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24 posts from December 2013

December 30, 2013

Tebow joins ESPN

GAINESVILLE -- Tim Tebow has found his next football job -- as an analyst for ESPN. 

The former Florida Gators star quarterback signed a three-year contract to become a commentator for the SEC Network -- which launches in August 2014 -- the network announced Monday.  

The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion will make his ESPN debut during ample pregame coverage of the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 6. 

According to ESPN, Tebow's contract will "not preclude him from continuing to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL."

NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoprt added...

Screen shot 2013-12-30 at 10.39.59 PM

“When I was six 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 said in a statement released by ESPN. 

Tebow, who was cut by the New England Patriots in August and did not play in the league in 2013, will serve a variety of roles for ESPN, but the former "SEC icon" will mainly appear on the new network's SEC Nation -- the conference's version of GameDay (a traveling pregame show) -- alongside host Joe Tessitore and commentator Paul Finebaum. 

“Tim is a SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal," ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly said in the news release. "He brings a wealth of knowledge about the game, the conference and the passion among SEC fans.”

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December 26, 2013

A straightforward blueprint: Roper explains offensive philosophy

GAINESVILLE -- Florida tabbed Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as the man to revive UF’s anemic attack Thursday. 

Florida’s stagnant offense morphed into a national punching bag this fall, as the Gators stumbled to their worst record -- and first losing season -- since Jimmy Carter was president. 

During his introductory teleconference, Roper -- who remains with the Blue Devils through their Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M (Dec. 31) -- openly acknowledged he knows very little about Florida’s personnel and has no preconceived notions or predetermined offensive scheme.

But unlike his predecessors, Roper seems intent on evaluating UF’s talent first and then building a blueprint that best suits his players.   

Good start. 

While ESPN.com reported the Gators would transition to an “up-tempo spread offense,” Roper laid out a straightforward offensive philosophy not pigeonholed to any set system:

“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 playclock runs out, and we want the ball at the end of the play. And those things are what we will coach. Coaching is not plays or formations or this; it's how to make decisions and how to play the game with effort and those types of things. We've got to go in and find out who are the playmakers with the ball and what our players of capable of doing up front and what we're capable of doing at the quarterback position." 

Admittedly, the K.I.S.S. philosophy sounds awful familiar, but the idea of tailoring a system that best suits your players is a totally different tune. 

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Official: Gators hire Roper

GAINESVILLE -- Christmas officially came a day late for Gators fans.

Florida announced the hiring of Duke offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper to the same positions on its staff Thursday -- two days after ESPN.com first reported the news on Christmas Eve.

Duke-roper_zps7fe9bc82(courtesy www.onlygators.com)

"I'm excited to have Coach Roper join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a news release.

"He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though, is he has always remained balanced. He has had success calling plays in the SEC and has tutored three NFL quarterbacks. He has had players produce at every offensive position and he is one of the most well-respected coaches in the country."

Roper, an 18-year coaching veteran and the Blue Devils offensive coordinator since 2008, is tasked with resurrecting a Florida offense ranked in the bottom-20 nationally for three consecutive seasons. Known as a quarterbacks guru, Roper is also charged with developing Jeff Driskel and five-star freshman signee Will Grier. Roper will serve as Florida's third offensive coordinator in four seasons under Muschamp. 

“The expectations are high,” Roper awknowledged Thursday. “And they should be. They've won a lot of games at Florida and won a lot of championships at Florida.”

Roper will remain with the Blue Devils through Tuesday’s (New Years Eve) Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M.

While immediate details of Roper’s contract were not released, The Gainesville Sun reported he will make $600,000 annually.

Muschamp interviewed Roper for nearly seven hours Monday in Gainesville after receiving clearance from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.

A longtime Lieutenant of Cutcliffe, Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation’s top assistant this season.

Cutcliffe was very complimentary of Roper, calling him “an intense coach” and “the total package.”

“I’ve known Kurt most of his adult life,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m very appreciative of all of his contributions whether it was at Tennessee, at Ole Miss and certainly here at Duke through the years. It’s been an enjoyable professional relationship and certainly a friendship.”

While not as ballyhooed as other prospective (and rumored) candidates, Roper is a highly regarded assistant recognized as a flexible offensive mind willing to run multiple systems to adjust to personnel.

Roper won’t hit the recruiting trail for UF until he’s settled in Gainesville next week, and admitted he was rather unfamiliar with Florida’s team.

“I know Driskel’s the quarterback and don’t know much beyond that,” he said, chuckling.

In 2013, Duke’s attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and averaged 31.6 points per game. The Blue Devils scored over 20 points 10 times in 2013. Under Brent Pease -- UF’s embattled offensive coordinator fired three weeks ago -- the Gators tallied 20-plus points just 13 times in two seasons.

“The biggest thing is you got to find out the strengths of your quarterback and the strengths of your offensive line,” said Roper on his philosophy. “Once you find those strengths then you can start putting together what you're going to start hanging your hat on offensively. … We want to play fast but we want to play smart and take care of the football.”

Roper has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference and coached against Muschamp (while at LSU) three times as the playcaller at Ole Miss. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), first connecting with Cutcliffe.

Roper then followed Cutcliffe to Ole Miss for six seasons, serving as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator where he tutored Eli Manning. After brief stops at Kentucky (quarterbacks coach, 2005) and Tennessee (running backs coach, 2006-07), Roper piloted a Duke offense that produced two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season (2012) and two 3,000-yard passers (Sean Renfree,Thad Lewis).

“Coach Muschamp is really excited about the future [at UF]. He's excited about the talent level that he has there. I think he's excited about the opportunities that Florida has to compete for championships,” Roper said. “I don't have any limitations or any preconceived thoughts going in. I'm going down there to coach to the best of my ability and try to win games and win championships."

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December 23, 2013

Back to the well: Roper hired as Gators OC?

GAINESVILLE -- The last time Florida poached an offensive coach from Duke it worked out quite well.

Could it happen again?

********** UPDATE NO. 2 **********

Well about a lengthy wait...

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I was told there is unlikely to be an official announcement during the holidays but that "could change."

********** UPDATE **********

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While I don't know the validity of others' sources, this much is definitely true: Muschamp knows he must hit a home run with this hire. Patience and prudence are key, as Muschamp's future at Florida rests on the success of UF's next OC. Other factors are in play here too. Many candidates are presumably off the board after receiving raises, extensions or head coaching jobs, while others may not be cleared to interview until after their school's bowl game. Same goes for potential NFL suitors. ...

...According to CoachingSearch.com and Flight Finder, Gators head coach Will Muschamp interviewed Blue Devils offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the same position Monday. Screen shot 2013-12-23 at 11.35.16 AM

According to the travel history on the University Athletic Association's private plane, the UAA jet left the Gainesville Regional airport at 4:30 a.m., arriving in Raleigh, NC shortly before 6 a.m. The plane quickly departed Raleigh-Durham International and arrived back in Gainesville just after 8 a.m. 

Duke's attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation's top assistant.

Roper has been a longtime offensive Lieutenant of Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. He has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference, starting his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), working as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Ole Miss (1999-04) and serving as Kentucky's quarterbacks coach for a lone season (2005). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 21, 2013

HOOPS: Harris dismissed

GAINESVILLE -- After weeks of innuendo, Damontre Harris was officially dismissed from the Florida basketball team Saturday morning.

The 6-foot-10, 228-pound South Carolina transfer never played a game in a Gators uniform.

Harris, who sat out the 2012-13 season after leaving Columbia, was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

Os-pictures-2013-uf-mens-basketball-media-day--026(Courtesy orlandosentinel.com)

Coach Billy Donovan publicly expressed his disappointment in the troubled center for weeks and just five days ago acknowledged Harris was unlikely to ever play at Florida.

On Saturday morning, Harris’ fate was officially sealed.

“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude,” Donovan said in a statement. “He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening. We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with, but there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped, or wanting to do the things necessary.”

Harris, who was expected to be a rotational frontcourt piece this year, was injured (hamstring) at the start of training camp and his role with the team quickly unraveled. Already suspended in the preseason, the center stopped showing up to the practice facility for treatment and rehab. Last month, Donovan announced Harris never practiced with the team since the season started.

“I think he realizes that a big opportunity for him is now gone,” Donovan told the school website Saturday. “The thing I tried to get across to him, if he has any aspirations of playing professional basketball there is not one team in this country or overseas that is going to tolerate this type of behavior, and I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable for these things.”

Harris, who did complete the fall semester in good academic standing, is permitted to transfer to any school without restrictions. 

No. 16 Florida (8-2) faces Fresno State (6-5) today at 4:30 p.m. (Sun Network) in Sunrise at the Orange Bowl Classic. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 20, 2013

Gators hire special teams coach, fill administrative vacancy

GAINESVILLE -- The Gator Nation is impatiently wishing for a shiny new offensive coordinator this holiday season, but Christmas is still five days away.

Instead, UF officially announced the hiring of Coleman Hutzler, formally at New Mexico, as its new special teams coordinator -- a position not known to be vacant until late Thursday evening.

Jeff Choate, UF’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator in 2013, resigned to “pursue other coaching opportunities" according to a release by the school. 

“Coleman is a young coach with a very bright future,” coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. “He has a great work ethic and obviously is very familiar with our special teams’ schemes. It will be a seamless transition for our players.”

Hutzler, just 29, is a familiar face in Gainesville, serving on UF’s staff from 2010-11 as a defensive and special teams assistant alongside current defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

Durkin and Hutzler, who has been on the Lobos staff since 2012, also worked together at Stanford (2007-2009) under coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I’m excited to be returning to Gainesville and be a part of the Gator family again,” Hutzler said in a news release. “I enjoyed my time there and have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp and the administrative team in place at Florida. I understand the value placed on special teams under Coach Muschamp, and look forward to getting to work.”

Hutzler piloted a strong special teams group in 2013, as New Mexico ranked in the top 25 nationally in net punting (No. 25), punt-return defense (No. 19) and kickoff returns (No. 24). The Lobos also had the country’s only player (sophomore Carlos Wiggins) to return three kickoffs for touchdowns.

UF’s special teams struggled under Choate last season, marred by inconsistencies in the kicking game.

Kyle Christy went from All-American punter to the pine, while the Gators missed 10 field goals -- second most nationally. Although UF’s coverage units were strong, the Gators blocked just a single kick all season after blocking at least four kicks every year since 2010.

Choate, who was scheduled to make $290,000 in the final year of his contract, will move onto his fifth job in 24 months after coming to UF on the strong recommendation by former offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

According to FootballScoop.com, he is reportedly looking for a job at Washington under new Huskies coach Chris Peterson, where Pease recently signed on to coach wide receivers.

Choate worked under Peterson at Boise State from 2006-11.


Muschamp also announced the hiring of Drew Hughes as Florida’s director of player personnel.

The administrative position has been vacant since Jon Haskins resigned during the 2013 season.

Hughes held the same title at North Carolina State in 2012.

“Drew will be a great asset to our program,” Muschamp said. “He is extremely organized, and based on his experience he has a very good understanding of how we operate and should fit right in.”

Hughes joined NC State one year after serving as Central Florida’s director of player personnel. He also spent five seasons at Alabama (2007-11) working in the recruiting office under Ed Marynowitz, now the assistant director of pro scouting for the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work for Coach Muschamp and the University of Florida,” Hughes said. “It will be great to get back to the state of Florida and the SEC – the best conference in the nation. I’m very much looking forward to helping the Florida coaching staff attract student athletes who will be champions both on and off the field.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 19, 2013

Welcome to Jerry World: Gators set to play in 2017 Cowboys Classic

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since George H.W. Bush was President, the Gators will play a non-conference game outside the state of Florida.  

UF will kickoff its 2017 football season in primetime against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the school announced Thursday.

The Cowboys Classic is scheduled for Sept. 2.

“You don't get these opportunities very often,”' UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Our schedule has been pretty consistent through the years. We were presented this opportunity and just thought it was something that our fans would embrace, our program would embrace.”

The Big Ten-SEC matchup will be the Gators' first non-conference game outside the state of Florida since losing at Syracuse (38-21) in 1991, but Foley called the marquee non-conference game "the exception, not the rule." 

"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake,'' he said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville. It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense." 

UF and Michigan have met twice -- 2003 Outback Bowl, 2008 Capital One Bowl -- both wins by the Wolverines. 

Each school will receive 25,000 tickets for the neutral-site game. According to the Michigan release, Florida will serve as the home team, while the officials will come from the Big 12 conference. 

According to David Jones of The Florida Today, the Gators will receive a $6 million payout for participating in the Cowboys Classic.  

AT&T Stadium, originally Cowboys Stadium, opened in 2009 and hosted Super Bowl XLV. The $1.2 billion stadium can seat over 100,000 (with expanded standing-room only tickets) and is scheudled to host the 2014 NCAA Men's Final Four and the first college football national championship under the new playoff format in 2015.

“This is a great opportunity to expose the University of Florida nationally, playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, I think a tremendous trip for our fans,” Foley said. “We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 18, 2013

HOOPS: Murphy x 2

GAINESVILLE -- Alex Murphy wants to continue the family tradition.

After his older brother, Erik, developed into an All-SEC power forward with the Gators, Murphy, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound combo-forward, decided to transfer to Florida following two-plus seasons at Duke.

***** UPDATE *****

Florida officially confirmed Murphy's transfer late Thursday afternoon. 

"We're excited about having Alex join our team," coach Billy Donovan said. "We obviously know his family well and look forward to having Alex here."

The redshirt sophomore will enroll at UF in January and become eligible to play next December baring a hardship wavier.

“At the end of the day, it was just my comfort level with the program and coaches,” Murphy told The Gainesville Sun. “It was a gut feeling. It was where I wanted to be.”

Murphy chose UF over Rhode Island, Providence and Northeastern.

He announced his decision on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 2.57.40 PM
 Erik, a rookie on the Chicago Bulls who starred on UF's three straight Elite Eight teams, tweeted out his support too.

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Murphy was a highly rated recruit in the 2011 Class (four-star, No. 45 overall), but the stretch-four struggled to break into coach Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation. While Murphy must earn his stripes at UF, the forward could play a key role in Florida’s frontcourt next season. The Gators graduate three seniors -- Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather -- while South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris is unlikely to ever suit up at UF and freshman Chris Walker and sophomore Dorian-Finney Smith could leave early for the NBA.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

December 17, 2013

HOOPS: Donovan Unplugged

GAINESVILLE -- No. 16 Florida (7-2) plays No. 15 Memphis (7-1) at Madison Square Garden in New York City tonight (9 p.m., ESPN) in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.

For UF coach Billy Donovan -- born and raised in Long Island -- it’s another special trip to New York.

Donovan competed at MSG as the point guard for Providence in the Big East tournament during the mid-1980's, and he also played his lone season in the NBA with his beloved hometown Knicks.

Bleacherreport.net(Courtesy bleacherreport.net)

Monday, Donovan dished on his favorite memories inside the historic arena, his brief relationship with Jim Valvano, the famous ESPY speech and more.

On the Jimmy V Foundation…

 “I think in some way or another all of us here have been affected by cancer one way or another.  Whether it’s a family member, a friend, someone close to us has been affected by cancer. I think the fact they have done the V Foundation an enormous job raising money for cancer research. And the money is going to cancer research. I think being involved with Dick Vitale in Sarasota for that event every year to raise money, their main fundraiser in May. I’ve had a chance to go down there several years to be part of that. I knew [Valvano] a little bit. I knew him a little bit, obviously being from New York. He coached at Iona. … It wasn’t like this close relationship, but I obviously knew him. I think right when I got into coaching was right about the time when he started to move into the booth and he was doing ESPN stuff.”

On Valvano’s speech…

“It was very, very powerful and moving. …It’s really, really very motivational. I think a lot of times in a lot of things when you’re at that point in time where you realize that that part of your life is going to be terminal, the cancer part is going to be terminal. I think probably a totally different perspective on what’s really valuable and important in life. I think when he talked about laughing, crying and thinking, those are probably three good things that all of us probably need to do every single day emotionally.”

On special memories inside Madison Square Garden… 

“I was a kid that being in elementary school, high school, would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go into Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the rafters. … It’s definitely special. There’s just something special about it to me. And I think for some of our guys, they really don’t understand that part of it. A guy like Casey Prather has never been to New York. There’s guys on our team that have never been to New York City.”

On dreaming about playing for the Knicks…

 “It was a great story I told somebody. When I was like in fifth or sixth grade, they used to have this sporting goods store. They had these shirts that had a picture of an NBA player. It was a mug shot and like an action shot. And growing up, I loved the Knicks and I loved Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. I loved those backcourt guys. My mother took me down to get one of these shirts, a big thing back then. And I think I got a picture, the shirt of Walt Frazier. I said to my mother do you still think Walt Frazier will be playing when I make it to the Knicks. You know, so you think about how crazy it is to just say that and actually have the opportunity to do that.”

More on MSG…

“I can remember going into Madison Square Garden for the ECAC Holiday Festival when St. Johns would play. I can still remember to this day vividly going into a doubleheader and watching Mark Aguirre as a sophomore playing for DePaul, and DePaul was ranked No. 1 in the country. I remember watching Louisville in the Garden when they had Darrell Griffith and that team that won the (1980) national championship. I remember watching Wichita State with Antoine Carr and Aubrey Sherrod and those guys. So there were some great things. Basketball back then was really, really good. St. Johns was great at that time. Just seeing the inception of the Big East and the Big East Tournament and all those things. That’s kind of what I grew up around and in the game of basketball. The one mainstay of all that, the Big East, the Knicks and everything was Madison Square Garden. That was the one place I think you always dreamed about playing in.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

December 16, 2013

HOOPS: Walker "not a savior," Harris likely done at UF

GAINESVILLE -- Five-star freshman Chris Walker -- a 6-foot-10 athletic power forward -- is expected to boost No. 16 Florida with his shotblocking, rim-rattling and rebounding skills, but coach Billy Donovan immediately tempered all expectations for the McDonald’s All-American on Monday.

“He is going to find out just how far behind he really is,” Donovan said. “I think there is obviously a lot of attention with him coming into school, but I think the one thing that people have got to realize is the fact that he is going to come in here and totally change our team, that is the furthest thing from the truth. He's got such a long way to go and it's not his fault.”

Walker, who missed the fall semester, joined the Gators on Saturday after compelling the necessary requirements to gain academic eligibility, but the freshman forward has only practiced with the team as he awaits the final decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Walker will not play -- or even travel -- when UF takes on No. 15 Memphis at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (9 p.m., ESPN) in New York City.  

Donovan said Walker’s final eligibility is “totally out of our hands,” placing no timetable on when he anticipates Walker seeing the floor.

“It's just going to be a process for him and I just hope he doesn't get frustrated,” Donovan explained. “I hope people realize he's not going to be the savior and all of a sudden like he doesn't just change our team. I'm just happy to have a body, happy that he's able to participate. I'm happy for him more than anything else.''


Donovan has publicly expressed his frustrations with former South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who remains suspended indefinitely due to undisclosed violations. 

On Monday, Florida’s coach took his disappointment in the 6-foot-11, 228-pound center a step further.

Harris is unlikely to ever play for the Gators.

“Nothing changed at all,” Donovan said.

“He has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back. I really don’t know what his plans would be or where he’ll go, but right now I don’t ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.”


Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week after tallying a career-high 18 points along with six assists and four steals in UF’s 67-61 win over Kansas. 

VIDEO: Senior forward Will Yeguete talks NYC, Walker, the Tigers and more. 


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December 15, 2013

Murphy bolts UF

GAINESVILLE -- Quarterback Tyler Murphy decided four years at Florida was enough. After graduating with a degree in telecommunications on Saturday, the redshirt junior signal caller asked for his release Sunday afternoon. 

The school confirmed midweek rumors of an impending transfer in a short statement on Twitter.

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Murphy, immediately eligible, will not have to sit out the 2014 season and becomes an attractive "free agent" for schools seeking a one-year plug-in at quarterback.  

Reportedly, Murphy exited UF in a rather unscrupulous manner, but the quarterback was a noble solider for four years. Murphy represented UF with dignity and grace during the team's most trying season in over 30 years.   

Murphy, who was repeatedly passed over in UF's yearly quarterback carousel, started six games in 2013, forced into action after starter Jeff Driskel broke his leg against Tennessee (Sep. 21). Murphy rallied the Gators against the Volunteers and won his first two career starts (Kentucky, Arkansas), becoming an instant sensation in Gainesville.  

Sportsillustrated(Courtesy SportsIllustrated.com)

But after seriously injuring his shoulder in a loss at LSU (Oct. 12), the duel-threat quarterback's performance was never the same. Murphy, who missed the final three games of the season with an AC shoulder sprain, tossed three interceptions in UF's humiliating homecoming defeat to Vanderbilt.

He finished the season with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. 

Murphy is the seventh player to leave the program this week. Quarterback depth is now a serious concern for coach Will Muschamp, as Florida has just three scholarship quarterbacks -- Driskel, sophomore Skyler Morhinweg and incoming freshman Will Grier -- on the projected roster for the 2014 season.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 14, 2013

Recruiting updates: Sharpe, Stephens & Cook

GAINESVILLE -- Despite the lack of an offensive coordinator, Florida coach Will Muschamp has done work on the recruiting trail this week.

The Gators landed a pair of highly-touted 2014 offensive prospects they hope can infuse an inept attack immediately. 

On Thursday, four-star offensive tackle David Sharpe (Providence High School) and four-star wide receiver Moral Stephens (Perry Taylor County) verbally committed to UF.

Sharpe, UF’s top tackle target, pledged his commitment in a ceremony, while Stephens, recruited to Florida as a tight end, announced his decision on social media.

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Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 12.01.12 PMMeanwhile, four-star tailback Dalvin Cook -- UF’s most important prospect after quarterback Will Grier -- told the media Saturday he is “100% committed to Florida until the Under Armour Game.”

Cook, who scored four touchdowns in Miami Central’s third straight 6A state championship in Orlando, told a crowd of reporters he is “shutting down his recruiting process” and will announce his final decision on Jan. 2.

Most analysts believe Cook will choose between Florida, Florida State and Miami.

Prospects cannot sign their national letters of intent until Feb 5. After cleaning house Thursday with six transfers, the Gators now have an additional four scholarships available following Sharpe and Stephens’ commitments.

With 18 commits, Florida sits at No. 9 in Rivals’ 2014 team recruiting rankings. 

Here is UF’s current 2014 class (all rankings according to Rivals.com)







Duke Dawson




Dixie County


J.C. Jackson






Chris Lammons






Quincy Wilson




University Sch.


Justus Reed




Central Catholic


Khairi Clark






Dontae Angus




M L King (PA)


Tavern Bryan




Natrona (WY)


Nolan Kelleher




Wando (SC)


Travaris Dorsey






Tavern Bryan




Natrona (WY)


Joseph Paul




St. Augustine (LA)


Will Grier




Davidson Day (NC)


Dalvin Cook




Miami Central


C’yontai Lewis




Northridge (AL)


Deandre Goolsby




Derby (KS)


David Sharpe




Providence Sch.


Ryan Sousa




Lake Nona


Moral Stephens




Taylor County


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HOOPS: Walker enrolls at UF

GAINESVILLE -- McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker was officially admitted to the University of Florida and is eligible to practice immediately, the school announced Saturday.

With UF's fall semester over, the five-star forward from Bonifay -- who did not qualify academically for the fall -- completed the necessary course work and entry requirements to enroll for the spring semester.


(Courtesy @GatorZoneChris | Billy Donovan, left; Chris Walker, middle; Matt McCall, right)

Walker, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound explosive athlete, immediately boosts No. 19 Florida's already long and aggressive front line.   

Due to an undisclosed NCAA issue, the freshman is not yet eligible to compete for the Gators and has been ruled out against No. 16 Memphis on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic, 9 p.m., ESPN). 

Per UF, Walker will wear No. 23 for the Gators. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 12, 2013

See ya: Six offensive players leave program

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s bumbling offense ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in most categories in 2013, and with so much uncertainty (no offensive coordinator or line coach) six reserves chose to leave the program Thursday.

In a house cleaning of sorts, UF announced the departure of six offensive players -- including freshman quarterback Max Staver and former five-star tight end sophomore Kent Taylor -- in a statement released by the school. 

Coach Will Muschamp confirmed the transfers of Staver, Taylor, redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Quinteze Williams, freshman offensive tackle Trayon Young and redshirt freshman fullback Raheim Ledbetter.

“These young men felt it was in their best interest to look for an opportunity to play somewhere else,” Muschamp said. “We wish all of them the best of luck.”

The mass exodus may not be complete, as additional departures loom.

Several players tweeted goodbyes throughout the day. 

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Silberman, who started seven games in the last two seasons, actually graduates Saturday and is eligible to play his senior year at any school outside the SEC in the fall. 

Staver, Young and Williams were all three-star prospects who never saw the field at Florida, while Ledbetter came to UF as a safety but was switched to fullback last spring. The cousin of former UF star linebacker Brandon Spikes played sparingly on special teams during Florida’s 4-8 season.

Taylor, a hybrid tight end who struggled with weight gain and run blocking, was hampered by injuries during his sophomore season and never saw the field after catching a touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl. It was a disappointing end for the former heralded recruit who was positioned to vie for serious playing time during preseason camp.

Aside from Silberman's graduation,none of the transfers were surprising. The departures do open up scholarships for February's National Signing Day, allowing the Gators to add up to 22 players.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 10, 2013

HOOPS: Gators topple Jayhawks

GAINESVILLE -- No. 19 Florida bullied No. 13 Kansas 67-61 in a raucous O’Connell Center on Tuesday night.

The Gators picked up their first marquee win of the year thanks to a suffocating defensive effort -- including a 21-0 run in the first half -- and a transcendent performance by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.    

Here are three thoughts on UF’s victory.

1. Age trumps beauty

Kansas (6-3) started four freshmen -- guard Andrew Wiggins, guard Frank Mason, guard Wanye Selden Jr. and center Joel Embiid -- for the first time in their program’s rich history. Meanwhile, the veteran Gators (7-2) started four seniors -- Wilbekin, forward Casey Prather, forward Will Yeguete and center Pat Young. So something had to give.  Ultimately, Florida’s experience schooled Kansas’ young talent, but coach Bill Self’s gamble worked for about three minutes. And then it didn't. After the Jayhawks jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, they chased the scoreboard the rest of the game as their freshmen were visibly rattled by the rowdy atmosphere and Florida’s punishing press and 1-3-1 zone defense. The Gators stymied the Jayhawks’ aggressive penetration, forcing 16 first-half turnovers en route to a 36-21 halftime lead. Selden, KU’s third-leading scorer who finished with just four points and three turnovers, was so flustered by Florida’s pressure he didn’t log a single minute in the second half. Still KU’s talented freshman, especially Mr. Wiggins (more in a second), flashed enough playmaking skills UF coach Billy Donovan said afterwards, “There may not be a team in the country that has as high of a ceiling as (Kansas does)." Having said that… Florida’s ceiling is rather high too. The Gators toppled a very good team Tuesday night, and the game may have been a blowout had they knocked down free throws (a measly 59 percent) or avoided another second half marred by complacency (40 points allowed). Florida still isn’t totally healthy and the (likely) addition of athletic forward Chris Walker will make an-already very solid defensive team potentially dominant. Donovan can only hope to bottle-up Young’s recent production (12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) while he tinkers with various lineups involving Kasey Hill, Dorian-Finney Smith, Michael Frazier and the other three seniors.

2. H.A.M Part I

Wilbekin was masterful Tuesday night despite being fresh off an ankle sprain late in a disappointing performance in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at Connecticut. The senior point guard, who played with constant energy and fire, flashed his newly-polished offensive skills -- filthy floaters and finishes, improved 3-point range -- while continuing his outstanding hustle and tenacious perimeter defense. He finished the evening with 18 points, six assists and four steals, but his stat-sheet stuffing hardly does just on his impact. The Gators clearly fed of his intensity and passion throughout the evening.

3. H.A.M. Part Deux

Florida’s Rowdy Reptiles provided an electric atmosphere for the primetime showdown. The boisterous students waited in the rain all day Tuesday, making Donovan joke postgame, “I don’t know if our student body is going to pass any of their exams.” And yet, the crowd’s “OVERRATED” chant IN THE FIRST HALF at KU’s freshman phenom was utterly ridiculous. Asinine actually. Wiggins, a tantalizing talent who effortlessly impacts every facet of the game, was scary good Tuesday night without ever actually dominating the game. The freshman did not disappoint with a career performance, recording a collegiate-high 26 points (including three treys in a span of 90 seconds to close KU’s deficit to five late) and 11 rebounds. His monstrous block (second only to Embiid’s insane rejection on Prather) and gliding transition finish were just two plays that left a bevy of NBA scouts salivating. 


Roughly 20 NBA scouts were in attendance. … Hill and Wilbekin played together for the first time all season. … Florida extended its home-winning streak to 21 games. … The Gators forced 24 turnovers. Kansas’ season-high was 16. … Kansas, who ran the clogged toilet offense for much of the first half, slowly grinded its way back into the game with contstant fouling. At one point Self employed the hack-a-Pat strategy, as the Gators struggled to hit free throws. Prather was a cluch 10-for-10 before missing two late, but the rest of the team was a dreadful 10-of-22. … Finney-Smith was 1-of-10 from 3-point range in his last four games, but the redshirt sophomore drained 4-of-6 from behind the arc Tuesday night. 




Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 09, 2013

Hargreaves III earns All-SEC nod

GAINESVILLE -- Freshman phenom Vernon Hargreaves III was a rare bright spot in an otherwise miserable season for Florida, and the outstanding cornerback was rewarded by media members for his strong play Monday. 

Hargreaves III was one of three Gators named to 2013 The Associated Press All-SEC Team. The cornerback was UF's lone first-team representative and also the sole freshman (true or redshirt) named to the first team. 

Img.bleacherreport.net(courtesy img.bleacherreport.net) 

The dynamic defensive back, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country according to Rivals.com, flashed his electric talent immediately for the Gators. Hargreaves, who recorded picks in three of his first four collegiate games, burst onto the scene in such a fashion the team actually changed his uniform number from 16 to 1 after just a single game.   

Hargreaves III played in all 12 games for Florida, starting the final 10.  He recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a conference-leading 14 passes defended.   

In a bit of a snub, Hargreaves -- Florida's first true freshman named to the All-SEC first team since punter Shayne Edge (1991) -- was not honored as the league's freshman of the year. 

Arkansas tailback Alex Collins took home the award despite not being named to either team. 

Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who recently declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, and sophomore BUCK linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. were named to the All-SEC second team.

The complete list…

***** UPDATE *****

Hargreaves was also named to the Coaches' All-SEC first team. The cornerback was again the lone freshman honored. 

Florida wideout Solomon Patton was named to the second team as a return specialist. The senior led the Gators in all-purpose yards (1269), including 642 kickoff return yardage and a 100-yard touchdown. 

The coaches' list...

Note: Following a 11-win season in 2012, the Gators had seven representatives -- including six first-team members: TE Jordan Reed, RB Mike Gillislee, K Caleb Sturgis, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, P Kyle Christy -- on the AP All-SEC teams. ... The coaches All-SEC teams will be released later this week. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

HOOPS: Wilbekin, Hill to play against Kansas

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Billy Donovan's team will have both its headliner point guards available for the same game. 

Scottie Wilbekin (ankle sprain) and Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) will play in No. 19 Florida's marquee matchup with No. 13 Kansas on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN), Donovan announced Monday. 

Wilbekin -- hurt late in UF's heartbreaking loss at Connecticut (Dec. 2) -- was originally diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, but team trainers later reclassified the senior's injury and ruled Wilbekin "probable" over the weekend for UF's top-25 showdown. 

Hill, sidelined since Nov. 18, practiced full-contact Sunday for the first time since sustaining his injury against Southern University. Donovan acknowledged the staff doesn't quite "know what we're going to get from him," but did say Hill will at least "get an opportunity." 


McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker has completed the necessary coursework and could be admitted to the university sometime this week, Donovan said. 

The freshman, ineligible for the fall semester, is waiting for the green light from both UF's admissions department and the NCAA Clearinghouse. 

Donovan said the situation is "out of our hands," but that Walker " has done everything he needs to do."

The earliest the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward can practice with the team is Saturday -- the day after final exams end for the fall semester. But Donovan immediately ruled Walker out for Florida's next game -- a New York City showdown with Memphis on Dec. 17 (Madison Square Garden, Jimmy V Classic).  


Sophomore swingman DeVon Walker (foot sprain) is healthy and expected to play normal minutes Tuesday. … Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (broken leg) will officially redshirt, Donovan confirmed. Carter, who averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season, will apply for a medical redshirt due to his slow-healing broken leg suffered last February as a member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. … Donovan denied a report suspended center Damontre Harris, a transfer from South Carolina, has been dismissed from Florida. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 07, 2013

Roundup: Gators football news & updates

GAINESVILLE -- Giddy up.

Here’s everything you may have missed since Florida’s dreadful season mercifully ended one week ago.

What’s that you say? Florida canned its offensive coordinator and offensive line coach?

Ok, y’all already knew that, but UF’s brain trust (coach Will Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley) is taking its sweet-time searching for Florida’s third coordinator in four seasons.

Good call.

While speculation has run rampant since Brent Pease’s firing, the Gators are unlikely to hire a new coach before the end of bowl season.

Muschamp actually took a similar approach the last time he faced such a predicament -- hiring Pease on Jan. 10, 2012 -- but considering his ultimate fate with the Gators likely rides on his next hire, he’d be wise to take his time again. 

Florida’s (rumored) list of potential coordinator candidates runs longer than an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, but here she goes. 

Arizona State’s Mike Norvell and Southern California’s Clay Helton are the presumed frontrunners, while Dave Christensen (ex-Wyoming head coach), Texas’ Major Applewhite, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital and North Carolina’s Blake Anderson are alleged candidates too.

Really, who the hell knows right now?

I continue to hold out hope for Ed Orgeron because why not? Having no offensive coordinator would be the most Will Muschamp thing ever.   

Stay tuned.


As anticipated, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the 2014 NFL Draft earlier this week.

In an official statement released by the school, Purifoy said, “I have had a great three years at the University of Florida, but at this time I think it's best for me and my family to pursue a career in the NFL. Coach Muschamp and Coach [Travaris] Robinson have put me in a position to take the next step. I know there is still a lot of work for me ahead, but I appreciate what everyone at Florida did to get me to this point. As much as I look forward to playing in the NFL, I will miss my teammates and coaches and look forward to watching them play next year."

Img.bleacherreport.net(courtesy img.bleacherreport.net)

Purifoy, a dynamic athlete ranked as the No. 27 overall prospect according to Scouts Inc., ended his Florida career as a tantalizing talent.

The junior flashed his playmaking skills with blocked punts, blindside sacks and interceptions, but his inconsistencies (especially tackling) frustrated many fans’ lofty expectations.

During the preseason, the junior was hyped as a potential offensive threat, but a lingering wrist issue thwarted any extensive role.

Purifoy finished his junior year with two interceptions (one for a touchdown), seven pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss (two sacks).

"There are a lot of factors that go into making these individual and personal decisions and I'm 100 percent supportive of Loucheiz's choice to enter into the NFL Draft," Muschamp said. "Loucheiz has come a long way from when I sat in his living room with his family during the recruiting process, and he also knows his work is not done. We wish him nothing but the best of luck and look forward to watching him on Sundays. As we have with other former Gators, we encourage him to return to Florida and complete his degree." 


Right guard Jon Halapio and defensive back Jaylen Watkins both accepted invitations to the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. 

Watkins, who mostly played safety as a senior, finished third on the Gators in tackles with 52, while Halapio tallied 43 career starts.  


2014 wideout Ryan Sousa (Lake Nona High, Orlando) flipped his verbal commitment from Florida State to Florida late Monday evening. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound three-star prospect had been a longtime Seminoles commit before switching his allegiance to the Gators following his visit to Gainesville during the FSU-UF game. The Gators’ 2014 class, ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com, now has 16 verbal commitments.

Meanwhile, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook has reportedly (according to multiple recruiting websites) signed financial aid agreements with Miami, FSU and UF, allowing the teams’ staff unlimited contact throughout the remainder of the recruiting process. While it’s been a bumpy recruitment, Cook remains a UF commit despite rumors swirling of an impending flip to an archrival school.

Finally, quarterback prospect Will Grier -- perhaps Florida’s most important oral commit in its 2014 class -- was named the Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year for the second straight year. 

Enjoy Championship Saturday, y’all.

 Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 05, 2013

Wilbekin likely to play vs. KU, Finney-Smith seeks consistency

GAINESVILLE -- Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (high ankle sprain) is expected to play against No. 6 Kansas on Tuesday (7 p.m. ESPN), according to sources with knowledge of Wilbekin’s injury situation.

Wilbekin rolled his right ankle late in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at No. 12 Connecticut on Monday, and the school later announced X-rays were negative but that they showed a high-ankle sprain. 

If Wilbekin -- who is averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals in three games this year -- is unable to suit up against the athletic Jayhawks (6-1), the shorthanded Gators (6-2) face the prospect of playing a second game this season without a traditional point guard.

With positional uncertainty, the Gators desperately need versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith to step up.

Zimbo.com(Courtesy zimbo.com)

Although the redshirt sophomore has rebounded (both offensively and defensively) at a ridiculous rate this year, the former Virginia Tech transfer has been inefficient in nearly every other facet of his game.

Teased as a playmaking point-forward, Finney-Smith has struggled as facilitator, finisher and shooter for Florida.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore poses matchup problems for opposing defenses, but early in the season he’s caused more troubles for UF’s otherwise efficient offense (48 percent field goal shooting ranks No. 8 nationally).

After tallying 17 points and nine rebounds in his Gators debut, Finney-Smith has produced wildly inconsistent results since.

In Florida’s last four games, Finney-Smith has 12 turnovers to five assists and is an abysmal 1-of-10 from 3-point range. His 36 percent field goal shooting is the lowest of any UF rotational regular averaging at least 20 minutes per game.

Finney-Smith is immensely talented, and during the summer he was rumored to be the best player on the team, but the Gators need his versatile skill-set and athleticism to translate into consistent production. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 04, 2013

Bumped: Gators catch flight while travelers wait

GAINESVILLE -- The No. 15 Gators men’s basketball team, who lost a buzzer-beater to No. 12 Connecticut 65-64 Monday night in Storrs, Conn., had some issues leaving the Gainesville Regional Airport on Sunday afternoon, but eventually they caught their ride.

Unfortunately, roughly 50 stranded passengers -- travelling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- weren’t so lucky.

As first reported by the Gainesville Sun, Florida’s charter plane, scheduled to depart at 3 p.m., was grounded due to engine maintenance issues.

In an effort to limit delays, Delta Airlines Flight 5059 -- an Atlanta-bound commercial connection plane scheduled to depart Gainesville at 3:26 p.m. -- was converted into a private charter for the basketball team.

Delta delayed and ultimately cancelled Flight 5059, originally telling travelers there were mechanical difficulties until some of the passengers noticed the team boarding their aircraft.

The Sun reported several passengers drove to Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa to catch alternate flights, but some were stranded in Gainesville as late as Monday afternoon. 

Delta Airlines accepted full responsibility for the travelers’ inconvenience, saying “the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process.”

In an official statement, Delta explained they intended to accommodate both the Florida basketball team and the private passengers but their plan fell through.

“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly. Unfortunately, it was not and Delta flight 5059 was cancelled.  Delta made every effort to reaccommodate those customers on alternate flights and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.”

The airline also said an internal review is underway to determine “the specific circumstances around this aircraft substitution.”

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