Wednesday September 11, 2013Big run this week on Gators hoops ticket packages with Kentucky, Kansas games
Updated: 11:14am, September 11
Updated: 11:14am, September 11
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Season tickets and premium-game packages for one of the best home schedules in Florida basketball history are going fast.
The UF ticket office sold more than 800 three-game packages Tuesday -- the first day single-game seats went on sale -- for the Gators regular-season finale March 8 against Kentucky and another 600-plus for the pack that features a Dec. 10 showdown against powerhouse Kansas in ESPN’s Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The only way for Gators fans to get tickets to the Kentucky or Kansas games is through the special 3-game offer or by purchasing season tickets. Both UK and KU are expected to be top-5 teams, with the Jayhawks boasting freshman forward Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1-rated prospect in the nation last season.
Florida’s home schedule, the non-conference portion of which ESPN.com rated a 10 on a scale of 1-10 for degree of difficulty (tying for the toughest in the league along with Kentucky), also includes a Nov. 29 showdown with rival Florida State the night before the Gators-Seminoles football game, plus Southeastern Conference dates against Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama.
“This non-conference schedule is a beast,” wrote ESPN.com college basketball analyst Myron Medcalf. “Billy Donovan’s program might be the only legitimate obstacle in Kentucky’s path to the SEC crown and the Gators will face a variety of contenders before they collide with Kentucky and the rest of the league. The Kansas matchup could move Florida into a top-five ranking or higher if it gets the win.”
On Sept. 21, UF will host a Select-A-Seat event for basketball season tickets at the O’Connell Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., in advance of the Florida-Tennessee football game, set for 3:30. The arena will be set up in basketball configuration, with available seats marked by colored tape signifying their price. Season-ticket holders can also swap out their current seats for better ones.
Updated: 2:51pm, September 10
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Her career would equal two or three for other professional tennis players.
At 39, former University of Florida standout and Gator Great Jill Craybas announced her retirement this week after her elimination from the U.S. Open doubles draw.
"It’s never an easy decision,” Craybas said in an interview with Tennis Panorama News. “You never know when you want to stop, but you kind of come to terms with it sooner or later.”
Craybas led the UF women’s team to the 1996 NCAA team championship, then won the singles draw that same year, joining Lisa Raymond as the only players in program ever to accomplish the team and individual double.
After that remarkable run, she turned pro.
In her 18 years on the WTA circuit, Craybas amassed career earnings of more than $2.5 million and rose to as high as No. 17 in April 2006 in the women's world rankings, less than a year after shocking Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 in the third round of the 2005 Wimbledon Championships.
Craybas’ lone professional title came at the 2002 Japan Open in Tokyo.
In 2008, Craybas became the ninth women’s tennis player in school history to be inducted into the Florida Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always loved the competition. I’ve always loved playing. I’ve always loved the game. Loved going out and hitting. Loved going out and competing,” Craybas said. “Every day I feel like you’re learning something new. With your losses you learn something, with your wins you learn something. It’s always kept me really, really motivated.”
MIAMI -- In the first quarter of his first college football game, Bryan Cox Jr., was sent into the game to play defensive end.
He was totally aware of the significance of the moment.
“I was nervous,” Cox said. “Really nervous.”
Check out his final statistical line from UF’s 24-6: zero tackles, zero assists in 15 plays.
“No stats makes it kind of hard to examine a player without knowing the scheme and what was called,” said Bryan Cox, the father, who was at Florida Field last weekend. “But it seemed like he was in the right place and doing what they asked him to do.”
The elder Cox (pictured below) would know. He was a 12-year linebacker and three-time All-Pro in the NFL who now is an assistant coach assigned to tutor the front seven of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s watched his son, the football player, grow and, yes, critiqued him along the way. Starting this week, though, any evaluation will be done from afar (or via tape) due to some obvious weekend scheduling conflicts.
Like the Bucs opening the season on the road Sunday against the New York Jets.
And the 12th-ranked Gators (1-0) facing the Miami Hurricanes (1-0) Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
That would be the same Sun Life Stadium -- formerly Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Dolphins Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, etc. -- where the older Bryan Cox became one of the most ferocious, fiery and best linebackers of his generation.
“Wish I could be there,” he said.
Cox, now 45, will be in spirit. More than that, really.
His blood and football pedigree will be represented by his son, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman who played at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas -- along with with teammates Marcus Roberson and Cody Riggs, plus three members of the Miami squad -- and thus has an appreciation for what this rare trip to South Florida really means for the Gators and the region.
“I didn’t live down there my whole life, but I was definitely influenced by them,” Cox Jr., said of the Hurricanes. “I never bought into the whole [UM] thing. I always kept my options open.”
Eventually, they got him to Gainesville as part of a signing class that included five-star defensive ends Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard, both of whom played as true freshmen last season, plus Alex McCalister, who redshirted along with Cox.
A linebacker in high school, the UF coaches moved Cox down to end because they liked his frame and loved his passion.
“He has some technique things to clean up, but he’s a tough guy and he’s got a motor,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, breaking into a smile. “Yeah, like his dad.”
Those who watched big Bryan Cox terrorize offenses (51 1/2 sacks during his career) for five seasons as a Miami Dolphin (1991-95) and later with Chicago (’96-97), the Jets (’98-2000), New England (’01) and New Orleans (’02) recall that very unique motor.
And how it sometimes overheated.
Bryan Cox Jr., has some of that.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s in there.”
The younger Cox admittedly had a short fuse growing up -- “I was kind of an angry kid” -- but was advised early to control his temper by guess who.
Cox recalled how his dad once pulled him aside and told him how important it was to channel his mean streak.
“My father told me you could be under control and still be a freak on the field,” Cox said. “He knew he didn’t do that very well, but he wanted me to be better than that. He taught me to try and unleash it in the right way.”
Added Durkin: “I watched his dad as a player and I think they’re a lot of similarities. “Bryan [Jr.] is tough and physical and we love that about him. And he’s such a young guy and still learning a lot about his position.”
The process continues Saturday. Close to home.
In more ways than one.
“He has improved beyond where I thought he would be at this stage, yet has so much room to grow and become so much better,” said Cox, who during his career played for Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. “That’s the thing I keep harping on with him now [is] you’ve come a tremendous way but have so far to go. based on where you as a redshirt freshman.”
Eleven years ago, in February 2002 and in the twilight of a wonderful NFL run, the elder Cox grabbed his son, then just eight years old, and carried him onto the floor of the Superdome to celebrate the Patriots’ 20-17 defeat of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Chances are, the Coxes will share many more football memories together.
His father, though, will settle for just plain memories.
“That was one the proudest moments of my life,” Cox said of that Super Bowl. “But I would trade that moment for my kid’s ability to go to school and graduate, whether having a football career or not. I’m so proud of my son because he’s come so far and become such a good young man and tried to do things right ... and that’s a dream for any dad.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For Florida fans in search of tickets or looking to sell them, the days of standing outside the stadium with two fingers pointing in the air are over.
The UF ticket office has partnered with TicketMaster as part of its new “tm+” system that makes buying and selling tickets on the secondary ticket market easier, safer and more convenient.
“Basically, we now have our own secondary market,” said Mark Gajda, assistant athletics director for the UF ticket office. “Now, the chances of selling to other Gator fans are much, much better.”
And the chances of purchasing counterfeit tickets via the TicketMaster site are zero.
“All of the tickets available through this new system will be authenticated,” said Mike Hill, executive associate athletics director for external affairs. “We think our fans are really going to like this.”
With “tm+,” all the information is available at the stroke of a keyboard.
If fans, for example, are looking to buy tickets for the Sept. 21 home game against Tennessee, they can go to GatorZone.com and launch the ticket link and view a map of Florida Field that distinguishes tickets available through the University Athletic Association compared to those available from other ticket-holders who have put them for sale via the TicketMaster ally.
Those looking to sell tickets can go to the site and input the barcode and desired price they’re seeking.
The new system is not unlike those at Stub Hub and other such vendors, but the partnership between UF and TicketMaster should make the process more Florida community-oriented, given its geared specifically toward Gator fans.
It also figures to be a deterrent to scalping, which is illegal on the UF campus.
"Everything's on one screen, everything is easy," Gajda said. "And everything available has been verified. For us, that's very important."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His freshman season was defined by one play.
And it was probably the biggest play of Florida’s 2012 football season.
Inside linebacker Antonio Morrison saw E.J. Manuel dancing in the pocket and made lightning-fast beeline at the Florida State quarterback, blasting Manuel to the governor’s mansion, forcing a fumble that changed the game and set in motion a 24-point Gators eruption.
Huge play, huge moment in UF's 37-26 win at Tallahassee.
Without it, Florida may not have gone to a BCS bowl.
The physical nature of the the 6-foot-1, 229-pounder figures to be on display this weekend when Morrison, back with the team after missing the season-opening win against Toledo, returns for the No. 12 Gators (1-0) and their showdown against Miami (1-0) at Sun Life Stadium. He will deliver blows.
But if you get a chance, lock in on Morrison before the snap and as plays are developing and you’ll see a guy oftentimes a step ahead, thanks to some tools and instincts that cannot be taught. His ability to key and diagnose plays was something that screamed at the Florida coaches when they first saw tape of the wrecking machine from Bolingbrook, Ill.
“When you’ve got what he’s got, we can work with the rest,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “Some have it, some don’t. He had it.”
The innate ability to see keys being tipped by the offense -- reading a power play, understanding a counter is developing, knowing a naked bootleg is coming -- is a combination of feel and football intelligence.
Morrison is just beginning to tap into his potential. He 34 tackles as a true freshman, starting three games, but only just begun to tap into his potential. His overall skills set is why Morrison will have a lot of signal-calling responsibilities -- charged with getting teammates into the right shifts and alignments -- and figures to share a lot of grass time alongside fellow inside linebacker Mike Taylor against the Hurricanes.
“He’ll play quite a lot, absolutely,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said.
To illustrate the rarity of Morrison's football savvy, Muschamp revisited his 2005 season coaching linebackers for the Miami Dolphins. Muschamp was charged with working with offensive coaches to script practice.
One day, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told Muschamp he forgot to tell him they were putting in counter play.s That meant Muschamp hadn’t worked with his linebackers on the package.
Yet, the first time the Dolphins offense tried one, seven-time Pro Bowler Zach Thomas breeched the backfield and hit the ballcarrier for a 3-yard loss.
Key and diagnose.
“He didn’t know it was going in and had no prior knowledge,” Muschamp said. “My point being he was instinctive. He saw it before it happened. A lot of coaches want to take credit for that. That’s a player being a really instinctive player.”
Morrison is one of those players.
Look for those instincts Saturday.
Updated: 11:46am, August 30
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Many inside “The Swamp” on Saturday won’t know much about Errict Rhett. Frankly, some will never have heard of him.
There’s a reason Rhett was chosen to be the first celebrity “Mr. Two Bits” and the decision was rooted far more than in Rhett being Florida’s all-time rushing leader -- No. 5 in Southeastern Conference history, in fact -- with 4,163 yards.
[Perspective: When Rhett left UF, only two players in league history had more yards -- Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson]
Rhett was one of the most beloved players of the Steve Spurrier era. Not just for what he did on Saturdays, but what he did every day of the week. E-Rhett loved game day, that's for sure, but he also loved practice days and the time around his teammates.
He was a jokester, a smack-talker and an all-around character, which makes him a perfect pick to lead off what could become a wonderful new tradition at Florida Field.
Those traits also made me write this blog.
Twenty years ago, Rhett was about to start his senior season at UF. The summer heading into the 1993 season, the Gators were getting broken in by a new strength and conditioning coach. His name was Rich Tuten and he had some very ... um ... out-of-the-box ideas for training his players.
Like pulling teammates in homemade sleds.
In the brutal morning sun. On the track infield. From one end to the other.
At the time, I was the UF beat writer for The Tampa Tribune and went to Tuten, a burley fellow who went on to win two Super Bowls training the Denver Broncos, to write a story about his unusual techniques. When I was done with the interview, he hit me with a suggestion.
“If you’re gonna write about us, you need to come out and do it,” he said.
The easy thing would have been to decline, but sure enough I was out there the next morning -- with my cleats. And as soon as Tuten, off in the distance, saw me get out of my car, I heard him scream my name.
“LET’S GO, HARRY!”
Which brings me to Errict Rhett ... my training partner.
Tuten paired me with the senior tailback, one of the strongest players on the team and whose reputation for busting his backside in workouts was legendary. I was probably 175 pounds at the time, so Tuten wasn’t about to put me in his little sled for Rhett's turn. Instead, Tuten plopped himself down in the box -- all 250 or so of him -- and Rhett went at it.
Up (facing forward).
And back (backward).
Then it was my turn.
Tuten put the Rhett, probably 215, in my sled.
For the next 20 minutes or so, I sort of felt like Bill Curry in one of those early September trips to Gainesville back in the day. You know, as in 73-7. Or 65-0.
Truth be told, I would get fired if I wrote some of the things Rhett said to me along the way -- those 100 yards -- as he dug his fingers into the ground so the sled would not move no matter how hard I tugged and yanked.
One exchange I recall very well.
Me (groaning): “Rhett, why are you doing that, man?”
Rhett (grinning): “That’s for you writing that [#&*%] about me fumbling twice at Mississippi State last year.”
Me (laboring): “You did fumble twice at Mississippi State last year.”
Rhett (laughing): “Yeah, but you didn’t have to write that [#&*%].”
And deeper the fingers dug into the sod.
But I made it. Up and back. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish.
Rhett finished, too. Finished phenomenal career, that is, about five months later. He went on rush for 1,289 yards his senior year, as the Gators won the Southeastern Conference Championship and smashed unbeaten West Virginia 41-7 in the Sugar Bowl.
That night in New Orleans, Rhett finished with 105 yards and scored three touchdowns to earn MVP honors in his final collegiate game.
I love the guy -- even though he helped turn me into a Dead Sled Man Walking. And I think Rhett will see this new “Mr. Two Bits” opportunity -- and the fact he's the first -- as a great Gators honor and dive into the role with the same passion he dove over the Georgia defense in the pouring rain (some out there remember) his senior year.
Can’t wait to see it.
All for E-Rhett, stand up and holler!
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jamie Farr put the Toledo Mud Hens in mainstream television lexicon with his references -- not to mention the jersey and cap of the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate -- during his years playing the cross-dressing Cpl. Klinger on M*A*S*H in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Now Farr’s hometown, where for years he famously stages an LPGA Tournament, has been in the mainstream of Gators fans for weeks, as 10th-ranked Florida sets to open its 107th football season Saturday against the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference.
Toledo, out of the Mid-American Conference, will make history this weekend, taking the field for the first time against a Southeastern Conference opponent in the program’s 96-year history.
That history, by the way, includes a 35-game winning streak from 1969-71 that is tied for the second-longest in NCAA Division-I history.
At home, the Rockets go by “UT.”
Well, this UT -- at least right now -- might be better than the one the Gators play annually.
The Rockets went 9-4 last season and return four All-MAC players, including a trio of explosive seniors in quarterback Terrance Owens (2,707 yards pasthe sing, 395 rushing in 2012), tailback David Fluellen (1,498 yards, 13 TDs) and wide receiver Bernard Reedy (88 catches, 1,113 yards, 6 TDs).
The game will mark the 20th time Toledo has played a ranked opponent (Rockets are 7-12, with a win over No. 18 Cincinnati last season), but just the eighth time facing a team in the top 10 (UT is 1-6 in those previous settings).
Toledo lost to Utah State 41-14 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last Dec. 15.
OK, so there you have it. Some basic nuts and bolts about this week’s opening-day opponent.
But since the Rockets are total strangers to the Florida scene, it’s only right to provide some not-so-basic nuts and bolts -- some of which will actually have to do with football.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk Toledo.
Population (according to 2010 Census): 651,429 (4th-largest city in Ohio)
University of Toledo (pictured right)
Mascot: Rocky the Rocket
Most Famous Alum: Danny Thomas, the iconic television star of the 1950s and ‘60s who starred in “Make Room For Daddy," and the father of “That Girl” Marlo Thomas. He also founded of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Most Famous Former Football Coach: No need to adjust your computer screen. Yes, that's Nick Saban, who went went 9-2 in 1990, his lone season as head coach of the Rockets, then took a job as defensive coordiantor with some dude named Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns.
Second Most Famous Former Football Coach: Gary Pinkel, who followed Saban at UT and went 27-8-1 over three seasons for the Rockets. Pinkel is now coach at Missouri. That makes two current SEC coaches ("Rocket Men," if you were) who came up through the Toledo ranks.
Most Famous Former Football Player: Emlen Tunnel, who suffered a broken neck at UT that was serious enough to prevent him from enlisting in World War II. After a stint in the Coast Guard, Tunnel went to play at Iowa, then for the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, for whom he was an eight-time All-Pro, won two NFL championships and was named to the 1950s All-Decade Team). In 1967, Tunnell became the first African-American enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Best Current Player in the NFL: Lance Moore, the New Orleans wide receiver, who has caught more with more than 300 career receptions (most from Drew Brees) and snared a famous two-point conversion in the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV.
Most Traveled Current NFL Player: Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who threw for almost 9,200 yards and 85 touchdowns for the Rockets (many of those to Moore) and was drafted in the sixth round by Tampa Bay in 2006. He’s currently with the Pittsburgh Steelers, with previous stops in Cincinnati, Oakland, Cleveland and St. Louis.
Now, Gators fans, don't you feel more informed?
Note: Gators fan will be quizzed on this information the week of the Nov. 23 Georgia Southern game.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Swamps are usually green.
Makes sense for the University of Florida’s famous football one to fall in line.
The 2013 Gators football season, which opens Saturday against Toledo, will mark a new phase in the “Sustainable UF” mission laid down by university president Bernie Machen in 2005.
Thanks to a partnership with WCA, the waste management company that services the City of Gainesville and Alachua County, trash from the game now has a place for composting, a key step in Machen’s goal to make UF a “zero waste” campus.
“For the fans, nothing about game day is going to change,” said Brian Barton, director of facilities for the University Athletic Association. “This is nothing other than one more positive step toward a sustainable community environment, which is good for everybody.”
Like in previous years, receptacles will be separately labeled for trash and recyclables, but it’s what will happen to the waste after the game that matters.
Bottles and souvenir cups sold in the stadium already were recyclable. Same with food wrappers, trays and boats, as well as eating utensils which were compostable. But now the UAA-contracted dump trucks that gather the waste won’t be driving to landfills, but to composting stations.
Last year, UF became the first carbon-neutral athletic department in the country, playing a fifth straight carbon-neutral calendar of events (including facilities and team travel) while also planting 18,000 trees on conservation lands in Gainesville.
“In theory, everything in the stadium is compostable,” Barton said. “The athletic association stands behind the president’s initiative and we’re doing our part to continuing moving that initiative forward.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eight days before his Florida Gators open the 2013 season against Toledo, Will Muschamp got a question Friday about the 2014 season.
For many a coach (any sport, any level), inquiring about the difficulty of a schedule that begins in more than 12 months would prompt the automatic one-game-at-a-time response (the one-season-at-a-time version, of course).
In fact, that’s where Muschamp went initially.
“I’m worried about this season and Toledo,” he said.
That’s what we expected.
But two days after the Southeastern Conference announced UF’s 2014 schedule would feature a trip to Alabama -- in addition, of course, to those annual bloodbaths with Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State -- Muschamp didn’t stick to the coachspeak playbook.
Maybe being year removed from playing the No. 1 toughest schedule in the nation (the Gators beat four teams that finished in the final Associated Press Top 10 last season, including two on the road), and a week from diving into what noted college football analyst Phil Steele wrote that Florida, again, has deemed the hardest schedule for 2013, Muschamp just had to say his piece.
“That’s kind of old hat,” Muschamp said. “At the University of Florida we embrace whoever we play and whatever happens. A season ago we were asked to go to College Station -- and we embraced it -- and welcomed the [A&M] Aggies to SEC. We’re asked to kick off at noon on Aug. 31 [or] Sept. 1 every year. We embrace it. We’ve been asked to play a cross-division opponent in LSU. We don’t gripe about it. We embrace it. We embrace things at Florida.”
“They want to see the Gators play. They want to see Florida and Alabama play,” Muschamp continued. “I know that’s not the company line, but that’s the bottom line. We look forward to it.”
When someone suggested the Green Bay Packers were due up on the schedule soon, he smiled some more.
“There’s a rumor going around they’re going to ask us to play nine conference games next season -- and the rest of the league play eight,” Muschamp deadpanned. "If they do, we’ll embrace it. What a wonderful opportunity.”
He was kidding.
About the nine versus eight games.
Not the embrace part.
Updated: 9:32pm, August 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida soccer season doesn’t open until Friday, but Gators are already making news in the sport.
An ex-Gator, that is.
Erika Tymrak, a four-year starter for Coach Becky Burleigh from 2009-2012, was named 2013 National Women’s Soccer League Rookie of the Year on Tuesday. A second-round pick by FC Kansas City, scored six goals and carded four assists during her first professional season.
“It’s been such an experience growing and developing with this group of girls,” Tymrak said Tuesday in KC. “The credit goes to my team.”
Her team, by the way, went 11-6-5 this season and faces the Portland Thorns in the NWSL semifinals this weekend, with an orange-and-blue game with the game set for that one.
Tymrak will be playing against former UF star Kat Williamson, who has started all 22 games for the Thorns. Those two make up a fourth of the former Gators -- five of the eight played on last year’s team -- that played in the NWSL during its fledgling season.
Eight in the pros (with one of them named Abby Wambach, by the way). That makes the person who helped send them there very proud.
“I think it says a lot about the style of play that we are playing and how that helps them make the transition from this level to be a professional,” Burleigh said before Wednesday’s practice, as her team prepared for Friday night’s season opening game against Florida Gulf Coast. “I think it also says a lot about their work ethic and their willingness to do what it takes to get to that next level. That’s a big jump and they handled it remarkably well.”
Tymrak, obviously, was groomed for her challenge. She was a two-time All-American and 2012 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after leading UF in goals, assists and points. Over her four seasons, the Bradenton, Fla., product started 90 of her 95 games.
“I think it’s pretty excting for a Gator to get that kind of honor,” said Burleigh, who saw Tymrak play twice in person during the NWSL season. “She worked really hard and been really driven to be a pro. This is just a confirmation of all the hard work she’s done.”
Her coach confirmed as much.
“Erika steps onto the field knowing she can make a difference and impact the game,” FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “And usually she’s right. She’s one of the most creative players on the team.”
Updated: 6:03pm, August 13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Peterson hasn’t quite given up on his pro football career, but at 37 the former Florida star and 14-year NFL veteran still has a wide-open future and all kinds of dreams to chase.
Peterson, a standout middle linebacker for Steve Spurrier and the Gators during the 1990s, is back in school and plans to get his degree in sociology come December.
He’s also helping out on the UF coaching staff, with a goal of using his time as undergraduate student assistant as a springboard into the profession.
“Playing the game so long has probably led me in [this] direction a littler quicker,” Peterson said Tuesday. “When you love the game you want to stay around the game in some kind of way.”
Why not? Peterson has basically been on a football field -- somewhere -- since his days as a young boy growing up in nearby Alachua, Fla.
He was an All-State player at Santa Fe High. He won a national championship with the Gators in 1996 and became a first-team All-American in ’98. The following spring, Peterson was a second-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts and over the next 14 seasons made 950 tackles, 21 1/2 sacks and intercepted 19 passes for the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
If his cell phone rang tomorrow with an NFL offer -- as preseason injuries continue to mount across the league -- Peterson said he would have to think hard about a team looking for a veteran to step in.
But the more time he spends on the field with these young Gator linebackers, the more at peace Peterson becomes with the idea his life is headed down a new path.
“The hardest part was letting go of playing,” said Peterson, who was encouraged to pursue a coaching track by his former UF academic advisor, Tim Aydt, in the Office of Student Life. “It’s something I thought about, but never took the initiative.”
All it took was a meeting with Coach Will Muschamp, who obviously knew of Peterson’s background. The guy’s name and image is plastered in a lot of places inside the football offices and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, including the UF Athletic Hall of Fame, where Peterson was inducted as a “Gator Great” in 2011.
“I think it’s always valuable when you have any person that played at Florida,” said Muschamp, who also has former Gators and Peterson teammates Terry Jackson (player development) and Mark Campbell (strength and conditioning coordinator), plus graduate assistants Chris Leak and Duke Lemmens on staff. “Talk to anybody who coached Mike, we all talk about a coach on the field and obviously a really good player. He was a guy that had a cerebral approach and understanding why we did things, not just how to do it. ... He’s doing a fabulous job and has a huge future in this profession.”
Peterson, who still runs a youth football camp at Alachua and has operated his foundation for underserved youth and economically challenged families both there in the NFL cities he played, has always enjoyed his time with working with young players.
Now he gets to spend time with young Gators linebackers, like sophomore Antonio Morrison, as well as promising freshmen Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone and Jarrard Davis.
“I try to tell them that on this level you may not be the fastest guy, and if you want to play on the next level everybody is going to be fast,” Peterson said. “So then it falls back on technique. What are you doing? How do you prepare yourself? Are you watching game tape and studying the guy on the opposite side of the ball? Those are the little things that they can take for granted.”
Those are the things that made Peterson an All-American and kept him in the NFL for a decade and a half. Those are things that make a young player listen to what he has to say.
And coming from a guy who was a teammate of Peyton Manning's, played for Tony Dungy and just seven months ago came thisclose -- "Ten yards," he says -- from a Super Bowl in falling to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship, the words carry a lot of juice.
"I tell them, get in your playbook. Get in your playbook, learn what to do,” he said. “And just every chance you get, take advantage of it. I try to tell the guys it's different in high school ball. High school ball you can pick the plays you want to go hard. In college, you just go hard, go hard, go hard because you never know when that play is going to come.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Starting running back Matt Jones is slowly progressing in his recovery from a viral infection that has sidelined him from the first week of Florida preseason practice.
In the interim, fourth-year junior Mack Brown has stepped into the No. 1 tailback spot.
Not that Brown sees his role as that of a placeholder.
“You need three backs in the SEC,” Brown said Thursday.
Just when Jones will be cleared to practice is uncertain -- Coach Will Muschamp said Friday that Jones has started to run a little bit -- which means Brown and a handful of other running backs (such as freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane, along with sophomore Mark Herndon) will get some close looks Saturday when the Gators hold their first closed scrimmage of the season.
Brown, who’s totaled 40 carries for 167 yards his first three collegiate seasons, said the first week of camp has been a positive mental boost.
“At running back, you need a certain amount of reps to stay in the groove,” said Brown, a one-cut, downhill kind of guy (along the lines of last year’s 1,200-yard rusher Mike Gillislee) that Muschamp prefers back there. “Not getting that many reps the last couple years, you lose a little confidence.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was a workhorse tailback at Lithonia (Ga.) King High, where he rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns on his way to being a decorated, highly sought recruit.
But a hamstring injury in 2010, a broken leg in 2011 and an ankle sprain in the 2012 impeded whatever progress Brown could make on the depth chart.
Now he’s healthy and making the best of his situation.
“He’s staying focused, being in his playbook and knowing exactly what to do on every play,” junior fullback Hunter Joyer said. “He’s been here a while, so he’s taking advantage of that and also trying to lead the younger guys.”
Truth be told, he’s also trying to put some distance between them.
“I’m getting my groove back with the 1s and they’re seeing what I can do,” Brown said of working with the first-team offense. “I know my protections. I know the offense inside and out, so I’ll just keep doing what I have to do. And I’m healthy now, that’s the main thing.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Quarterback Jeff Driskel is back under center for the Florida Gators.
Driskel was cleared to return to action Thursday afternoon and took the field with his UF teammates for their night practice at the lacrosse stadium. The junior and incumbent starter had missed the first six practices of the preseason recovering from a July 30 emergency appendectomy.
Though he wasn’t able to participate for nearly all the first week, Driskel was on hand -- and on the field -- for each of the previous practices, getting his mental repetitions and providing feedback to players and coaches.
After his surgery, Driskel was told he could be sidelined up to two weeks, but he listened to the UF medical staff and his recovery went smoothly.
“I want to get back as soon as possible,” Driskel said at Gators Media Day last week. “Whenever the training staff says I’m good to go, I’m good to go. I have full faith in them. They’re looking out for what’s best for me, so whatever they say, I’m all for it.”
And on Thursday, they said he was good to go.
"It's important. He's our starting quarterback," tailback Mack Brown said earlier in the day. "The offense runs through him, so it's good to have him back."
Last season, Driskel started 12 games, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 413 yards and four TDs.
Note: Check GatorZone.com Friday morning for a post-practice interview with Driskel.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The hardcore Florida fans know the names and would love nothing more if fans throughout the Southeastern Conference became familiar with two or three of the team’s five true freshmen wide receivers.
But as much as those faithful to the orange and blue would love to accelerate the development of a rookie receiving corps rated by scouting services as the best in the nation -- especially following word of Andre Debose’s season-ending knee injury Tuesday night -- there is a process.
And there is no cheating that process.
“You’ve got to be smart,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Wednesday. “They’ve all got talent, but at the position [just] lining up is sometimes hard to do because -- are you going right or left? And motions are involved. As coaches, we’ve got to control that and give them the opportunity to be successful, which kind of cuts down on what we like to do sometimes.”
Translation: Before any one or a combination of Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood, Marqui Hawkins, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson are turning heads in the “Swamp” this season, their heads have to stop spinning on the practice field.
Make no mistake, each of them has been on the receiving end of, shall we say, constructive criticism by way of new position coach Joker Phillips through the first few preseason practices.
There will be more.
“They’ve got to understand the moving parts in front of them,” Pease said. “Being a receiver, you’ve got recognition on who you’re got to block; are you front side or back side? You’ve got to have a good idea of coverages. Sometimes, I think in high school, you don’t have to worry about that. In college, you do.”
The Gators, though, only have a few veteran wideouts who have been there and done it, starting with Quenton Dunbar, whose 36 catches, 383 yards and four touchdowns topped the unit last season.
The next productive returnee on the UF 2013 roster? Debose and his three catches for 15 yards last season.
Is it any wonder senior all-purpose guy Trey Burton is working mostly at wideout in camp.
“The younger guys haven’t been here, but the older guys have [the offense] down pretty well,” Burton said of a group heading into its second season in the Pease system, the first time since 2009 that UF has had the same offensive coordinator for back-to-back years. “Knowing the stuff, knowing what to do and where to go, that’s got to help.”
The Gators will need the likes of returnees Solomon Patton, Latroy Pittman, Raph Andrades and, yes, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy to announce themselves as big-time playmakers.
“The older guys will step up,” Dunbar said. “The younger guys will fill in when they’re needed.”
It's possible (if not likely) a couple will be needed sooner rather than later, but there’s no blueprint for a timeline to impact.
“It’s more about repetition” than games,” Pease said. “Games throw a little bit of a different perspective into it because they might know the plays, but then you throw in the 90,000 people out there. ... Some kids live for that moment. We have to see.”
Updated: 11:46am, August 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Last summer’s UF basketball “Strongman Workout” video, starring center Patric Young, made quite the impression on Gators hoops fans.
The 2013 version below should make you cringe, as well.
It certainly did for Young, Casey Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith and friends.
The regimen is the brainstorm of of strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene and his staff. No, the Gators don’t do it every day, but they were up and at early Friday morning.
Don’t try this at home.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At Southeastern Conference Media Days two weeks ago, Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley compared teammate Ronald Powell’s hunger to get back on the football field again to someone who had not eaten in a long, long time.
The buffet line opens tonight.
“I will bring everything I can; everything that is in my control I will bring to the table,” Powell vowed during Thursday’s football media day. “Whatever my coaches ask of me, whatever my teammates think I can do, that’s what I will bring.”
Powell, who blew out his left knee in the 2012 spring game and has been sidelined for 16 months, has been cleared for full participation in Gators preseason workouts. After redshirting last season, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound combo defensive end-outside linebacker’s return will be a welcome boost to a defense that ranked second in the league last season behind only Alabama.
Rated the No. 1 overall prep prospect in the nation for the 2010 recruiting class, Powell played in all 13 games as a true freshman and led the team in sacks with six during his 2011 sophomore year.
For Powell, out of Moreno Valley, Calif., the road back from two reconstructive surgeries was a tough, uphill climb, but the stayed positive throughout the process -- “They had a plan for me to be ready for camp on Day 1 and we followed that plan,” he said -- and now his return is about to become a reality.
If he’s looking forward to tonight’s first practice, imagine how much he’s looking forward to the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo.
In fact, someone asked Powell that very question.
“You’re asking me something I really can’t answer,” he said. “It’s something I can picture, view and almost taste, but I really and truly don’t know that feeling I’ll get when I run out into the ‘Swamp’ again.”
We’ll check back in four weeks.
Updated: 10:25am, August 1
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s a long way from 1978, but somewhere, someone last night in Lowell, Mass., mumbled these three words (or a variation thereof).
"Cody Freaking Dent!"
That would be Cody Dent (pictured top right), as in the former Florida shortstop for the Class A Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Penn League, who Wednesday night stroked a single in the ninth inning to break up what would have been the first perfect game in the history of the Lowell Spinners.
Yes, the Spinners are a Red Sox affiliate and Dent’s ruinous hit conjured up memories of father Bucky Dent (pictured below right with Reggie Jackson) and his famous homer -- or infamous, depending on your rooting interests -- for the New York Yankees in the 1978 American League East playoff game at Fenway Park.
Dent, a 29th-round pick of the Washington Nationals affiliate, stepped in to face Taylor Grover with one out in the ninth inning. Grover had teamed with Jamie Callahan (six innings, nine strikeouts) and Mike Adams (1-2-3 in the both seventh and eighth) to set down 25 straight Doubleday batters.
Two outs from perfection.
But Dent, one batter after Spinners first baseman Nathan Minnich made a diving catch to save a hit, blooped a single just over the Lowell shortstop’s head for his team’s first base-runner of the game.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Seven years ago, he made a cross-country recruiting visit to the University of Florida and sampled the “Swamp” firsthand.
Anybody remember the Jarvis Moss game?
Like every Gator, Duke Lemmens will never forget it. That blocked field against South Carolina -- and the entire UF experience -- converted the California kid.
“I loved the passion,” recalled Lemmens, then a defensive end with mostly Pac-12 schools on his recruiting radar. “I wanted the big stage.”
Lemmens got four years of it, signing with UF, winning a national championship in 2008 and bowing out his senior year as a team captain and with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl his final game.
Now he’s back for more.
Lemmens, one of the most popular players on the team during his 2007-10 playing career, has been hired as a defensive graduate assistant for the 2013 season and hopes to add an advance degree to the undergraduate version he earned in sports management.
Make that two former Gators with national championship rings working on the field as grad assistant coaches for Coach Will Muschamp's staff this season. Quarterback Chris Leak has been accepted to grad school and will assume duties as Lemmen's offensive counterpart.
“This is a special place and it’s so good to be back,” said Lemmens, who started 14 of the 45 games he played at UF, tallying 66 tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery along the way. “I know it’s not going to be glamorous -- not with the hours I’m going to put in and no huge paycheck -- but I feel so blessed for the opportunity to be back involved in a game I really love.”
Lemmens, 24, signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but was released before the season started. He took a crack at the CFL, spending some time with the Montreal Alouettes (led by Marc Trestman, now head coach of the Chicago Bears), but was released by that franchise, too.
During a spin in the sales world, Lemmens did some volunteer coaching for his high school, Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, and got the football juices flowing again.
When he returned to UF last spring to complete his undergraduate work, Lemmens reconnected with new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who was also an assistant under former coach Urban Meyer, and received entre’ to Will Muschamp, who eventually offered Lemmens the grad assistant post on the defensive side.
He expects to be better at it -- and enjoy it much more -- than sales.
“I tell people a bad day at football is better than a good day in the real world,” said Lemmens, who so far has embraced his duties and the time he gets with the players. “I like to ask them, ‘What are you thinking about when football is over for you?’ I like to get them thinking about, because you don’t realize -- I certainly didn’t -- that the real world is tougher than you think.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The new football season will bring a new and improved room for the Florida Gators to convene.
Workers are putting the finishing touches on upgrades to the auditorium in the south end zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that hosts team meetings and athletic news conferences. The $600,000 project will be completed in time for when the team reports for fall practice Thursday.
The Gators open the 2013 campaign Aug. 31 at home against Toledo.
“The area, though it’s served its function very well, we just kind of outgrew it, both from a facilities standpoint and technological standpoint,” said Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director for internal affairs. “What we’ve done is use our space much more efficiently, meaning our team members, coaches and support staff will have much more comfortable place to meet.”
Among the improvements:
* The room’s dropped ceiling has been raised for a more open feel.
* Better lighting package.
* New audio visual and sound systems.
* Larger, more comfortable chairs -- and more of them (141 from 126), thanks to the removal of dividing wall that cut the middle of the room.
* Colorful new graphics package.
The south end project is one of several either under construction or due to begin in the coming months, Howard said.
A new meeting room for the swimming and diving teams inside the O’Connell Center is scheduled for completion in early September. The training table upgrades at Gator Dining also are nearly finished, while renovated meeting rooms and storage projects for volleyball at the Lemerand Center are set to begin after the 2013 season ends in December.
Updated: 4:13pm, July 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The list of former Gators making news in the NBA keeps growing.
Add point guard Nick Calathes -- out of sight, out of mind and out of the country -- to the mix.
The rights to Calathes, who starred at UF during the 2007-08 and ’08-09 seasons, were traded Monday to the Memphis Grizzlies by way of the Dallas Mavericks, who selected the former Florida playmaker in the second round of the 2009 draft.
The 6-foot-6 Calathes, the two-time Florida “Mr. Basketball” from Winter Park who averaged 16.2 points on 45-percent shooting to go with 5.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists during his UF career, bypassed the NBA to play professionally in Greece and just completed his fourth season overseas.
Now he’s headed for a franchise armed with the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol and that reached the NBA Western Conference Finals before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
According to ESPN.com, Calathes is under contract to a Russian team, Lokomotive Kazan, in 2013-14, but the deal has an NBA opt-out clause. After averaging 12.9 points, 6.7 assists, 5.9 rebounds and garnering MVP honors in the EuroCup, Calathes figured the time was right to make the NBA jump.
Worth noting: Last year’s EuroCup MVP was Patrick Beverley, also an ’09 second-round pick (and former Southeastern Conference star at Arkansas) who started playoff games for the Houston Rockets this postseason.
During the 2012-13 NBA season, Florida coach Billy Donovan had 10 former players in the NBA. Assuming Calathes, now 24, makes the Grizzlies’ roster -- and they probably didn’t trade for him to cut him -- Donovan could have as many as a dozen ex-Gators in the league, provided forward Erik Murphy, a second-round pick by the Chicago Bulls last month, makes his team.
The Calathes and Murphy opportunities come on the heels of Miami Heat tandem Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, two more former Gators, becoming just the second pair of college teammates to play on back-to-back NBA champions in nearly 50 years and two weeks since Chandler Parsons was credited for his lobbying efforts helping convince Dwight Howard to bolt the Los Angeles Lakers for the Rockets via free agency.