January 22, 2016

Florida's Orange & Blue Debut turning into Friday Night Lights

GAINESVILLE — Jim McElwain isn't shy about making changes -- even with Florida’s spring game. 

The Gators will hold their annual Orange & Blue Debut under the lights for the first time in school history, hosting a spring scrimmage on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m.

Admission is free. 

The move away from a traditional Saturday afternoon scrimmage is yet another change by McElwain to elevate Florida’s brand. Television details will be released at a later date, but by playing on Friday the Gators won’t be competing with the Masters or spring games of several marquee programs (FSU, Auburn, Clemson) on April 9. 

The move also allows UF to showcase another nighttime atmosphere for recruits and fans. 

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January 19, 2016

Clutch: UF completes comeback after Egbunu's timely free throws

UnnamedGAINESVILLE -- John Egbunu shoots a team-low 40.9 percent from the charity stripe during SEC play, but Florida’s sophomore center walked calmly to line, let out a deep breath and drilled four clutch free throws inside the final minute to help UF complete a thrilling 81-78 comeback win over Mississippi State on Monday. 

“I can’t explain it,” UF coach Mike White said, shaking his head. 

“It’s a unique deal. … But I’m glad he made them.”

Egbunu finished with 16 points (8 of 12 from the free throw line) and seven rebounds, helping Florida erase an 11-point deficit midway through the second-half.

Despite shooting just 55 percent from the line on the year, the center is a perfect 8 for 8 inside the final minute in UF's last two home games against LSU and MSU. 

"I just stepped to the line with confidence," Egbunu said.

"We shoot a lot of pressure free throws in practice."

The Gators (12-6, 4-2 SEC) survived a see-saw finish, needing a 24-5 run to turn a double-digit deficit into an eight-point advantage before barely holding on late. 

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led all players with 20 points and 13 rebounds -- his fourth double-double in his last five games. UF’s freshman guard KeVaughn Allen chipped in 19 and five, while sophomore swingman Devin Robinson finished with 11 points on just six shots. 

The Gators overcame 15 turnovers, poor transition defense (they were outscored 35-7 on fast break/points off turnovers) and an unusually quiet night from point guard Chris Chiozza. 

They were listless early, too, trailing MSU 42-37 at halftime after Fred Thomas’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Although the Bulldogs, now winless in the SEC, fought valiantly thanks to the efforts of guards I.J. Ready (20 points) and Craig Sword (17 points), the Gators -- a NCAA bubble team -- could ill-afford a home loss to a SEC bottom-feeder with the worst RPI in the conference. 

Florida hosts Auburn on Saturday at 8 p.m. 

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January 18, 2016

One last ride: Maye and Davis to return for senior seasons

GAINESVILLE -- National Signing Day is still a little more than two weeks away, but Florida officially hauled in its two biggest recruits on Monday. 

Defensive stalwarts Jarrad Davis, the team’s best linebacker, and safety Marcus Maye both opted to return for their senior seasons after mulling early entrees into the 2016 NFL Draft. 

Davis finished second on the team in tackles with 98, and the hard-hitting ‘backer added 11.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and a team-high seven quarterback hurries. Following UF’s blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Davis told reporters he was “definitely” coming back but the 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was reportedly reconsidering his options before officially announcing his intentions Monday. 

Maye also tweeted his announcement with a simple message. 

The safety ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 82, forcing an SEC-best five fumbles. He added two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and was named a USA Today All-American. 

The Gators lost All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, safety Keanu Neal and pass rusher Alex McCalister to the NFL Draft, but with Maye and Davis remaining in the fold, Florida’s defense should remain formidable in 2016. 

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January 15, 2016

Florida Gators make staff change three weeks before NSD

GAINESVILLE -- Florida parted ways with defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan on Friday, officiating announcing the move with a statement from head coach Jim McElwain on the school's website.

“We’re making a change on our staff,” McElwain said.

“Moving forward, Kirk Callahan will be looking at some other opportunities and he has a long career ahead of him.”

The move comes just three weeks before National Signing Day on Feb. 3. 

The 30-year-old assistant played at Central Florida and started his career as a student assistant at UCF before working as an intern and graduate assistant at UF. 

Callahan returned to alma mater to coach defensive backs for three seasons before joining McElwain in Gainesville last January. 

He signed a two-year deal, so UF is likely on the hook for his $315,000 salary in 2016. 

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January 12, 2016

UF adds 13 mid-year enrollees, checks in at No. 25 in final polls

GAINESVILLE -- Florida officially welcomed 13 mid-year enrollees -- including a dozen freshmen -- on Monday. 

The Gators updated their spring roster, as four-star quarterback Feleipe Franks was the last player to arrive on campus after playing in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Texas. 

UF also confirmed the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby, formally of Purdue. 

After Florida’s 41-7 blowout loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, coach Jim McElwain already had an eye on the future, saying, “We’ve got a bunch of guys coming in here at the break. Just know, we’ve got some good guys coming. Lots. Believe me, I’m excited as heck.”

UF's baker's dozen of mid-year enrollees is reportedly the most in school history. 

The complete list:

QB Feleipe Franks

QB Austin Appleby (graduate transfer)

QB Kyle Trask 

RB Mark Thompson (JUCO)

WR Joshua Hammond

WR Freddy Swain

WR ‘Dre Massey (JUCO)

OL Stone Forsythe

DE Jordan Smith

LB David Reese

DB Chauncey Gardner

DB McArthur Burnett

K Eddy Pineiro

FINAL RANKINGS

Florida checked in at No. 25 in the final AP and Coaches Poll. 

The Gators (10-4) finished the season on a dispiriting three-game losing streak -- getting throttled a combined 97-24 against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. 

Florida climbed as high as No. 8 in the AP poll after upsetting then-No. 3 Ole Miss and moving to 6-0. But the Gators mostly treaded water the second-half of the season, going just 4-4 down the stretch. 

Considering UF’s finish and the school’s continued quarterback uncertainty, the Gators aren’t listed in ESPN, CBS or SI’s early 2016 Top 25 rankings. 

SOMETIMES, THE JOKES WRITE THEMSELVES

THIS & THAT

Electric playmaker Antonio Callaway was named a 2015 FWAA Freshman All-American, earning a spot as a punt returner. The Miami native scored two touchdowns as a returner and nearly broke the school-record for yardage in a season (435 yards). … Offensive tackle Marcus Tatum, long considered a UF lean until a change of heart late in the process, committed to Tennessee on Monday. The Daytona Beach-Mainland product is a three-star recruit. 

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January 07, 2016

Notebook: Six Florida players undergo offseason surgery

GAINESVILLE -- Five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey was among six Florida players to undergo offseason surgery this week. 

The 6-foot-5, 302-pound freshman had shoulder surgery after exiting early in UF’s 41-7 blowout-loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Ivey started eight games this season, mostly at guard. 

Meanwhile, sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson (sports hernia), sophomore wideout Brandon Powell (foot), junior defensive tackle Joey Ivie (sports hernia), walk-on kicker Neil MacInnes (ACL) and sophomore defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) also had surgeries this week.  

Florida did not announce return dates for any of the injured players, but the Gators are counting on Wilson, Powell and Sherit to have increased roles next season -- especially considering the early departures of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal, defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

THIS & THAT

Redshirt junior linebacker Jeremi Powell will not return for his senior season, opting to take “an eye toward the future outside the game,” according to Florida’s team website. … The Gators landed four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel (IMG Academy) on Tuesday. UF’s 2016 class now stands at 26 commits. … Fifteen former UF players will participate in the NFL Playoffs, per Florida’s team website. 

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January 06, 2016

S Keanu Neal becomes Florida's fifth underclassmen to go pro

GAINESVILLE -- Last one out turn off the lights, please. 

Safety Keanu Neal is the latest UF player to forgo his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft, announcing the “hardest decision” of his life in a lengthy Instagram post. 

 

A photo posted by Keanu Neal (@42problemz) on

Neal is Florida’s fifth underclassmen to declare for the draft, joining All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, tailback Kelvin Taylor, defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

The Gators are still awaiting decisions by safety Marcus Maye and linebacker Jarrad Davis, who initially told reporters he was “definitely” coming back but is reportedly having second thoughts. The deadline to declare is Jan. 18. 

Neal finished third on the team in tackles with 96, missing UF's first two games with a hamstring injury. Known as a vicious thumper and an excellent run-support safety, Neal also added 2.0 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception. 

The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is projected as a late second or third round pick by several draft sites. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

January 05, 2016

More depth? Florida adds a graduate transfer quarterback

GAINESVILLE -- Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby is headed to Florida. 

The junior will start classes Tuesday as a graduate transfer and will be eligible in 2016, adding yet another arm to UF’s growing quarterback competition. 

Appleby graduated in December but opted to seek new pastures after losing the starting job to freshman quarterback David Blough. Appleby, a 6-5, 240-pounder, started the Boilermakers’ first three games in 2015 before being benched for Blough after a dismal performance in a loss to Virginia Tech (9 of 28 for 110 yards and two interceptions). 

He finished the season with 1,260 yards, completing 57.5 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. 

Appleby will ostensibly battle former Alabama and Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and Treon Harris, if he stays at UF, for the starting job. The Gators’ pair of early enrollees -- Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask -- could be in the mix, too. 

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January 04, 2016

Hargreaves announces decision to enter the 2016 NFL Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III officially filed his early entry paperwork for the 2016 NFL Draft, confirming his "likely" decision to forgo his senior season following the SEC Championship Game. 

The All-American cornerback fizzled in his Florida finale (he was benched after getting burned twice for explosive plays against Michigan), but Hargreaves ends his career as one of the best defensive backs in school history. The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder was a first-team All-SEC selection all three seasons and earned first-team All-American honors as a sophomore and junior. Hargreaves recorded four interceptions and four pass breakups in 2015 and is projected as an early first-round pick in the upcoming draft. 

Meanwhile, tailback Kelvin Taylor is also entering the NFL Draft, as is defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson, according to UF coach Jim McElwain. 

Linebacker Jarrad Davis announced his intention to return for his senior season, but Florida is still awaiting NFL decisions by safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye. 

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January 01, 2016

Trickeration: UF scores crazy touchdown in the 2015 Citrus Bowl

ORLANDO -- Florida’s offense stinks, but this is was all sorts of awesome.

  

Here's another angle. 

The Gators tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter with the touchdown. 

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GameDay Primer: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines

Unnamed

ORLANDO -- Florida is playing football on New Year’s Day.

Seems right, doesn’t it?

The No. 19 Gators look to end a two-game skid against the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines, hoping to avoid a frustrating finish to a promising season few expected. 

Most expect a low-scoring, slobberknocker, so UF’s offense must avoid another no-show. 

The Gators are the lone underdog of 10 SEC teams, but hey, even they scored 15 points against Alabama. 

WHERE: Citrus Bowl

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WATCH: ABC

LINE: UF +4.5 

THREE QUESTIONS

1. A 2012 Sugar Bowl repeat? Will UF actually show up?

2. Can Florida bottle up Michigan tight end Jake Butt?

3. Will the Gators implement more read-option, designed quarterback runs in what could be Treon Harris’ final game behind center?

QUICK NOTES

* Florida’s punchless attack eclipsed 300 yards just once in the final five games of the season.

* The Wolverines beat the Gators 41-35 in overtime in 2008, the final game of Hall of Fame coach Lloyd Carr’s career.  

* The Gators suspended four players for today’s game, but the team’s injury situation is largely unknown. 

* UF is 2-3 all-time in the Citrus Bowl.

LINKS - UF vs MICHIGAN

South Florida quarterbacks ready to duel

No quick fix for Florida’s offense

Is UF’s offensive line in store for more lumps?

Jon Bullard glad he returned for his senior season

Notebook: Scarlett suspended, Neal & Maye mum on NFL

Gators look for bowl win to erase end-of-season disappointments

Florida embarks on its final “business trip” of the year

UF is grooming new leaders

Q&A: Kelvin Taylor

SKINNY SIX-PACK

How about one final skinny six-pack to help cure that New Year’s Eve hangover! Still looking for that elusive 5-0 week. 42-22-1 ATS on the season. 

Ohio State (-6) vs Notre Dame

Stanford (-4) vs USC 

Tennessee vs Northwestern (+10)

Ole Miss (-7) vs Oklahoma State

And finally, Florida (+4.5) vs Michigan. TAKE THE UNDER. TAKE THE UNDER. TAKE THE UNDER. Oh, and grab the points because this game could come down to a safety. Even the two Jim’s joked during Thursday’s luncheon that the first to four points wins. 

Enjoy all the New Year’s Day football, y’all. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 31, 2015

Is Florida's OL in store for more lumps against Michigan?

ORLANDO -- Florida will start four underclassmen -- including a trio of true freshmen -- against No. 17 Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Friday (1 p.m., ABC).

Hardly ideal.

Despite fading late in the season, the Wolverines rank No. 4 in total defense and No. 3 in passing defense.

“They're outstanding,” UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said.

“They're top five in about every major category. The great thing about us, we get to practice against our defense, so that helps to prepare us.”

It didn’t late in the season, though.

For the first half of the year, Florida’s offense was efficient and steady. Its makeshift offensive line slowly gelled, tailback Kelvin Taylor churned out tough yards and former quarterback Will Grier made just enough plays with his arm.

But following Grier’s suspension on Oct. 12, the Gators’ offense stalled and the young line experienced some serious growing pains during the final month of the season. Florida averaged just 14 points in its last five games, scoring a single offensive touchdown against Alabama and Florida State. Quarterback Treon Harris was sacked 10 times in the last two games, and Florida ranks No. 2 nationally in sacks allowed (43).

On Friday, Florida will start freshman Fred Johnson at right tackle in place of suspended senior tackle Mason Halter, and the Royal Palm Beach product will be joined by freshmen guards Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan and sophomore left tackle David Sharpe.

That's a lot of youth against a defense that nearly shutout four-straight opponents earlier in the year. 

"Here's the good thing we’ve got some guys that are getting some great reps," Gators coach Jim McElwain said.

“They're going to learn and get a little bit better based on their experience. I look at it as this is bright for the future of the Gators because these are guys that’ll keep getting better. There’s no replacing taking the rep."

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December 30, 2015

Gators DT Jon Bullard glad he returned for his senior season

ORLANDO -- A year ago, Jon Bullard put his NFL dreams on pause, but Florida’s dominant defensive tackle hasn’t sweated his choice all season. 

“It’s the best decision I made in my life,” the senior said Wednesday.

“I thought about coming out with the coaching chance. You hear things about how that’s going to be and you have to learn new things. But I buckled down. Me and my family made a decision to come back, and I think it was a great decision. I’m playing the best ball I’ve played since I’ve been here.”

After a solid junior season, Bullard was viewed as a potential mid-round pick, but the former five-star recruit opted to return for one final year in Gainesville and his decision is likely to pay significant dividends for the future.  

Bullard earned All-American honors in 2015 and emerged as a possible first-round pick after leading UF with 17.5 tackles for loss -- third-best in the SEC. He also recorded 6.5 sacks, tying pass-rushing specialist Alex McCalister for the team lead. 

First-year coach Jim McElwain has praised Bullard’s selflessness and maturity all season, and on Wednesday, Florida’s defensive coordinator Geoff Collins called the senior “the poster child” for how Bullard handled both his NFL future and Florida’s coaching transition. 

“Him being a premier player last year, I’m sure he wrestled with the decision to come back or to leave,” Collins said. 

“But the things he did in the offseason, the things he did throughout the year to make himself one of the best players in college football, you don’t see guys do that a lot.”

SHOW YOUR BRAND

As Florida prepares for Friday’s Citrus Bowl showdown against No. 17 Michigan, a handful of future Gators are readying to showcase their skills on the same field the very next day. 

Four UF oral commits will participate in Saturday’s Under Armour All-American Game (Noon, ESPN2): WR Josh Hammond, DE Antonneous Clayton, CB Chauncey Gardner and OL Brett Heggie.

A number of other blue-chip targets on Florida’s board will also play in the all-star game, including linebacker Mack Wilson, wideouts Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove (Auburn commit) and Sam Bruce (a Miami commit) and defensive tackle Shavar Manuel. 

With so many top prospects in the same area code, Florida’s first-year coach Jim McElwain said Friday’s game is “an opportunity to show your brand.”

“Look, that’s part of advertising, right? This is no different. We get a chance to take a three-hour block and put the University of Florida on for a three-hour commercial.” 

Florida’s 2016 class currently has 25 commits and ranks No. 8 nationally according to 247Sports. 

THIS & THAT

Both Michigan and Florida spent time with kids from a local Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday.  … McElwain said Florida’s practices this week have been “pretty darn good.” … Michigan’s freshman star Jabrill Peppers remains questionable for Friday, as the three-way playmaker is reportedly battling an undisclosed hand injury. Peppers, a former five-star recruit, is the Wolverines’ starting safety, and the redshirt freshman also returns kicks, punts and plays a little running back. On the season, he has 45 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two touchdowns on 72 yards rushing. UF is wary of Peppers’ talent, but sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said, “We’ve got 11 Jabrill Peppers on defense. Michigan, they only got one of him. We got 11.” 

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December 29, 2015

Q&A: Kelvin Taylor talks decision to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft

ORLANDO -- Kelvin Taylor is comfortable with his decision.

Florida’s junior tailback declared for the 2016 NFL Draft last week and will play his final game in a Gators uniform Friday against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl (1 p.m., ABC). 

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back is just 15 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards this season. Taylor, projected as a mid-round pick by CBSSports.com, has 13 rushing touchdowns, too, tying his father Fred Taylor for most by a Gators tailback since 1997.  

Coincidentally, Taylor will finish his career in the same stadium his dad also starred in his final collegiate game. 

In 1998, Fred Taylor rushed for a Citrus Bowl-record 234 yards on 43 carries in Florida’s 21-6 win over Penn State. 

On Monday, Taylor explained his decision to turn pro, spoke on his desire to go out the same way his father did and more. 

Why go to the NFL now?

“It was pretty much just the best fit for me and for my career going in the future. I feel like it’s the best time right now. I just feel like this is the perfect timing and timing is everything. I feel like it’s going to help me out, and I feel like it was a great decision.”

Was it a difficult choice to make?

“Not really an easy one. But at the same time, I feel like it was a smart one. It was just the right decision. At the same time, going to bed at night, I’m just tossing and turning thinking about it sometimes. Like I said, I’m going to miss Gator Nation, but I feel like it’s a good decision. My teammates and my coaches are fine with it and they supported me really good through this decision. I’m just thankful for those guys and I’m looking forward to just finishing with a bang on Friday.”

What sort of role did your dad have on your decision?

“I leaned on my father a whole lot. My father, we talked about it a whole lot. Me, my mother, just my whole family. It was a family decision, but we’re comfortable with it. I feel like that’s going to be the best decision for me and my family for my future. I’m excited. I’m just ready to finish strong and there’s nothing like Gator Nation. I love Gator Nation. It’s going to be great out there Friday.”

How about playing your final game where your dad did, too?

“It’s very cool, man. Just to be very thankful for great coaches and great teammates, it’s going to be a great experience. I’m going to be sad, but at the same time, I’m going to enjoy myself. I’m looking forward to going out there and finishing with a bang. I’m ready to go.”

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December 23, 2015

Hodskins scores first-career bucket in UF's rout over Jacksonville

GAINESVILLE -- Florida routed Jacksonville 89-65 on Tuesday, outscoring the Dolphins by 16 points in the second half. 

Four UF starters scored in double figures, headlined by freshman KeVaughn Allen’s career-high 15 points -- including a ferocious double-clutch dunk. 

The Gators (8-3) handled business by trouncing the lowly Dolphins, who were playing on a back-to-back, and UF will close out its non-conference schedule with a home date against Florida State on Dec. 29. 

UF’s blowout win Tuesday was also punctuated by a nice story. Zach Hodskins, a sophomore walk-on with just one hand, scored his first-career points on a nifty spin move late in the game. 

Hodskins, who averaged close to 12 points a game in high school, was 0 of 5 in his career before making his first collegiate bucket. 

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt tabbed Hodskins’ play as his “Best Thing I Saw Today,” while SportsCenter made the bucket the No. 1 play on its daily Top 10 highlight reel. 

 

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December 19, 2015

BREAKING: Will Grier requests transfer from Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE -- Will Grier’s rollercoaster career at Florida is over. 

The suspended redshirt freshman quarterback is transferring from the program, sources told to the Miami Herald. 

Florida later confirmed the report Saturday afternoon, with first-year coach Jim McElwain saying in a statement, “Will came to me about exploring his options to transfer. We will support him and help him in anyway we can. This has been very difficult on him and obviously he is looking for a fresh start. 

“We will always be there for him, as will all Gators.”   

Just six days ago, McElwain said Grier would return to all team activities on Jan. 5 after Florida’s plays Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. 

Instead, the quarterback will never suit up for the Gators again.

Grier led UF to a surprising 6-0 start -- including 5-0 as a starter with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He spurred the incredible fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee and tossed four touchdowns in the upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss. 

The 6-2, 200-pound gunslinger had the SEC’s highest completion percentage (65.8) and became the first Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009 to throw for at least 200 yards in three straight games. 

But on Oct. 12, Grier was suspended a full calendar-year for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and Florida’s offense has mostly been stuck in the mud ever since. 

Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris piloted the Gators to the SEC Championship Game, but the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout struggled mightily in McELwain’s pro-style system (49 percent completion percentage with 7 TDs and 5 INTs).

The Gators were blown out in their final two games against Florida State and Alabama, scoring just a single touchdown. 

Initially, Florida hoped Grier would be eligible to return at the start of next season, but in late November, he lost his appeal to have his 12-month suspension reduced. 

Now, Grier faces a murky future. He could immediately transfer to a junior college school and play right away, but should he go to another Division 1 program, Grier must sit out the full 2016 season and the first six games of 2017. Regardless of whatever initial decision Grier makes, the NCAA's six-game suspension is waiting for him if he ever plays D-1 football again. 

Grier is the sixth Florida quarterback to leave the program in the last three years, joining Max Staver, Jacoby Brissett, Skyler Mornhinweg, Tyler Murphy and Jeff Driskel. 

With Grier no longer in the fold, Florida will have just three scholarship quarterbacks in the spring, including two true freshmen (Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask). 

The coaching staff is also quite high on walk-on quarterback Luke Del Rio, son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio, who initially signed with Alabama out of high school and has a close connection with UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussemier, earned rave reviews this summer but had to sit out the 2015 season after transferring from Oregon State. 

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Another UF underclassman announces plans to return to school

GAINESVILLE -- Caleb Brantley isn’t going anywhere.

Florida’s redshirt sophomore defensive tackle announced Friday that he will return next year for his redshirt junior season.

“I never really thought about leaving,” Brantley said. “I just felt like I could better myself if I came back next year.”

He is the second underclassmen to announce he will return to school, joining standout linebacker Jarrad Davis.

The 6-foot-2, 315-pound tackle recorded 5.5 tackles for loss in 2015, but Brantley was oftentimes overshadowed by the success of Jon Bullard, Alex McCalister and others.

Still, he was a key and disruptive cog in the middle, improving his practice habits and production under first-year coach Jim McElwain.

Earlier this season, McElwain said the entire coaching staff considered Brantley a Top-10 talent on the team.

The redshirt sophomore said his close relationship with Bullard played a factor in his decision, especially watching Bullard, a senior who led UF with 17.5 tackles for loss, return to school last season and steadily improve his own draft stock.

“He chose to come back and that really suprised me,” Brantley explained.

“He definitely helped himself. I think he moved into the first round with a stellar season. But I mean for me, I still haven’t I feel like I really haven’t played how I can play yet.

“I mean, I played good, but I know I can do better.”

All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is the only UF player to publicly state his intention to “likely” declare early, but wideout Demarcus Robinson, tailback Kelvin Taylor, McCalister and others could all follow suit.

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December 17, 2015

UAA Approved: Florida raising ticket prices for 2016 season

GAINESVILLE -- On the heels of an unexpected 10-3 season and a berth in the SEC Championship Game, the Florida Gators are raising ticket prices for the 2016 season -- coincidentally perhaps -- but also in advance of the worst home schedule in years. 

The University Athletic Association Board of Directors approved a price hike of 33 percent for student season tickets and 10 percent for booster season tickets, as first reported by The Gainesville Sun. 

Although tickets prices were modestly raised, booster fees remain unchanged for the third straight year. 

“These additional dollars will allow us to continue to maintain a high-level athletic program in our 21 sports,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement on FloridaGators.com

“Our students are very important to us. They create a special environment at all our venues and we try to maintain reasonable prices for them. That’s the reason why this is the first increase in four years.”

According to the UAA, booster season tickets will now be $330 -- instead of $300 per season ticket package. Student prices will go from $105 to $140 for the seven-game slate -- or $5 per game. Foley noted that the increase still leaves Florida “the the median range relative to other SEC programs.”

In Jim McElwain’s first season, the Gators sold out The Swamp four times -- something former coach Will Muschamp didn’t do in four seasons. UF went 6-1 at home, losing the finale 27-2 to Florida State. 

But the price hike comes at a tough time, as Florida's 2016 home schedule is a drag. The Gators non-conference slate -- UMass, North Texas and Presbyterian -- is awful and LSU is the only conference opponent that finished the 2015 season with a winning record. 

Of note though, Muschamp will return to The Swamp on Nov. 12 with South Carolina. 

THIS & THAT

Three-star defensive end JaQuan Bailey (Jacksonville Raines) decommitted from UF on Wednesday, and Miami Central three-star defensive end Eric Mitchell backed off his UF pledge on Thursday. Florida’s 2016 class now stands at 24 commits and is ranked No. 8 according to 247Sports. … Wideout Antonio Callaway, a star at Miami Booker T. Washington, and defensive end CeCe Jefferson were both named to ESPN’s True Freshman All-American team. Callaway quickly emerged as a dynamic playmaker, leading the Gators with 603 receiving yards and four touchdowns and adding two punt return scores, too. Jefferson, a former five-star recruit, was also a standout, recording 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.  

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December 13, 2015

Vernon Hargreaves, Jon Bullard named 2015 AP All-Americans

GAINESVILLE -- Time in engrave another brick. 

Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press on Sunday, giving the junior his second commemorative brick outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

The Gators honor their first-team All-Americans (by select institutions) with an engraving in front of the Heavener Complex. Last season, Hargreaves was recognized as a first-team All-American by the Sporting News, earning his first brick.

Now he'll have two. 

As a junior, Hargreaves tied for the team-lead in interceptions with four, adding 31 tackles (1 TFL), four pass breakups and a forced fumble. 

Hargreaves, who said he's “probably” headed to the NFL after Florida’s bowl game against Michigan, was a second-team AP All-American as a sophomore and a third-team member as a freshman. 

Meanwhile, senior defensive tackle Jon Bullard was also recognized, earning third-team honors. 

Bullard had a team-high 17.5 tackles for loss -- ranking second in the conference. He also tied for the team-lead in sacks (6.5) and had 63 tackles and six hurries. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Florida Gators recruiting news: One addition, one subtraction

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s 2016 recruiting class changed a bit Sunday. 

Dwyer wideout Isaiah Johnson decommitted from UF after spending the weekend in Gainesville on his official visit. The three-star prospect was once a Miami commit, too, and is an early enrollee. According to recruitniks, the decision was a mutual one, as Florida hopes to land several blue-chip prospects as the position.

But minutes before Johnson announced his intentions, the Gators landed a verbal pledge, as four-star defensive end Jordan Smith (Lithonia, Ga.) committed following his official visit. 

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound pass rusher was recently a member of South Carolina’s 2016 class. But Smith reopened his commitment following the hiring of former UF coach Will Muschamp. 

Florida’s class now stands at 25 commits and is ranked No. 7 nationally by 247Sports. The month-long dead period starts Monday.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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