March 21, 2016

Notebook: Pineiro progressing, Fulwood identified as a leader

GAINESVILLE -- Eddy Pineiro didn’t miss a kick in his first ever practice at Florida, and the Gators’ second-year head coach Jim McElwain continues to be impressed by his new specialist. 

“He’s been doing good,” McElwain said. 

“The operation times have steadily come down. It’s something that we needed to really work on from the start of practice.”

The Gators finished 2015 with the nation’s second-worst field goal percentage (41.2), missing 10 of 17 kicks. Now they hope the Miami native is the answer to their woes. 

Pineiro, the nation's No. 1 JUCO kicker in the 2016 class, is UF’s sole scholarship kicker in spring camp after the much-maligned Austin Hardin left the program.   

While Pineiro boasts a rocket leg, he’s has never kicked in a live game, so McElwain is using the spring as a vital preparation period for the fall. 

“We're putting him in situations every day where he doesn't quite know when it's going to happen,” McElwain said. 

“So his understanding that you kind of have to be ready throughout the practice or just like a game. You never know when those kicks are going to come. The thing I've been happy with is the operation times have come down. He's starting to move on the ball a little quicker. It's great to see the ball really get up as quick as it does off his foot."

THIS & THAT

McElwain expects junior wideout Alvin Bailey (back) and junior defensive end Jordan Sherit (hamstring/leg) to return to practice this week, but UF’s coach also complimented JUCO-wideout ‘Dre Massey and sophomore end Keivonnis Davis for their strong work filling in for the injured players. … Senior Ahmad Fulwood was mentioned as a leader in the receivers group by McElwain. … Florida’s coach said the spring is an excellent opportunity to work on special teams fundamentals, specifically mentioning “the competition piece” that comes with the various drills. 

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March 20, 2016

Florida Gators OC Doug Nussmeier: "This is a special place"

GAINESVILLE -- For just the second time in the last six years, the Florida Gators will have the same offensive coordinator for two straight seasons. 

They almost didn’t, though. 

In late January, Doug Nussmeier was considered the frontrunner for the opening at Southern Miss. The former offensive coordinator at Alabama and Michigan interviewed for the head coaching job but ultimately decided to stay at Florida. 

He explained why on Friday. 

“This is a special place,” Nussmeier said. 

“My family and I feel very blessed and fortunate to be here. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t feel fortunate to be a part of such a great program with a great tradition. It’s an honor to walk out here everyday and be the OC.”

The Gators finished the 2015 season with the nation’s No. 112 total offense (just 334.0 yards per game), as the Oct. 12 suspension to starting quarterback Will Grier zapped any early season progress. Florida ended the year on a three-game losing streak and scored just a single touchdown in blowout losses to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan.  

Still, Nussmeier’s offense flashed some potential, and the 45-year-old assistant is confident his unit can build on some of its early season’s successes -- especially with a deeper talent pool at quarterback, running back and receiver in 2016. 

“Southern Miss was an opportunity that presented itself,” he said. 

“I just felt good about what we’re starting to develop here. We’re still a ways away. But I felt really good about our situation here and the things we’re going to be able to accomplish over time.”

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March 17, 2016

Caleb Brantley: "I feel like I'm the best d-lineman in the country"

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators have had a defensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for three straight seasons, and and former UF standout Jon Bullard could make it four in a row this April. 

Now, another Gators defensive lineman is already chasing his own future first-round dreams. 

Caleb Brantley was a productive player as a redshirt sophomore in 2015, but the 6-2, 300-pound tackle was often overshadowed by Florida’s other defensive stars. 

Not anymore. 

After racking up 29 tackles, 6.5 TFL and three sacks last season, Brantley is ready to become a household name. 

“I feel like I’m the best d-lineman in the country,” he said. 

“So I’m going to go out and try to prove it.”

Last season, UF’s coaches praised Brantley for his improved motor, practice habits and unselfishness. He’s only getting better this spring. 

“I’ve been really happy with Caleb,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. 

“I think Jon Bullard did a great job kind of teaching him what it so to be that person. So far, he’s been really good this offseason.”

Brantley has come along way in four years, developing from a moody and raw playmaker into a reliable leader and budding star. He learned a lot from Bullard and is now paying it forward with sophomore stud CeCe Jefferson and the rest of UF’s defensive linemen. He’s accepted he’ll be double-teamed on nearly every snap, too. 

“[Bullard taught me how to be a leader, a role model to the younger guys. Always do stuff right,” he said.

“I can’t be selfish, you feel me? If you’re good, you’re going to get double-teamed nine out of 10 times. It’s a chance for other guys to step up. I’m not the only one on the d-line that’s a hell-raiser.”

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March 16, 2016

Florida-Georgia rivalry to remain in Jacksonville through 2021

GAINESVILLE -- The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party isn’t going anywhere. 

The Florida-Georgia game will stay in Jacksonville through 2021, as first reported by Jacksonville.com Wednesday. 

The two schools agreed on a five-year extension with the city, as the current contract was set to expire after the Oct. 29 game this fall. 

“We could not be more excited about our continued partnership with two of the nation’s finest universities,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said in a statement. 

“Our new agreement further strengthens the Georgia-Florida tradition we have enjoyed here in Jacksonville for 83 years. The legendary rivalry continues and the best is yet to come.”

The delay in contract negotiations was mainly over questions about the ongoing EverBank Field renovations and the potential impact on crowd capacity. Those concerns were alleviated, apparently, but the schools still hold plenty of leverage in future negotiations. 

“We are excited to continue the tradition of playing the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a release.”

“As I’ve said a number of times over the years, the game belongs in Jacksonville. Thanks to the hard work and the cooperation of the city of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars and our counterparts at Georgia, it will continue to be in Jacksonville.”

Both teams will reportedly receive a $125,000 signing bonus and $250,000 annually to defray expenses. The annual showdown is a cash-cow for the City of Jacksonville, as the game was once again a sellout in 2015. More than 5 million people watched the broadcast on CBS and the city made an estimated $35 million in revenue

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March 14, 2016

UF dominating the diamond, Sloan scores another 10 & more

GAINESVILLE -- Roundup!

While Florida’s men’s basketball team bowed out of the SEC Tournament early and the football team had a couple days off, a number of other UF teams were back in action over the weekend. 

Take a look at how they faired. 

First things first, Florida’s diamond dominance continued, as the baseball and softball teams moved to a combined 43-1 after Sunday. 

Kevin O’Sullivan’s No. 1 Gators baseball teams swept Harvard, winning Saturday’s day-night doubleheader thanks to a pair of 3-run homers by Peter Alonso and Nelson Maldonado in the afternoon and a superb pitching performance by Alex Faedo (8.1 innings, career-high 13 strikeouts and just one earned run) in the night cap. UF has won 11 straight and will host No. 11 Florida State on Tuesday (7 p.m., SEC Network). 

Meanwhile, Florida’s top-ranked softball team will look to sweep No. 3 Auburn today (7 p.m., SEC Network) after winning the first two games of the series over the weekend. The Gators, now 26-0, knocked off the Tigers 6-3 and 8-5, as Aleshia Ocasio (9-0) picked up both wins in relief. Freshman Kayli Kvistad hit a clutch 3-run homer in Game 1, while UF drilled three more dingers in Game 2. 

On Friday, Florida’s gymnastics team was in action one last time in the O’Connell Center this season, and All-American senior Bridget Sloan led the way again, scoring a 10 on her floor routine as No. 2 UF beat North Carolina 198.050-193.725. 

Sloan was one of four seniors honored Friday, and the group aims to lead UF to its fourth consecutive National Championship later this spring.

UF men’s and women’s track and field teams stumbled at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The Gators finished a disappointing seventh and didn’t have an individual men’s national champion.  Mike Holloway’s men’s team also failed to extend its streak of seven-straight finishes inside the top-3. 

The women’s team placed 14th, but senior sprinter Kyra Jefferson did place second in the 200-meter dash. 

One notable track and field nugget lost in the shuffle from two weeks ago at the SEC Indoor Championships: UF freshman Jontavia Dykes broke a freshman record in the weight throw, taking fourth place with a mark of 19.27 meters. Dykes, a Miami Northwestern product, bested Candice Scott’s record of 18.79 meters in 2001. 

Dykes’ mother Pat Jackson wrote in an email to the Herald, “As a proud Gator Mom & Gospel Recording Artist, I can truly say that after surviving so many obstacles in my life -- as a stage 4 Cancer Survivor, a survivor of 6 car accidents, 4 major surgeries, a near missed bullet and after death experience -- once against God has allowed me LIFE to see this great accomplishment.” 

Florida’s lacrosse team, now ranked No. 2 nationally, remained undefeated over the weekend, knocking off No. 14 Boston College 13-5. The Gators (8-0) moved to 5-0 against ranked teams this season. 

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March 11, 2016

WR Antonio Callaway's attorney says allegation has no merit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida star receiver Antonio Callaway was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 27 for violating the university’s code of conduct, but on Friday the sophomore’s attorney said Callaway should be reinstated immediately. 

“There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed,” said attorney Huntley Johnson in a release. 

“This allegation has no merit.”

Callaway’s suspension resolves from a complaint in early December, per Johnson. The attorney also wrote that his office conducted its own private investigation and found that the accusation has no basis.

No further details were added. 

Florida coach Jim McElwain adamantly refused to discuss the situation Tuesday when he officially announced the suspension of Callaway and former starting quarterback Treon Harris, who is not being represented by Johnson.

The longtime Gainesville lawyer has represented dozens of UF athletes in the past, including Harris when the quarterback faced a sexual assault accusation in 2014. 

Last season, Callaway, a Miami native, was Florida’s best playmaker, breaking multiple school records and combining for seven touchdowns (four receiving, two returning, one passing).  

Huntley Johnson, Esq. full release:

On January 27, 2016 the University of Florida suspended Antonio Callaway for a violation of the Student Conduct Code. 

The suspension was due to an incident which supposedly occurred in early December 2015. 

Mr. Callaway is on interim suspension from the University of Florida pending resolution of the accusation. 

At this time the University of Florida has not presented to Mr. Callaway or Undersigned Counsel any evidence relating to Mr. Callaway’s suspension. 

Be that as it may, the law firm of Johnson & Osteryoung has conducted its own investigation as to the allegation that is the basis for the suspension. 

There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed. This allegation has no merit. 

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Florida falls to Texas A&M, NCAA Tournament hopes likely dashed

GAINESVILLE -- After a gut-wrenching 72-66 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, Florida will likely watch the NCAA Tournament from home for the second straight season. 

The Gators, slotted among the ‘Next Four Out’ in ESPN’s latest bracket, needed to beat the top-seeded Aggies in Nashville to have any legitimate chance at securing an at-large berth. 

While junior guard Kasey Hill (18 points, two assists) and Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) played well, Florida (19-14, 9-9 SEC) was hammered inside, allowing 44 points in the paint -- its most in five years, per ESPN. 

The Gators, who moved to just 1-7 against ranked teams, will officially await their fate on Selection Sunday, but they’re almost certainly bookmarked for a high seed in the NIT. 

However, Florida will be forced to play on the road due to the ongoing renovations at the O’Connell Center. 

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March 10, 2016

Problem solved? Pineiro perfect on first day of spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s kicking game was a disaster last season. 

The Gators made just 7 of 17 field goals -- the second-worst percentage nationally -- and the situation became so dire that coach Jim McElwain solicited students to try and find a solution. 

McElwain’s midseason ploy didn’t work either, but the second-year coach hopes he’s finally found an answer to UF’s problems. 

Enter Eddy Pineiro. 

The Miami native and No. 1 JUCO kicker enters the spring with an opportunity to win the starting job immediately. Pineiro has never kicked a live field goal -- not in high school or at ASA College in North Miami Beach -- but the redshirt sophomore was so impressive on the recruiting circuit that both McElwain and Alabama coach Nick Saban desperately sought his signature. 

When Pineiro committed to the Gators in December, McElwain went nuts.

On Wednesday, UF opened spring practice and Pineiro was perfect kicking field goals, drilling a 58-yarder to end the day. 

“He actually made them all, which was interesting,” McElwain said, smiling. 

“We’ve got to work on our timing, but the ball got up really quick. He finished here with, what was it, a 58-yarder here with everybody around him.”

Pineiro routinely posts viral videos nailing 70-yard field goals or trick shot kicks, so much so that McElwain joked about the kicker’s instant popularity Wednesday.

“This is the first time I haven’t seen it on social media,” McElwain said, chuckling. 

“But the ball comes up real quick and goes very far.”

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March 09, 2016

On the rise: UF releases latest hype video before spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida opens spring camp today, looking to build on last season's surprising 10-4 season. 

On Tuesday, second-year coach Jim McElwain said the players "have an understanding on the expectations and how to go about their business now."

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March 08, 2016

Anzalone cleared but Ivey and Powell to miss spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators open spring practice Wednesday, and Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris won’t be the only notables not in camp. 

While UF’s star receiver and former starting quarterback are suspended indefinitely, the Gators will also be without a number of injuried players including junior wideout Brandon Powell (foot) and offensive lineman Martez Ivey (shoulder). Both Powell and Ivey, a former five-star recruit who started multiple games as a freshman, had offseason surgeries. 

Meanwhile, kickers Jorge Powell (ACL) and Neil MacInnes (ACL) will also miss the spring, and cornerback Quincy Wilson (sports hernia) and defensive tackle Joey Ivie (sports hernia) will be limited/non-contact.

“They’ve been running them pretty good,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of Wilson and Ivie. 

“In fact, Quincy, I was really impressed with how he ran yesterday. I don’t see any lingering effects there.”

Still, Florida will be short on numbers in the secondary this spring, so early enrollees McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner will get ample opportunities to impress. 

“The numbers are short, so Chauncey and McArthur are going to get tons of reps,” McElwain said.

“And here’s the good thing: They’re going to be taught as well by some really good players.”

Finally, McElwain delivered some good news on linebacker Alex Anzalone, saying the former starter has been cleared for non-contact work in practice after missing 12 games with a significant shoulder injury last season. 

“Alex had a real bounce in his step when he came back with the news,” McElwain said. 

“In fact, he texted me on my birthday to let me know. You can tell the excitement is there. ‘Man, this is finally over. The duct tape was solid.’”

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Callaway, Harris out for spring, haven't been with team since Jan.

GAINESVILLE -- Star receiver Antonio Callaway and former starting quarterback Treon Harris are suspended for spring practice due to undisclosed reasons, Florida announced Tuesday. 

The Gators open camp Wednesday.  

Coach Jim McElwain refused to discuss specifics of the suspensions, only saying that two Miami natives haven’t participated in offseason workouts since January and “are still taking care of some schoolwork and other stuff.”

When pressed on the players' future, McElwain repeatedly said, “That’s the last we’ll talk about it.”

Last season, Callaway emerged as Florida’s most dynamic playmaker since Percy Harvin, recording 678 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The freshman also set a school-record for punt return yardage, scoring twice on 28 returns including a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game. Callaway even threw for a score in Florida’s loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. 

Meanwhile, Harris started the final eight games of 2015 after starter Will Grier was suspended for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy on Oct. 12. Florida’s offense sputtered almost immediately, and the Gators went 4-4 down the stretch. 

Harris finished the year with 1,676 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. The sophomore completed just 50.6 percent of his passes and was rumored to transition to receiver this spring, with McElwain saying, “Possibly. We’ll see about that. We’ll talk about it when it happens.”

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March 07, 2016

Mac's speaking tour set; UF roundup on baseball, softball & more

GAINESVILLE -- Fresh off a surprising 10-4 inaugural campaign, Florida coach Jim McElwain will speak to nine different clubs across the state this spring.

McElwain will begin his speaking tour on April 5 -- just three days before UF’s annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 8.

Four of McElwain’s assistants will also make appearances around the state, including a stop at the Palm Beach County Gator Club in West Palm Beach. Times and dates will be announced in the future.  

Coach Jim McElwain’s speaking schedule:

April 5 - Gainesville Quarterback Club (Gainesville)

April 11 - Polk County Gator Club (Lakeland)

April 13 - Broward County Gator Club (Fort Lauderdale)

April 19 - Gator club of Jacksonville (Jacksonville)

April 26 - Southwest Florida Gator Club/Naples Gator Club (Fort Myers)

April 27 - Tampa Gator Club/Pinellas Gator Club (Tampa)

May 3 - Space Coast Gator Club (Melbourne)

May 25 - Central Florida Gator Club (Orlando)

May 26 - Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club (Gainesville)

UF ROUNDUP!

Every once in a while, Gator Clause will take a look at how the Gators are doing in sports other than football and men’s basketball. 

The short answer today: They’re dominating. Everyone. 

UF is currently ranked No. 1 in baseball and softball, and both teams completed impressive sweeps over the weekend. 

Florida’s baseball team moved to 12-1 after a 8-6 win over Dartmouth on Sunday. Sophomore slugger JJ Schwarz smashed his third homer on the year, while junior centerfielder Buddy Reed slapped a two-run triple for his sixth extra-base hit on the early season.

Friday night starter Logan Shore, a potential first round pick in June’s MLB Draft, continued his excellent start to the 2016 season, throwing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts against Dartmouth. The junior moved to 3-0 and has allowed just a single run in 21.0 innings, adding 22 strikeouts and only two walks. 

Meanwhile, UF’s softball team remained undefeated after winning the Aquafina Invitational. The Gators outscored their five opponents by a 44-5 margin and their 22-0 record is tied for the third-best start in school history. 

Florida’s Delanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio are one of the best pitching tandems in the country, as the two hurlers are a combined 15-0 with three saves and a minuscule 0.45 ERA. 

Finally, UF’s lacrosse team knocked off No. 10 Stony Brook 7-6 on Sunday, moving to 7-0 on the year. Amanda O’Leary’s squad is No. 3 nationally and is 4-0 against ranked teams this season. Florida’s No. 8 women’s golf team won the Gator Invitational on Sunday, beating runner-up Florida State by 11 strokes. 

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Bracketology: Florida heads to Nashville among the 'First Four Out'

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s road win at Missouri snapped a four-game losing streak and secured the No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament. 

Now the Gators head to Nashville with more work to do.

UF’s path to the NCAA Tournament remains foggy, but at a minimum, the Gators need to get to the conference semifinals (meaning defeating both Arkansas and top-seeded Texas A&M) to even seriously be considered for an at-large berth. 

Florida (18-13, 9-9 SEC) knocked off Arkansas 87-83 on Feb. 3 in Gainesville. The two teams will square off Thursday at 1 p.m. on the SEC Network.  

Despite Saturday’s victory, the Gators remain among the 'First Four Out,' according to the Bracket Matrix. Florida ranks No. 55 in RPI and is just 2-8 against the RPI Top 50. The Gators, who have the nation’s No. 11 strength of schedule, are slotted higher in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings (No. 44) and head coach Mike White admitted he’s scanned “certain websites” for bracket projections. 

However, White also acknowledged UF’s résumé won’t matter much if it doesn’t beat Arkansas on Thursday.

“That’s all we can really worry about,” White said.

“I can make arguments for us right now in terms of our strength of schedule. Not only non-conference schedule, but the strength of the schedule we played within our league. The number of Top-100 wins, and so on and so forth. But it’s fruitless to waste time and energy on any of that. It takes away from your focus on the Hogs.”

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March 03, 2016

Former Florida QB Will Grier visits West Virginia University

GAINESVILLE -- Former Florida quarterback Will Grier visited West Virginia University on Wednesday, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Grier is a native of North Carolina and is hoping to transfer somewhere closer to home. 

The former four-star recruit led the Gators to a surprising 6-0 start last season before his Oct. 12 suspension ultimately ended his UF career. 

Grier violated the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy and later lost his appeal to have the 12-month suspension reduced. The 6-2, 200-pound quarterback opted to leave the program in mid December, but it remains unknown if he will be forced to miss the entire 2016 season and first six games of 2017 (as the NCAA rules stipulate) or if his suspension will run concurrently. 

Grier tossed 10 touchdowns and had the SEC’s highest completion percentage before his suspension, so the quarterback could be a good fit for WVU’s pass-happy, spread offense under coach Dana Holgorsen. 

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March 01, 2016

Florida loses fourth straight, NCAA Tournament hopes fading fast

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators bid adieu to senior Dorian Finney-Smith, the current construction of the O’Connell Center and maybe their NCAA Tournament hopes, too, on Tuesday night. 

Another dismal defensive effort coupled with an atrocious night at the free throw line sent UF to its fourth-straight loss -- including third in a row at home -- falling 88-79 to No. 22 Kentucky. 

Barring a deep run (or even winning the SEC Tournament), Florida has played itself out of the NCAA Tournament. 

“I feel for our guys,” UF coach Mike White said, looking exasperated. 

“I thought we played really hard. I thought we played with a ton of energy. … I don’t know. I’m a loss with free throws.”

In the school's final game before the O'Dome undergoes a $65 million renovation, the Gators (17-13, 8-9 SEC) shot 43.2 percent from the charity stripe (16 of 37), missing 21 free throws.

“You can’t win big games if you don’t make free throws,” Finney-Smith said, who scored 15 points on a sour Senior Night. 

The Gators were undone by another poor defensive performance, too, allowing 85 points on at least 50 percent shooting for the third-straight game.  

Kentucky hit 7 of 10 from 3, including shooting a perfect 5 for 5 from behind-the-arc in the second half. 

And yet, Florida was competitive early, closing the first half on a 14-4 run to cut a double-digit deficit to two points. But after halftime, Kentucky quickly seized control and pushed its lead back up to 10 within the first four minutes of the half. 

UF center John Egbunu delivered a career-high 27 points (including nine dunks), but his monster performance wasn’t nearly enough as Florida’s guards were once again completely overmatched by Kentucky’s backcourt. 

Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) point guard Tyler Ulis finished with 19 points and 11 assists, while freshman sharpshooter Jamal Murray chipped in 21 points and five dimes. 

“Ulis is arguably the best point guard in the country,” White said.

“You can’t rattle him. He’s just smart. He really understands how to play.”

While UK’s guards dominated, Skal Labissiere made the most of his first start since Dec. 12, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The five-star freshman recorded his first game in double-figures since Jan. 27. 

Meanwhile, UF’s trio of guards were exposed against UK for the second time on the year. After a combined 4 of 21 performance in early February, Kasey Hill, KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza combined for just 25 points and 10 assists on 9 of 35 shooting Tuesday night.  

Florida ends its regular season Saturday at Missouri. 

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2016 NFL Combine: Hargreaves, McCalister and Neal shine

GAINESVILLE -- Eight former Florida players were invited to the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis over the weekend. 

Take a look at how they performed:

RB Kelvin Taylor (5-10, 207): 4.60 40-yard dash, 15 reps on bench press, 32” vertical jump, 9’5” broad jump

DT Jon Bullard (6-3, 285): 4.93 40-yard dash, 23 reps on bench press, 32” vertical jump, 9’7” broad jump, 4.56 20-yard shuttle

CB Vernon Hargreaves III (5-10, 204): 4.50 40-yard dash, 15 reps on bench press, 39” vertical jump, 10’10” broad jump, 3.98 20-yard shuttle

S Keanu Neal (6-0, 211): 4.62 40-yard dash, 17 reps on bench press, 38” vertical jump, 11’0”, 4.38 20-yard shuttle, 11.58 60-yard shuttle

WR Demarcus Robinson (6-1, 203): 4.59 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical jump, 10’3” broad jump, 4.19 20-yard shuttle, 6.77 three-cone drill

DE Alex McCalister (6-6, 239): 4.8 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical jump, 10’8” broad jump, 4.0 20-yard shuttle, 7.01 three-cone drill

TE Jake McGee (6-5, 250): 17 reps on bench press

Takeaways: First, linebacker Antonio Morrison was noticeably absent, as Morrison reportedly skipped the combine due to an illness. 

Meanwhile, a number of former Florida players in Indy helped themselves after solid showings. Hargreaves didn’t flash blazing speed, but the former All-American finished in the Top 5 of three different events and showcased his complete skill-set during various drills.

Like Hargreaves, Neal didn’t run an exceptional time, but the hard-hitting safety dominated the agility drills and displayed excellent size and athleticism. 

McCalister, who measured as the tallest and longest lineman at the combine, was born to excel in such a setting and the pass rusher did not disappoint. He posted Top 10 numbers in every event he participated in, finishing with top scores in two events. 

Bullard also had a really nice showing and kept himself in position to be a late first-round pick. 

Finally, Taylor had a rough combine, posting poor scores in multiple events and then reportedly struggling in the receiving drills, too. The combine was never going to be an environment where Taylor would shine, but the tailback didn't do himself any favors with such a disappointing performance.

Robinson addressed his off-the-field issues but didn't dazzle athletically, while McGee chose not to participate in any running drills (most likely to do with lasting effects from his late-season injury that caused him to miss the Citrus Bowl and later drop out of the Senior Bowl). 

Each of Florida’s attendees, as well as guys like Morrison and defensive back Brian Poole (who was not invited to the combine) will get a chance to showcase their skills again for scouts and coaches at UF’s Pro Day on March 22. 

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February 29, 2016

Gators on the verge of playing themselves out of the tournament

GAINESVILLE -- Has Florida’s bubble burst?

Almost.

After three straight losses, the Gators are no longer a consensus NCAA Tournament team, per the omnipotent Bracket Matrix

Saturday’s 96-91 loss at LSU was yet another blow to UF’s postseason hopes, capping a month of missed opportunities. The Gators, who’s RPI dropped 13 spots to No. 45, have lost five of seven and won just three games in February. 

ESPN now lists Florida among its “Last Four In,” while CBS groups the Gators in the “First Four Out” category. 

Florida hosts No. 22 Kentucky on Tuesday night in desperate need of a victory. The showdown against the Wildcats also marks the final game in the O’Connell Center before the facility’s $65 million renovation gets underway. 

“We’ve squandered some opportunities and this is one of the last few we’ll have,” first-year coach Mike White said. 

“Obviously, this is a big, big opportunity for our guys to overcome some mistakes and failures. It will be a very, very difficult game to win, but if we play well -- we’re at home -- we should have our chances.”

Florida’s tailspin actually started in Lexington during a 80-61 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 6. The Gators were lit up for 35 points by ‘Cats freshman Jamal Murray, and their once-stingy defense hasn’t been the same since. 

After ranking among the Top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency for the first three months of the season, Florida has been torched in the last month, allowing 70-plus points six times -- including four games over 80 points. 

“Our emphasis probably moved toward offense too much [lately],” White said, adding that UF held a defense-only practice Monday. 

“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws, running dry offense by shooting a ton of jump shots, individual skill development. … It’s always a balancing act, and we’ve got to be back to defending at a high level to give ourselves a chance.”

Especially against Kentucky. 

As it stands, Florida (17-11, 8-8) is grouped in a five-way tie for sixth place in the SEC. To make the NCAA Tournament, the Gators likely need to beat Kentucky and Missouri in the regular-season finale. Otherwise, UF may have to make a deep run -- or perhaps win -- the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee to even reach the NCAA’s. 

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February 27, 2016

Roundup: NFL Combine updates, UF announces staff addition

GAINESVILLE -- While Florida’s basketball team aims to right the ship tonight at LSU (8:30 p.m., SEC Network), eight former Gator football players are participating in the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. 

After becoming just the second 1,000-yard rusher at UF in the last decade, tailback Kelvin Taylor was the first to work out in front of league executives, scouts and coaches. 

It didn’t go particularly well, though. 

Taylor, who weighted in at 209 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds -- the sixth-slowest among all running backs. 

He also struggled in the agility drills (vertical leap, broad jump) and didn’t even participate in the three-cone drill or shuttle run. Taylor bench-pressed 225-pound 15 times -- fourth-fewest among all tailbacks. 

It was a disappointing showing for the junior, who immediately took to Twitter in now deleted tweets and told his fans and critics to just wait. 

"LOL sit back in keep watching," he wrote. Adding, "Film don't lie! Im a baller see you guys at pro day."

Florida's Pro Day is set for March 22. 

ROBINSON TALKS

Demarcus Robinson will workout Saturday, but UF’s former enigmatic wideout held court with the media on Thursday and opened up about his issues at Florida. 

According to SEC Country, the talented receiver called himself “selfish,” saying he wanted to “tell the truth and get it out all in the open now.”

Robinson added, “I’m not the same person I was three years ago.”

Robinson was suspended four times in three seasons at UF, but 6-1, 203-pounder said he didn’t fail a drug test after his freshman season. He admitted to spending 45 days at Florida Recovery Center to address his addiction issues in 2013. 

After a breakout sophomore season (810 yards, seven touchdowns), Robinson caught just 48 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. He was suspended for Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, too, telling Jacksonville radio station 1010XL-AM that he met with a marketing representative who “was offering me something that I’d never been offered before.”

Robinson was reinstated for the SEC Championship Game and finished his UF career with just one catch for 17 yards in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. 

GATORS ADD SUPPORT STAFFER

Florida added a veteran assistant to its support staff Friday, announcing the hiring of longtime NFL coach Bret Ingalls. 

Ingalls, who spent the past seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints, will serve as a quality control staffer on offense. The 27-year coaching vet is a Washington native and served as an offensive coordinator four times (at San Diego State, Louisville, Northern Iowa and Idaho) in college football. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 25, 2016

Q&A: Torrian Gray talks decision to leave Virginia Tech for Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Torrian Gray spent a decade coaching at his alma mater, but Florida’s new defensive backs assistant left Virginia Tech to come home. 

Gray, 41, is a native of Lakeland and talked Thursday about the opportunity to return to the state where his mother and six siblings still reside. 

“To have a chance to come here, I was ecstatic about that,” said Gray, who played for the Hokies in the mid ‘90s and coached 10 NFL draft picks at the school in the last decade.

“To come home was just exciting to have that opportunity.”

Florida hired Gray on Feb. 4, and on Thursday he addressed a number of topics including DBU, recruiting with the Gator crest, learning a new scheme and evaluating Florida’s secondary talent.

What are your early impressions of Florida’s secondary?

“I’m very impressed with the top-end talent we have. We have to develop some depth there, but it’s pretty impressive the guys we do have coming back. I’m excited to start working with those guys. After those guys, we’ve got to build a lot of depth.”

So who is really the Defensive Back University?

“I think you got three or four schools that call themselves DBU, maybe more. Virginia Tech was one of the schools that called themselves DBU. Florida calls themselves DBU, LSU too. I hear Texas. I guess it’s whatever you think. We think we’re DBU here at the University of Florida, and we’re going to roll with that.” 

What is your philosophy on recruiting?

“It’s about building relationships, finding out who are the people that you really need to get close with and who’s important to the student-athlete that you’re recruiting. You always want to try to get in and build a great relationship with the student-athlete and who’s going to be important to that student-athlete’s decision.”

Did you have any prior relationships with Geoff Collins or Randy Shannon? How different is the scheme at Florida versus what you implemented at Va. Tech?

“I hadn’t had a lot of relationship with Coach Collins, or Coach Rumph or Coach Shannon for the most part. Getting to know those guys the past couple weeks has been pretty neat. The scheme that we do here is almost a lot different from what we do at Virginia Tech. It’s exciting for me.

I get to grow as a coach and get to learn Coach Collins’ scheme and what those guys are doing. … At Virginia Tech, we kind of got into playing a lot of man coverage. Almost every play. Our zones were matchup-zones. But you can only do so much in college football. You're either playing man or playing zone, but it's just kind of from the concept and the way we did things is a little bit different than here. At the end of the day you can only do certain things, but it's still a lot different.”

After 10 years in the ACC, how different is it recruiting at an SEC school now?

“Being in the ACC, and you come down to Georgia and it seems there was an awe or something about the SEC, an aura that you went up against sometimes. Some kids it didn’t matter, but for a lot of kids it did. If I’m spot recruiting Florida, sometimes it does matter. For some kids it didn’t, but there seems to be an aura for a lot of student-athletes about the SEC. It’ll be fun to see if that works in our favor now.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 23, 2016

UF suffers deflating home loss vs. Vandy, tourney hopes take a hit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s tournament hopes took a significant blow Tuesday night. 

The Gators (17-11) suffered a crushing defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores, surrendering their most points allowed in five years in a 87-74 loss in the O'Connell Center.  

In front of a number of NBA scouts, Vandy center Damian Jones carved up Florida, scoring a career-high 27 points on 12-of-13 shooting. UF’s defense was a sieve all evening, allowing 10 threes and a season-high 57.7 shooting from the field. 

“They were unbelievable,” Florida coach Mike White said of Vandy. 

“It needed to be one of our best defensive efforts. When the opposing center goes 12 of 13 from the field it usually doesn’t mean good things for you.” 

The Commodores shredded the Gators with their patience, passing and movement. Jones led the way, but Matthew Fisher-Davis (12), Wade Baldwin (13) and Jeff Roberson (18) all chipped in with big performances, too.  

Vandy also stunned the Gators with a pair of circus shots, drilling an 80-foot heave to end the first half and another buzzer-beating 3 after halftime.  

“My goodness, that’s eight points right there because the play before the 80 footer was a layup,” White said.

“Just huge plays.” 

And yet, after trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, Florida slowly cut its deficit to two and appeared to almost wipe away all its brutal luck. 

Instead, the Gators missed six straight shots with a chance to take the lead and eventually saw Vandy's lead balloon back to double-digits. Florida's freshman guard KeVaughn Allen had a really rough night (0 of 7 from the field), as did senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (1 of 7 shooting). Reserve forward Justin Leon scored a team-high 15 points, while center John Edgbunu (14 points) and forward Devin Robinson (11 points) finished with double-figures. 

Now, Florida’s NCAA Tournament prospects are suddenly on shaky ground. With three losses in their last four games, the Gators are inching towards the wrong side of the bubble, and Saturday’s showdown at LSU could be fight for the same spot in the tournament.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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