Sunday April 26, 2015 Gators win one they needed as SEC East race heats up for stretch run
Updated: 7:42pm, April 26
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Updated: 7:42pm, April 26
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A sense of relief permeated the Florida baseball team following Sunday’s 10-1 clubbing of Kentucky.
The No. 6-ranked Gators lost the first two games of the weekend series and faced the rarity of being swept at home in the midst of the Southeastern Conference’s version of a pennant race.
Instead, the Gators received a solid effort from starter Alex Faedo (5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 SO) and got at least one hit from every player in the starting lineup to keep pace with SEC East leader Vanderbilt.
“This was one of those days where we had to come out hot, do our thing, and get the win,’’ said freshman catcher Mike Rivera, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs “That’s all that matters.”
Florida started the day two games behind defending national champion Vanderbilt in the division, tied with Missouri in second place. About 45 minutes after Florida’s game concluded, Vanderbilt wrapped up a 5-2 home victory over Missouri with a three-run rally in the eighth inning.
SEC EAST STANDINGS
The Gators missed an opportunity to gain ground on the Commodores, but just as importantly, avoided dropping into third place in the division with nine conference games remaining.
“Quite honestly it was a game we needed to win,’’ Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said afterward on his postgame radio show. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted this weekend. You can look at it one of two ways. We can think we lost two of our last three, or you can think we’ve won seven of our last nine.”
You know which one O’Sullivan will use this week as the Gators finish final exams and then head to Georgia for a three-game weekend series next weekend.
As the Gators attempt to defend their 2014 SEC regular-season title and keep pace with Vanderbilt (33-12, 15-6) in the East and LSU (37-7, 14-6) and Texas A&M (37-7, 13-7) in the West, they play six of their last nine conference games away from McKethan Stadium.
Following their trip to Georgia, the Gators travel to Vanderbilt for a three-game series May 7-9 before closing at home with three against Auburn on May 14-16.
While playing at Vanderbilt is never an easy task, the Gators have favorable matchups against Georgia (21-23, 6-14) and Auburn. The Bulldogs are last in the SEC East and are 0-8 at home against SEC opponents.
Meanwhile, Auburn (29-16, 10-11 SEC) is much better at home – the Tigers swept Georgia this weekend at Plainsman Park – than it is on the road. Auburn is 23-8 at home, 5-8 on the road.
O’Sullivan is optimistic the Gators can close with a flurry and stay in the hunt for the division title.
“We control our own destiny,” he said. “The SEC is hard. It’s not an easy league. Obviously we want to win every game we can and every series, but the fact of the matter is, this league is the best league in the country for a reason.
“I’m excited about the opportunity that is in front of us.”
A freshman from Tampa, Faedo did his part Sunday to improve to 4-1 with a 2.52 ERA. He got help from a lineup that had trailed all 19 innings in the series until a three-run second inning put Florida in front for good Sunday.
“I really liked his demeanor before the game,” O’Sullivan said. “I didn’t sense any nervousness or him being uptight. I think he realized the importance of today’s game and I think he pitched accordingly. He knew what was at stake today, about being swept at home. It’s a heckuva lot of difference between 13-8 and 12-9 if you want to stay in it.”
Updated: 9:10am, April 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You could say it's been a newsy week for the Gators and their fans.
In case you have missed some of the stories that Florida fans are talking about, here are some fresh links from around the Internet for your perusal on this Friday morning:
--Gators look to continue tradition of feeding first round of NFL Draft writes Jesse Simonton for the Miami Herald.
--The legal case of redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson continues to evolve writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Central Florida is a central focus in recruiting for Gators head coach Jim McElwain writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--VIDEO: The staff of The Oklahoman discusses Gators coach Billy Donovan and others as possible candidates to replace Scott Brooks as head coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.
--For more on the Thunder's future plans, ESPN.com NBA writer Royce Young explores the topic of life after Brooks.
--Jim McElwain's task at Florida: Build roster, think ahead writes ESPN.com's Travis Haney (need an ESPNInsider subscription to access).
--Former Gators standout Chandler Parsons frustrated his first season with Dallas Mavericks is over due to knee injury writes Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
--The future of Gators sophomore F/C Chris Walker made news on Thursday writes Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com
--An oral history of the 2000 Florida-Tennessee game in Knoxville is a good read from Mark Nagi of FoxSports.com.
--The unfortunate condition of Florida's offensive line writes Ed Aschoff of ESPN.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- While Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who also oversees the team's player personnel department, has not commented publicly since Philadelphia signed Tim Tebow on Monday, Kelly's right-hand man has.
Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz, who worked for Nick Saban at Alabama during the same span (2008-11) Gators head coach Jim McElwain was Alabama's offensive coordinator, told reporters Thursday that Tebow looked impressive during a March workout with the team.
"Obviously, we were intrigued with what we saw there," Marynowitz said. "We saw a player who improved from the last time we saw him live, which was when he was here with New England."
The Eagles and Patriots had joint practice sessions in 2013 when Tebow participated in camp with New England before being cut. Tebow has not taken an NFL snap since he was with the Jets in 2012.
The former Gators All-American served as an analyst for the SEC Network last fall but continued to work with former big-league pitcher Tom House on his mechanics.
Marynowitz said signing Tebow is not a publicity stunt.
"We had some conversations and some discussions, and we felt that it was an opportunity to bring in someone who could compete for a spot,'' he said. "Look, we've got 68 players who are on our football team right now. And Tim's one of them. He'll have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot. And his role will be determined by his performance and it's as simple as that."
Tebow is one of five quarterbacks on Philadelphia's roster, joining Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne.
Updated: 3:21pm, April 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first stop outside the city limits was Tuesday night. An estimated crowd of 575 showed up at the Lakeland Center to hear first-year Gators head coach Jim McElwain speak to the Polk County Gator Club.
The next stop is tonight in Orlando, where McElwain will speak to the Central Florida Gator Club. He will be in Tampa on April 27 to meet with the Tampa and Pinellas County Gator Clubs. McElwain wraps up the annual spring speaking tour May 28 back here when he visits with the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club not far from his office at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
In his first tour around the state to meet and greet Florida fans, McElwain wants to recharge the fan base and deliver an introductory message.
Don’t expect him to arrive with hand-written speech prepared in advance.
“I’m an off-the-cuff guy,’’ he said. “If I try to memorize something, I’m horrible at it. Try to get the feel of the room and listen to the introductions. Try to not put them to sleep.”
While new to Gator Nation, McElwain has recruited the state heavily at previous stops in his coaching career. He understands what the Gators mean to different parts of the Sunshine State.
He exhibited some of that knowledge Tuesday in Lakeland.
“This is a special area,’’ he told reporters. “I believe there’s more Polk Gators per capita than anywhere in the state. Then you think about the history of great players who’ve come out of Polk County that have made a difference for the Gators. That speaks volumes for the area. It’s been really good to the Gators.”
The Gators capped spring practice with the Orange & Blue Debut on April 11. Besides the quarterback battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier, the dominant story line was the lack of depth on the offensive line.
Florida had only six scholarship offensive linemen available for the spring game and the position took a devastating hit last week when redshirt sophomore Roderick Johnson’s career ended due to congenital cervical stenosis.
Still, McElwain has no plans to focus on what he doesn’t have in his first season at Florida. Instead, he wants to inspire the crowds to think of what can be.
“This is actually exciting,’’ he said. “We get an opportunity to get out and see the people that are really passionate about Gator football and the University of Florida. It allows us to get out in a grass-roots movement of what it’s all about.
“There’s a lot of great things here. There’s a lot of things that we can point at. I mean, you can’t hide the reality and you can’t run from it, and yet, you know what, that’s just part of building something and making sure we get a solid foundation first and implement these guys as they come in.”
Updated: 5:13pm, April 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Tim Tebow.
Those two words woke up the Internet early Sunday evening when news broke that Tebow was returning to the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed Tebow on Monday to a one-year contract worth the league minimum.
For most quarterbacks without a snap in an NFL game in nearly three years, signing a one-year deal to compete for a roster spot might not even wake up their wife.
Of course, Tebow is not just any quarterback. He’s a Heisman winner, a two-time national champion, a Florida Gators icon and a man of the people.
He garners massive amounts of attention whether he is visiting a campus for “SEC Nation” or holding a charity function.
As of this posting, typing in “Tim Tebow” in the Google News search engine returns more than 2 million results in 0.25 seconds.
That’s someone making news on a Monday afternoon.
Here are some columnists from around the country offering takes on Eagles coach Chip Kelly giving Tebow another chance in the NFL:
Tebow is either dauntless, or a deluded lunk. The one thing he is not is meaningless. The Philadelphia Eagles and their madman coach Chip Kelly closely inspected him in March, and apparently found him worth a shot, despite the presence of Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley on the roster.
If Kelly sees the spark that Tebow carried at the University of Florida -- and that flashed once or twice while he was playing in Denver -- then Kelly will have a fascinating choice to make.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ signing of Tim Tebow raises a host of questions: How will Tebow fare after two years away from the game? What role does Coach Chip Kelly have in mind for him? Will he be embraced by the tough fans?
Tim Tebow needs someone in the NFL to give him one last chance. The NFL could use a more positive distraction from its recent woes. In short, they need each other.
Tebow signing with most teams in the NFL today might not lead this column, especially because I’ve got two other items I really like. Tebow signing with the Eagles leads the column because, as my anonymous coach says, Kelly will give Tebow a legitimate chance to be one of his three quarterbacks this season.
Tim Tebow spent time with quarterback guru Tom House supposedly fixing his wind-up throwing motion, so now the Philadelphia Eagles think he can play?
Updated: 12:03pm, April 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I went out to UF’s lacrosse game against Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon – Florida’s final regular-season home game of the season -- to see if I could find something to write about.
I found a good story. Her name is Mikki Offit, a senior from Bethesda, Md. Offit scored her first goal in two years and only the second of her UF career in the Gators' 20-1 win. But that's not what makes her story a good one.
Check out GatorZone.com later today to learn more about Offit as the Gators prepare to head off to Connecticut to close the regular season and prepare for the Big East Tournament.
For now, here are some fresh links from around the Internet featuring items of interest to UF sports fans:
--The women’s World Cup is on tap this summer and Time Magazine has named former UF standout and current U.S. National Team star Abby Wambach as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Time had former U.S. star Mia Hamm write about Wambach.
--The return of former UF assistant Anthony Grant sparked a lot of conversation earlier this week, including this column from Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com: Billy Donovan thinks too much of Anthony Grant to hire him as an act of charity
--North Little Rock (Ark.) guard KeVaughn Allen signed a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play for the Gators via ArkansasOnline.com. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 forward Keith Stone out of Zion Lutheran in Deerfield Beach, Fla., also signed a letter of intent with the Gators on Wednesday.
--The Orlando Magic can cross Billy Donovan off their wish list writes Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz.
--Gators coach Billy Donovan was very active in former assistant Matt McCall’s hiring at UT-Chattanooga writes Gene Henley of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press.
--The news of former Gators and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s conviction on murder charges dominated the news cycle much of Wednesday. In what is a tragic story on so many levels, a couple of reads caught my attention on Wednesday about the Hernandez case: The Arrogance of Aaron Hernandez by Brendan I. Koerner of The New Yorker, and True Grace: Odin Lloyd’s mother forgives Aaron Hernandez for murdering her son by Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel.
--A recap of Dodgers’ 5-2 win over Mariners on Wednesday night from The Seattle Times. The game featured former Florida teammates Mike Zunino (Seattle) and Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers).
--A Texas homecoming for some Gator gymnasts at the NCAA Championships writes Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun.
--The charges against UF pitchers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead for climbing a crane have been reduced writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
Updated: 1:20pm, April 14
Gators offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (No. 55) during spring practice. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The promising career of Gators offensive lineman Roderick Johnson is over at UF.
Florida’s medical staff has diagnosed Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who started three games last season, with congenital cervical stenosis. The condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal enveloping the spinal cord, preventing enough fluid to gather around the spinal cord to properly protect it from injury.
Cervical stenosis ended the career of New York Giants running back David Wilson last year and forced Cooper Manning, the brother of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, to retire from football during his college career at Ole Miss.
Johnson did not report or show signs of any previous episodes of the condition prior to suffering a “stinger” on April 3 during a scrimmage. Johnson experienced numbness in his fingers and hands and did not participate in the final week of spring camp or Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut.
Following an MRI and consultation with outside specialists and team physicians, it was recommended Johnson retire from the sport.
“One thing I'll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm's way," Gators coach Jim McElwain said Saturday following the spring game when asked about Johnson's status. “Life's too short, man. Ain't gonna do it, ain't gonna do it to a young guy."
Johnson began to blossom last season as a reserve and part-time starter. He was expected to be a full-time starter this season on a Florida offensive line that had just six scholarship players available for the spring game.
Listed at 6-foot-6, 296 pounds, Johnson signed with the Gators in 2013 out of American Heritage High in Delray Beach, Fla. He made his first career start last season against Kentucky and started at right tackle against Alabama and in Florida’s victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
4/3/15 will tat it on me my last play in the swamp saw that white light when I went down and I stood and walk off the field with pride— Rod Johnson #⃣5⃣5⃣ (@Almighty_rod55) April 14, 2015
Updated: 11:23am, April 13
UF quarterbacks Treon Harris and Will Grier at the Orange & Blue Debut. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida football team concluded spring camp with the Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday before an announced crowd of 21,000 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Gators baseball team swept a three-game series against South Carolina. The UF women’s tennis team clinched the SEC regular-season title. And the UF softball team won its home series against Kentucky.
In what was billed as Orange & Blue Weekend on UF’s campus, a lot happened in Gator sports the past few days. To help you get caught up, here are some fresh links from around the Internet:
--Florida receiver Ahmad Fulwood was quiet in the spring game but sees hope thanks to first-year head coach Jim McElwain writes Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.
--Almost all great Gators moments lead back to Ray Graves writes David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Roderick Johnson’s career is in jeopardy writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida Today columnist David Jones provides his take on where the Gators are after spring practice.
--Gators’ quarterback battle won’t be resolved until preseason writes Graham Hall for the Palm Beach Post.
--The UF baseball team swept South Carolina as freshman JJ Schwarz had a week to remember writes Jordan McPherson of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Gators baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan suspended pitchers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead on Monday following their arrests Sunday for climbing into a crane at a construction site writes Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun.
--The Florida women’s tennis team beat Tennessee 4-0 on Sunday to clinch the SEC regular-season title writes Eneisy Rodriguez of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Congrats to Gators assistant basketball coach Matt McCall, named head coach at UT-Chattanooga via GoMocs.com.
--Florida senior Lauren Haeger was recognized as ESPNW.com’s Player of the Week – and that was before her school- and SEC-record-tying 65th career home run on Sunday via Patrick Pinak of the Alligator.
--Former UF golfer Camilo Villegas was inducted into UF’s Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday and made headlines at the Masters Par 3 contest writes Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com.
--Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler is meeting with the Jets today writes Darryl Slater of NJ.com.
BONUS VIDEO (or whatever you want to call these two talking heads)
My colleague Chris Harry and I discuss some observations after Saturday's spring game:
Updated: 6:00pm, April 12
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He won a state championship as a freshman at Tampa’s Alonso High School. He threw a no-hitter as a junior. He struck out 17 Plant City batters once in the prestigious Saladino Tournament, a top showcase of talent for players in the Tampa area
As you can tell, Florida right-hander Alex Faedo arrived at UF already armed with an impressive list of accomplishments.
In his brief time with the Gators, Faedo has shown why scouts and college recruiters saw so much potential in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound power pitcher.
He did it again Sunday in Florida’s 12-2 win against South Carolina to sweep a three-game weekend series.
Making his first career Southeastern Conference start, Faedo retired the first 14 batters he faced.
“Right when I woke up I just knew it was going to be a good day,” Faedo said. “I was really pumped to get the opportunity.”
The start was the fourth of his young career, but this one carried added significance as the Gators tried to close out the Gamecocks and make up ground on defending national champion and SEC East leader Vanderbilt.
Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan had nothing to worry about with Faedo on the mound and Florida’s torrid lineup keeping its hot streak intact.
In his ongoing search to stabilize Florida’s rotation after Friday night starter Logan Shore, O’Sullivan moved Dane Dunning up to Saturday and handed the ball Sunday to Faedo.
The Gamecocks didn’t get their first hit until the fifth when Madison Stokes doubled down the left-field line. In the sixth, after O’Sullivan noticed Faedo had started to drop his release point, he pulled him after 75 pitches.
Faedo’s job was done with Florida holding a 7-1 lead.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Alex. He’s going to be a really good pitcher,’’ O’Sullivan said after the Gators’ fourth consecutive win. “Today I think he showed it. He threw a lot of strikes, he commanded both sides of the plate, and made big pitches when he needed to.
“That just gives us another option on the weekend. I’m really pleased with his effort.”
Faedo said he shook any nerves away prior to the game by talking with his veteran teammates. From there he went out and threw his game, relying heavily on his slider to keep the Gamecocks quiet. Faedo allowed two hits, one run, struck out six and walked one to improve to 3-1 with a team-leading 2.12 ERA.
“Whatever Sully wanted I was feeling good about,’’ Faedo said of his pitch selections. “I just like winning, sweeping people. It was huge. We really needed this one just to move back up in the standings. We’re trying to win the SEC.”
The Gators travel to Florida State on Tuesday and then face another big SEC test on the road next weekend at Mississippi State, where large crowds at Dudy Noble Field await the Gators.
Faedo hopes he earned another SEC start with Sunday’s performance.
He probably shouldn't lose any sleep.
“The strength of our staff is our depth,’’ said O’Sullivan, who will continue to evaluate the starting rotation heading into each game. “Has Alex earned the opportunity to start another weekend game? Yes.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Players Network is honoring former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel and his work with Desire Street Ministries during Orange & Blue Weekend at UF.
Wuerffel will be honored during FPN’s fourth annual Spring Spectacular, a series of events to “strengthen and support former Gator football alumni through networking and service” according to FPN President Chris Doering, one of Wuerffel’s favorite targets during their playing days.
First, the FPN is hosting its Gator Greats Golf Tournament on Friday morning at UF’s Mark Bostick Golf Course.
The event, which has an 8 a.m. shotgun start, is open to the public and includes a post-tournament lunch and awards ceremony at noon. Registration is $100 per person and $50 for FPN members.
In addition to the golf tournament, the FPN’s Blue Carpet Extravaganza at the Champions Club is Friday (7 p.m.) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to help raise money for Desire Street Ministries.
Wuerffel launched Desire Street in New Orleans after his NFL career ended and is now based in the Atlanta metro area.
“Danny is a true legacy of our Gator football program," Doering said. “We are approaching a very special 20th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy and National Football Championship, and want to celebrate that and honor his 10 years of service with Desire Street Ministries."
Former Gators running back Errict Rhett is serving as master of ceremonies and Wuerffel will attend the event with other former UF players. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door and $25 for FPN members.
On Saturday prior to the Orange & Blue Debut, the FPN is hosting a tailgate party for members and a flag football game prior to the spring game.
According to a press release, the FPN has more than 2,500 members including some of the biggest names in UF football history such as Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor, Percy Harvin, Lito Sheppard and Jesse Palmer.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his final workout prior to the NFL Draft on April 30, Gators defensive lineman/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. showed up at Florida Field on Tuesday on a mission.
Fowler had already wowed NFL scouts at the combine in February with his unique combination of size, speed and strength. He has climbed the mock drafts since and some analysts project him as the top defensive player in the draft.
During his on-field position drills Tuesday -- the only part of Pro Day that Fowler participated -- he wanted to prove to representatives from all 32 NFL teams his ability to gracefully carry those 265 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
“I wanted to show the guys that I'm a complete player," Fowler said. "I just want to show them I can move in space. They saw what they needed to see. I just wanted to clear their minds of all those doubts.”
Fowler (photo, left) moved fast, cut quickly and showed off those backpedaling skills he’ll need to drop back in coverage in the NFL.
“Dante Fowler has the highest ceiling in my opinion [of any pass rusher in the draft],’’ ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said on-air later in the day while discussing Fowler’s Pro Day performance.
Fowler spent Wednesday in Jacksonville meeting with the Jaguars and said he had visits scheduled today with the Titans, Friday with the Bucs, and Sunday with the Falcons, led by new head coach Dan Quinn, who coached Fowler as a freshman at UF.
He accepted an invitation to attend the draft in Chicago and with quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota not scheduled to attend, Fowler could be the first player to be greeted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected.
That’s fine with him.
“I love this game," Fowler said. “I want to be one of the great ones when it's all said and done. Whatever pans out, I'm just happy to be there, to be in that environment. It's something special. I’m blessed right now with what’s happening.”
Andre Debose turned in the fastest time in the 40-yard dash at Pro Day, running a 4.38. No surprise there. No one questions Debose’s speed.
Debose finished his Florida career as one of the best kick returners in SEC history, returning four kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns in his career.
Debose told The Orlando Sentinel he was pleased at his performance despite an injury that forced him to cut short his time performing passing-game drills.
“This was a great day, man," he said. "I showed I can run, showed I can catch the ball a little bit. I felt good running around, other than tweaking my hamstring a little bit. Other than that, it was a great day."
Debose is not expected to get drafted but his return skills and speed should earn him an invitation to a free-agent camp.
Throughout his career at Florida offensive lineman D.J. Humphries had trouble keeping on weight. He would get up to around 300 pounds prior to the season, and then drop 15 pounds or so during the season.
Playing at 300 pounds or above is pretty much a requirement to be an NFL offensive lineman. Humphries weighed in at 307 pounds at Pro Day and said he recently got up to 316.
“I’ve had it on for a while now,’’ he said. “It’s sticking to me. I think that will be the next step, that I can maintain that weight throughout the whole season.”
Humphries, who opted to pass up his senior season to enter the draft, has impressed scouts. He is a first-round pick in most mock drafts. He said he weighed 285 pounds after the season and has changed his diet in the last four months to include foods that pack on healthier weight than he did in college.
“My weight  is realistic from the combine,” he said. “I wasn’t just chugging water just to be big. I let them know that my weight is staying on me and I can move at that weight.”
Defensive tackle Leon Orr was back at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Tuesday, five months after his high-profile departure from the program prior to last season’s game at Vanderbilt.
Orr has faced intense scrutiny from teams and the media after his departure, but according to Fowler, Orr is a player that is going to make the NFL.
“He’s going to be a surprise,” Fowler said. “To see how good he looks at 6-5, 315 and he can move pretty well. I know he has been taking the interview process. I’m glad he’s able to be in front of them and talk to them. They have one-on-ones and man-on-mans.”
Gators coach Jim McElwain talking to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. (Photo: Tim Casey)
QUOTE OF NOTE I
“I think it gives them a little bit of motivation to see the amount of eyes that are going to be on them. I think it's good. And there, again, in recruiting, you get an opportunity to come here, perfect your craft and show what you have in front of a lot of pro scouts.” -- Gators coach Jim McElwain on Pro Day’s impact on current players
QUOTE OF NOTE II
“I wish someone would have kept tally all those three years. It’s hard to remember. I done took too many hits from the head from Dante.” -- Humphries on his one-on-one battles with Fowler at practice
QUOTE OF NOTE III
“It would be great if I stay in Florida. I’m a Florida native. I was born and raised in St. Petersburg. I have family in Jacksonville and things like that. It would be great. The Florida Gators, all the fan base. It would be awesome.” -- Fowler on potential of being taken by the Jaguars with the third overall pick
With nine offensive line coaches in attendance, Humphries and offensive linemen Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Trenton Brown and Chaz Green received significant work; Garcia led all players with 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press … South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia served as the passer in drills for UF’s receivers on Tuesday. Gators TE Clay Burton asked Garcia to participate the night before with no one else available. Former Gators QB Chris Leak, a graduate assistant at the time, filled the role last year … Trey Burton, now with the Eagles, watched his brother’s workout … FB Hunter Joyer did not participate in on-field drills. Joyer recently tore his ACL training in South Florida and is scheduled for surgery Friday … Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, a regular at UF’s Pro Day, was once again in attendance.
Updated: 4:09pm, April 8
Gators linebacker Neiron Ball showed off his athleticism at Tuesday's UF Pro Day. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As the headliner at Florida’s Pro Day on Tuesday, Dante Fowler Jr. received the bulk of attention from NFL personnel and media in attendance.
But ask Fowler who might be the Gators’ biggest eye-opener in the draft, he quickly mentions linebacker Neiron Ball.
“Neiron is freakishly athletic,’’ Fowler said. “He can rush the passer and be that true Will linebacker or that Sam linebacker. Any coach would love to get him. I know he’s going to be a surprise.”
Seems many are starting to agree with Fowler.
Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, now a senior media analyst for NFL.com, said Ball passed the eye test on Tuesday in a column he wrote.
“He really looked good in the positional drills,’’ Brandt wrote. “Ball was smooth and fast, and he has good hips so he can turn and run with no problem at all.”
That is the kind of analysis Ball was hoping to hear when he arrived at Florida Field on Tuesday.
Ball attended the NFL Combine in February but didn’t participate in drills other than the bench press due to a season-ending knee injury last season. Ball was hurt in Florida’s loss to South Carolina and underwent microfracture surgery.
For the past four months he has been training in Miami with teammates Trenton Brown and Chaz Green in preparation for UF’s Pro Day.
“I knew I had to be ready for this day,’’ Ball said.
Ball checked in Tuesday at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds. He posted unofficial 40-yard dash times of 4.59 and 4.65 seconds, and had a 35-inch vertical jump.
He left satisfied that he showed NFL teams he is healthy and worthy of an opportunity.
“I think I did pretty good,’’ Ball said. “I put in a lot of work after the season because I had an injury I had to overcome. I feel like I’m almost 100 percent, very close. [I wanted to show] that my knee is fine. There is nothing wrong with my knee, and that I’m fast.
“A lot of the teams are surprised that I’m doing as well as I am because microfracture surgery is a big deal.”
Of course, the microfracture surgery is a distant third on what Ball has had to overcome to reach this point.
Ball lost both his parents before the age of 10 and in February 2011, after suffering a massive headache at practice, doctors determined that Ball had a congenital condition known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is where the brain's blood vessels get tangled and rupture.
Ball overcame those obstacles to become a starter in his final two seasons with the Gators. He said he has a couple of visits planned with teams before the draft and wants to build on the positive momentum from Tuesday.
He liked Fowler’s assessment.
“I agree with him,” Ball chuckled. “I think I can pass rush, and play at the Will [linebacker] position. I’m good at all three positions. I can pass rush, I can cover, and I can play in the box. I just need an opportunity. That’s all I need.
“It would be a dream come true. You’ve got to be blessed to play in the NFL and a lot of people don’t get that chance.”
Updated: 10:20am, April 8
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Gators freshman JJ Schwarz hit his second home run Tuesday night, he sheepishly shrugged his shoulders toward third-base coach Craig Bell as he headed for home. (Watch video)
A highly touted recruit out of Palm Beach Gardens High, Schwarz was a 15th-round selection by Milwaukee in last summer’s MLB amateur draft. However, he had never hit two home runs in a game.
“After my second one, I was really excited,’’ he told reporters afterward.
After his third homer of the game, his mood turned to amazement.
“I was like, ‘holy crap, what is going on?’ “
And after his fourth home run?
Well, when Schwarz returned to the dugout, he got the silent treatment from his teammates.
To celebrate becoming the first player in school history to hit four home runs in a game -- and only second in SEC history -- Schwarz high-fived the air until his teammates finally turned off the gag. Kentucky's Bill Sandry is the only other player in SEC history (1982 vs. Eastern Kentucky) to hit four home runs in a game.
“I don’t really think I was going to go up there trying to hit my third or fourth home run,’’ Schwarz said. “This is by far the best night I ever had.”
Schwarz wasn’t finished. He had one more at-bat.
In his final trip to the plate in the eighth inning, Schwarz drove a pitch to right-center for a two-run double, finishing the night 5-for-6 with 10 RBIs and a school-record 18 total bases.
“That was heartbreaking,’’ he quipped on the SEC Network when asked if he was disappointed he didn’t homer for a fifth time in the game.
Just think how Stetson’s pitchers must feel.
Schwarz’s powerful display -- he is now hitting .304 with nine home runs and a team-leading 40 RBIs on the season -- is now one of the most memorable in UF baseball history.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators coach Jim McElwain discussed last week how the lack of depth on the offensive line has hampered the team this spring.
The Gators had seven healthy scholarship offensive linemen entering Friday's scrimmage. They had six by the time it was over.
McElwain said Monday that redshirt sophomore Rod Johnson, who started three games last season, is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. McElwain said Johnson suffered a "stinger" that left his fingers numb and forced him to leave practice.
"We took a pretty big blow in the O-line with Rod Johnson, kind of went down and got banged up a little bit," McElwain said Monday . "We’ve got to check on some pre-existing injury-type of stuff there to see where he’s going to be at."
McElwain said Johnson will undergo further tests and evaluations to determine the severity of the injury.
"They went in and found out there were some things that he might have had well before from that area,'' he said. "We’ll do, obviously, what’s in his best interest. In moving forward, we’ll make sure we do what’s best there."
Updated: 1:17pm, April 6
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eddie Lovett was in familiar territory on Saturday at the Florida Relays.
The former UF All-American turned professional after last season but is back at UF this spring working toward finishing his degree.
Beyond his classwork, Lovett eyes a trip to the 2016 Olympics as one of the world’s top 110-meter hurdlers.
Running for World Express AC on Saturday, Lovett led off in the 4x110-meter shuttle hurdles and helped World Express -- Spencer Adams, Jarret Eaton and Mikel Thomas were his teammates -- set a meet record of 53.65 seconds, eclipsing the 7-year-old record of 54.10.
Lovett competed Friday in the individual 110-meter hurdles, finishing 11th with a time of 13.70. Former Southern Cal runner Aleec Harris (13.23) was the winner.
The 22-year-old Lovett won the NCAA 60-meter hurdle title in 2013 with a meet-record 7.50. He finished runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Lovett spent most of last year competing around the world in professional events and now back at UF, is training under the direction of UF assistant coach Erin Tucker.
The transition from collegiate runner to the professional ranks is perhaps the biggest hurdle in Lovett’s career at the moment.
“You’ve got to do some things on your own,” he told the SEC Network. “You have to be in the moment all the time. Everything is go-go-go. You’ve got to be healthy, take care of your body on and off the track.
“When you are in college, you have more of a team aspect. Now, it’s all on me. Pretty much from this point forward, whatever I do, it’s all on me.”
While Lovett was well off Harris’ time on Friday in his premier event, he didn’t seem too worried.
Lovett plans to turn up the intensity in training later this month as he eyes the 2015 outdoor championship season, highlighted by the IAAF World Championships in China in August.
“You want to build up to May, June, July -- that’s when championship season is,’’ he said. “Being consistent is the main thing and hopefully you can keep that peak. No way do I want to be running 13 flat right now. If I’m running as fast as I can right now, once I get to August I am going to be burned out.”
Updated: 2:51pm, April 10
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kentucky gymnast Shelby Hilton, whose fall at the O'Connell Center five weeks ago led to a life-altering discovery, provided an update to fans this week on the CaringBridge.org website.
The Wildcats are at the Columbus Regional today vying for a berth in the NCAA Championships. A senior from the Tampa Bay area, Hilton has another fight on her hands.
"As many of you now know, I experienced a life-changing accident in February when I was competing,'' Hilton wrote. "The nasty fall saved my life."
With her parents and many friends in the stands, Hilton left the O'Connell Center on a stretcher Feb. 27. She suffered no injuries from the fall, but doctors at Shands diagnosed Hilton with Medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor usually found in children under 10.
Hilton spent a week at Shands and then was transferred to a hospital in Jacksonville for further treatment.
Her story has inspired a #ShelbyStrong movement on social media and Hilton launched her diary on CaringBridge.com this week to keep fans updated on her condition.
So as the Gators compete in the Morgantown Regional today and the Wildcats in Columbus, let's not forget about Hilton and her struggle. Here's to a speedy recovery for the Florida native whose final trip home during her college career was a lifesaver.
Construction crews started to put metal frames up for Florida's Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday. The project is expected to be completed by September. (Photos: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For the past two months, workers have prepared the grounds of the Sanders Football Practice Fields for construction of the Gators' indoor practice facility.
On Thursday the building started to rise from that ground as construction crews began to lift metal frames into place.
The indoor practice facility will house a 120-yard synthetic turf football field, additional space for practice drills on the north end of the field, three camera platforms, satellite training-room facilities, equipment storage and restrooms.
In addition to the indoor practice facility, the Sanders football practice fields will include two natural grass fields, one 120-yard field (two end zones) and a 70-yard field (one end zone).
The indoor facility will have multiple overhead roll-up doors along the east and west side for ventilation, and also for easy access to allow the team to utilize all three fields during a practice. The facility will also be available for other Florida athletic teams to use as needed.
Here are a few more photos from Thursday's construction:
Updated: 3:50pm, April 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Both are relatively new to Gator Nation, but in their short tenures at Florida, UF President Kent Fuchs and head football coach Jim McElwain have shown they know how to laugh.
They say a sense of humor can go a long way in life, and Fuchs and McElwain are living examples.
As part of an elaborate April Fools' Day joke on Wednesday, Fuchs and McElwain swapped jobs.
Fuchs grabbed a whistle and McElwain slipped on a scholar's robe. Actually, they filmed their prank last week and it was released publicly in multiple stages throughout Wednesday on social media.
There was a "breaking news story" in the Independent Florida Alligator. A video produced by GatorVision.tv. A series of tweets and photos from Fuchs' and McElwain's Twitter accounts.
The joke caught the attention of national media and various websites that regularly cover the Gators. University Athletic Association social media manager Bruce Floyd, who played an important role in helping pull off the April Fools' Day fun, collected data on the job swap's impact on social media.
Turns out Gator Nation tuned in and laughed along with Fuchs and McElwain. Here is data Floyd gathered:
The UF Communications staff would like to say 'thank you' for playing along. In case you took Wednesday off from the Internet, here is a Storify that captures the day of fun for Coach Fuchs and President McElwain:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his brief time around redshirt freshman defensive tackle Taven Bryan, Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph has gleaned some rather colorful observations.
"That's my big Wyoming wild man,'' Rumph said. "He's a big old caveman and wants to use all his brute strength."
A native of Casper, Wyo., Bryan spent more time in cowboy boots than football cleats growing up.
He remains a novice despite playing as a two-way lineman in high school and winning back-to-back state championships.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Bryan continues to grow physically, adding 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at UF as an early enrollee in January 2014.
How much he grows mentally is equally important as he tries to crack the regular rotation this season.
"I never watched much football,'' Bryan said Monday. "I need to learn the total defense as a scheme. That can help me out a lot more knowing what everyone is doing, so I can better understand what I'm supposed to be doing. So once I get that down it will help me out a lot more."
Rumph, who left Texas after a season to join Jim McElwain's staff in February, has seen enough of Bryan to know there is a player inside that growing caveman.
Once Bryan refines his skills and understands how to best leverage that brute strength, he can begin to make an impact in the lineup.
"He’s athletic for a big guy,'' Rumph said. "His football IQ is really, really low because he hasn’t played a lot of football. I don’t know how many great players have come out of the state of Wyoming, but he could be up there.
"Everything right now is just new for him. I got him on Gerber, baby food. I can’t even feed him table food yet; he would choke. But once he learns -- his teeth are starting to come in -- maybe we will feed him off the table before long."
Bryan picked up several late offers on the recruiting trail once schools discovered him, including Colorado State, where McElwain spent three years before coming to Florida.
McElwain mentioned earlier this spring that Bryan's athleticism and size make him a candidate to play fullback should the Gators need one in a jumbo package.
Bryan said he would gladly tackle that opportunity.
"That’d be kind of fun,'' he said. "I've never done that."
In football parlance, Bryan is a player with a lot of upside and raw physical tools at this stage of his young career.
Still, he has flashed enough to make believers out of his coaches and teammates.
Defensive end Alex McCalister won't be surprised if Bryan goes from a caveman to All-SEC defensive lineman.
"It’s crazy. Taven came in and didn’t know what a three technique was, even a shade,'' McCalister said. "Now Taven can tell you the whole front, what everybody’s doing on defense. He's a beast; he's a freak.
"Of course he’s humongous. It’s funny to see how he grows, how big he is. Taven’s gonna do so good, I’m trying to tell you man."
Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar is working to get a shot at the NFL and recently performed well at the Super Regional Combine in Arizona. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Good Monday morning to everyone out there.
The Florida football team returns to practice this afternoon as spring camp has passed the halfway point leading up to the Orange & Blue Debut on April 11.
Check out GatorZone.com later today for the latest on UF football. Meanwhile, here are some fresh links from around the Internet of interest to Gator fans:
--Caught up with Gators WR Quinton Dunbar, who is confident heading into UF’s Pro Day after a strong showing at the NFL Super Regional Combine in Arizona via FoxSportsFlorida.com.
--Former UF fan favorite Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls is trying to do good work on South Side of Chicago, but violence struck close over the weekend writes Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com.
--As expected, Gators QB Treon Harris, mourning the loss of his cousin, did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, writes the Associated Press via MiamiHerald.com.
--Former UF standout Udonis Haslem, now 34 and in the twilight of his NBA career, showed Sunday he can still produce writes Dave George of the Palm Beach Post.
--PGA Tour pro and ex-Gator Billy Horschel finished in the top 10 for the first time in 12 events this season, finishing third at the Texas Open writes the AP via FloridaToday.com.
--UF linebacker Matt Rolin’s comeback gets good start writes Richard Johnson for the Florida Times-Union.
--Beefed up and confident, Gators DL Joey Ivie looks to make strides this spring writes Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.
--In case you missed it, the Gators baseball team claimed a weekend series against Alabama with a 7-4 win Saturday writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--Gators center Cam Dillard eager to make his mark on UF’s thin offensive line writes Jordan McPherson for The Orlando Sentinel.
--Alligator Army writer Andy Hutchins hopes the concession stands will have popcorn on May 9 for a movie event at The Swamp.