Antonio Callaway runs with the ball during practice on Aug. 10, 2017 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Florida will be without star receiver Antonio Callaway and six other players when it opens the season against Michigan on Sept. 2.
In addition to Callaway, the school announced linebacker James Houston, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, defensive end Keivonnis Davis, defensive end Jordan Smith, defensive tackle Richerd Desir-Jones and linebacker Ventrell Miller will all be suspended for reasons that weren't made public.
Houston, Telfort and Miller are all true freshmen, with Telfort being a Miami Booker T. Washington High alum and Houston hailing from American Heritage-Plantation. Davis, a junior defensive end, attended Miami Central and Desir-Jones, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, attended St. Thomas Aquinas.
“We have a small group of players that have made some choices that are extremely disappointing," coach Jim McElwain wrote in a release. "Action has been taken. They have missed some practice and will miss the Michigan game. We will use this as a learning opportunity and we will have some players step up as we move forward.”
The suspensions leave the Gators thin at linebacker and defensive tackle ahead of the week one showdown with the Wolverines in Arlington, Texas. They're also another blow to Callaway, who's gotten in off-the-field trouble before. The junior from Miami faced internal discipline for a marijuana citation in May that resulted in him pleading no contest to possession of drug paraphernalia. He was also investigated for a sexual assault and admitted he was high on marijuana when the assault took place, though he was later found not responsible.
Callaway was Florida's top receiver the last two seasons, including 721 yards and three touchdowns in 2016.
Malik Zaire passes during practice on August 10, 2017, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Jim McElwain has emphasized competition throughout preseason camp, and on Friday he'll get his first chance to see it play out in The Swamp.
He's expecting to run somewhere from 90 to 110 plays with special emphasis on end-of-game, end-of-half and overtime situations. He also said he plans to work on substitution packages.
One thing he’s especially excited about is watching the quarterbacks play in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, even though the seats will be empty. McElwain said the introduction of graduate transfer Malik Zaire has intensified the competition more than he was expecting, and he’s expecting that to continue in the scrimmage.
“There should be some answers, I think,” McElwain said of the scrimmage providing clues as to who will be the team’s starting quarterback. “And yet I don't know that. If I had a crystal ball I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.”
He added one of the main purposes of the scrimmage is to evaluate some of the fringe players — freshmen, walk-ons, etc. He said he looks at the scrimmage like a tryout. He wants his players to find roles, whether at positions or on special teams.
“This is their opportunity to make the team,” he said. “I'm really looking forward to seeing where they and how they compete to go get a job.”
Running back Lamical Perine also said he’s excited to see what some of the fringe players do on the bigger stage.
“Some players, they shine under the lights,” he said. “We'll see who the players are."
After missing time earlier this week with some knee swelling, left tackle Martez Ivey is doing fine and is at nearly full strength, McElwain said Friday.
Tight end C’yontai Lewis, defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe, offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort, defensive back CJ McWilliams, safety Quincy Lenton, linebacker Kylan Johnson and defensive end Jordan Sherit, meanwhile, will all be out of for the scrimmage. McElwain didn’t elaborate on any of their injuries, but it sounded precautionary.
“Don’t read anything into it,” he said.
Will the real Wanny please stand up
Florida features two players with the same name: safety Jeawon Taylor and offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor. Coaches have taken to calling both of them Wanny, which has led to some confusion.
“When they call Wanny,” Jawaan said, “we both look because we don't know which one they're talking about. So they've gotta add either big Wanny or little Wanny just so we can know.”
He added that in addition to their size separation — Jawaan is listed at 6-foot-5 and 334 pounds while Jeawon is 6-feet, 206 pounds — they’re also differentiated by personality. He said he’s more the quiet type while Jeawon is loud and makes people laugh.
“Ever since he started getting called it, he thinks he's the real Wanny and all that,” Jawaan said. “So it's just fun.”
The confusion figures to get worse next season, as Florida currently holds a commitment from linebacker recruit David Reese. If he enrolls, he’ll join current UF linebacker David Reese.
The Wyoming wild man returns
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph dubbed defensive tackle Taven Bryan the “wyoming wild man” over two years ago, but his teammates say the nickname is still appropriate.
Running back Jordan Scarlett said Bryan, a redshirt junior from Casper, Wyoming, squats the second-most weight on the team, and defensive end Keivonnis Davis said he’s just as impressive elsewhere in the gym.
“Squat, bench, curl, whatever it is,” he said. “That man is a beast. I’m telling you that man is a beast, like a real life beast. I tried working out with him over the summer but I was sore the next day. He’s a monster.”
Perine added “he could lift the whole weight room if he wanted to."
Offensive lineman Brett Heggie said that translates well to the field, where Bryan’s strength makes him hard to block.
McElwain singled out Bryan as a player who needs to step up this season, especially with the Gators lacking depth at defensive tackle. He said it was Bryan’s “time.”
Perine doesn't think that'll be a problem.
“I feel like he's going to shock a lot of people this year,” he said. “He's very underrated.”
Florida’s assistant coaches will all be making more money in the coming seasons. Through a public records request, the school made their contract details available on Friday.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will jump from making $540,000 last season to making $832,725 the next two seasons. The considerable raise comes after Nussmeier received his second $300,000 payment from his former employer, Michigan, last season. The payment resulted from Nussmeier's contract being bought out when Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke was fired in December 2014. The two-year extension runs through the 2018 season.
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph will get a $100,000 bump, from $490,000 last season to $590,000 the next three seasons. He was the only assistant extended through the 2019 season.
Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Greg Nord jumped from $390,000 to $410,000 and was extended through 2018.
Wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon jumped from $275,000 to $290,000 and was also extended through 2018.
And linebackers coach Tim Skipper moved from $440,000 to $446,000 and was also extended through 2018.
All assistant coaches also make $10,000 per year from the school’s apparel contract with Nike.
In late july, the school also announced the contract details for its other assistant coaches. Randy Shannon, the former head coach at the University of Miami who was named Florida’s defensive coordinator after coaching its linebackers the past two seasons, made a considerable jump in his new role from $490,000 to $890,000.
New running backs coach JaJuan Seider will make $335,000 this season and $345,000 next season, while new offensive line coach Brad Davis and new defensive backs coach Corey Bell will each make $290,000 in 2017 and $315,000 in 2018.
The 12th-ranked Gators trailed South Carolina 5-3 in the eighth inning Saturday afternoon’s series finale. Gamecocks reliever Colie Bowers had just walked Nelson Maldonado on four straight pitches to load the bases and bring Schwarz to the plate.
Schwarz had been slumping all year.
That wasn’t stopping him this time. Not again.
Facing a 1-0 pitch, Schwarz blasted a ball into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam to set up the Gators’ 7-5 win.
Schwarz rounded the bases with 3,604 fans cheering for him the whole way. As he touched home plate with four teammates waiting for him and the dugout emptying to give him a proper ovation, he raised his arms in the air in jubilation.
For at least one at-bat, Schwarz felt like himself again.
“It was good to see a smile on his face again,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
'I've been frustrated'
It has been a rough year for Schwarz.
He’ll be the first to tell you that.
Schwarz, one of Florida’s top power hitters, has been anything but the reliable hitter he expects himself to be.
His .239 season batting average heading into the game would be a career low. He had more strikeouts (37) than hits (34) as he stepped up to the plate.
“I’ve been frustrated,” Schwarz said. “My attitude hasn’t been great.”
Schwarz has high expectations for himself. Each time he steps up to the plate, he said, he needs to make a play.
The internal pressure he puts on himself seeped into his game all season.
There was the 0 for 16 stretch in the beginning of the season, a stretch where he struck out six times over five games. His batting average would eventually dip to .200 by the start of SEC play and he would move from the top of the order to sixth in the lineup.
“When I don’t come through,” he said. “I didn’t do something right.”
O’Sullivan, Florida’s 10th-year head coach, talked with Schwarz earlier in the week.
“I told him I had confidence in him,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s always hit. He’s gonna hit.
And with one swing, he showed that he can still hit.
“It’s amazing how one swing can change your mood,” O’Sullivan said. “He deserved it.”
'It was a good feeling'
Schwarz lost track of the ball.
As it sailed through McKethan Stadium, all he could do was watch as left fielder Carlos Cortes as he rounded toward second base.
Once he saw Cortes slam into the wall, Schwarz knew.
“It was a good feeling,” Schwarz said with a smile.
It was a feeling Florida and its hot-and-cold offense needed.
Heading into that at-bat, Florida was just 2-for-21 (.095) with runners in scoring position in the series against South Carolina.
The Gators had the bases loaded on three occasions. They came away with two runs. This just a week after putting up 30 runs in its two wins at Vanderbilt and another 10 in a midweek game at Florida State.
Add in the fact that Jackson Kowar gave up five runs in 6 1/3 innings to put the Gators down by two runs late, Florida needed some sense of life.
Schwarz did just that and reminded fans what he can bring to the offense.
Just like he did when he hit a school-record four home runs against Stetson as a freshman.
And just like he did when he hit a grand slam against Florida State in the NCAA Super Regionals last year to send the Gators to the College World Series for a second straight year.
“When he’s going well, he just always seems to be driving in runs,” Kowar said. “If he’s hitting well, he’s not just getting base hits. That’s big for the team.”
And with the win, the Gators (27-13, 10-8 SEC) are still in the hunt for the SEC Championship. They trail SEC East leader Kentucky by 1.5 games and overall leader Mississippi State by three games with four weekend series remaining.
If Florida wants to make a run in the conference -- and in the NCAA Tournament -- they’ll need Schwarz and the offense to step up.
Schwarz is hoping this is the first step he needs to get there.
“Hitting is about confidence,” Schwarz said. “That’s something I’ve been lacking. Hopefully this will boost me a little bit.”
Brady Singer pitches during Florida's 4-2 loss to South Carolina on April 21, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.
Ryan Larson ripped an eighth-inning pitch deep to the outfield on late Friday night and started rounding the bases.
The stage was set: Two outs, bases loaded, the 12th-ranked Gators trailing by three runs.
He just needed the ball to clear the fence.
But with the wind blowing in and Larson’s ball carrying to center field -- where home runs go to die -- South Carolina’s TJ Hopkins caught the ball on the warning track to end the threat.
One inning later, the Gamecocks closed out a 4-2 win at McKethan Stadium to even the series.
Florida (26-13, 9-8 SEC) trailed the game from start to finish after a shaky first inning from sophomore pitcher Brady Singer.
Singer, arguably Florida’s best weekend starter to this point of the season, opened the game by hitting Hopkins on the second pitch and then gave up a two-run home run down the right-field line to South Carolina’s Carlos Cortes. It was the first home run Singer had given up in his UF career, ending a streak that lasted 33 games and 108 1/3 innings.
“It’s frustrating sometimes,” Singer said of the first inning. “It’s baseball. You don’t have your best stuff every game. It’s just one of those nights where I didn’t have my best stuff and my command was a little shaky.”
Singer (4-3, 2.16 ERA) settled down after that first frame and at one point retired 11 of the 12 batters he faced before giving up another run in the sixth.
His final line: 5 1/3 innings, a season-high three earned runs allowed, six hits, five strikeouts and two walks.
“He battled,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the mark of a good pitcher. He was not at his best tonight, [but] he still gave us a chance to win.”
South Carolina’s Wil Crowe did the same for the Gamecocks (24-14, 9-8 SEC).
The 6-2 righty was efficient in his seven innings on the mound, scattering just six hits while not allowing a walk. His lone blemish came in the second inning when he allowed three consecutive one-out singles, capped by Keenan Bell’s RBI hit through the left side that scored JJ Schwarz. Crowe retired the side over the next three innings and did not allow a Florida runner to get in scoring position before being pulled in the eighth.
“He just mixed pretty well,” catcher Mark Kolozsvary said. “He has a good arm.”
With the exception of a fourth run coming home in the seventh, Florida’s bullpen held its own, with the freshman duo of Kirby McMullen and Tyler Dyson working clean eighth and ninth innings to give the Gators a chance to rally.
And Florida almost executed in the eighth.
Trailing 4-1, the Gators loaded the bases on a Keenan Bell single, a Kolozsvary double and a Deacon Liput walk to put the winning run at the plate with no outs.
And then Dalton Guthrie popped out to shortstop.
And then Austin Langworthy struck out swinging.
And then Larson’s hard hit landed about 5 feet shy of clearing the fences.
“Maybe most nights, it’s a home run,” O’Sullivan said. “But the wind was not blowing out. We just have to do a better job in those situations and not try to do too much.”
UF tacked a second run in the ninth when South Carolina closer Tyler Johnson was called for a balk with runners on the corners, bringing Nelson Maldonado home, JJ Schwarz to second and the tying run in the batter’s box with no outs.
Johnson forced three straight outs to end the threat.
The series finale is set for Saturday at noon. Florida’s Jackson Kowar (6-0, 3.51 ERA) will face South Carolina’s Adam Hill (2-3, 2.14 ERA).
Alex Faedo pitches during Florida's 1-0 win against South Carolina on April 20, 2017, at McKethan Stadium. Faedo tossed a career-high-tying 8 2/3 innings in the win. (Photo by Jordan McPherson)
Alex Faedo walked into the dugout after the eighth inning with 111 pitches and a 1-0 lead against South Carolina.
Everything was clicking for the junior to that point. He had command of his fastball. His slider was making batters miss with ease.
He just needed three more outs.
“Do you want the ninth?” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan asked his ace.
“Yeah,” Faedo responded. “I think I can close it out.”
For the second time this year, Faedo came close, ultimately leaving to a standing ovation with one out left after giving up a walk on his career-high 125th pitch.
But the 12th-ranked Gators still came away with the 1-0 win over the Gamecocks to open up the three-game series Thursday night at McKethan Stadium.
Faedo improved to 6-1 on the year and dropped his ERA to 2.46 with his masterful performance on the mound. The 6-5 righty struck out nine while giving up just three hits and walking four. He only allowed two South Carolina hitters to make it to scoring position.
It’s the perfect formula for success in a pitching duel to open up a conference series.
“He was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said, “and he had to be.”
South Carolina’s ace, Clarke Schmidt, was nearly flawless as well in his 5 1/3 innings before leaving with arm soreness. Schmidt, who came into the game with a 1.31 ERA, gave up just one hit in the first four innings before the Gators (26-12, 9-7 SEC) turned in the only run of the game in the fifth.
With two outs in the frame, UF junior Christian Hicks roped a two-out double to left field to get into scoring position and bring designated hitter Keenan Bell to the plate. Facing a full-count, the freshman hit a chopper up the middle for an RBI single, scoring Hicks for the decisive run.
“I knew I needed to have a good at-bat right there, come through for my team,” Bell said. “I’m lucky it came through.”
Faedo, meanwhile, continued to mow through the South Carolina lineup. His lone blemishes in the final four innings were a walk in the seventh, a single in the eighth and the walk to Alex Destino with one out left to end his start.
“Sully does know best and he hasn’t messed up on that,” Faedo said. “... I wasn’t mad at Sully or anything like that. I was mad at myself for not getting Destino out at the end.”
Sophomore Michael Byrne recorded the final out to earn his team-high seventh save of the season.
The series continues Friday at 7 p.m. and concludes at noon on Saturday.
Former Florida basketball player Canyon Barry tosses an underhanded first pitch prior to the UF baseball team's series opener against South Carolina (Photo by Jordan McPherson)
Before Florida basketball alumnus Canyon Barry trotted out to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Thursday’s series opener against South Carolina, he had just one thought.
“No need to risk anything here,” Barry said before letting out a quick laugh. “No Not Top-10 performances for me.”
He won’t have to worry about that.
After toeing the rubber and doing a traditional windup, Barry paused before tossing the pitch with his signature underhanded style directly over the plate for a strike to officially set up a pivotal SEC series for the 12th-ranked Gators baseball team.
Point guard Chris Chiozza -- who made the miraculous overtime buzzer-beater against Wisconsin to send the Gators to the Elite Eight -- was supposed to throw the first pitch but was unable to make it.
This isn’t Barry’s first exposure to baseball, though. Before his basketball career took off, he played for his high school’s baseball team during his freshman year.
“Hated every second of it,” Barry said. “[I was] bored out of my mind, but it’s fun to come out, eat a couple hot dogs and watch the guys play.”
Barry just finished his first and final season with the Gators men’s basketball team, a year that ended with a trip to the Elite Eight. The graduate transfer averaged 11.4 points per game, second on the team, and made a team-high 113 free throws -- all underhanded like his dad, NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry. He was named the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year and earned the CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year while studying for his master’s in nuclear engineering.
After the season ended, Barry was one of 64 seniors invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a postseason camp that serves essentially as a mini combine for college seniors as they prepare for the chance to play in the NBA. Barry averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds during the three-game tournament.
“I was happy with it,” Barry said. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I think I showed off how athletic I can be. … Hopefully some NBA teams took notice.”
And now, it’s preparation for the NBA Draft. Barry said he has about five workouts lined up and is hoping to make a training camp. He also said starting his pro career in Europe is not out of the equation, either.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win. I think I showed that here [at UF],” Barry said. “Just growing up around the game for so long, knowing the ins and outs of it and being a team player. … I’m just happy to be playing basketball and fortunate enough to hopefully play well enough to make a living.”
Florida pitcher Frank Rubio tossed four scoreless innings to lift the 12th-ranked Gators to a 2-1 win over North Florida on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at McKethan Stadium (Photos by Jordan McPherson)
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan doesn’t want to focus on the past.
He knows where his team has faltered this year: those early-season midweek losses, that three-game sweep at Auburn, those two home losses to Tennessee.
But reliving those mistakes, O’Sullivan said, aren’t going to get his team anywhere.
“Sometimes,” O’Sullivan said, “you just have to press the reset button and just start over.”
That mindset has paid off for Florida as of late.
After a 2-1 win against North Florida on Tuesday night, the 12th-ranked Gators (25-12) have won five of their last six games and are on a roll heading into a key weekend series with South Carolina.
The examples of the team’s resetting mentality are present all over the team.
Exhibit A: Frank Rubio.
The senior pitcher and former St. Thomas Aquinas standout failed to record an out in his past two outings -- two-batter stints against LSU (hit-by-pitch and two-run home run) and Florida State (single, walk) -- and he drew the loss in the outing before that against Auburn.
But on Tuesday, he trotted out of the bullpen and tossed a career-high-tying four scoreless innings and helped turn a key double play en route to his first win of the season. Rubio, a sidearm-throwing righty, gave up just two hits and struck out three, also tying a career high.
Rubio said he has shortened his stride and focused on staying ready during the past three weeks.
“I think it definitely gives Sully a little bit of confidence in that he has somebody who can throw strikes,” Rubio said. “I’ve done it in the past, so I think it was more about reassuring him that he has another arm to help him.”
O’Sullivan added: “In this game, it’s very easy to jump off a guy’s bandwagon when he’s struggling. … Frank’s had a tough year and then all of a sudden, he goes four scoreless.”
Exhibit B: Dalton Guthrie (photo, left).
The shortstop struggled after suffering a shoulder injury in the series opener against Auburn. In the first 14 games he played after the injury (he sat out two games against Missouri), Guthrie went just .119 at the plate (7 for 59) with 13 strikeouts.
But in the last two games, the junior has gone 4 for 7 with two home runs, 3 RBI, three runs scored and four walks. He’s also returned to his normal form in the field, making a key grab in Florida’s series finale against Tennessee two weeks ago and helping turn a double play in the sixth inning against UNF
Exhibit C: The offense as a whole.
Over the last five games, Florida is averaging more than 11 hits and eight runs per game with seemingly a different player showing up each night.
One night, it’s Ryan Larson, the senior with a team-high .349 batting average.
The next, it’s Austin Langworthy, the freshman who is on a five-game hitting streak with a .400 batting average since returning from a wrist injury.
On Tuesday, it was Guthrie (2 for 3, RBI) and JJ Schwarz (RBI double) against a North Florida pitching staff that only allowed six total hits.
“It’s a lot better, that’s for sure,” shortstop Dalton Guthrie said. “We have to keep going, keep working.”
That starts Thursday with the series against South Carolina, which is tied with Florida for second in the SEC East at 8-7 in conference play, two games behind No. 10 Kentucky.
The Florida Gators cheer in the huddle. (Photos by Jordan McPherson)
The SEC baseball schedule is at the halfway point, and the Florida Gators are still in the running for a regular-season crown. There were struggles early, but the No. 12 Gators sit at 8-7 through five conference weekends. That’s just two games behind SEC East leader Kentucky and three games back from overall conference leader Arkansas with 15 more games to go. Here’s a closer look at how Florida has fared throughout conference play.
The meet was essentially over before Florida walked out of its bye and took to the uneven bars for its final event of the night.
It was over before junior Alex McMurtry closed out the Gators’ season with a perfect 10 on the bars, her fourth taste of perfection this season.
It was over before the third-ranked Gators put up a 197.700 score at the NCAA Super Six Championship, which tied for their fourth highest score of the season.
Top-seeded Oklahoma ran away with the NCAA women’s gymnastics with a Super Six-record 198.3875 on Saturday night inside the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Missouri, to claim its second straight national title. Florida finished third behind Oklahoma and second-place LSU, with UCLA, Utah and Alabama rounding out the six-team field.
Once again, the Florida Gators will be competing for an NCAA gymnastics title.
Third-ranked UF finished second in its semifinal competition on Friday in St. Louis with a 197.8125 team score thanks largely in part to junior Alex McMurtry’s NCAA all-around victory and consistency on all four events.
McMurtry finished with a meet-high 39.8125 all-around score, the third-highest individual all-around score in Florida history. She scored at least a 9.9375 on every event, highlighted by a 9.975 on vault. McMurtry also earned a share of the uneven bars title with a 9.95 score.
She joins Bridget Sloan (2016; 2014) and Kytra Hunter (2015; 2012) as Florida’s only NCAA all-around champion. It’s the fifth time over the last six years that UF won at least a share of the individual all-around title.
Overall, Florida did not have to count a score lower than 9.825. The lone blemish was Kennedy Baker fell on her uneven bars dismount, but the score was dropped.
No. 2 seed LSU won the semifinal with an NCAA Championship-record 198.275 and had 15 scores at or above 9.9. Sixth-ranked Alabama took third in the six-team semifinal field with a 197.600.
They will be joined by No. 1 Oklahoma (197.725), No. 5 UCLA (197.500) and No. 4 Utah (197.050) in Saturday’s Super Six finale, during which the team national champion will be crowned. Competition begins at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
The Gators will start the meet on the balance beam.
Devin Robinson announced on his Twitter account Friday afternoon that he will declare for the 2017 NBA Draft instead of returning for his senior season with the Florida Gators.
Robinson, a 6-8 forward from Virginia, scored 935 points in 105 career appearances over his three-year career, never missing a game. He had five career double-doubles and scored a career-high 24 points twice during his final season.
"We'll miss Devin here, but he'll always be a part of the Gator family," head coach Mike White said in a release. "We're excited for Devin as he continues to pursue his dream and grateful for his role in helping reestablish the culture and success of the Florida basketball program."
DraftExpress.com has Robinson ranked as the 37th best player in this year’s draft and the 10th-best small forward. The website projects Robinson to be selected with the 36th pick by the Boston Celtics, which would make Robinson the first UF player to be drafted since Erik Murphy was selected 49th overall in 2013.
Florida is still waiting to hear from center John Egbunu about his decision to either return to the team or test the professional basketball waters.
Robinson’s full message is below:
“To the Gator Nation,
After careful consideration with my family and deep prayer with God, I’ve made the decision to forgo my senior year and enter the 2017 NBA draft.
This decision was not easy for me; in fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I have ever faced. I will be leaving a place that has become my second home.
I would first like to thank my family for their unconditional support throughout my career and this overwhelming decision. I would also like to personally thank each of my coaches, team support staff, and academic support staff. You each have influenced my life and made me the man I am today. To my teammates, you each have a place in my heart and I will always consider you guys as my brothers.
Without you all, my journey would not have been the same. I have been blessed to form many great relationships that will truly last a lifetime. I will truly miss all of you.
To the Rowdy Reptiles and the Gator Nation, I will miss the enthusiasm and support you all provided my team and I during my career here at the University of Florida. I will miss playing in the O’Dome and playing in front of college basketball’s best fans. I thank you for your support over the last three seasons.
I set many personal goals for myself for this season. At the top of the list was for our team to make the NCAA tournament. We were able to make the tournament this season and advance to the Elite Eight. Although we did not reach our end goal, I am still grateful for the opportunity to keep the culture alive for the University of Florida.
However, the time has come for me to pursue new opportunities as a professional in the NBA. I know I am ready for this next step and I am personally excited for all the new challenges that will be presented with this decision.
I will always cheer on and be a huge supporter of the University of Florida. I will forever be a Gator.
Florida freshman Amelia Hundley celebrates with teammates after finishing her uneven parallel bars routine during a meet this season. (Photos by Jordan McPherson)
Sharon Hundley still remembers bringing her 3-year-old daughter Amelia to work at her dance studio. Little Amelia watched intensely while mom taught class. She copied the older girls directly in front of her.
“She was still in diapers trying to do back handsprings and landing on her head,” Sharon Hundley recalled. “I thought ‘Oh God. She’s going to kill herself if we don’t get her into some kind of classes.’ That’s how it all started.”
Amelia hasn’t stopped. Within a year, dance evolved into gymnastics and an opportunity. She reached national heights over the ensuing 16 years, capped with an appearance at the Olympic Trials in July.
Now, she wants to make one last mark on the gymnastics world, this time at the collegiate level with the Florida Gators, before she hangs up the leotard for good.
Now, she wants to feel the glory of success one more time, this time at this weekend’s NCAA championships and this time as part of a team.
Now, she wants to not just join the ranks of All-Americans Kytra Hunter and Bridget Sloan as the next big name in Florida gymnastics. She wants to set the new standard.
“I hoped to come in and fill those shoes,” the 19-year-old freshman said. “I have the opportunity to be that good.”
Florida's Kayli Kvistad drove a two-out, seventh-inning pitch straight to right field. Teammate Justine McLean, standing on second in a scoreless game with top-ranked Florida State, knew it just needed to fall.
As soon as it hit the grass, the speedy McLean rounded third and darted toward home plate without a second thought. She ran past home plate and clapped twice. Her teammates ran out of the dugout.
Kvistad's walk-off single scored McLean and clinched the Gators' 1-0 win over the Seminoles on Wednesday night in front of a Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium crowd of 2,574.
"Justine's one of our fastest players," Kvistad said. "... She can score on almost anything to the outfield."
After six innings dominated by both pitching staffs, the Gators (38-2) found life late.
McLean started it off with a one-handed bunt single down the third-base line, beating the throw by a half step and flipping the lineup. Amanda Lorenz moved her into scoring position with a groundout. After Nicole Dewitt drew a two-out walk, Kvistad battled FSU's Meghan King and ripped a 2-1 pitch to right field to clinch it.
"Honestly, if you ask me where I want to be at the end of the game, I want to be at the top of the lineup," UF coach Tim Walton said. "I thought it was huge."
Sophomore Kelly Barnhill earned the win after tossing a pair of scoreless innings to close out the game. She improved to 16-0 on the season, struck out three batters and dropped her ERA to 0.27. Her lone blemish was a two-out walk in the sixth.
Senior lefty Delanie Gourley opened the game with five scoreless innings, scattering just four hits while striking out seven.
Gourley gave up three hits in the top of the first, but her defense and an FSU miscue kept the Seminoles (38-2-1) scoreless.
First it was a double play. As Gourley threw a third strike to FSU's Alex Powers, Morgan Klaevemann left first base early and was ruled out.
Next, it was a throw home. With Jessica Warren on second after hitting a double and Ellie Cooper flaring a single to left field, Florida's Amanda Lorenz scooped up a ball and fired it home. Catcher Janell Wheaton grabbed the throw and tagged Warren for the inning-ending out.
Gourley walked up to Lorenz. She was speechless.
"I couldn't even cheer afterward," Gourley said. "I was standing there as she threw it and was like 'Get her out. Get her out. Get her out.'"
Gourley allowed just one baserunner in her next four inning and only allowed one runner to make it into scoring position.
Florida, on the other hand, squandered a pair of opportunities late.
In the fifth, the Gators had runners on second and third with two outs after a wild pitch. Kvistad flew out to left field to strand them both.
In the sixth, pinch-runner Jacqui Switzer made it from first to third after an Aleshia Ocasio groundout and a wild pitch. Chelsea Herndon hit a lineout to left field to keep the game scoreless heading to the seventh before Kvistad hit her game winner.
"Kayli saved the game once again," McLean said. "When I was rounding third, they were like 'up, up, up.' I was like, 'Yeah. We won.'"
Redshirt freshman Kyle Trask became the second Gators to undergo surgery this spring.
As first reported by Gator Country's Nick De La Torre and later confirmed by a UF press release, Trask had surgery Wednesday to repair a torn meniscus. He is expected to be out about four weeks but should be cleared for the start of fall camp.
According to the Gator Country report, Trask suffered the injury about two weeks before the spring game. Trask competed with fellow redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks this spring for the starting quarterback job, with Franks now heading into the summer as the front runner.
Luke Del Rio, who started six games for the Gators last season, sat out this spring after having a pair of shoulder surgeries.
The aforementioned UF press release also said three football players are currently not on track to be ready for fall practice: Defensive lineman Jordan Sherit, receiver Rick Wells and tight end Harry Gronto.
"[T]hey will be reevaluated closer to camp and their status could change prior to the team's first practice," the release reads.
Sherit's potential absence is the biggest news of the three. The fifth-year senior has played in 32 games with 11 starts at defensive end and has recorded 66 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
Basketball: Hester transfers
The UF men's basketball announced Wednesday both that freshman shooting guard Eric Hester is transferring from the program, as first reported by Inside the Gators' Landon Watnick.
Hester played off the bench in 20 games during Florida's Elite Eight run but averaged just 5.6 minutes and 2.2 points per game. His highlight performance came against LSU, when he went 5-for-5 from three-point range and helped the Gators make a school record 19 shots from beyond the arc.
Basketball: New commitment
Barely three hours after the Hester transfer news broke, UF announced that guard Michael Okauru signed a letter of intent to join the team. Okauru is ranked as a four-star prospect out of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“We’re happy to officially welcome Michael to the Gator family,” coach Mike White said in a release. “We expect him to be a great fit here, along with the rest of our incoming class, and look forward to having them on campus.”
Okauru's commitment, along with Florida's four other early signees, gives the Gators the ninth-ranked recruiting class for 2017.
With the Gators clinging onto a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Michael Byrne toed the rubber and eyed down Tennessee’s Justin Ammons.
After drawing the loss in both of the extra-inning games that opened the series, it was a tense situation for the sophomore pitcher: Bases loaded, two outs, full count.
But when the Gators needed him most on Sunday, Byrne pulled through. He forced Ammons to rip a pitch straight back to the pitcher’s mound, which Byrne fielded cleanly and tossed to first base for the inning-ended out before closing the door in the ninth.
No. 7 Florida salvaged the little it could in its three-game series with Tennessee by taking the finale 5-4 on Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Larson grabbed the ball off the wall in left-center field and hurled it back to the infield. When shortstop Dalton Guthrie bobbled the cutoff and underthrew the toss home, Tennessee’s Justin Ammons crossed home plate with relative ease and celebrated the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th inning.
Tennessee, a team that had just one conference win heading into the weekend, will now leave Gainesville with the series over the No. 7 Gators after winning its second straight extra-inning contest, this one a 3-2 decision on Saturday night. The Volunteers won the series opener 7-6 on Friday.
“We’ve won our share of one-run games, and now we’ve lost a couple in a row,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “All we can do is come back tomorrow and play a little better.”
Former Florida Gators linebacker Daniel McMillian was arrested late Thursday night and remains in the Alachua County Jail on Friday morning on charges of sexual assault (a first-degree felony) and false imprisonment (a third-degree felony).
According to a Gainesville Police Department arrest report, McMillian invited the alleged victim to his apartment around 3:40 p.m. on Thursday. Once she entered the residence, McMillian, 23, reportedly locked the door, blocked it and then exposed himself to her.
The victim asked to leave but, according to the report, McMillan approached her and grabbed her. The report states she kicked McMillian, unlocked the door and ran to safety.
The victim sustained a small scratch on her arm while attempting to escape and "was visibly shaking and hysterically crying" afterward when talking with officers, according to the report.
McMillian remains in the Alachua County Jail as of press time in lieu of a $40,000 bond.
McMillian, a Jacksonville native, played in 41 games at Florida, mostly as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. He recorded 65 career tackles in his four years.
When he walked into Florida’s indoor practice facility last week, the normally outspoken Chauncey Gardner was quiet.
Gardner, heading into his sophomore year, is a versatile defensive back.
He can play outside corner, nickel and safety.
And he’s usually a talker filled with energy.
“Must have been having an off day,” UF coach Jim McElwain said a few days later.
Defensive backs coach Corey Bell added: “He’s a confident player, no doubt.”
McElwain and the Gators are hoping Gardner doesn’t have many off days on the field as he moves from a freshman reserve and special teams ace to helping replace three starters in Florida’s defensive backfield.
Gardner showed his potential late last season, starting the last three games at safety due to injuries to Marcus Maye and Nick Washington.
He recorded an interception early against Florida State in his first career start and then recorded two more (including one returned for a touchdown) in the Outback Bowl against Iowa to close out the season.
“They see we go [with] somebody back there who can do it,” Gardner said. “So they’re trusting me and I’m trusting them. That’s why I’m putting my process and working and getting everything better so I can help my teammates and get better.”
He and the rest of the defensive backs will need to get better quickly. The Gators lost three secondary starters from last year in Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Maye. Duke Dawson, Florida’s primary nickel corner last season, is moving outside to take over one of those spots. Gardner is holding down the second spot this spring due to lack of depth, but he could potentially move back inside or back to safety once the five freshman defensive backs arrive in Gainesville this summer.
“As long as he’s on the field,” Bell said, “we’re a better football team.”
DEFENSIVE BACKS ROOM
Key returners: Duke Dawson, Chauncey Gardner, Marcell Harris, Nick Washington, Joseph Putu
Key losses: Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson
Key additions: Shawn Davis, Brian Edwards, Brad Stewart, CJ Henderson, Marco Wilson
Key stats from 2016: 92.86 QB rating allowed (lowest nationally); 2:1 interception-to-touchdown ratio (No. 1 nationally); 148.5 yards allowed per game (No. 1 in SEC; No. 2 nationally)
Evaluation: The Gators are reloading in the secondary once again. Gone are three of their top playmakers and in come a handful of freshmen who will need to make an immediate impact if “DBU” wants to continue to hold that title. Look for Marcell Harris and Duke Dawson to take on increased leadership roles this season and for a freshman (maybe two) to get starts early.
Second-year UF coach Mike White on Tuesday met with media for the last time this season. White, fresh off a mini beach vacation with his family and a bout with the flu, gave some insights on the trajectory of the program and his expectations for players moving forward. Here are the highlights.
Egbunu likely to test NBA waters
Add John Egbunu to the list of players contemplating going pro early.
White said Egbunu, a 6-11, 255-pound center who is set to graduate at the end of the month, will likely test the NBA waters.
Egbunu, who transferred to UF from the University of South Florida in 2014, had a solid season. The big man averaged 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending torn ACL against Auburn on Feb. 14.