Monday February 24, 2014 Photo Blog: Gators men's swimming-and-diving team celebrates back-to-back SEC titles
Updated: 4:38pm, February 24
Welcome to Carter's Corner!
Updated: 4:38pm, February 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida men's swimming-and-diving team won its first back-to-back SEC championships in 21 years on Saturday.
The Gators snapped Auburn's 16-year grip on the title in 2013, and led by three-time individual champion Sebastien Rousseau's performance, repeated as champions for the first time since 1993. The Gators won four in a row from 1990-93 before Auburn snapped their streak 1994.
The Florida men's program now has 35 SEC titles, second of any men's program in the SEC behind only Kentucky's 45 titles in basketball.
And before leaving the Gabrielsen Natatorium on the University of Georgia's campus, the Gators made a final splash to celebrate the victory.
We'll let these photos tell the story:
Senior Brad deBorde, center, celebrates the victory after a team dip in the pool ...
Speaking of that dip in the pool, the Gators brought their own inflatable gator to the party ...
Rousseau, winner of the men's Commissioner's Trophy, does a TV interview afterward ...
Last, but definitely not least, 61-year-old Gators diving coach Donnie Craine shows his boys how to celebrate with a big dive of his own. He needed no assistance getting out of the pool. Craine is a gamer.
The UF women's tennis team improved to 7-1 with a sweep of rival Florida State on Tuesday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one has to tell folks at the USTA that Gators women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist has a good thing going over at the courts off SW 2nd Ave.
The Gators won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012 and are consistently near the top of the polls. The fifth-ranked Gators knocked off rival Florida State 7-0 in a dual-match Tuesday afternoon.
The next time the Gators play at Scott Linder Stadium, the USTA will be there, too. So can you. If not in person, you can watch live on ESPN3.com.
As part of its 22-match, 18-campus tour, the USTA's "College MatchDay" will be at UF on Feb. 28 when the Gators host Texas A&M at 5 p.m.
The show is college tennis' version of ESPN's "College GameDay."
According to the USTA press release, "College MatchDay" is a weekly series featuring the best programs, coaches and players the college game has to offer.
In addition to the matches being carried live on ESPN3, the traveling event features a 53-foot interactive fan experience trailer on site where fans can engage in several activities before and during the match.
"We hope that 'College MatchDay' can change the landscape of viewing college tennis both in person and at home,'' said Virgil Christian, the USTA's director of collegiate tennis, in the press release.
This season's series started when the FSU men hosted Oklahoma on Feb. 7 and runs through April 13 when Illinois hosts Nebraska.
The event features a unique schedule compared to regular-season dual meets. The six singles matches will be played first, best-of-three tiebreak sets, with each singles match worth one point toward the team total (four points are required to win the match).
Once a team reaches four points and clinches, the remaining matches will not be completed. In the case of a 3-3 tie after the singles matches, three doubles matches – played using 10-point super tiebreakers – will be used to determine the winner in what amounts to college tennis’ version of overtime.
The team that wins two of the three doubles matches wins the team match.
The Gators travel to California this weekend where they face Saint Mary’s on Saturday and No. 3 Stanford on Sunday.
And then it's back home, where "College MatchDay" awaits.
Senior Elizabeth Beisel looks to add to her seven career SEC individual titles this week in Athens, Ga.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The school record books are dotted by names familiar far beyond the UF campus.
Tracy Caulkins ring a bell? What about Nicole Haislett or Dara Torres?
Who hasn't heard of Ryan Lochte the past couple of years? You know, the guy with that short-lived TV show and his own vocabulary.
There are others to make a splash for the Gators swimming and diving program and then go onto greater success.
Two current Gators have a chance to join some of the names above this week at the SEC Championships at the University of Georgia: seniors Elizabeth Beisel and Marcin Cieslak.
Already a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Team, Beisel has been front and center for the Gators since she stepped onto campus in the summer of 2010 from North Kingstown, R.I.
Beisel has won seven SEC individual titles during her All-American career, including the 400 individual medley and 200 back in each of the past three years.
Beisel's seven league titles are currently tied for eighth in school history. However, if she can add three more wins this week -- a three-event individual limit was put in place in 1992 -- Beisel would become only the second UF women's swimmer to win 10 conference crowns since the rule was imposed.
Haislett won all 12 of her events at the SEC Championships from 1991-94.
Haislett's 12 titles are tied with Caulkins and Kathy Treible for the most in school history.
Beisel's personal quest starts this evening when she competes in the 200 IM. She helped the Gators get off to a good start on Tuesday, teaming with Ellese Zalewski, Lindsey McKnight and Sinead Russell for a third-place finish in the 800 free relay.
Meanwhile, Cieslak is also scheduled to compete in the 200 IM final today. The 2012 SEC champion in the 200 IM, Cieslak has six individual league titles in his career.
Cieslak was part of the Gators' 200-medley relay team that set a school record on Tuesday to claim the title on the first day of the five-day event at Georgia's Gabrielsen Natatorium.
A 2012 member of the Polish Olympic Team, Cieslak is scheduled to compete in the 200 IM, 100 fly and 200 fly this week in Athens. If Cieslak wins his three individual events, he would become UF's most accomplished men's swimmer at the SEC Championships.
The threesome of Tom Dioguardi (1965-67), Martin Zubero (1988-91) and Lochte (2003-06) each won eight individual crowns.
Cieslak looked good to Gators coach Gregg Troy on Tuesday in the 200-medley relay.
"Marcin Cieslak and Brad deBorde kind of set the tone in that men's medley relay,'' Troy said. "They just refused to lose."
If Beisel and Cieslak deliver in their individual events, those school records will need rearranging.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Last Thursday, on the eve of the season opener, Gators baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan clearly stated the importance of redshirt junior Karsten Whitson to this year’s club.
“He needs to be good for us to be good,’’ O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan knows that if Whitson can come close to duplicating his freshman season in 2011 – he was 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 19 starts – Florida’s pitching staff has a certifiable ace.
On Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium Gator fans got their first glimpse of Whitson on the mound in more than 20 months. Whitson started Sunday’s 8-5 win against Maryland, his first outing since May 2012 in the SEC Tournament.
Whitson missed much of the 2012 season and all of 2013 with various injuries, including surgery to clean up his right shoulder.
In his first start of the season, Whitson threw 48 pitches (28 strikes) and got a no-decision. In two innings, Whitson allowed four hits, three runs, walked two, struck out two and threw a wild pitch.
He was clocked in the low 90s consistently and topped out at 93 on a second-inning fastball. While he appeared to have trouble locating his fastball, Whitson consistently threw strikes with his off-speed pitches.
“I thought he did a great job,’’ junior catcher Taylor Gushue said. “He threw a lot of strikes. He attacked the strike zone. There is nothing more that we can ask for him. We definitely supported him with the bats, so he didn’t have to worry about that. Overall, I’d say his first outing was a good one. I think he is going to come out stronger next time.”
All three of Maryland’s runs against Whitson came in his 30-pitch first inning. He walked leadoff batter Charlie White on five pitches, and then retired the next two batters – Brandon Lowe on a sacrifice bunt and LaMonte Wade on a pop up to third.
Whitson then got ahead of Terrapins cleanup hitter Kevin Martir 0-2 before leaving a ball out over the plate that Martir smacked into left field for an RBI single. Whitson threw a first-pitch strike to the next batter, Blake Schmit, before leaving another pitch up that Schmit drilled to left-center for an RBI double.
After a walk and another double, Whitson finally escaped the inning by getting Krysthian Leal to ground out to second for the final out.
“He was fine other than the 0-2 mistake,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He bounces a breaking ball there and he probably gets out of the inning and doesn’t give up any runs.”
Whitson came back with a much more efficient second inning, facing five batters and striking out two.
The Gators scored four runs in a long bottom of the second and O’Sullivan opted to turn the game over to reliever Eric Hanhold, who delivered three shutout innings.
“I wanted him to leave on a good note,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He was at 50 pitches. How much more is he going to go? I thought it was the right time. He left on a positive note. He had a clean second inning.”
While it wasn’t vintage Whitson, a classic power pitcher who can hit the mid-90s and mix in a nasty slider when at the top of his game, the comeback victory and taking two of three in the season-opening series made it an enjoyable day at the ballpark for the Gators.
Whitson’s next turn likely will come in a weekend series at Miami that starts Friday.
It will be another chance to prove that he can be the ace the Gators envision.
“I felt confidence from him,’’ Gushue said of Whitson’s pregame demeanor Sunday. “It helped me, too. I’m always happy to catch Karsten. It’s a good thing.”
You won’t hear O’Sullivan argue with that.
“In his defense, it’s been a lot time since he’s been out there,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He made a lot of stressful pitches in two innings. He was anxious to want to get out there. He threw the ball much better in the second inning.”
“We’re going to keep running him out there. He’ll figure this thing out.”
Updated: 3:17pm, February 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Information moves so quickly today that it can be difficult to keep track of all the news, notes and nuggets you see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, websites, newspapers, magazines and other forms of media.
Here is a look at 20 Gator-related items from reliable sources that you might have missed:
--Former NFL and Gators standout Cris Collinsworth, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" analyst, is serving as an Olympic correspondent for the fourth time in his career during the Sochi Games. He would like to see a U.S.-Russia hockey rematch via DenverPost.com.
--Eight Gators have been invited to this week’s NFL Combine: tight end Trey Burton, center Jon Harrison, offensive lineman Jon Halapio, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, defensive back Jaylen Watkins and linebacker Ronald Powell. (NFL.com)
--Speaking of Easley, he is doing a NFL Draft Diary for FOXSports.com.
--Can you imagine if Bradley Beal, who would be a junior, was on this year’s Florida team? Beal had a memorable All-Star weekend via WashingtonPost.com.
--Gators senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors Monday. No surprise considering his stellar play in road wins at Tennessee and Kentucky:
--Former Gators head coach Ron Zook is returning to coaching after a year away as assistant special teams coach with the Green Bay Packers. “I didn’t have to think about it at all,’’ Zook told BeloitDailyNews.com at Lambeau Field.
--Gators defensive back Cody Riggs, who is transferring after he graduates in May and will have one year of eligibility remaining, has shown interest in attending Notre Dame. The interest is mutual according to SouthBendTribune.com.
--The career of Florida offensive lineman Octavius Jackson was derailed by shoulder woes via MoultrieObserver.com.
--Former UF fullback/safety Rhaheim Ledbetter landed at Southern University after transferring at the end of last season. More details from ShelbyStar.com.
--Another former Gator, offensive lineman Quinteze Williams, has enrolled at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College. The Blue Dragons featured ex-Gator and Auburn player Mike Blakely last season.
--Gators signee Moral Stephens, a tight end from Taylor County High in Perry, Fla., played in the International Bowl for Team USA and impressed teammate Grant Watanabe, a linebacker who signed with Colorado, via USAFootball.com.
--Gators signee Thomas Holley impressed Florida coach Will Muschamp with his basketball skills writes Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun.
--Stephens and Holley don't report to UF until the summer, but when they do, they'll have their own locker in this place:
--Florida’s win at Kentucky on Saturday showcased why experience still matters in college basketball writes John Clay of KentuckySports.com.
--Former Gator Joakim Noah likes to play defense, even in the NBA All-Star Game via ChicagoSunTimes.com.
--Seattle catcher Mike Zunino seeks to contribute offensively in the majors like he did with the Gators via MLB.com.
--Gators pitcher Keenan Kish pitched well when healthy (1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 47 innings) in his three seasons, but his career is apparently over:
#Gators RHP Keenan Kish needs Tommy John surgery, has decided to end his baseball career. Will stay with the team as a student assistant.— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) February 16, 2014
--A good nugget from Gators freshman Chris Walker’s debut Feb. 4 against Missouri. Walker, who wears No. 23, scored his first basket on a dunk that tied the score 23-all.
--Gators softball pitcher Hannah Rogers won the 100th game of her career on Friday with an 11-1 victory over Hawaii. Rogers is only the second UF pitcher to reach 100 wins, joining former All-American Stacey Nelson, who was 136-36 in her career from 2006-09.
--Gators senior distance runner Cory McGee spent Saturday in New York competing in the Wanamaker Mile, one of track and field's most iconic races. McGee finished 12th in race won by Mary Cain, a 17-year-old phenom and latest American sensation in the mile. More from RunnersWorld.com.
BLAST FROM PAST
The Gators moved up to No. 2 in the latest polls Monday and have won two national titles under head coach Billy Donovan.
Once upon a time Sports Illustrated wrote about the promise of the Sunshine State's men's basketball programs, but the story didn't exactly play out like the 1981 article forecast.
Titled "Four On The Floor In Florida," distinguished basketball journalist Jack McCallum -- his 2012 book "Dream Team" is a New York Times bestseller -- made the trek to Florida to write about the Gators, Seminoles, Bulls and Dolphins.
Miami had disbanded its basketball program at the time and Jacksonville's trip to the Final Four a decade earlier still carried a lot of weight nationally.
Anyway, the article talks about the shiny new O'Connell Center and Sun Dome, and offers other insights that might prompt you to smile considering the way everything played out.
Updated: 7:09am, February 14
Gators senior Cory McGee will run indoors Saturday in the historic Wanamaker Mile in New York.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Wanamaker Mile is an event that transcends the track and field community.
For more than 90 years the race was held at Madison Square Garden as part of the Millrose Games. The location has changed but the Wanamaker remains a staple on the New York City sports calendar.
On Saturday afternoon at the 168th Street Armory in Upper Manhattan, with a live national TV audience watching on the NBC Sports Network, Gators senior distance runner Cory McGee will fulfill another dream in her distinguished career.
McGee is running in the Wanamaker.
"Still being in college, I definitely feel like I have something to prove,'' McGee said Thursday afternoon after her Florida History class ended. "You want to run fast and you want to win. It's going to be set up for it to be fast, and it's also so iconic that everybody going for the win. You get both of those pressures."
McGee is no stranger to the Millrose Games, an annual track and field festival in New York that began in 1908.
During her prep career in Pass Christian, Miss., McGee competed in the high-school mile at the Millrose Games four consecutive years. She finished third the first three years before winning as a senior in 2010.
McGee was enthralled by the event's energy, the world-class competition and the passion of the fans at Madison Square Garden.
When an invitation arrived to compete in the Wanamaker Mile this year, she said yes quicker than she could lace up her running shoes.
"Any chance to run in the Millrose Games I'm going to take because it's my absolute favorite indoor meet," McGee said. "Winning that my senior year of high school is probably my favorite race in all of high school."
McGee is Florida's record-holder in the 1,500 meters and was the bronze medalist at last summer's USA Outdoor Championships. She is one of 13 runners scheduled to compete in the women's Wanamaker on Saturday, including last year's runner-up, 17-year-old sensation Mary Cain.
Cain recently turned pro and trains under marathon legend Alberto Salazar. She is the American high-school record holder in the mile and a celebrity in the track and field world.
McGee expects Cain to set the pace on Saturday in a field that is a mix of professional and amateur runners.
"She will be the favorite I think,'' McGee said. "She has put down the fastest marks so far this season. She was one of the other 1,500 runners I was with over the summer with Team USA. It's really impressive what she has done in the sport so far."
Cain finished last year's event in 4 minutes, 28.25 seconds, second to winner Shelia Reid (4:27.02) by little more than a second.
McGee, whose best time in the indoor mile is 4:32.10, trained rigorously over the Christmas break and said she feels stronger than she has ever felt. Her training routine was thrown two weeks ago when she got sick and couldn't run for a couple of days.
When she resumed training, McGee tweaked her hamstring. She felt back to full speed on Wednesday during a strenuous workout and is confident she can put up a good time on Saturday.
"The last week has been recovery and I haven't been able to hit it as hard as I usually would,'' she said. "But I feel perfectly fine. I feel like everything is back on track, just a little bump in the road."
While the Gators' distance runners are in Seattle this weekend at the Husky Classic, McGee opted to head east.
She is a stranger to the Wanamaker, but not the excitement that surrounds the event and the Millrose Games.
"My whole class [in high school] would get together and watch it,'' she said. "It's kind of like a similar feeling. I've always loved the Millrose Games so much. It just feels like I'm supposed to go there."
Updated: 8:27am, February 13
Eric Banks finished 10th in last year's SunTrust Gator Invitational for Florida's top individual performance.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF men's golf team needs a kick-start.
At the Sea Best Invitational last week at TPC Sawgrass, Gators coach Buddy Alexander hoped a visit from former pupil Billy Horschel, a rising star on the PGA Tour, might turn the Gators in the right direction.
Horschel spoke to the players, walked the course during the Gators' round one day -- Horschel lives in Ponte Vedra where the tournament was held -- and had dinner with the team.
The Gators finished sixth out of 16 teams. They had their moments, but Alexander wants more from his young team when it hosts the SunTrust Gator Invitation this weekend.
"Whatever upside they have, they need to come up with it pretty quickly,'' he said. "We're halfway through the season. We've had one pretty good tournament, and the other four, frankly, haven't been particularly good."
The Gators want the old cliché "there's no place like home" to ring true Saturday and Sunday at Mark Bostick Golf Course.
Florida has hosted the Gator Invitational annually since 1978. They have dominated the event over the years, winning 25 of 36 tournaments.
However, for only the third time over that stretch, the Gators failed to win in back-to-back years. Auburn won in 2012 and Florida State took the crown a year ago as Florida's two top players -- T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber -- dealt with flu-like symptoms and were off their games.
Vogel and McCumber are now playing professionally and if the Gators are to reclaim their own tournament, the junior trio of Santiago Gavino, J.D. Tomlinson and Eric Banks needs to play well.
The Gators won their own tournament eight consecutive seasons before Auburn snapped that streak two years ago.
They are ready to start a new streak.
"It would be a good starting point to get a little momentum going,'' Banks said. "Obviously on our home course, we feel comfortable here. It would definitely be nice to get back on that train."
Florida's best performance of the season came in October when it finished tied for third at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate.
While success has eluded them for much of the season, Gavino knows success in the Gator Invitational. In the final round of the 2013 tournament, Gavino shot a 3-under par 67, the best round of his career.
He finished tied for 12th. Banks shot a final-round 68 to finish 10th and Tomlinson finished tied for 17th, highlighted by an opening-round 69.
"It's good for us to play at home and get a little confidence going, and get it going for the postseason,'' Gavino said. "It should be to our advantage."
Tomlinson grew up in Gainesville and will have several family and friends in the gallery. He wants to make it worth their time.
"I personally have never won this tournament,'' Tomlinson said. "It would be really cool to finally bring it back here. It's the only home tournament we have. You kind of want to show out the one time a year you are able to."
"We have kind of a leg up [playing at home], and we have something to prove."
The Gators finished fourth a year go, 19 shots off FSU's pace.
Alexander hasn't seen a major theme in Florida's inconsistent season. He attributes much of it to youth and learning the game.
"Somebody asked me in August what my expectations were this year, and I told them my expectations were we would have plenty of diaper rash,'' he said. "We are really young.
"We've had some growing pains. They haven't turned the corner; they haven't quite grasped what we're trying to get them to understand about playing golf. But at home, maybe we'll have a better chance to do that."
Updated: 10:17am, February 7
Gators' signee Treon Harris discusses his decision to sign with Gators over FSU.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The hype and hoopla of National Signing Day have quieted.
The recruiting websites have already turned their attention to the Class of 2015 and beyond.
Some coach somewhere is contemplating if he should offer that seventh-grader he just saw on YouTube a scholarship. Hey, free publicity.
But before closing the book on NSD 2014, let's take a look at some of the headlines covering the Gators' latest batch of players.
In fact, I'm dedicated this blog post to Florida head coach Will "I don't really follow the Internet much" Muschamp.
Coach, every one of these links is from, well, the Internet:
--Despite 2013 woes, Gators land a strong recruiting class writes Phillip Heilman of The Palm Beach Post.
--Recruits sold on UF brand writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida sees Roper Effect on recruiting trail writes Zach Abolverdi.
--Players in the 2014 class will get an opportunity to play early writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Mapping the 2014 Gators class from Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.
--Gators land a top-10 class despite an eight-loss season writes David Jones of Florida Today.
--Quarterback Treon Harris' flip from Florida State to Florida was one of the Gators' big wins Wednesday writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Gators' optimistic after adding strong class of skill players writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.
--ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough ranks the SEC recruiting classes.
--ESPN.com's Jeff Barlis grades the Gators' 2014 signing class.
--Florida signs another top-10 class as reported by the AP's Mark Long via Yahoo.com.
--A look at Florida's class and ranking from Scout.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Seattle-Denver Super Bowl was on my TV screen Sunday night, but on my Twitter timeline, you might have thought a Gators game was going on.
A Gators game circa 2008.
Seemed every time I checked out Twitter I saw references to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin or a #Gators hashtag.
As you probably know unless you dozed off around 7, Tebow had one of the night’s biggest commercials and Harvin had one of the night’s biggest performances.
In addition, former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn unleased his “Legion of Boom” defense on Peyton Manning and the Broncos never had a chance.
What you might not know is that Harvin and Quinn were not the only UF connections to the Seahawks.
Seattle’s official mascot, Blitz, is actually UF graduate Ryan Asdourian, who I wrote about last month.
Also, former Gators defensive back Marquand Manuel, who spent time at UF in the fall of 2011 studying under Quinn and Gators head coach Will Muschamp, is a defensive assistant with Seattle.
In fact, Manuel is the only Seahawks coach or player remaining with ties to Seattle’s Super Bowl team in 2005 writes Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com.
Finally, Seattle’s head athletic trainer is Donald Rich, who did his undergraduate work at UF and was promoted to head trainer in June 2012.
So, if you are a Seahawks fan, you had a good night with some Gator-flavored highlights.
For some fresh links about the Florida connections to Super Bowl XLVIII, check these out:
--Quinn talks about how he would have probably accepted Cleveland's head-coaching job if the Seahawks hadn't made a Super Bowl run.
--Harvin showed why Seahawks traded for him writes The Seattle Times.
--Harvin finally delivered on Seattle's huge investment writes The New York Times.
--Harvin kept his word, delivered with a big Super Bowl writes The Sporting News.
--Tebow's T-Mobile ad wins raves writes The New York Post.
His football career is in limbo, but former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow's marketing power remains high.
This is a new T-Mobile ad featuring Tebow to be shown during Sunday's Super Bowl and is a lot different than his Super Bowl commercial four years ago.
It was unveiled this morning on Tebow's appearance on "Good Morning America."
It's worth a watch. Tebow shows off his funny side.
Updated: 3:54pm, January 28
Former Gators All-American Percy Harvin and Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman in 'The Sessions.'
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – During his three seasons at Florida, Percy Harvin helped the Gators win two national championships and was never boring. You never knew what might happen when he touched the football.
Minnesota fans can relate. Harvin was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2009 and spent his first four seasons with the Vikings. However, supporters of the Seattle Seahawks have yet to fully experience the Harvin Effect.
Harvin said Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day that he will play Sunday and try to make an impact when the Seahawks and Broncos meet in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“Absolutely. I’m ready to go,’’ Harvin told reporters. “This is what I live for. I’m used to playing in big games since I was younger, whether it was in Pop Warner or the two with the Gators.”
Harvin was traded to Seattle for a three draft picks (first-, third- and seventh-round) and signed a six-year contract in the offseason worth $67 million.
So far in return, Seattle has received only two appearances from Harvin – one regular-season game and a playoff game.
Harvin (photo, right) underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip during training camp and was limited to one catch in the regular season. He did return a kickoff 58 yards in the November game between Seattle and his former team but was sidelined once again.
When he finally returned in the divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Harvin caught three passes but had to leave the game due to a concussion. He missed Seattle’s win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll plans to have Harvin on the field Sunday.
“He’s in,’’ Carroll told reporters. “He had another great day [of practice Monday] and a great week last week. He’s part of the game plan.”
Harvin is one of only three Gators to be named NFL Rookie of the Year, joining Emmitt Smith and Jevon Kearse. He finished his career at UF with nearly as many rushing yards (1,668) as yards receiving (1,804).
If Harvin is healthy, he could give Denver’s defense problems in the passing and running game.
“The challenge for me is just to go out there and do what I normally do,’’ Harvin said. “I’m just going to go out there and play the game I know how to play. I’m tremendously confident in what I’m going to do. I definitely think I can be a factor in this game.”
In Seattle’s win over New Orleans, Harvin played 19 snaps before being injured late in the second quarter. He finished with three catches for 21 yards and had a nine-yard run.
Harvin helped Florida defeat Ohio State in the 2006 BCS National Championships Game and Oklahoma for the 2008 title.
As the Seahawks left town to fly to New Jersey over the weekend, Harvin was reminded of the stage.
“On the whole way to the airport, which is about a 30-minute ride from our facility, every highway fans were going crazy,’’ Harvin said. “This experience is unbelievable. This is what I live for. This is what anybody that plays in the NFL lives for, to play in this one game.
“This is one game for it all.”
And maybe the game Seattle fans will experience the Harvin Effect.
Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan, right, is entering his seventh season at UF.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The UF baseball team’s longer-than-normal offseason ends Friday when the Gators open camp. The season opener is Feb. 14 as Florida hosts Maryland to start a three-game series.
Instead of finishing their season in late June in Omaha, the Gators’ 2013 season came to a screeching halt at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington, Ind. Florida lost back-to-back one-run games to Austin Peay and Valparaiso in the Bloomington Regional.
UF’s string of three consecutive trips to the College World Series was over. Five consecutive losses to close the season dropped the Gators to 29-30, their first losing season under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. The power-challenged lineup hit only 28 home runs -- or 47 fewer than in 2012 when they led the nation.
While it was a subpar season compared to the high standards of recent seasons, O’Sullivan guided the Gators back to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season, which ties the longest streak in school history.
Based on preseason projections, that record should fall in 2014.
In other words, the Gators are expected to be back. Maybe not all the way back to Omaha, but back in the mix as a real contender when the postseason starts.
The first major preseason poll to be released is from Collegiate Baseball. The Gators check in at No. 16, the only team ranked in the top 40 that didn’t finish with a winning record last season.
One reason the Gators will likely be ranked in the other major polls is because of this ranking: No. 1 recruiting class in 2013.
O’Sullivan boosted the roster with the addition of 17 newcomers, a signing class that PerfectGame.org also ranked No. 1 in the country.
Of course, the Gators must go out and do it on the field for the preseason pundits to be proved correct.
That task begins at McKethan Stadium three weeks from Friday when Florida baseball opens its 100th season.
Let’s take a look at five questions surrounding this year’s Gators:
--Which newcomer could make biggest impact? The biggest one – literally and figuratively. At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, freshman A.J. Puk is an imposing figure on the mound or at the plate. Puk bats and throws left-handed and arrived at UF as one of the country’s top two-way prospects after a celebrated prep career at Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Puk’s fastball is clocked in the 90s and he is a versatile athlete, having played quarterback in high school prior to opting to play baseball full-time. Puk has a similar skill set to that of former Gators 1B/P Brian Johnson, who was a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2012 MLB Draft.
--Can Karsten Whitson anchor the starting rotation? The redshirt junior has been in the spotlight since he signed with the Gators after passing up a multi-million dollar signing bonus with the Padres coming out of high school. Whitson (photo, left) won eight games in 2011 and was named National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Perfect Game. He owns a 12-1 career record with a 2.69 ERA. However, due to various injuries, Whitson has pitched only 33 1/3 innings the past two seasons. The good news is that Whitson is healthy and projected as the No. 1 starter.
--Who is the player the Gators need to stay healthy and in the lineup? Sophomore shortstop Richie Martin is expected to bat leadoff and tighten up the infield defense. Martin suffered a finger injury last season and could not play the field for 20 games. The Gators reeled off a season-high eight consecutive wins when Martin returned before faltering down the stretch. Martin’s baseball IQ and leadership qualities will be important to the club’s success.
--Who will supply the power? The Gators scored two or fewer runs in 15 of 59 games a season ago (25 percent). They were 0-15 in those games. While no one expects this group to match the power totals of the 2012 team that featured boppers Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker, the Gators will need more than 22 home runs from the eight position players returning. Catcher Taylor Gushue, third baseman Josh Tobias and outfielder Justin Shafer can hit for power and second baseman Casey Turgeon hit five home runs a season ago. Puk has home-run potential as well, which should increase as he develops physically.
--How is the bullpen depth? The bullpen was a key weapon for the three consecutive Florida teams to make the CWS. Injuries and performance derailed the relief corps last season. Fortunately for O’Sullivan, the return of right-hander Keenan Kish and lefty Corey Stump adds depth. Both missed the majority of last season to injuries. Right-hander Ryan Harris is slated to fill the void left by the departure of closer Johnny Magliozzi (4-2, 2.67, 12 SVs) and a talented pool of freshmen that includes right-handers Dane Dunning and Brett Morales could factor into the mix. The trio of Eric Hanhold, Jay Carmichael and Danny Young also figures prominently in the pitching plans. All three have started and relieved during their careers.
Bottom line: The Gators have plenty of familiar names from a year ago and another year of experience should only help the team’s core group. However, O’Sullivan has high hopes for the talented freshman class and how quickly they adjust to the college game will play a critical role in how the 2014 season plays out.
Updated: 4:26pm, January 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The talent was there. That was never an issue for former Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.
Lewis produced from the start, first under Blue Devils offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien in 2006. Lewis passed for 2,134 yards as a freshman – fourth all-time among ACC freshmen – and when O’Brien left after the season to join Bill Belichick in New England, Lewis put together another good season in 2007.
That season Duke’s quarterbacks coach was Peter Vaas, who was at Notre Dame during Brady Quinn’s final two seasons.
Still, in his third season as Duke’s starting quarterback in 2008, Lewis (photo, left) took flight in a way he didn’t know was possible. He was a second-team All-ACC selection and began to understand the game in a much deeper way in long study sessions with Kurt Roper, Florida’s new offensive coordinator.
Roper arrived in 2008 when former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, Roper’s mentor, replaced Ted Roof as Duke’s head coach and began the process of turning the Blue Devils from ACC bottom feeder to a 10-win team in 2013.
“First of all, he’s a great teacher,’’ Lewis said. “He teaches them the game and that’s what a lot of quarterbacks don’t get at the college level, being taught defenses. Before you learn and implement his offense, you have to learn defenses. I didn’t understand that as a junior in college, but it paid dividends my senior year.”
Lewis had the best season of his college career in 2009, his second working with Roper. Lewis threw for 3,330 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. At 6-foot-2 he was considered undersized in the NFL scout’s bible.
Lewis went undrafted, signed as a free agent with the Rams, made stops in Cleveland and Detroit, and in his fourth season in the NFL, finally got to play in Buffalo this season. Lewis started five games after Bills starter EJ Manual was hurt.
Lewis showed off the high football IQ and strong arm that has kept him in the league.
“Thad’s really had to fight through some hurdles,’’ Roper said. “I told every NFL scout coming out, I said, ‘I don’t know if he’s anybody’s starter, but I know there’s not 60 quarterbacks in the country better than him.’ It’s taken a little bit.
“I think he is finding a home now because every time he goes out there and plays, he plays well. He’s an NFL quarterback.”
Lewis said Tuesday that prior to Roper's tutelage, he did not have the knowledge that it takes to play quarterback in the NFL. During their two seasons together that changed as Lewis’ recognition of defenses, his pocket presence and his overall game improved.
“He was very influential in allowing me to take it to the next level,’’ Lewis said. “He is a tough-nosed coach. He taught me the fundamentals of the game. One thing I want to say to the Gator quarterbacks, I hope they are ready to get coached hard. He coaches you hard because he wants the best out of you on the field on Saturdays.”
Lewis didn’t know Roper or his background when Cutcliffe took over the program after Lewis’ sophomore season. Soon they developed a connection in quarterback meetings that included Lewis’ backup, Atlanta Falcons rookie Sean Renfree, and newcomer Sean Schroeder, who did not play in three seasons at Duke before transferring and starting at Hawaii the past two seasons.
It was in those meetings that Lewis learned as much about defenses as he did about Roper’s offense.
“There was a change in outlook,’’ he said. “I was being taught a different aspect of the game. A lot of coaches don’t have the patience to teach young 18- and 19-year-olds defenses. If you know the defense against your offense, then you will know where to go with the ball. I didn’t quite understand why he was teaching us defense instead of our offense. I figured out why once we started playing.
“It made all the difference in the world. I saw every defense known to man. It was easy to transition onto the field. If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure where I would have been in my career. Having him for two years and being on the same page helped a lot.”
In his first season at UF, Roper will try to inject life into an offense that is expected to be led by redshirt junior Jeff Driskel. Driskel led the Gators to an 11-2 record in 2012 but played in only three games last season due to a broken lower leg suffered in a win over Tennessee.
Lewis, a Florida native who played at Hialeah High in Miami Lakes, will keep a close eye on his former coach.
“Florida got a great offensive coordinator and a great quarterbacks coach,’’ Lewis said. “I’m excited to see him help those guys.”
A look at Lewis highlights from his college career at Duke:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy D's team stayed perfect in the SEC with a gritty road win at Auburn. The UF gymnastics team knocked off Auburn in its SEC road opener the night before.
Meanwhile, former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, a New Jersey native, is going home after the Seahawks held on to defeat the 49ers Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game.
Quinn is going to need a lot of Super Bowl tickets when the Seahawks and Broncos meet at MetLife Stadium.
Let's take a look some fresh Gator-related links from around the Internet this Monday morning:
--Gators survive road test at Auburn writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--The return of Casey Prather to the lineup boosted Florida's performance at Auburn.
--Florida gymnast Mackenzie Caquatto bounced back strong to help Gators win at Auburn writes Erica A. Hernandez of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Fouls doomed the Gators women's basketball team in Sunday's home loss to Georgia writes Gordon Streisand of the Alligator.
--Former UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his vaunted Seahawks D are heading to the Super Bowl. An early preview of the Seattle-Denver matchup from USA Today.
--Meanwhile, Quinn remains a source of interest for the Cleveland Browns writes the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
--A good read on Gators head coach Will Muschamp's outlook heading into 2014 by Matt Hayes of The Sporting News.
--Former Gators running back Emmitt Smith tells SI.com about his move from field to boardroom.
--Former Gators standout Joakim Noah connected with Chicago fans after a popular teammate was traded writes The Chicago Tribune.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The standards are going to be high. So are the expectations.
That was a key message new Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers shared with his latest group of man movers.
Since he was hired 10 days ago by Gators coach Will Muschamp, the 57-year-old Summers hasn't had a lot of time to get to know the players he is now responsible for coaching and developing. But based on first impressions, Summers likes the building blocks the Gators have up front to help reverse the program's fortunes in 2014.
"The one thing that I know is that the players I've met on this football team are hungry to be successful,'' Summers said. "And they believe in Coach Muschamp. They believe in this program. And all of those feelings have come through to me just in the short time that I've been here.
"I believe I can make an impact in what's going on, on the offensive line. I feel extremely comfortable with the coaches we have on this offensive staff."
Summers quipped that he may lead the nation in head coaches in the past year. He was at Kentucky in 2012 on Gators receivers coach Joker Phillips' staff, briefly accepted a position on Bobby Petrino's staff at Western Kentucky before opting to move across country to join Lane Kiffin's USC staff.
When Kiffin was fired, Summers stayed aboard and helped the Trojans win 10 games under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. After USC parted ways with Orgeron, Summers was looking for his next stop.
He didn't have to wait long as Muschamp sought a replacement for Tim Davis.
Summers is well respected in coaching circles for his success during a 34-year coaching career highlighted by a successful tenure at Louisville with Petrino -- the Cardinals went 41-9 during Summers' four seasons there -- and featured one of the country's most explosive offenses.
"He has a diverse background,'' Muschamp said Monday at Summers' introductory press conference at UF. "He is a great addition to our staff. He's done a fantastic job. In the interview process, a fantastic teacher, a good teaching progression. Some young guys are going to need to be developed and developed very quickly."
The Gators lose starting center Jonotthan Harrison and right guard Jon Halapio, but an experienced group that includes D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Tyler Moore and Max Garcia return.
The mission for Summers is to make the offensive line a strength next season in first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's system.
"I'm encouraged that when we start into the offseason program that they've got that hunger that's burning to get themselves back to where they want to be,'' Summers said. "And because of that, and because of the passion of the coaching staff, I feel confident that we can do that."
To make it happen, Summers will employ the tactics he has honed during a coaching career that started in 1980 as a graduate assistant at Kentucky.
"The first thing we have to do is work on our fundamental foundation as an offensive line," he said. "So much of our success is dependent on our footwork, our landmarks, our hands and our eyes.
"Those technical developments have to be committed to muscle memory. It has to be trained so when we snap the football, those guys can execute with speed, power and with the kind of emotion that we need in our offense."
First, Summers must get settled and turn his focus to National Signing Day on Feb. 5 and then the start of spring practice in March.
Muschamp said Summers will primarily be responsible for recruiting the Panhandle area, a region he developed contacts during in stops at Kentucky, Louisville and Arkansas.
It's been a crazy year for Summers, but he is thankful for the way 2014 has started.
"There are jobs out there when you start out in coaching and look at and think, 'This is where I'd love to be someday,' " Summers said. "Florida has always been that for me. I grew up in Kentucky, grew up in SEC country and have always looked at Florida from the outside wishing I could be on the correct sideline.
"The reputation of this program is strong. I've been doing it long enough to know that every program has ebbs and flows to it. The things that I've seen in a short time that I've been here makes me encouraged that we're going to get right back to that point."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators will unveil their 2014 recruiting class Feb. 5 on National Signing Day.
However, the nine newest members of the Florida football team are already on campus and participating in offseason workouts that started Monday.
“Having nine guys in mid-year says a lot about these kids academically, being ready to go,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said.
As for Florida’s progress heading toward National Signing Day, Muschamp is pleased at the way the 2014 signing class is coming together.
“I feel like considering we didn’t have a great season, I feel very comfortable where we are recruiting-wise,’’ he said.
Of the nine early enrollees who will participate in spring practice, six of the players are on offense, three on defense.
For those of you who follow recruiting closely, you know their names. For those of you who don’t, here are links with stories on each from the various websites:
--Freshman quarterback Will Grier set all sorts of records during his career at Davidson (N.C.) Day School writes Ken Bradley of The Sporting News.
--Freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby joins the Gators after a productive career at Derby (Kan.) High writes Derek Tyson of ESPN.com.
--Freshman offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless flipped to the Gators from Louisville writes Chris Hays of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher chose the Gators over Clemson writes Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army.
--Freshman running back Brandon Powell, from Deerfield Beach, flipped from Miami to Florida writes Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun.
--Junior-college transfer offensive lineman Drew Sarvary made impact in only season at Tyler (Texas) Junior College.
--Freshman defensive lineman Taven Bryan comes to Florida from Wyoming writes Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com.
--Freshman defensive back Duke Dawson grew up in Dixie County and chose Florida over FSU as The Gainesville Sun’s John Boothe goes A to Z with Dawson.
--Freshman defensive back Jalen Tabor of Friendship Collegiate in Washington, D.C., signed with the Gators over Arizona writes Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post.
For a look at Florida’s updated roster, click here.
As for the newcomers, GatorZone.com will be doing Q&As with the players leading up to National Signing Day.
Also, check out GatorZone.com on National Signing Day for exclusive content throughout the day.
Updated: 11:14am, January 10
Coleman Hutzler returns to UF as special-teams coordinator after two seasons at New Mexico.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Coleman Hutzler spent a portion of Thursday flipping through pages and studying the recent history of Florida’s special teams.
The Gators have excelled on special teams under former coach Urban Meyer and current head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown nine consecutive seasons, tied for the fourth-longest streak in the country. In Muschamp’s 38 games, Florida has blocked 13 kicks.
“There is a proud tradition,’’ Hutzler said. “Special teams have obviously been important here.”
While the Gators dropped to 4-8 in 2013, their special teams fared well in general other than the kicking game, which dropped off considerably following the loss of Caleb Sturgis. The Gators were one of only three teams in the SEC to return a kickoff for a touchdown, and finished second behind LSU at 24.8 yards per kickoff return. Florida’s 10.4-yard punt return average was third in the conference behind Alabama and Auburn.
However, there were fewer game-changing plays than in previous seasons.
It is now Hutzler’s turn to place his stamp on the Gators’ special teams. He returned to UF after two years at New Mexico. Hutzler replaces Jeff Choate, who resigned last month and later joined Chris Petersen’s staff at Washington.
As Florida’s new special-teams coordinator, Hutzler joins Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin – who coached Florida’s special teams prior to last season – for the third time in his career. The two first worked together at Stanford on Jim Harbaugh’s staff, and when Durkin came to Florida in 2010, Hutzler came along in a non-coaching role.
Hutzler left UF after the 2011 season for his first full-time coaching position when former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie took over at New Mexico and hired Hutzler as special-teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach.
Hutzler made an impact.
The Lobos improved from 112th nationally to 25th in net punting and their punt-return defense improved to No. 19 from 106th. Perhaps no one benefited from Hutzler’s work at New Mexico more than kick returner Carlos Wiggins, who ranked fifth in the FBS with an average of 29.6 yards per return. Wiggins was the only FBS player to return three kickoffs for touchdowns last season.
Hutzler wants special teams to continue to play a major role in Florida’s success.
“It’s exciting to be able to come back as special-teams coordinator at a place like this,’’ Hutzler said. “It was a great experience [at New Mexico]. I came into a place that it was really a rebuilding job. I was fortunate to get that opportunity and learned a ton defensively as a coach. We did some good things on special teams and were able to create some big plays.”
Hutzler expects his background with UF’s veteran players and his familiarity with what has worked at UF in recent years on special teams to help in the transition.
There won’t be many surprises for those who played for Durkin.
“We’ll talk a ton about technique and effort. Those two are the foundation of everything we do,’’ Hutzler said. “Obviously, Coach Muschamp puts the emphasis on it from freshman to senior, from starter to scholarship to walk-on to anybody – putting our best guys out there and playing with technique and great effort and making plays.”
Hutzler plans to stress the importance of how special teams need to make a positive impact every game, whether that’s a blocked kick, a big return or winning the field-position battle.
The 29-year-old Hutzler has a rich history in the game. He grew up in Las Vegas and played at Middlebury (Vt.) College from 2002-05. His father, Jeff, is a longtime athletic director and recently retired as head football coach at La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School following a successful career.
Jeff Hutzler was his son’s coach for three years in high school and played an instrumental role in Coleman’s career path.
“It was probably around eighth-grade that I was drawing X’s and O’s when I probably should have been taking notes,’’ Hutzler said. “For a long time this is what I thought I wanted to do. I didn’t think I would do it on the college level. I thought I would be a high school AD and head coach like my dad. It’s exciting to get to this point.”
As Hutzler climbed the coaching ladder at Stanford, his personal life added a coach – actually, two of them.
Hutzler met his wife Cobey Shoji, the former director of volleyball operations at Stanford. During the couple’s first stop in Gainesville, she was named Class 3A Coach of the Year in 2011 for her work at P.K. Yonge High. Cobey played at UNLV and Michigan and is the daughter of Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji.
Dave Shoji, who in September became the all-time wins leader in NCAA Division I volleyball history, recently announced he is coming back for his 40th season next year. If that is not enough volleyball for Hutzler, his two brother-in-laws – Kawika and Erik Shoji – led Stanford to the 2010 men’s volleyball national title and are candidates for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
“We’re half volleyball, half football,” Hutzler said. “We are a family of coaches and teachers.”
The Hutzlers have a 1-year-old son Micah. While much has changed since Hutzler was last at UF, some things remain the same.
“Seeing some of the older players who I had a connection with when they were freshmen has been good,’’ he said. “Not every face is a new face.”
VIDEO -- For an idea of Hutzler's coaching style, here is a YouTube clip from his time at New Mexico:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – His new office remains a work in progress.
The same can be said of Florida’s 2014 recruiting class.
Drew Hughes is more concerned about National Signing Day right now than adding a personal touch to his unadorned workspace inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“There are no hours,’’ Hughes said. “You go until the job is done.”
At 26, the fresh-faced Hughes joined Gators coach Will Muschamp’s staff last month as director of player personnel, replacing Jon Haskins. Since graduating from Alabama in 2011 with an education degree, Hughes has earned a master’s in football.
Actually, he began work on that master’s prior to starting his undergraduate work.
Hughes grew up in Montgomery, Ala., as the oldest of five siblings. He was a two-way player in football – receiver and safety – and a shooting guard once basketball season tipped off.
“Competition is something I grew up around,’’ Hughes said.
Once he finished high school, Hughes had some interest from smaller schools to continue his playing career. Instead, he opted to attend Alabama.
Hughes knew the only way he was going to be on the football field was as a member of the Crimson Tide’s support staff.
So the first chance he got, Hughes stopped by the football offices.
“I started literally from the bottom,’’ Hughes said. “I volunteered, I videoed practice, and then I started bugging the GAs [graduate assistants] to come in and help them break down tape. From there, I went into the recruiting office, and when I got into the recruiting office, it just clicked.”
Hughes had found his niche.
On-campus recruiting, evaluating players and watching film all added up to another science credit in Hughes’ view.
“I loved it,’’ he said. “To me the science of building a team is fascinating. And the blueprint is different. It was different at Central Florida. It was different at N.C. State, and it’s going to be different here.”
Hughes worked in the football office throughout his time at Alabama under former Crimson Tide director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz, who is now assistant director of pro scouting for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hughes was working on his true master’s degree when UCF coach George O’Leary called at the suggestion of Marynowitz, who worked at UCF prior to Alabama.
O’Leary needed a director of player personnel and Hughes took the job. During Hughes’ time in Orlando, the Knights signed several of the players that led UCF to a 12-1 season and No. 10 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll on Tuesday.
He left UCF last year for N.C. State, where he joined Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren’s staff as director of player personnel.
Hughes was young and his career on the fast track. He also had a vision.
While assisting Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, Hughes got to know some mutual acquaintances of Muschamp's. He didn’t know Muschamp personally, but from afar, Hughes envisioned teaming with him one day.
“He’s a guy that I’ve always really wanted to see myself work with,’’ Hughes said. “I’m a competitor just like he is. And being able to learn from him and see how he runs an organization and the evaluation and building a team from a personnel standpoint, I was really fired up about it.”
Since his hiring on Dec. 20, Hughes has focused primarily on ways to help the coaching staff close out a strong recruiting class on National Signing Day Feb. 5.
He is also trying to learn as much as he can about Florida’s current roster to identify future needs.
He described his job this way: “Identifying the players that can come in and help us win championships, and [developing] the process of doing that, and relating it and being a right-hand man to every coach on staff – because ultimately that’s what I’m here to do, to help the coaches – if I can make their jobs easier from a recruiting standpoint, that’s what I’m here to do.”
Hughes said technology has made information gathering in recruiting easier than ever. You can learn so much about players simply by Googling them and watching video.
Still, he said there must be a personal connection built during what is viewed more and more as a technical process.
“Something I hope that doesn’t become a lost art is just getting to know them, spending time with them – not just them but their family,’’ he said. “Part of the process is bringing good kids into your program. That’s just as important as the football part.”
During his time at Alabama the Crimson Tide won a pair of national titles. The experience opened his eyes to the importance of attention to detail. Everybody had a specific job and specific role.
He is on a mission to fulfill his at Florida.
In the process, Hughes hopes to be able to help another young football junkie find his calling the way Marynowitz helped him.
“I want to be around football people doing football things all the time,’’ he said. “I’m getting in a position where I can start helping other people. There are always going to be younger guys coming through. Starting from the bottom and working my way up, I really appreciate the guys who do the grunt work so to speak.”
Tebow Time is returning to the SEC.
Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow has agreed to a multiyear deal with ESPN to work as an analyst for the SEC Network.
According to ESPN.com, Tebow's main role will be as an analyst for SEC Nation, a traveling football pregame show that will originate from a different campus each week. The SEC Network is set to launch in August.
"I am so excited that ESPN has given me this incredible opportunity," Tebow said in a statement. "When I was 6 years old, I fell in love with the game of football, and while I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC."
Tebow is scheduled to make his ESPN debut Monday during the pregame coverage of the BCS National Championship between Florida State and Auburn.
"Tim is an SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal. He will be a significant contributor to the compelling content we will deliver with the SEC Network," Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president of programming/college networks told ESPN.com. "Tim brings a wealth of knowledge about the game, the conference and the passion among SEC fans."
Tebow, who was released by the Patriots in the preseason, was at UF's regular-season finale last month against FSU. He spoke to the Gators prior to the game.
Tebow won the 2007 Heisman Trophy and helped the Gators win two national titles (2006 and 2008) during his iconic career in Gaineville.
Safe to say, the first time Tebow returns with SEC Nation the pregame atmosphere at The Swamp will be lively.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is in Atlanta preparing for Duke's game against Texas A&M on Tuesday in the Chick-Fil-A-Bowl.
Once the game is over, Roper will head to Gainesville and start the next chapter of a coaching career that began in 1996 as a graduate assistant at Tennessee.
Roper and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe were on a conference call earlier this afternoon to discuss Roper's move.
Roper has spent every season of his coaching career but one -- 2005 at Kentucky -- on the same staff as Cutcliffe, Tennessee's offensive coordinator during the Peyton Manning era, Ole Miss' head coach when Eli Manning starred for the Rebels, and the past six years at Duke.
The Blue Devils won a school-record 10 games this season.
Here are some highlights from the conference call in a Q-and-A format:
First, here is Cutcliffe, who praised Roper for his loyalty and hard work during their time together:
Q: Did you encourage Roper to take this job and do you feel he is ready for the pressure at Florida and the SEC?
A: I didn't encourage him. I certainly want our coaches to do where their heart leads them. Kurt had a job here and would have continued to have a job at Duke. I'm very pleased with what he has accomplished here as the offensive coordinator. But this is an opportunity for him somewhat to be out on his own. I think he is looking forward to that. As far as the pressures go, he is definitely ready for that. He has been in the Southeastern Conference at [three] institutions and understands the intensity level that is involved in that league in football. His work ethic -- that's what it's all about. They will be prepared. They will be prepared well. That just has to be personal preference at that point.
Q: What do you see as Roper's strengths as a coach?
A: The things we pride ourselves in, the detail in training quarterbacks, the attention to detail in preparing an offensive team for playing a game, practice habits. It's the total package. I think if you have a systematic approach, everything is covered. You try to take a group of players offensively, and that's what your job is as an offensive coordinator, and put them in every circumstance they can possibly be in in a game in practice and build confidence through great execution. Kurt will certainly [do that]. That will be one of their great strengths -- they will be extremely well prepared coming out of practice.
Q: What is Roper's personal coaching style in your opinion?
A: His style would be intensity, tempo, and quality of repetition. From the minute they hit the field, it's going to intense. I wouldn't call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination. It's going to be what we call 'treat the ground like a hot stove.' If you hit the ground, you better get up running. By the time they get on the field until they get off, they are going to be moving and getting a bunch of quality reps. I would call it very intense.
Next up is Roper, who will become an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for the third time. He served in the same role at Duke and Ole Miss:
Q: What are your thoughts on this opportunity and what made this the right choice for you?
A: I thought obviously this is the right situation for me and my family at the right time. It's obviously a great university that has a great tradition. I look forward trying to add to that.
Q: What sold you on coming to Florida and how much of a challenge do you view it?
A: Coach Muschamp is really excited about the future there. He's excited about the talent level that he has there. He is excited about the opportunities that Florida has to compete for championships, so that obviously is something that I'm very interested in doing. And everywhere you go is a challenge. It doesn't matter where you're coaching, who you are coaching with; everything is a challenge. It's just the next challenge is the way I look at it. I don't have any limitations or preconceived thoughts going in. I'm going down there to try and coach to the best of my ability and try to win games and win championships.
Q: With your history in the SEC what are your thoughts on the level of expectations from a fan base like Florida's?
A: Obviously the expectations are high and they should be. They've won a lot of games at Florida and they've won a lot of championships. The expectations are going to be high anywhere in the SEC, but like I said, it's all going that way. We won 10 here at Duke this year. The expectations are great and I understand that going in. We're at the University of Florida that obviously has a great tradition and has met those expectations a lot in the past. I'm just looking forward to it.
Q: How familiar are you with Florida's personnel?
A: I'm obviously not very familiar at all right now; just been focused on this bowl game the next week or so and then I'll start trying to get myself familiar. I know that [Jeff] Driskel is the quarterback and don't know much beyond that.
Q: When do you think you will get involved with recruiting?
A: As soon as I can. I think obviously I've got a week here that I need to focus on and be my best for these guys one last time. And then when I can get everything situated and get down to Gainesville, then you start focusing on that.
Q: How much impact do you think you will have on the hiring of an offensive line coach?
A: I think obviously Coach Muschamp is the guy who is going to make hires for the program. I will obviously have discussions and things like that, but we're all going to be on the same page. It's not just Coach Muschamp and myself. It's going to be everybody that is involved on offense.
Q: What will it be like stepping out of Coach Cutcliffe's shadow?
A: I've been doing it too long [to be nervous]. I went to Ole Miss with him and after two years I was calling [the offense]. I did it four years there and then I've done it all six years here. I won't have any nerves.
Q: You worked with Gators receivers coach Joker Phillips for a year at Kentucky and what impact did he have on your connection with an up-tempo offense?
A: That was a great year working with Joker and [former Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks] and that whole staff. I learned a lot of football and created a lot of great relationships. But Joker, when he was offensive coordinator, wanted to install a no-huddle system so we could go in and out of huddle, no-huddle or whatnot. So really that was my first experience with it.
Q: And your thoughts on working with Phillips again?
A: Joker and I get along great. I think he is a heck of a football coach first, but we're really good friends. I think he is a good man, a great recruiter. He's a guy I will enjoy being around every day and I look forward to getting back with him.
Q: How difficult it is to adjust your system to the personnel you have, especially in that first year?
A: That's a good question. I think you've got plenty of time through spring practice and through fall practice to make those decisions. What we're going to do, what we've always done, is you determine what your quarterback is good at executing, you determine what your five linemen are good at executing, and then through practice, you determine who has earned the right to have the football and you try to make your decisions based on that. You get 15 opportunities in spring to make those decisions and you get 29 practice opportunities in the fall. Everything moves fast but you've got to figure those things out.
Q: What was it like to face off against Muschamp in the SEC when he was a defensive coordinator?
A: He is obviously been a great defensive coach for a long time and was hard to battle against. He was always multiple and caused problems in pressure and his guys were always physical and intense. I'm looking forward to obviously working with Coach Muschamp.
Q: What is your philosophy schematically?
A: The biggest thing is you've got to find out the strengths of your quarterback and the strengths of your offensive line. Once you find those strengths, then you can start putting together what you are going to hang your hat on offensively. Then the other five players, you've got to find out who can make something happen with the football. You try to find a way to get those guys the football and then you create your personnel and your formations based on that. I think there is reason for tempo in a game. It obviously causes some defenses problems, but we'll never sacrifice tempo over execution. We want to play fast but we still want to play smart and take care of the football. Our core philosophy will never change, and it's very simple, but it's the truth of the matter. Our whole philosophy is five points: we want to get 11 people on the field, we want to get them lined up, we want to get them set with motion, we want to snap the ball before the play clock runs out and we want the ball at the end of the play. Those things are what we'll coach. Coaching is not plays or formation. It's how to make decisions and how to play the game with effort and those type things. We've got to go in and find out who are the playmakers with the ball and what our players are capable of doing up front and what we're capable of doing at the quarterback position.