May 29, 2015

Roundup: The latest Florida tidbits

GAINESVILLE -- The SEC spring meetings are wrapping up in Destin, with the league set to vote on a number of proposals later today. 

But first: A Florida news dump! 

TRANSFER LOOMING?

Jim McElwain’s first commitment is reportedly set to transfer before ever suiting up at Florida. 

Daniel Imatorbhebhe, a tight end from Suwanne, Ga., has cleaned out his locker and is leaving the program, per multiple media reports. 

The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder was an early enrollee, but he didn’t play in Florida’s spring game and was likely destined for a redshirt season competing at a crowded position. 

McElwain didn’t confirm the reports at the SEC spring meetings, only saying, “There’s been a couple guys who have come in and visited about [transferring]. They haven’t done anything yet. When that happens, I’ll come to it.”

Imatorbhebhe was born in Los Angeles and is the older brother of four-star wideout prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe, who recently committed to Southern California. 

The younger Imatorbhebhe was a UF target and Daniel had commented previously his desire for the brothers to play together.  

PERMANENT PAIRINGS

The SEC adjusted its scheduling format, with each team now having three permanent opponents for a home-and-home series.

The Gators are paired with Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt.

The league will still play an 18-game schedule, but under the new format the rest of the schedule will be played against the remaining 10 teams in the league, with a pair of rotating home-and-home series each season. 

HALLOWEEN SHOWDOWN

For the 13th straight year, CBS will televise the Florida-Georgia battle on Oct. 31 at 3:30 p.m. The Gators snapped a three-game series losing streak last season, stunning the No. 11 Bulldogs 38-20 in what turned out to be former coach Will Muschamp’s swan song.  

SCHOLASTIC STARS

Three Florida teams posted perfect four-year Academic Progress Rate scores, according to figures in a report released Wednesday. 

The NCAA recognized UF’s men’s basketball team, as well as the women’s tennis and softball teams, for its outstanding performance in the classroom for the 2013-14 academic year. 

All three teams had perfect APR scores of 1,000 -- the fourth straight accomplishment for Tim Walton’s powerhouse softball program. 

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May 27, 2015

Thurman progressing, Morrison's return unknown

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Jim McElwain provided a quick roster update Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings in Destin.

According to Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel, McElwain said senior center Trip Thurman, out all spring with a chronic shoulder injury, is lifting weights again and eying a return for fall camp. Thurman started 10 games last season and is UF’s lone upperclassman along the offensive line. 

“He’s kind of a one-hit away guy,” McElwain said.

“Taking what we can off has allowed him to get [his shoulder] strengthened and we’ll do the same thing this summer.”

Meanwhile, McElwain said defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (hip surgery) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (knee) should be ready for training camp. Antonio Morrison’s knee injury remains clouded in mystery though, and his return is unknown. 

The senior linebacker -- and team’s leading tackler in 2014 -- continues to rehab after sustaining a serious injury in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3.

“He’s continuing to work on that,” McElwain said.

“As you know, I would never put a guy out there who is not ready.”

Finally, McElwain provided no update on cornerback J.C. Jackson, but he did confirm recent graduate transfer Josh Grady, formally of Vanderbilt, will play quarterback at UF. 

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May 25, 2015

UF earns No. 4 seed, sets sights on Omaha

GAINESVILLE -- After ripping off four straight wins to capture the 2015 SEC Tournament Championship, Florida's baseball team was rewarded with the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday. 

UF, vying for its first trip to Omaha since 2012, won’t have to leave home to reach the College World Series either, earning a national seed for the sixth time in seven years. 

The Gators (44-16) -- who were the No. 1 overall seed last season but were bounced in the opening weekend -- will host fourth-seed Florida A&M (23-23) Friday at 7 p.m. The Gainesville Regional also includes Florida Atlantic (40-17) and South Florida (33-24-1). UF topped FAU 10-8 at Roger Dean Stadium earlier this year, and went 2-0 against USF. The Gators were scheduled to play FAMU on Feb. 17, but the contest was rained out. 

Should the Gators advance this weekend, they could have date with Florida State. UF -- 1-2 vs. FSU this year -- would host the winner of the Tallahassee Regional.  

2015 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Bracket copy 2Florida survived a pair of lengthy rain delays to win its seventh SEC Tournament title in school history with a 7-3 victory over Vanderbilt on Sunday. The Gators rallied for four straight wins, including a 2-1 upset over top-seeded LSU, after losing their opening game in the tournament against Arkansas. 

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May 18, 2015

Allen opts to play for White, Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Michael White is proving his recruiting prowess already. 

UF’s top-rated signee KeVaughn Allen will honor his commitment rather than seeking a release from his LOI, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported. 

The 6-foot-3 combo guard -- the nation’s 54th ranked prospect per ESPN -- was a standout at North Little Rock in Arkansas and was rumored to sign elsewhere following Billy Donovan’s departure to the NBA. 

Not so, apparently.  

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Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.38.34 PMAllen’s stepfather went on a local Arkansas radio station roughly two weeks ago, saying Allen’s release was imminent. But Allen met with White in the interim and ultimately chose to stay at UF and play for a new coach. 

With Allen in the fold, White officially retained three of Donovan’s four signees, only losing four-star power forward Noah Dickerson. 

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May 14, 2015

Dickerson released from LOI, Allen weighing options

GAINESVILLE -- New Florida coach Michael White is already facing his first test less than a week on the job. 

Former coach Billy Donovan signed a talented and deep recruiting class, but two of the Gators’ four signees are reportedly seeking other options following Donovan’s departure. 

Forward Noah Dickerson -- UF’s highest-rated commit -- has been released from his LOI, according to ESPN.com and other media outlets. 

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Dickerson, a 6-8 forward from Montverde Academy, is ranked No. 51 overall in the country. Meanwhile, explosive shooting guard KaVaughn Allen (North Little Rock, Ark.) is also reportedly seeking his release. 

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White met with Allen last weekend, and said the nation’s 54th ranked player continues to weigh his options. Still, White won’t obstruct any signee wanting to play elsewhere. 

“I don't think we've had any final answers yet,” White said Monday.   

“I’m not into begging. … But they wanted to play for Coach Donovan.  I understand them having second thoughts.  I understand that.  I appreciate it.  I accept it.  And if those guys want to be here, I'd love to have them.  If not, we'd love to help them find the right place for them.”

White did receive some good new late Wednesday evening though, as athletic forward Keith Stone tweeted he would be honoring his LOI with Florida. 

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Big man Kevarrius Hayes (No. 68 in ESPN Top 100) also remains committed to UF, giving White 10 scholarship players for next season. He could add to the roster before the year, and he’s confident he can restock the program with other quality players.  

“I think this place to a certain extent sells itself,” he said. 

“At the University of Florida we can recruit nationally.  I think you can get involved with kids in all 50 states, and I think that in the past that this basketball program has proven that.  But I also understand how important it is to recruit our state, especially a state that's as fertile as it is.

"I've always enjoyed recruiting this state.  Not only because I liked traveling to Florida, but because there are really good players here.  And we're not going to get them all, but we're going to recruit them all.” 

GATORS TO HOST MOUNTAINEERS 

Florida will square off against West Virginia in Gainesville on Jan. 30 as part of the SEC-BIG 12 Challenge, the conferences announced Thursday. 

The Gators played a home-and-home series with Kansas the last two seasons, but the Mountaineers pose a similar non-conference challenge next season.  

Bob Huggins’ team went 25-10 last year, getting trounced by Kentucky in the Sweet 16. 

In years past, the SEC-BIG 12 matchups were held during the heart of football season in November and early December, so the games were moved to later in the schedule in order to boost visibility and interest. 

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May 13, 2015

Mornhinweg transfers, QB depth now dangerously thin

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s depth continues to dwindle. 

Dangerously so. 

The Gators, already perilously thin at offensive line and linebacker, now have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster after backup Skyler Mornhinweg's transfer to Columbia. 

Coach Jim McElwain announced the move Wednesday, leaving UF with only redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris on the depth chart. 

"We wish [Mornhinweg] the best,” McElwain said on the SEC Teleconference. 

“We'd love to have him stay here. … Moving forward, as you guys all know, that position, especially in this league now, you need to have some depth, so we're constantly looking at that spot.”

Mornhinweg is the fifth quarterback -- Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Jacoby Brissett and Max Staver -- to leave the program since 2013. 

An unheralded three-star recruit from Philadelphia, Mornhinweg started UF’s final three games in 2013, all losses. He finished his career with 344 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. 

Even before Mornhinweg's exit, the Gators were already on the market for potential quarterback transfers. Still, the latest deflection leaves them truly scrambling for some much-needed depth. 

UF reportedly hosted Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson on Tuesday, but McElwain wouldn’t comment on the meeting and Florida isn’t considered the favorite to land the the one-year rental signal caller. 

"Per NCAA rules, he's a prospective student-athlete, so I can't really comment on that part," McElwain said. 

"Obviously him mentioning us is something that's exciting.”

Golson is reportedly on a Southern tour doing his due diligence with multiple schools, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Alabama. 

Although UF's remaining options are thin, help could still be on the way. 

Oregon State’s Luke Del Rio -- the son of former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio -- has long been rumored to transfer to Florida this summer. The journeyman quarterback originally signed with Alabama in 2013 and would be reuniting with coordinator Doug Nussmeier. 

Meanwhile, 247Sports reported earlier this week that Vanderbilt graduate quarterback/Swiss Army Knife wideout Josh Grady is also seeking a waiver to transfer to Florida. 

“We look every single day to try and better the organization,” McElwain said. 

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Jackson's future in doubt, no longer enrolled at UF

GAINESVILLE -- J.C. Jackson’s career at Florida is likely over before it ever truly started. 

The troubled redshirt freshman cornerback -- currently facing multiple felony charges for an alleged armed robbery last month -- is not enrolled in school for the Summer A semester, coach Jim McElwain confirmed Wednesday on the SEC Teleconference. 

“He’s got a lot of things he’s dealing with right now,” McElwain said.

“He’s trying to take care of certain things and we’ll support him and help him do what he can, but right now he’s not enrolled in school and dealing with some things that are a lot bigger than the Florida Gators.”

Jackson, 19, has pleaded not guilty to three charges stemming from an incident at a Gainesville apartment complex on April 18.  

The former Under Armour All-American redshirted last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, but the electric athlete was competing for a starting job in UF’s crowded secondary this spring.

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May 07, 2015

Reports: La. Tech's White emerges as top candidate

GAINESVILLE -- Louisiana Tech coach Michael White “has emerged as the leading candidate” to replace former Florida coach Billy Donovan, Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday. 

ESPN and other outlets quickly confirmed Pat Forde’s scoop, too. 

White, the son of Duke athletics director Kevin White, is regarded as one of college basketball’s hottest young coaches, leading the Bulldogs to three-straight Conference USA regular-season titles. The 38-year-old coach is 101-40 in four seasons at La Tech, but he’s yet to make an NCAA Tournament.

White is considered a strong recruiter, with a track record of success in the state of Florida. 

According to Yahoo! Sports’ report, White and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley could meet “as soon as today.”

White was born in Dunedin and played at Ole Miss from 1995-99. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Jacksonville State before returning to his alma mater as a part of Andy Kennedy’s staff from 2004-11. White was reportedly targeted for openings at Tennessee and Missouri last offseason. 

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April 30, 2015

Hot Board: Where does Florida turn next?

GAINESVILLE -- Replacing Billy Donovan is an unenviable task, but Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is charged with finding a coach suitable to fill Donovan’s footsteps. 

Good luck. 

Foley will oversee a second major hire in the last six months, as the Gators will have a new football and basketball coach in the same year for the first time since 1990-91. They’ll be the only Power 5 school in the country with such a duo. 

As is stands, Florida has the lone college basketball opening in the nation. 

Donovan built UF into a national powerhouse, but the program is at a bit of a crossroads with just a decent roster and facilities that need upgrading. Is Florida actually an elite job, or was Donovan what made the Gators an annual contender?

We’ll see.

Here’s a list of candidates Foley may pursue. 

1. Archie Miller, Dayton head coach -- The hottest name potentially linked to Florida. The 36-year-old (and younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller) is a considered a rising star after taking the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 2013-14. 

2. John Pelphrey, Florida assistant head coach -- The former South Alabama and Arkansas head coach has been Donovan’s top assistant since 2011. Ideally, Donovan would prefer Pelphrey succeed him. 

3. Chris Mack, Xavier head coach -- An Ohio native, Mack has an impressive résumé (three Sweet 16 births in six seasons) but few ties to the South. 

4. Michael White, Louisiana Tech head coach -- Another rising star and the son of Duke athletic director Kevin White. He played at Ole Miss and is considered a strong recruiter with success in the state of Florida. 

5. Richard Pitino, Minnesota head coach -- A former UF assistant from 2009-11, but Rick Pitino’s son has never made the NCAA Tournament in five seasons as a head coach. 

6. Jay Wright, Villanova head coach -- Easily the most accomplished coach on the list and a longshot candidate. Foley loves him, but Wright is a Northeast native and has coached at Nova for 14 years.  

7. Steve Prohm, Murray State head coach -- Prohm, who went to Alabama, has dominated the Ohio Valley Conference, leading the Racers to a 104-29 record in four seasons. Another longshot candidate.   

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OKC hires Donovan, who leaves UF after 19 seasons

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time in two decades, Florida needs a new basketball coach. 

Billy Donovan officially accepted the opening with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, leaving Gainesville after 19 seasons with the Gators. 

Yahoo! Sports and ESPN both initially confirmed the report. 

Donovan agreed to a five-year deal, according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski. 

The future Hall of Fame coach inherits an OKC team with tons of talent (stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) but also inherent risks with Durant and Westbrook’s looming free agency’s.

Still, Donovan’s strong ties to the organization -- including a close relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti -- were critical influences on the decision to leave Florida. Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday to personally offer him the job. 

Last year, UF assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as the Thunder’s D-League coach, and at the same time, Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone left to become a scout/data analyst for OKC. 

Florida hired Donovan in 1996. He was only 31. The former Wall Street wiz had just two years of head coaching experience, but Donovan was charged with building a competitive program -- one that had just five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. 

Within three seasons, Donovan took Florida to the Sweet Sixteen and the foundation for the future was established. 

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, was a relentless recruiter and offensive mastermind, turning the Gators into a powerhouse. He led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons. He’s the second youngest coach in D-1 history to win 500 games. 

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April 29, 2015

Reports: Donovan-to-OKC gaining steam

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s two-time national champion coach Billy Donovan is reportedly “leaning strongly” toward accepting the opening with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, per multiple reports. 

ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote early Wednesday morning UF’s coach and OKC had formally opened talks, and Yahoo! Sports later reported the Thunder is “preparing an offer” and Donovan is “enthusiastic” about the potential move. 

Barring an impasse over contract negotiations, Donovan’s exit appears imminent following weeks of smoke and speculation.

"He's as good as gone," Stein quoted one source.

Stein also stated Donovan's family is "willing to move" and a decision is expected within 48 hours. 

Donovan, who built Florida basketball into a powerhouse over 19 seasons, recently signed an amended, one-year contract extension through the 2020 season, pushing his annual salary just north of $4 million. His buyout ($500,000) remained unchanged though, and he no longer is tied to a noncompete clause. 

The future Hall of Fame coach would inherit an OKC team with tons of talent (stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) but also inherent risks with Durant and Westbrook’s looming free agency’s.

Still, Donovan’s strong ties to the organization -- including a close relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti -- are critical influences to the potential move. Yahoo! reported Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday. 

Last year, UF assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as the Thunder’s D-League coach, and at the same time, Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone left to become a scout/data analyst for OKC. 

Florida hired Donovan in 1996. He was only 31. The former Wall Street wiz had just two years of head coaching experience, but Donovan was charged with building a competitive program -- one that had just five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. 

Within three seasons, Donovan took Florida to the Sweet Sixteen and the foundation for the future was established. 

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, was a relentless recruiter and offensive mastermind, turning the Gators into a powerhouse. He led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons. He’s the second youngest coach in D-1 history to win 500 games. 

Impervious to distractions, Donovan has yet to comment on OKC’s interest and was recruiting for Florida as recently as Sunday.

The Donovan-to-NBA rumors heated up less than a month ago, with Stein initially reporting Donovan would “give renewed consideration” to the NBA, and later writing, “Donovan is looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.”

Donovan has never been shy about the NBA’s allure, openly admitting last March he was still “intrigued.”

In 2007, Donovan infamously accepted the Orlando Magic job before a change of heart brought him back to UF less than a week later.  

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April 27, 2015

SG Eli Carter to transfer, eligible immediately

GAINESVILLE -- Following two injury-riddled seasons, redshirt junior guard Eli Carter is transferring from Florida, the school announced Monday. 

Carter, who was a ballyhooed transfer from Rutgers in 2013, will graduate this spring and is eligible to play immediately next season. 

"I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had here at Florida," Carter said in a release. 

"I’ll always appreciate the coaches, teammates and fans that made my time here memorable."

The swingman averaged 8.8 points last season -- third on the Gators -- but he shot just 36.2 percent from the field and never rediscovered his form as the talented scorer of the Scarlet Knights. 

"We appreciate everything that Eli has done in his two years in Gainesville," UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“We all wish him well and will do whatever we can to help him take this next step in his career."

As a sophomore at Rutgers, Carter averaged nearly 15 points a game. But he broke his leg in late February and he never fully recovered from the devastating injury. He played sparingly for the Gators in 2013-14 before opting for a medical redshirt. He then missed five games this past season with various aliments. 

Carter’s transfer, coupled with the departures of Michael Frazier II and Chris Walker, leaves Florida with one available scholarship for next season.   

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April 24, 2015

C/F Chris Walker entering 2015 NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Chris Walker’s roller coaster career at Florida has come to an end. 

Despite two unimpressive seasons, the former McDonald’s All-American officially declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, UF announced Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff, my teammates and everyone at Florida for my experience here,” Walker said in a statement. 

“I’m excited to continue pursuing my dream of playing professionally.” 

The 6-foot-10 sophomore averaged just 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, failing to fulfill sky-high expectations as a former five-star prospect and top-10 recruit. 

He totaled 80 career field goals (25 of which were dunks), scored in double figures just five times and never grabbed as many as seven rebounds in a single game. 

"Chris has been a pleasure to coach," UF coach Billy Donovan said.

"He is a great kid with a lot of potential, and everyone here wishes the absolute best for him."

Walker, who possesses elite athleticism, leaves as an unpolished product with a low basketball IQ, minimal development and a complete lack of defensive awareness.

The forward/center could never escape the burdening shadow of hope and hype, as he initially failed to qualify academically and then struggled to find a role on a veteran Final Four team in 2013-14. 

Walker was still projected as a late first round pick last year, but he opted to return for his sophomore season to improve his game. 

His stock has now slipped significantly, as he’s no longer regarded as Top 100 prospect according to ESPN, DraftExpress or CBSSports.

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

ESPN basketball analyst Jeff Goodman seemingly confirms whispers Walker no longer had a spot at Florida (reportedly academics) had he not opted to go pro. 

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April 21, 2015

Roderick Johnson releases heartfelt statement

GAINESVILLE -- Roderick Johnson is doing his best to stay positive. 

A week after learning he’d suffered a career-ending injury in practice, the redshirt sophomore spoke publicly Monday about his retirement. 

In a candid statement released by UF, Johnson -- a right tackle who played in all 12 games last season -- discussed overcoming his heartbreaking condition, his pride for the Gator Nation and his goals for the future. 

“Spinal stenosis -- April 3, 2015 -- the day that changed my life,” he said. 

“It’s hard to walk away from this game, and it’s dearly easy to fall in love with when you have the right mindset and the dedication. I enjoyed my time as a Gator from the first day I got that call from Coach [Will] Muschamp. I instantly fell in love with a school I didn’t like since I was a kid (lol).

"I had a tough time trying to enroll due to my grades. I pulled through with the love and support from the UF staff. Taking the redshirt my first year was rough, so going into my freshman redshirt year I took it more serious. Listening to Coach [Mike] Summers coach and trusting his technique made me a great offensive lineman and I always had heart, of course.”

Johnson did, and his mettle was truly tested following a team scrimmage on April 3. The former American Heritage High standout was hit in practice and his life changed almost immediately. Johnson was initially diagnosed with a "stinger," but after he experienced numbness in his fingers and hands doctors soon discovered his career-ending condition. 

In an instant, a potential NFL prospect had his dream ripped away. Still, as Johnson struggles to cope with reality he continues to maintain an optimistic outlook on the future.  

“It’s a tough time as I try to move forward, but I still have some positives on the situation,” he said.

“I get to stand and talk to you instead of being in a wheelchair. I would like to say thanks to the coaching staff from Coach [McElwain] all the way down to the graduate assistants. Being in a highly powered offense, I wanted to prove I was a great athlete even when my knee bothered me sometimes.

“In looking forward to what the future brings, I look to be a great assistant coach and make sure these 2015 offensive linemen know what it takes to be a Gator, and for that, I love Gator Nation. You turned me from a boy to a man. I want to see my teammates be great because it can be taken away from you in just one play.”

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April 19, 2015

J.C. Jackson arrested in connection to armed robbery

GAINESVILLE -- Florida redshirt freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson was arrested Saturday in connection to an armed robbery at a Gainesville apartment complex. 

The former Immokalee star has been charged with first-degree felony robbery with a firearm and remains in custody in Alachua County Jail on a $150,000 bond. 

Jackson, 19, allegedly entered an acquaintance’s apartment at 3:45 p.m. with two other unidentified men. 

According to a Gainesville Police Department report, Jackson reportedly “acted as though he had a phone call" after entering the apartment.

Jackson quickly exited the residence, but he left the two other men inside and almost immediately one subject pulled out a handgun and grabbed marijuana that was on a table. 

Per the GPD report, the gunman then demanded the apartment’s residents “get on the ground and empty their pockets,” pressing the gun on the acquaintance’s face. The suspects later fled with $382, drugs and a pair of video game consoles. 

Jackson never "re-entered the apartment" during the incident, but he allegedly setup the meeting by contacting the acquaintance earlier in the day about “hanging out and smoking cannabis.”

The victims identified Jackson in a photo lineup, and he later turned himself into the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. 

"We are aware of the news involving J.C. Jackson and he is currently dealing with a serious issue," UF coach Jim McElwain said in a release. 

"We don't condone any of his actions and it is not something that reflects on the expectations we have in the program. It is being handled accordingly due to the severity of his actions."

Jackson was competing for a starting job this spring, and new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins called the cornerback "one of top athletes" on the team. 

But Jackson’s days at Florida could be numbered, as Saturday’s arrest isn’t his first run-in with the law at UF. 

In December, Jackson, quarterback Treon Harris and cornerback Jalen Tabor were stopped for speeding on campus. UF officers found two small bags of marijuana in the vehicle but no charges were filed since the car did not belong to the players and none were in possession of the drugs.

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April 14, 2015

RT Rod Johnson retires due to spinal condition

GAINESVILLE -- Promising right tackle Roderick Johnson’s career is over, Florida announced Tuesday. 

The talented redshirt sophomore -- and team’s top offensive linemen -- was diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, and forced to retire from football. 

He was hurt in a team scrimmage on April 3, with coach Jim McElwain originally calling the injury “a stinger.” 

But Johnson, who played in all 12 games in 2014, also experienced numbness in his fingers and hands and underwent further evaluation. An MRI and consults with outside specialists and team doctors ultimately revealed his devastating condition. 

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After Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut, McElwain hinted Johnson’s prognosis “doesn’t look great,” adding, “One thing I’ll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm’s way. … Life’s too short, man. Ain’t gonna do it, ain’t gonna do it to a young guy.”

Johnson’s injury ends a potential NFL career and leaves Florida’s offensive line in dire straits. The Gators will enter the fall with just 13 scholarship linemen -- nine true or redshirt freshmen. 

Trip Thurman is UF's only returning linemen to ever start a collegiate game (10), but the senior guard missed all of spring with a serious shoulder injury and is hardly guaranteed to be healthy come fall. 

Johnson is now Florida’s fourth offensive linemen (Octavius Jackson, Nolan Kelleher, Drew Savary) in just over 18 months to quit football due to injuries. 

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April 13, 2015

Rehired: Grant returns to Florida

GAINESVILLE -- While Billy Donovan’s name continues to swirl in NBA circles, Florida’s coach is busy putting the band back together. 

Less than 24 hours after Gators assistant Matt McCall took the head coaching job at UT-Chattanooga, Donovan hired longtime assistant and friend Anthony Grant to fill UF’s vacated position. 

Grant, a Miami native who starred at Miami Senior High, spent a dozen seasons as an assistant under Donovan, including 10 years (1996-2006) at Florida. The move also reunites Donovan, Grant and assistant Jon Pelphrey. 

“We're very excited to have Anthony back on our staff,” Donovan said in a statement.

“He's obviously familiar with our program, and he is an outstanding coach and recruiter, so he adds great value to our staff and our team.”

After Florida’s 2006 national title, Grant was hired by VCU and led the Rams to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons.

Following the 2009 season, Grant left VCU for Alabama, where he went 117-85 in six seasons but made the NCAA Tournament just once and was fired in March.

Grant is regarded as a relentless recruiter with strong ties to South Florida. He was credited with signing Miami Heat center and former Miami High standout Udonis Haslem. 

“I’m extremely appreciative of Coach Donovan extending the opportunity to me to return to the University of Florida,” Grant said. 

“It’s a great chance to return a place I love and have fond memories of, and I look forward to helping the staff build on the tradition and success that Coach Donovan has created.”

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April 12, 2015

The hits keep coming: Johnson sidelined indefinitely?

GAINESVILLE -- While Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut was predictably anticlimactic, Saturday’s biggest news was the health of offensive tackle Roderick Johnson. 

The redshirt sophomore was penciled in as the Gators’ starting right tackle, but Johnson exited an April 3rd scrimmage with a “stinger with finger numbness” and now the prognosis could be even worse. 

“We actually should get the final doc probably on Monday,” new UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

“It doesn’t look great.”

McElwain didn’t discuss specifics, but he hinted that Johnson’s injury is potentially career-threatening. 

“The one thing I’ll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm’s way. And we’ve got a medical staff that looks at everything. We send the things all over the country to specialists. … Life’s too short, man. Ain’t gonna do it, ain’t gonna do it to a young guy.”

 It’s another brutal blow for Florida, as a unit decimated by injuries and attrition continues to get thinner. 

With Johnson sidelined, the Gators have just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen with a combined zero career starts. The group adds six freshmen in the summer, including five-star tackle Martez Ivey. 

“I’ve explained to them, it’s not like you’re going to stand in line at Disney World, you’re in the Fast Pass line,” McElwain said.

“You’re on the ride right now. It’s going to be a huge summer for them … We’ve got to get them schooled-up and ready to roll."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 10, 2015

Chris Thompson faces charge, "excused" from team

GAINESVILLE -- Junior receiver Chris Thompson has been “excused from the team” until his legal issues are resolved, Florida coach Jim McElwain said Friday. 

Thompson, a local product and star at Gainesville High School, faces a sworn complaint for misdemeanor battery after he allegedly scratched and bruised his ex-girlfriend during an argument last week. 

“Chris obviously had an incident here sometime last week,” McElwain said. 

“He’s dealing with that. He’s been excused from what we’re doing right now until it’s resolved. That’s kind of how we deal with it. We’ll find out as it goes forward, find out what goes on.”

The incident occurred on April 1, when Thompson and his former girlfriend began arguing over text messages he received from another female. 

According to the Gainesville Police Department incident report, the alleged victim took Thompson’s phone and “demanded” answers. Shortly thereafter, the junior wideout attempted to “physically retrieve” the cell phone, scratching his ex-girlfriend’s arm and neck. 

Thompson missed Florida’s last three practices.

The little-used junior, with just four career receptions for 30 yards, had performed well this spring and was competing for a starting spot opposite star receiver Demarcus Robinson.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 09, 2015

The Orange & Blue Debut will be a game after all

GAINESVILLE -- Despite just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen and only a handful of tailbacks and linebackers, Florida will play an actual spring game -- sort of -- after all. 

Saturday’s annual Orange & Blue Debut (12:30 p.m., streaming on SEC Network+) will feature two teams and four 12-minute quarters, the Gators announced Thursday.

The scrimmage with have a running clock except for the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters. 

Regardless of the score, the teams will play an untimed overtime period, too. 

Saturday won't be easy for Florida's players, but the revamped format should be more suitable than a glorified practice to Gator fans. 

"We're going to do everything we can to create some game-like situations, different offense, different defense working as a same unit," UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

Still, the announcement comes as a surprise considering UF’s roster issues (OL, RBs & LBs). Throughout the spring, McElwain stated the difficulty in holding a traditional spring game with Florida's limited depth. 

“There’s going to be live scrimmaging,” he explained last week.

“But we won’t have true two teams necessarily. We’ll do some offense against defense just because we don’t have enough to really have two teams.”

Evidently, they have enough.

Sort of.

"We're still working out some of the details because of the depth and how we're going to have to maybe trade some jerseys as we move along," McElwain said.

"But there again, trying to work as much as we can to get a lot out of Saturday as our last opportunity obviously as a team to get after it. ... We’re still kind of piecemealing those groups together right now. Yet I think we’ll be able to go, we’ll have a good competitive game as much as we can.” 

Following Saturday's scrimmage, Florida players will sign autographs for “approximately 10 minutes” and there will be a concert at 2:30 p.m. on the north lawn of The Swamp.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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