, the most highly-touted of the newcomers, Muschamp is pushing him to be more consistent early in camp.

“He’s very coachable because he’s a guy able to listen, learn and move to the next snap,’’ Muschamp said. “And if he can’t handle me yelling, he’s not going to handle 90,000 people, I can assure you that. But he’s a guy, we need some separation at corner.”

And don’t forget Jackson, arguably the most impressive of the newcomers from a physical standpoint. A two-way star at Immokalee High, Jackson has stood out in camp despite performing in a non-contact jersey due to a shoulder issue from high school.

Brian Poole

Looking past the freshmen, a strong candidate to start or play significant snaps opposite Hargreaves at cornerback is junior Brian Poole (No. 24 in photo), who also has experience at nickel.

At safety, veterans Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman figure into the plans, and redshirt freshmen Nick Washington and Marcell Harris have shown improvement.

Neal is confident that regardless of how the position battles play out, the secondary is stocked with the talent to succeed.

“We’re all athletic,” said Neal, a former standout at South Sumter High in Bushnell. “It’s just understanding the playbook and understanding what to do on the back end. We’re doing that, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Durkin agrees. The Gators still have two scrimmages remaining during camp and Durkin expects some clarity afterward.

“We’re trying a bunch of different things. That’s what training camp is for,’’ Durkin said. “I feel good about our options back there. Look at the history here, we've played true freshmen in the back end about every year. We recruit those type of guys and a lot of our guys leave as juniors. That happens. We'll be fine.”

Will Grier

Freshman QB Will Grier is adjusting to the speed of the college game. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One of the Gators’ worst fears came true a season ago when starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered a broken leg in the third game of the season.

Florida lacked experienced depth behind Driskel after Jacoby Brissett transferred to N.C. State. Tyler Murphy, who had never thrown a college pass, provided temporary relief. However, Murphy injured his shoulder at LSU and was never the same.

Redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg was thrown into the fire but unable to lead the Gators to a win. With Driskel once again healthy and Murphy now at Boston College, Mornhinweg is battling true freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris for the back-up quarterback’s job.

Both Grier and Harris joined the program with impressive prep credentials. Grier was the Parade Magazine National Player of the Year after throwing for 4,989 yards and 77 touchdowns as a senior at Davidson (N.C.) Day School.

Meanwhile, Harris led Booker T. Washington High in Miami to back-to-back Class 4A state championships and threw for 2,113 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior.

Both are mobile quarterbacks who can make plays in the running game.

First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is taking a close look at the newcomers this week in practice as the Gators try and find some separation behind Driskel.

“I see talent. I see guys that are working hard that want to be good, that right now are confused because it is a bunch on their plate, it is a different game,’’ Roper said. “It’s a brand new language. We do have a lot of routes, so it takes a little bit of time to pick up. But I see talented players."

Roper said he is emphasizing better timing to the younger quarterbacks early in camp. While he expects growing pains, what they are facing at practice is different than anything else they have done in their young careers.

Treon Harris

Grier and Harris (photo, left) took off their non-contact red jerseys and became live during Sunday’s scrimmage and at Monday’s early practice.

“These guys are trying to get back there and hurt them,” Roper said. “What ends up happening in high school, there's so much 7-on-7 that's played at a four-second pace. When you watch that … it really trains bad habits. Nobody is getting hit. Nobody is in front of them.

“They're blowing a horn at four seconds. That's not real world. When you have a guy like [Jadeveon] Clowney rushing you that is below three seconds. And then it's 270 pounds of pain.”

To avoid that pain Roper is working to develop quicker releases and defensive recognition.

One question about Grier is whether the competition he faced in high school – he played at the Class 2A level – would hinder his development.

Roper isn’t concerned about Grier’s physical ability. The mental game is where he is focused.

“Back when my dad was coaching, you’d go into 4A and 5A high schools and that’s where you stayed,’’ Roper said. “Now, you go anywhere to find talent. I think he’s got to understand the game is faster, and that’s a process. That doesn’t happen overnight. That’s what we have to work on.”

Saturday August 9, 2014 Practice observations: Jackson's speed, Wilson's physical style, more tidbits

Updated: 12:13am, August 9

Jarrad Davis

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and linebacker Jarrad Davis at practice this week.

The Gators practiced under the lights Friday night and once again a few hundred fans turned out to watch Florida’s second open practice of fall camp.

It was the Gators’ first practice in full pads as the physicality continues to increase with each practice.

Following Thursday night’s scare when sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III went down with a bone bruise on his left knee, Friday night was much less dramatic.

You can bet that was perfectly OK with Gators coach Will Muschamp.

To me the most interesting part of the first week of camp is watching the newcomers. For the Gators to improve dramatically in 2013, they will need help from a freshman class that clearly has some talented players.

A few random observations from Friday night:

--On Thursday I mentioned freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson as a player that catches your eye immediately. Jackson is a physical specimen who is built more like a senior than a first-year college player. While Jackson must prove to coaches in camp that he is ready to contribute immediately, he has the attention of his teammates. During red-zone drills Friday, sixth-year senior Andre Debose, one of the fastest players on the team, tried to blow past Jackson on a fly pattern down the left sideline. Jackson hung with Debose step-for-step on the incompletion, prompting comments from other players about his speed.

--Quincy Wilson is another freshman defensive back who has been a physical presence early in camp. Listed at 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, Wilson held his own in contact drills against the receivers on Thursday and likes to get physical in coverage. Wilson has worked primarily at cornerback the first week of camp.

--Sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson is undoubtedly one of the players fans watch closely during the open practices. Robinson has the talent to be a go-to receiver but failed to live up to expectations his first season. Robinson hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions Friday night, once leaping to catch a ball against Wilson in the corner of the end zone, and later grabbing a score during red-zone drills.

--Florida’s coaching staff has high hopes for sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis, who came on strong near the end of the last season to factor prominently into the plans for 2014. Davis blew through the middle of the line on one play Friday to force a whistle as he closed in on quarterback Treon Harris. Davis is listed at 6-2, 225 and looks in really good shape.

--Receiver Latroy Pittman and tight end Tevin Westbrook are no strangers to the program. However, they haven’t had much impact on offense. They did draw cheers when both made diving catches late in Friday’s practice. Both must have strong camps if they want to climb the depth chart and earn significant playing time.

--Freshman defensive tackle Gerald Willis (6-3, 255) was a big get for the Gators when he signed in February out of New Orleans. Willis looks the part. He played the part when he burst through the line to stop running back Brandon Powell for a loss. Sophomore Joey Ivie IV, another young defensive tackle looking to crack the rotation, was active Friday. Ivie is listed at 271 pounds and looks significantly stronger than his freshman season.

LEFTOVER NUGGETS

Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor drew applause for a nice run that came near the end of practice. Taylor burst through a hole and then made a couple of nice cuts to get into the secondary … Junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. has been impressive in the two open practices. Fowler spoke recently of wanting to set a good example in camp and appears off to a good start … First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper likes to keep it loose at practice and drew some razzing when he went out for a pass to show the receivers how to properly run a route he was trying to teach. Roper made the catch and then spiked the ball … Saturday morning’s practice is open to season-ticket holders only.

Vernon Hargreaves III

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is day-to-day with a bone bruise.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A crowd of approximately 700-plus showed up at the Don Dizney Lacrosse Stadium on Thursday night to watch the Gators during their first open practice of fall camp.

They watched a smooth and crisp practice for most of the evening. However, the tone changed when sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III suffered a lower-body injury.

Hargreaves was hurt after a scuffle between the defensive backs and receivers.

Soon, all eyes turned toward Hargreaves as he was helped from the field. Fortunately for the Gators, the injury isn't as serious as some of the ones they suffered last season.

"A MRI revealed that Vernon Hargreaves suffered a bone bruise and he is listed day-to-day,'' Gators coach Will Muschamp said following practice.

While Hargreaves' injury created a buzz on social media, there was much more for fans to see Thursday.

Here are some players/topics that caught my eye:

--It's easy to see why coaches and players have spoken highly of freshman running back Brandon Powell in his short time on campus. Powell displayed extremely quick feet on some runs. He also hits the holes fast and finds space to run. During special-teams drills, Powell also got some looks returning punts.

--Sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson has been talked about a lot ever since he arrived last year. Robinson didn't have much success in 2013 but he could be a dangerous weapon in the up-tempo offense installed by Kurt Roper if he can produce. Robinson did haul in a nice touchdown catch on a fade route late in Thursday's practice.

--Freshman defensive lineman Khairi Clark drew the praise of defensive line coach Brad Lawing when he flushed second-team quarterback Will Grier from the pocket on a play that resulted in a throwaway. At 6-foot-2, 308 pounds Clark showed a quick burst on the play.

--Muschamp and Roper have mentioned junior running back Matt Jones as a potential difference maker in the passing game. Jones caught multiple passes Thursday out of the backfield and at slot receiver.

--A few other true freshmen were hard to miss. Tight end DeAndre Goolsby caught a touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel on the first drive of practice and later showed some physicality by bowling over a defender with a tough block. While he has not been cleared for contact drills, defensive back J.C. Jackson has the look of an elite athlete. Jackson (5-10, 196) has a strong lower body and is clearly advanced physically for a newcomer. Finally, 6-6, 336-pound offensive lineman David Sharpe is impossible to miss. Sharpe took a lot of snaps and looks like a potential contributor his first season.

--Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson is a player Muschamp has spoken highly of entering camp. Johnson worked at right tackle some on the first team late in Thursday's practice and moves well for a player 6-5, 308 pounds.

Random Thoughts

Freshman C.J. Worton seems like a proficient route runner for a young receiver ... Grier can grow a pretty good beard for a true freshman ... Fifth-year senior Jake McGee, a transfer from Virginia, can get down the field quick for a guy listed 6-6, 255 pounds; McGee made a couple of nice catches Thursday ... Kickers Austin Hardin and Brooks Abbott, formerly of Jacksonville Bolles and Virginia Tech, worked together during drills with Drew Ferris snapping and Kyle Crofoot holding.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Most folks know James Bates as a former linebacker for the Gators, or as a TV personality who keeps busy during the season crisscrossing the country covering college football for FOX Sports.

But when the grind of the season ends and Bates has time to escape, he likes to retreat to a barn on his property to paint. Bates specializes in folk art and often uses football as his subject.

James Bates

"I've just always been drawn to art and design,'' Bates said. "I never really had any formal art classes."

Still, Bates is no slouch with the paintbrush. Others have noticed. Tonight at Five Bar Gainesville at 104 S. Main Street (5 to 9 p.m.), the James Bates Art Exhibit opens with a launch party.

For the next month Bates' work will be displayed in the restaurant. With football season about to begin, fans and art lovers will recognize many of the subjects portrayed in Bates' pieces.

"The lighter side of some of these football players and coaches,'' Bates said.

This isn't the first time Bates has had his art displayed publicly, but this will be his most extensive exhibit.

Bates sold some of his work after an art gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., held an exhibit.

He said Jerri Spurrier, wife of former Gators football coach Steve Spurrier, helped boost his confidence as an emerging artist during Bates' career with the Gators in the mid-1990s.

Bates would draw cartoons on the chalkboard in Florida's locker room during his playing days, poking fun at a player or coach to keep the team loose. Jerri Spurrier saw some of his work and asked him to design a T-shirt for the women's swim team.

Bates did. The team liked it, including Bates' future wife, Tina, who was on UF's team at the time.

Bates still has that shirt, plus many more paintings and designs since.

Check out some of his work to be displayed over the next month at Five Bar Gainesville:

Monday August 4, 2014 Most Important News on Day 1 for Gators: Everybody Practiced

Updated: 8:14am, August 5

Matt Jones

Running back Matt Jones participates in a drill at Monday's early-morning practice.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators started the trek toward what they hope is a turnaround season on Monday by opening fall camp.

The veteran players practiced early Monday morning while most of the freshmen and less-experienced players worked out in the afternoon.

The most important news of the day: everybody practiced. Gators coach Will Muschamp previously announced that freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher (back surgery) is the only player not available. Kelleher will redshirt.

"Drastically different" was Muschamp's answer when asked to compare the first day of camp to last year. A year ago the Gators started camp without starting quarterback Jeff Driskel due to an appendectomy, and running back Matt Jones and offensive lineman Jon Halapio due to injuries.

That was just the start of what turned into an avalanche of injuries for the Gators throughout the season.

"It was a rough fall,'' Muschamp said. "But I think we've improved ourselves at the receiver position, at the running back position. When they are all healthy, that's a good group sitting out there."

The Gators will hold another split-squad practice on Tuesday and Muschamp said the entire team would practice in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) on Wednesday night. The first day in full pads is Friday.

Muschamp was pleased overall at the energy the team showed on the first day of camp.

"Everybody is fired up Day 1. Let's see how they are Day 12,'' he said. "That's kind of the way I look at it. We've seen a very inspired group throughout the summer."

SPEEDING ALONG

The Gators moved at a very brisk pace Monday, in part due to the up-tempo system first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installed in the spring.

The no-huddle approach keeps receivers on the move during passing drills.

"I think we are in pretty good condition,'' Muschamp said. "Obviously a drastic difference between the young group and the older group as far as the tempo [and] the number of bodies. It was tougher on the older group too because we only have two units going."

KICKING IT

The kicking game played an important role in Florida's 11-2 record in 2012. On the way to a 4-8 record in 2013, the kickers were inconsistent.

Placekicker Austin Hardin made only 4 of 12 field goals and punter Kyle Christy was replaced by Johnny Townsend following an excellent 2012.

The unit showed signs of improvement in the spring. Muschamp seeks more of the same.

"You build confidence through having very positive reps,'' Muschamp said. "They had a lot of positive reps through spring. Based on what they've told me, they felt they had a very good summer. In the short time watching them today, I thought we punted the ball extremely well, both Johnny and Kyle. Austin kicked it extremely well."

QUOTE OF NOTE

"I didn't sleep a whole lot last night, excited about getting back on the field and coaching. That's what you get hired to do and that's what I enjoy doing." -- Muschamp on returning to practice. He said he woke up at 3:35 a.m. Monday after going to bed around midnight Sunday.

QUICK SLANTS

Muschamp liked what he saw from quarterback Driskel on Day 1. "I thought Jeff looked really good," he said. Skyler Mornhinweg, Will Grier and Treon Harris are competing to back up Driskel. "Just a work in progress,'' Muschamp added of that competition ... Freshman defensive back Quincy Wilson had an interception in his first collegiate practice. Muschamp said Wilson is working at cornerback.

Sunday August 3, 2014 10 questions as Gators prepare to open camp

Updated: 10:04am, August 3

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The wait is finally over.

In what will go down as one of the longest offseasons in Florida football history -- a 4-8 record has a way of doing that -- the Gators officially report to camp today.

Florida opens practice Monday to start head coach Will Muschamp's fourth season in charge of the program. But first, Muschamp and the Gators will tackle Media Day this afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Note: Watch a live stream of Muschamp's Media Day press conference.

Muschamp will speak to reporters for approximately 30 minutes and then dozens of players will make the rounds.

At SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., last month, Muschamp displayed strong confidence about his team. He clearly expects the Gators to put last season's dismal campaign quickly behind them with a turnaround season.

It appears many college coaches share some of Muschamp's confidence in the Gators.

While the Gators will open the season unranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time, they are knocking at the door at No. 27 with 122 points, four behind defending SEC East champion Missouri.

With Media Day later this afternoon, here are 10 questions that have me intrigued:

--Can quarterback Jeff Driskel stay healthy and fulfill his potential? Driskel has all the physical tools to be an elite college quarterback. If Driskel can stay healthy and cut down on some of the mental mistakes that have plagued him in the past, the Gators can be back quickly.

--Who will back up Driskel? The candidates are redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and a pair of true freshmen in Will Grier and Treon Harris. The backup quarterback battle is going to be watched closely in fall camp.

--Can running back Matt Jones rebound after missing the second half of last season? Remember, Jones missed fall camp a year ago due to an illness and then got hurt in the sixth game and missed the rest of the season. If healthy and productive, he gives Florida a dangerous weapon on offense.

--Is receiver Demarcus Robinson as good as everyone said he was coming out of high school? The Gators are still waiting on the final answer. If Robinson's play says yes, that will be a huge boost for the offense.

--Will first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's no-huddle up-tempo system be the remedy that fixes UF's sputtering offense? Muschamp thinks so. So do the players. They seemed to pass the first test in spring practice by regaining some confidence.

--What can we expect from sixth-year receiver Andre Debose? Debose remains a special talent with the ball in his hands and open field around him. If he does nothing else than provide the Gators with a dangerous kickoff returner, that's a good start.

--Who are the real leaders on this team? Driskel, defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. and offensive lineman Max Garcia quickly come to mind. The Gators need a few more emerge in fall camp through their play and attitude.

--How good can the defense be? In Muschamp's tenure, a solid defense has been the one constant. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin enters his second season in search of more turnovers than a year ago. That means he will have his eye on potential playmakers during camp.

--What's the outlook in the kicking game? This is an area that cost the Gators at times a season ago. Austin Hardin had a strong spring to regain some confidence on field goals. Meanwhile, punters Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend should have a good battle in fall camp.

--Which true freshman will shine early? As the Gators look to rebound from their first losing season in 34 years, they need some impact players from the freshman class. Harris, cornerback Jalen Tabor, defensive back Duke Dawson, defensive lineman Thomas Holley and running back Brandon Powell are among those that offer that potential.

Monday July 21, 2014 Muschamp to visit ESPN's 'Car Wash' on Tuesday

Updated: 12:18pm, July 21

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Will Muschamp and his SEC colleagues kicked off the preseason interview circuit at last week's SEC Football Media Days.

Muschamp

Muschamp resumes the talking tour on Tuesday when he visits ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for the network's mid-summer coaches' "car wash," where guests appear across multiple programs and platforms over one day.

SEC coaches visit today and Tuesday. Muschamp is scheduled to be at ESPN from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. He has a live appearances scheduled on "SportsCenter" at approximately 1:40 p.m.

Muschamp will be joined by South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban of Alabama, Butch Jones of Tennessee, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin on Tuesday.

Here is a look at all the coaches visiting via a release from ESPN:

SEC - #ESPNSEC

Monday, July 21

Tuesday, July 22

Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)

Bret Bielema (Arkansas)

Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

Butch Jones (Tennessee)

Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)

Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)

Les Miles (LSU)

Will Muschamp (Florida)

Gary Pinkel (Missouri)

Nick Saban (Alabama)

Mark Richt (Georgia)

Steve Spurrier (South Carolina)

Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)

 

Big 12 - #ESPNBIG12

Wednesday, July 23

Thursday, July 24

Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia)

Art Briles (Baylor)

Paul Rhoads (Iowa State)

Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech)

Bill Snyder (Kansas State)

Gary Patterson (TCU)

Bob Stoops (Oklahoma)

Charlie Weis (Kansas)

 

Charlie Strong (Texas)

 

Pac-12 - #ESPNPAC12

Friday, July 25

Sonny Dykes (California)

Todd Graham (Arizona State)

Mark Helfrich (Oregon)

Mike Leach (Washington State)

Mike MacIntyre (Colorado)

Jim Mora (UCLA)

Chris Petersen (Washington)

Mike Riley (Oregon State)

Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)

Steve Sarkisian (USC)

David Shaw (Stanford)

Kyle Whittingham (Utah)

 

ACC - #ESPNACC

Monday, July 28

Tuesday, July 29

Paul Chryst (Pittsburgh)

Steve Addazio (Boston College)

Larry Fedora (North Carolina)

Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech)

Jimbo Fisher (Florida State)

Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)

Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech)

David Cutcliffe (Duke)

Mike London (Virginia)

Dave Doeren (NC State)

Bobby Petrino (Louisville)

Al Golden (Miami)

Scott Shafer (Syracuse)

Dabo Swinney (Clemson)

 

Big Ten - #ESPNB1G

Wednesday, July 30

Thursday, July 31

Gary Andersen (Wisconsin)

Randy Edsall (Maryland)

Tim Beckman (Illinois)

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)

Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)

Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)

Kyle Flood (Rutgers)

Brady Hoke (Michigan)

James Franklin (Penn State)

Urban Meyer (Ohio State)

Darrell Hazell (Purdue)

Bo Pelini (Nebraska)

Jerry Kill (Minnesota)

Kevin Wilson (Indiana)

Donovan and Young

Former UF standout Patric Young will start NBA career with New Orleans Pelicans.

Good to see former Gators forward/center Patric Young fulfill his dream of earning a spot in the NBA.

Young tweeted Saturday that he has signed a contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. Undrafted to the surprise of many, Young was invited by the Pelicans to play on their summer-league team.

In five games Young averaged 7.4 points and 8 rebounds to earn a contract offer.

Here is more on Young and other Gator-related news via some fresh links:

--Pelicans extend Patric Young a contract writes John Reid of NOLA.com.

--On the flip side, some tough news for Young's former UF teammate, forward Devon Walker, who is out with a knee injury writes Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com.

--Will Muschamp, Jeff Driskel, Gators need to rise above happy noise writes Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz.

--A projected fall camp Gators depth chart via Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.

--Mariners ace Felix Hernandez became the first big-league pitcher since 1986 on Saturday to pitch seven or more innings and allow two runs or less in 12 consecutive starts. Former Gators catcher Mike Zunino discusses what it's like to catch Hernandez via The Seattle Times.

--If you didn't get enough of SEC Football Media Days or want to catch up, here is a good one-stop shopping link from SECSports.com.

--Former Gator Chris Richard is on a mission to make his hometown a safer place writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.

--Playing to save coach? Former Gators TE Ben Troupe can relate writes David Jones of Florida Today.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Another SEC Football Media Days has come and gone. The Gators stopped in Monday on the first day of the four-day hypefest in Hoover, Ala.

Alabama coach Nick Saban closed the show on Thursday. In between, there was enough typing and tweeting among the assembled media (a record 1,267 credentials were issued) to make Tolstoy's "War and Peace" seem like a leaflet.

To save you some time, here are some notable stories on the Gators and SEC that came out of Hoover:

Will Muschamp

--SEC analysts agree eight wins should be enough for Florida coach Will Muschamp to get off hot seat writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.

--Muschamp needs to win to silence crazy talk writes Matt Hayes of The Sporting News.

--Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com writes how new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is overhauling the UF offense and quarterback Jeff Driskel.

--Gators gunning for total 180 on offense writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.

--SI.com's Andy Staples writes that after injury-shortened year, UF quarterback Jeff Driskel ready for spotlight.

--Saban breaks down NFL policy change geared toward underclassmen writes AL.com (with video).

--Freshman CB Jalen Tabor cited for marijuana possession in May writes The Orlando Sentinel.

--Muschamp eyes a turnaround for sixth-year receiver Andre Debose writes Ed Aschoff of ESPN.com.

--Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun writes there was no media day sizzle compared to most years.

--Former Gators/current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was in fine form as usual as SEC Media Days writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--SEC Commissioner Mike Slive reiterates need for NCAA change or else in regard to autonomy writes Antonya English of TampaBay.com.

--Alabama predicted to win and dominate All-SEC teams via USA Today.

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