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23 posts from January 2014

January 31, 2014

Donovan defends Walker, talks NCAA, third parties & improving awareness

GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida coach Billy Donovan said he was unaware of the exact findings in Wednesday's NCAA report outlining freshman forward Chris Walker’s 12-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits. 

After missing 40 percent of the season, the 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American will make his collegiate debut Tuesday when the Gators host Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).

On Friday, Donovan defended Walker’s role in the violations -- the NCAA report stated Walker received free cell phones, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel, among other things -- suggesting the freshman’s naivety of NCAA rules played a key role.

“Chris is a really, really good kid. I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not,” Donovan said.

“I’m sure Chris didn’t know a lot of those things. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn’t have done those things.”  

Florida’s coach also refused to fault Walker’s guardian, Jeneen Campbell, or blanket blame on all third parties.

Donovan highlighted the NCAA’s trouble educating prep prospects, acknowledging the governing agency is likely in over its head and cannot properly police all AAU programs.

“What exactly is the obligation of the institution or the NCAA?,” Donovan asked.

“I know the NCAA tries. They try at All-American events, summer events try to talk to the kids and explain things to them, but it’s very, very difficult in a lot of ways. … The hard part right now, what goes on in the summer time, I think it’s really difficult for the NCAA to police all of that stuff, and I would imagine in some way there are a lot of kids out there right now that don’t know that this is not allowed, that you can’t do this, that this is an extra added benefit.” 


On third parties in college basketball... 

“Everybody is involved with third parties. Everybody is involved. It’s everybody’s issue. It’s just kind of the way of the world. I think some of the rules to come out with third party and some of those things, like I said earlier, it’s impossible to police it all. Some of these guys that are involved with these kids in a lot of sense do a really good job with kids. They really, really help out a lot of kids. That’s probably where the argument comes in where is it allowed, is it not allowed? How long is the relationship? Those are all things you have to uncover in those situations. Jeneen Campbell, she’s a great lady. She’s done the very, very best job she can to help Chris. She doesn’t know the rules. She was kind enough to help out Chris at a time when he was growing up to give him a home and place to grow up and I really, really respect her a lot. Obviously, I think for her she’s probably looking at it like, ‘Why didn’t I know more?’”

On his reaction to the NCAA’s report…

“I haven’t even read the it. I didn’t even, to me it’s, I’ve just kind moved forward with it. I didn’t even go through the report. As I told you guys, there was stuff that I was not informed on because a lot of those meetings were closed meetings between Chris and the NCAA. It had really nothing to do with us and our recruiting of Chris. It had to do with obviously his AAU program, what happened in high school and those kind of things. I’m just happy for him that the NCAA has allowed him to at least play here relatively soon.”

On possibly improving rules awareness for prep athletes…

“I don’t know. I think for certain things there’s people that say, ‘What’s the big deal? Come on, give me a break. It’s not a recruiting situation where an institution is giving something to a kid. This is something that was going on.’ … I don’t know what we could do to try and help more kids, but it’s a tough thing because I do think in a lot of ways there’s a lot of kids out there, but Chris just happened to be one of those guys that got put to the forefront. Again, I think Chris in a certain standpoint probably was maybe a little bit taken back that some of those things were an issue. But there are kids out there that could potentially be in harm’s way, too. You don’t want to see anybody have to go through what Chris went through. I think it’s been a trying time for him. Like I said, I’m just happy that he’s moving forward. We tried to let the NCAA do their job and let the school handle it. We just tried to get prepared and ready to play games. I’m just happy he’s cleared and he’s able to play." 

Florida hosts Texas A&M tomorrow at 4 p.m. on SECTV.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 29, 2014

NCAA clears Walker

GAINESVILLE -- Chris 'Sky' Walker is finally free to soar.

No. 3 Florida's 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American forward -- cleared Wednesday by the NCAA -- will make his collegiate debut Feb. 4 in primetime when UF hosts Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).

“We’re glad there’s a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in a news release.

“We appreciate everyone’s participation in this process and are ready to move forward.”

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported Walker’s reinstatement, with the NCAA and university quickly confirming the sourced report.

According to a release by the NCAA, Walker received a 12-game suspension -- or 40 percent of the season -- for accepting impermissible benefits from five people, including two agents.

The report states Walker received “free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel.”

Additionally, “individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine different trips, including eight associated with Walker’s non-scholastic [AAU] basketball team competitions.”

The five-star forward is required to donate the $270 he received from agents to a charity of his choice and perform 80 hours of community service.

“I appreciate all the support from UF, Coach Donovan and my teammates,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to helping the team any way I can.”

He later tweeted...

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 7.41.11 PM

The report states Walker was declared ineligible by the NCAA [at an unspecified date] and then Florida filed for Walker’s reinstatement Jan. 21. The two parties “worked to finalize the facts” until Wednesday’s decision.

“The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of non-scholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects,” Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said in the statement.

“Out of concern for student-athletes’ wellbeing, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations.”

Walker, a freak finisher and shot-blocker as prep prospect, didn’t enroll at Florida until Dec. 14 after failing to qualify academically last summer. The Bonifay native, who led Holmes County to the 1A state finals, spent the fall getting his academics in order, eventually completing the necessary requirements to enroll for the spring semester. 


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FOR REAL -- #FREESKYWALKER actually happening ... for real this time?

********** UPDATED **********

Florida confirms Goodman's report, saying Walker has been cleared and will debut against Mizzou. 

In a statement, coach Billy Donovan said, "We're glad there's a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris. We appreciate everyone's participation in this process and are ready to move forward."

Walker, a five-star forward expected to bolster UF's frontcourt, added, "I appreciate all the support from UF, coach Donovan and my teammates. I'm looking forward to helping the team any way I can."

Meanwhile, the NCAA released a report on Walker's reinstatement, explaining the 12-game suspension.

According to the NCAA, Walker accepted $270 in benefits and is required to donate the same amount to a charity of his choice.

Walker must also serve 80 hours of community service for "the remaining benefits received."

More to come...

GAINESVILLE -- From the best source to date...

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 3.53.54 PM


Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 4.08.14 PM

If true, the long nightmare for the 2013 McDonald's All-American would be over. 

According to Goodman, Walker will be (officially) eligible to play on Tuesday (Feb. 4) when No. 3 Florida hosts Missouri in a nationally televised showcase (9 p.m., ESPN). 

The university has yet to confirm Goodman's report or issue any sort of statement

Stay tuned. 


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 27, 2014

HOOPS: Emptying out the notebook: Gators move up to No. 3, Frazier honored & more

GAINESVILLE -- It’s getting a bit full. 

First things first, Florida jumped to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, its highest ranking since last February.

UF (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) leapfrogged unbeaten Wichita State and is no longer flying under the radar riding its 11-game winning streak.

Last season, No. 2 Florida was throttled on the road at Arkansas, and coach Billy Donovan acknowledged uncertainty with how this year’s team would respond to its newfound hype. 

The Gators travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).

“You always want to go into every game on edge and understanding that in any competitive situation, anything can happen. Hopefully, our guys will respond to that,” Donovan said. “It really doesn’t make a difference about anything that’s happened in the past." 


A week after being held scoreless at Auburn, sophomore swingman Michael Frazier II was named the SEC’s player of the week following a pair of shining performances in wins over Alabama and Tennessee.


UF’s guard -- one of the premier shooters in the country -- scored 35 points while connecting on eight treys (8-for-19) in the two games. 

Frazier also chipped in five assists and six rebounds and called the honor “great,” adding, “Just shows how hard work pays off.”

For the season, the sophomore is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 46 percent from behind the arc.


Just last week, Donovan said he was done talking about freshman forward Chris Walker, who remains ineligible awaiting NCAA clearance.

Not so fast.

With a report suggesting the NCAA could clear Walker sometime this week, Donovan addressed the McDonald’s All-American’s status and again tempered expectations.

Donovan said Walker would definitely play if/when eligible, later espousing his lengthy concern for fans’ prospects for the 6-foot-10 forward whenever Walker does see the court.  

“My biggest fear for Chris is you have a highly exposed player and sometimes when a guy isn’t playing the ‘legend of Chris Walker’ grows greater than who he really is,” Donovan explained. “You know, it was the same thing with [Dorian Finney-Smith] last year. He’s sitting out and everyone is talking about this guy like he’s Magic Johnson. And Chris Walker now is, ‘Oh my, this guy is going to end up being Kevin Garnett,’ and he’s not that. And I think whenever he gets able to play if that’s their expectation of Chris Walker they’re going to be very, very disappointed because he’s not that. And my biggest fear for him is there is a level of anticipation and excitement of whenever he gets cleared to play, but I hope there is at least a level of understanding in terms of how much he’s missed in terms of coming in to where he’s coming in, and if anybody is expecting him to be savior it would really be unfair. He’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s got a lot of physical growing, mental growing, he’s got to understand the college game a lot more. There’s so much that’s in front of him to get better at and I just hope people will not look at it and say, ‘wow. I was expecting something different.’”

According to Donovan, Walker has maintained a positive attitude during the whole ordeal and has gained 10 pounds, improving his strength and conditioning over the past six weeks.  


Suspended center Damontre Harris is slowly working his way back into Donovan’s good graces, but Florida’s coach confirmed the former South Carolina transfer has no chance to play this season.

Orl-gators1520121010150914(Courtesy gatorzone.com)

“I think it would completely devalue what our team values are here in terms of what we’re trying to do each and every day,” Donovan said. “He had every opportunity back in November to do those things and he elected not to. You know I said, ‘we’re parting ways, he’s going to move on.’ Then obviously he reached out. But you have too many guys like Patric Young and [Will] Yeguete and [Casey] Prather and those guys that have been committed for years and really working to do the right things. For him to all of sudden just get injected back in there because he may help our team, I mean I think we’ve done fine without him. He’ll have to work to get better and improve but we’re not going to play him this year.”

Harris was suspended indefinitely to start the 2013-14 season and was eventually kicked off the team in late December. But over the holidays, the redshirt junior had a change of heart and pleaded with Donovan for an opportunity to rejoin the team.

Although Harris was granted his request, it came with major restrictions and expectations including never playing a game this season or sitting courtside on the bench. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 25, 2014

Deliciously Desperate: Florida throttles Tennessee with suffocating defense


GAINESVILLE -- No. 6 Florida entered Saturday’s showdown against Tennessee red-hot, winners of nine straight games including back-to-back road victories in Southeastern Conference play.

And yet, coach Billy Donovan was frustrated, believing his Gators were “winning the battles but losing the war.”

Following consecutive lackluster performances -- especially defensively -- at Auburn and Alabama, Donovan implored his team to play desperate.

“It’s a gift,” Donovan said. “A gift.”

Message received.

Florida (17-2, 6-0 SEC) curb-stomped its recent Achilles heel, dominating Tennessee 67-41 for its 26th straight victory inside the O’Connell Center.

Saturday’s good ole fashion whippin’ was punctuated by alley-oop dunks, fastbreak layups and Michael Frazier 3-pointers, as the Gators avenged a three-game skid against the Volunteers.

But Florida’s win -- in Donovan’s 600th career game -- was ignited by a relentlessly suffocating -- and desperate -- defense.

“Coach [Donovan] had a reoccurring theme of being desperate -- desperate as if this was the national championship game,” senior center Patric Young said. “Every possession is the championship possession. We were locked in and focused on whatever it took to win. When you can hold Jordan McRae to five points and he gets frustrated, your team did something right. I think we did something right tonight."

The Gators -- led by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin -- defended possessed and feasted on the Volunteers’ inability to shoot, pass or dribble. 

“We had a chip on our shoulder,” Young said. “They kicked our butts the last three times [we played them].

Said UT coach Cuonzo Martin: "Florida did a great job defending. Really. They turned us over, sped us up with the press. … We just couldn't make shots.”

Florida held Tennessee (12-7, 3-3 SEC) to a season-low 41 points -- 34 points below its season average, pressing Young to say afterwards, “I can't see an offense we can’t stop.”

The Volunteers were an abysmal 1-of-19 from 3-point range and committed 13 turnovers.

McRae, who averages 19.1 points per game, scored his lowest out-put of the season (five points), finishing with a stat-line (1-of-15, 1-for-6 from 3-point range, zero assists or steals) that would scare even the most fervent American Horror Story fans.

“I thought most all his shots were challenged,” Donovan said. “We made it really difficult.”  

But before Florida wiped out UT, Saturday’s first half was a grind-it-out game.

Despite an 11-2 run -- which included the first of two highlight jams by Young -- Florida led just 26-19 at halftime as it was held scoreless for more than three minutes to end the period.

But an increase in intensity, coupled with an electric crowd and improved shot-making turned the back-and-forth affair into a rout.

“To be down seven at the half -- shooting like 20 percent -- we felt pretty good about ourselves,” UT senior center Jeronne Maymon said. “But we came out and they turned it up another notch and we kind of stayed where we were.” 

The Gators opened the second half on a 21-5 run and later smothered the Vols into a five-minute scoreless drought. Junior center Jarnell Stokes (16 points, 10 rebounds) was UT’s lone bright spot, as the rest of the team combined to shoot an astonishing 19.1 percent. 

Frazier paced the Gators with 17 points, also assisting on both of Young’s dunks including a lob for a ridiculous one-handed jam surely to be seen on SportsCenter.


Casey Prather topped double-figures (12 points) for the 17th straight game, while Wilbekin and Young added 13 and 10 points, respectively. ... UF was out-rebounded 40-35, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. ... Florida shot 51 percent in the second half. 


"We'll see. I don't know if ESPN likes putting the Gators in the Top 10 all that much."

-- Young, on if his dunk would be featured on SportsCenter. 


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January 23, 2014

Donovan talks former assistant

GAINESVILLE -- Fun fact: Billy Donovan has never beaten his coaching mentor Rick Pitino, but No. 6 Florida’s head coach also sports an unblemished record against his former protégé, Alabama coach Anthony Grant.

The Gators and Crimson Tide tangle tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.   

Donovan is 6-0 all-time against his close friend and former head assistant, who spent 12 years (1994-2006) under Donovan at both Marshall and Florida.

Florida's coach acknowledged his uneasiness squaring off against close friends, saying, "I don't think anybody likes it, I don't like it."

Adding, "I think any time you compete against friends or somebody close to you that’s always difficult."

Grant, 95-61 in five seasons in Tuscaloosa, is under a bit of fire this year following a 8-9 start (2-2 SEC) -- this despite playing the nation's toughest schedule. 

Alabama has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance under Grant, but Donovan staunchly defended his former assistant's resume with the Tide. 

"I think he has done a really good job. I think if you go back, I think we played them here a couple years ago for an SEC championship game and they had a 12-4 record and an unbelievable year in the league," Donovan said. "They've been right there at the NCAA tournament the last couple of years. ... They've played the most difficult schedule of anybody in our league based on computer rankings and what other teams have done, so I don't think their record, per say, is any indication of what kind of team they are when you talk about playing at UCLA, playing at Duke, playing Wichita State, playing Xavier, playing some of the teams they've played against and it's been really challenging.

"I think Anthony has done an amazing job in a lot of respects. I will say when you do have some unexpected departure as he had from last year's team to this year's team, certainly there's some different guys and people that have to step up into different roles. But he's got a really, really good core group of young guys that will continue to get better. [Shannon] Hale, who's a freshman in the frontcourt, is going to be a great player in this league. They've got [Nick] Jacobs in the frontcourt who will be back. They've got a lot of different pieces right now, but certainly losing the one kid who transferred to NC State and then another kid who got in trouble there, those were two very, very good players, so sometimes it's hard to overcome those things. But I think Anthony, leading up to this year, really has done a terrific job, but I also think too, and we understand this as a conference and coaching, you start scheduling like that your non-conference record going into league play can look a whole lot different but maybe not tell the whole story."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

January 21, 2014

Done talking

GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan is done taking questions concerning Chris Walker's eligibly.

Florida's 6-foot-10 freshman forward, who enrolled at the school on Dec. 14 but has yet to play for the No. 6 Gators, remains in limbo awaiting a decision by the NCAA.

On Monday, a report by an Orlando TV station stated that Walker -- a five-star prospect from Holmes County High and 2013 McDonald's All-American -- would be cleared for Saturday's home game against Tennessee. However, the university immediately denied the report, as did the NCAA (per The Gainesville Sun).

Tuesday, Donovan, clearly frustrated by the NCAA's foot-dragging and the relentless questions regarding the subject, addressed Walker's issue for the final time, saying, "As it relates to Chris, just listen to us and our school. I’m not going to address it anymore. Certainly we’re hopeful he gets back soon, but there’s been no indication that there’s any truth to that at all."

Donovan continued to refute the report, adding, "Whenever [Chris] gets cleared -- and certainly we all hope it’s soon, believe me -- I’m not going to throw a guy in a game and have him pop up and you guys not be aware of it. The minute he gets eligible, cleared and he’s able to play, I’ll let you know. Anything else that’s out there about that is not true.”

According to various reports, Walker allegedly received improper benefits from former AAU coach Matt Ramker, but Donovan wouldn't address any specific issue delaying Walker's clearance.

"I don’t know all the details because it doesn’t involve our institution. I’m just focusing on our team, the guys that are here right now and letting our administration handle it," Donovan said. "I have not been privy to any conversations between the NCAA, our school, Chris or any of those other things. The only thing I’ve been trying to do with Chris is each and every day trying to help him get better as a player, provide the resources he needs academically, try to work with him on the court to get better.

"In terms of all the details and hangs up, I don’t know all those details because when there’s something going on like this, there’s ethical conduct forms that are signed. That stuff has to be kept confidential, be kept between Chris and the NCAA, kept between our administration and the NCAA. I’m not involved in any of those conversations. I trust our administration and what they’re doing. Hopefully it will be resolved in a timely fashion." 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 19, 2014

Muschamp Musings: On early enrollees, flipping prospects & more

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp discussed a number of recruiting topics last week, including a brief breakdown of Florida’s nine early enrollees.

UF’s coach -- on a sizzling streak flipping prospects as UF looks to complete its highly-ranked 2014 class -- offered his thoughts on eight of UF’s newest freshmen. 

DL Taven Bryan (6-5, 250) ***

“From Casper, Wyoming, he is broad-shouldered, looks great. Excited to get him on campus. Did a fantastic job at our summer camps this past year. … He is a guy that was very athletic in the workouts here. He showed great athleticism, for a guy that’s 6-5, 6-5 ½, 265 pounds to run like he runs. There’s a tremendous upside and there’s multiple positions he probably could play. He’s still young for his age who knows where his body’s gonna grow. But you always think size and speed when you have the athleticism. Great work ethic, great toughness, and a guy that I’m really pleased to have as a part of the program. I think he’s got tremendous upside as a player.”

DB Duke Dawson (5-11, 195) ****

“From Dixie County, over in Cross City, a guy that we feel like had a great senior season and a guy who continued to impress and improve.”

TE Deandre Goolsby (6-4, 225) ***

“We need some help at the tight end position. He’s a guy that’s going to come in here and be here and certainly get his opportunities.”

QB Will Grier (6-2, 177) ****

“[He has] the ability to learn, athleticism. Obviously you look at accuracy as a thrower, being able to throw the ball into tight spots. He’s shown the ability to do that. We had him in camp multiple times. He showed tremendous leadership ability here while he was on campus positively affecting guys around him. The athleticism and accuracy, we feel like is, there.”

OL Kavaris Harkless (6-5, 270) ***

“Had a little change of heart there at the end where he was going to go to school. We’re fortunate to been recruiting him throughout the fall of his senior year. Had a great senior year. Had a great state championship from Trinity Christian.”

RB Brandon Powell (5-9, 167) ****

“[He] was a running back we’ve been on and had an opportunity there to get him there [after he flipped from Miami].” 

OL Drew Sarvary (6-7, 310) ***

“He is a junior college offensive lineman from Tyler, originally from Tallahassee. He finished his senior year at North Florida Christian. [He’s] a guy that had been on our radar at the time. We we’re not going to take a junior college lineman, and then we had some attrition there at the end of the season and felt like we needed a more mature guy to step up up front and go through the spring with us.” 

DB Jalen Tabor (6-1, 186) *****

“He was a corner we added late there [afrer flipping from Arizona]. A 6-1 corner that’s got a lot of length and athleticism on the top, and he can finish some plays.”

Muschamp also mentioned four-star OL Nolan Kelleher (6-6, 285) but did not offer any added thoughts on the South Carolina native.

(All rankings according to Rivals.com)


On current 2014 class…

“I feel like considering we didn’t have a great season, I feel very comfortable where we are recruiting wise.”

On Florida’s sales pitch to offensive recruits…

“Help us improve. I think a great opportunity to walk into a great situation to improve, play in an exciting offense. This is still the University of Florida. It’s a great education. We’ll compete and play for championships. That hasn’t changed. Not in one year, that hasn’t.”

On flipping so many recent prospects… 

“You stay on guys and try to make valid points you’ve made throughout the entire recruiting process all the way through. Some guys, again, recruiting is happening so early sometimes maybe they don’t have all the information and they make a decision before they’re ready. For whatever reason, that’s kind of the way it’s fallen out.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Summers' Time: UF's new OL coach tasked with turning around beleaguered unit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers -- a 34-year coaching veteran -- has a bio that reads a lot like a presidential candidate's tour schedule. 

The 57-year-old career assistant has coached at Southern California, Louisville, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, Texas A&M, The University of the South and the Atlanta Falcons, but his long journey has finally brought him to the Sunshine State and a job he's eyed his whole career. 

“There are jobs out there when you start out in coaching and look at and think this is where I’d love to be someday," Summers said. "Florida has always been that for me. I grew up in Kentucky, grew up in SEC country and have always looked at Florida from the outside wishing I could be on the correct sideline. I’ve been in this stadium several times on the wrong sideline and I’m very thankful to be coming out of this locker room and be a part of this program. The reputation of this program is strong. I've been doing it long enough to know that at every program has ebbs and flows to it, but this foundation and the reputation of this program will always been strong. The things that I've seen in a short time that I've been here makes me encouraged that we're going to get right back to that point."

(Courtesy gatorcountry.com)

Summers came to Florida despite the tumultuous landscape surrounding the program -- especially the offense's consistent failures -- and is tasked with turning around a porous offensive line that allowed a conference-high 66 sacks the past two seasons.   

Florida also struggled to run the ball last season, averaging just 3.63 yards per carry. 

But Summers -- a well-regarded teacher and tactician -- insists he's unconcerned about the offensive line's past failures and only wants his players to eye the future. 

"I've been fortunate to have been doing this long enough that I might be able to call it a career here in another couple of years, so hopefully the things that I bring to the table will make a difference," he said. "How quickly that happens? We'll just have to wait and see, but we're going to stay hard at it. The one thing that I know is that the players I've met on this football team are hungry to be successful. And they believe in Coach Muschamp. They believe in this program. And all of those feelings have come through to me just in the short time that I've been here. I'm encouraged that when we start into the offseason program that they've got that hunger that's burning to get themselves back to where they want to be."

Florida's newest offensive line coach -- hired Jan. 6 from USC -- refused to discuss specific personnel while still evaluating tape and meeting the players, but Summers was adamant the line would be "the foundation for our football team."

"They ought to be the example of how we want to play, the example of how we want to finish, the example of how to do things the right way. So that's the standard of excellence that's going to be set for them to rise up to. I think the older I get the less tolerant I am. I don't lower my standards to get to them. They have to come up to the standards that I set, and those standards are going to be real high." 

Summers spoke extensively about building relationships with his players -- something he highlighted as critical to a team’s success. 

He's excited about the latest -- and possibly final -- challenge of his career.

"Coach [Kurt] Roper has come in, and he has an energy and a passion with what he does. We’ve been able to cross paths in the last seven or eight years in different places. We even go back further than that. His energy, Coach [Joker] Phillips’ experience, all of us coming together, I feel so good about this offensive staff right now and all of us being able to get in there and lock arms and present a united front to the offensive players on this team," Summers said. "They’re going to know that they’ve been coached and they’re going to be coached by a group of guys that really cares about them, cares about the University of Florida.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 16, 2014

Holley flips to UF

GAINESVILLE -- Gators coach Will Muschamp struggled to win football games last year, but his proficiency to flip star recruits has dominated the headlines since the calendar changed to 2014. 

Florida's flipapalooza continued Wednesday, when four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley switched his commitment from Penn State to UF. 

Holley's flip has been as been rumored ever since former PSU head coach Bill O'Brien departed for the Houston Texans. 

According to Rivals.com -- who first broke Holley's change of heart -- the Brooklyn, New York native waited on any final decision until the status of former PSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson was resolved. 

Johnson was not retained by new Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and is now a part of Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State. 

Holley, a 6-foot-4, 299 pound Rivals100 prospect, is just the latest coup on the recruiting trail for Florida, including flipping the commitments of five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, four-star tailback Brandon Powell and four-star defensive lineman Gerald Willis III.

The Under Armour All-American is Florida's No. 21 commitment for its 2014 recruiting class. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


January 14, 2014

HOOPS: Gators thump Dawgs, break school-record home winning streak


GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida dismantled Georgia in a laugher Tuesday night, dominating a rattled Bulldogs team 72-50 en route to a school-record 25th consecutive victory inside the O'Connell Center. 

Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier scored a career-high 21 points, as Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC) drilled a season-high 11 3-pointers -- including six-straight during a shooting barrage in the second half. 

"We did a really good job tonight -- to our guys' credit -- not baiting and taking the first three," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We moved the ball. When it hit the paint, it came back out and we shot it. Those are the threes you want to shoot." 

Frazier, who struggled early (just 1-of-8 from downtown) and was actually pressed by teammates and coaches to shoot more, nailed four treys in three minutes as UF extended its lead to a game-high 31 points with three minutes remaining in the second half. 

"[Donovan] sparked me," Frazier said. "He told us sometimes he has more confidence than we do un ourselves. Once he said that I just kept shooting."  

Georgia (8-7, 2-1 SEC) actually entered the meeting undefeated in conference play and briefly led 2-0 in the game's opening minute, but the Bulldogs never held a lead the rest of the night.  

UGA's recent run of surprising play was quite short-lived, as Florida -- playing without leading scorer Casey Prather (knee bruise) -- jumped out to a 36-16 halftime lead thanks to 17 points off 12 UGA turnovers. 

The Bulldogs scored a season-low 16 first-half points.

Florida -- No. 16 nationally in defensive efficiency -- suffocated Georgia with a blitzing full-court press and a constantly changing two-man trap. 

The Gators exploded for a 26-4 run -- including 11-0 and 10-0 spurts -- to cruise towards its eighth-straight victory.  

UGA, clearly rattled by UF's relentless pressure, self-combusted facing UF's tenacious press coupled with its raucous crowd. 

"We did a really good job with our press," Donovan said. "I was happy with the way we played."

Georgia point guard Charles Mann, the reining SEC Player of the Week, had a disastrous performance, as Scottie Wilbekin & Co. harassed the sophomore guard into five turnovers -- all in the first half. Mann finished the evening with just two assists and eight points. 

"We lost our poise," Georgia forward Marcus Thornton said. "Once you get behind the eight-ball in a place like Florida, they will crush you quickly. The game was decided right there in the first half."  

Per usual, Florida was forced to overcome a short second-half lull, but Georgia never cut the deficit under 14. 

"It's really hard to get guys to try to sustain that intensity for 40 minutes," Donovan said. "We had a spurt there in the second half where we weren't great, but then I thought we exploded late. With about 10 minutes to go in the game we really exploded offensively and got some stops."

Seniors Will Yeguete (12 points, six rebounds) and Patric Young (10 points, nine rebounds) -- on Patric Young Beard Night -- chipped in solid performances, while sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) continued his recent consistent play.  


Several students wore homemade "FREE CHRIS WALKER" t-shirts, as the freshman forward remains in limbo waiting for the NCAA's ruling on eligibly.

Bd-pPglCcAA0REu(Courtesy @osgators)

Florida's Rowdy Reptiles continuously chanted the slogan throughout the evening. … Former Gators Chris Richard (2003-07) and Erik Murphy (2009-13) were in attendance. … Florida's backcourt -- Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill -- combined for 10 assists (five each), four steals and zero turnovers. … The Gators and Bulldogs finished with identical rebounding numbers: 23 total, 11 offensive. 

VIDEO: Donovan talks UF's defensive effort and getting his senior-laden team to buy into his scheme


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Roper unveils new-look offense, accepts daunting challenge


GAINESVILLE -- Outsiders -- especially much of the media -- see the current state of Florida’s football program as a cesspool of turmoil, risk and unmitigated stubbornness.  

Kurt Roper sees it differently.

He sees opportunity.

Florida’s newest offensive coordinator, officially introduced Monday, called UF “a special place” and refused to shy away from the lofty expectations and potential do-or-die scenario of 2014.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for my career,” Roper said, who confirmed he will install an up-tempo scheme with lots of spread principles.

“Leaving Duke was never easy. I’m a guy that hasn’t moved much in this profession. I’ve been fortunate. It’s not easy. My brother works on that staff. I had to leave him. And I got two kids that were growing up with his two kids. So none of those decisions are easy. But I think it goes to show why this is such a right decision, for me to walk away from that situation is I think this is a great opportunity.”

A longtime Lieutenant of Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, Roper said he came to Gainesville because “Florida is one of the obvious mainstays of college football,” and “it’s a chance to compete for championships.”

Roper’s affable moxie and Southern drawl seem straight out of Mayberry, but the 18-year assistant is hardly in store for any wholesome fun in Gainesville this offseason.  

The quarterbacks guru and well-regarded playcaller -- hired on Dec. 26 -- is tasked with transforming UF’s dumpster fire attack into an explosive offense -- one that’s finished in the bottom-20 nationally (No. 113, No. 103, No. 105) for three consecutive seasons and has started five different quarterbacks in the past three years.   

“It’s not Mission Difficult, Mr. Hunt Roper. It’s Mission Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”

Roper inherits an attack devoid of direction, development and depth. Late in Florida’s 4-8 season -- its first losing campaign in 34 years -- coach Will Muschamp called the offense’s struggles “infectious” and now the unit’s improvement (however quantified in 2014) likely holds the fate to Muschamp’s future with the Gators.

No pressure.

“The expectations are obviously high, but that's a good thing,” Roper acknowledged. “That's why you end up with good football players here because they want to come to a place where winning has happened and winning will happen again. … I think every coach understands winning is the bottom line in this profession, no matter where you go.”

Roper further scoffed at any one-and-done urgency, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any season not thinking we couldn’t win. All the tools are going to be in place for us to go and win football games. And we’ll learn more about the players that we have in place here. But obviously, there’s guys that can catch the football, run the football, throw the football, and we’ve got to figure out the best way to structure it to put those guys in place to do that.”

Muschamp, who hired his third offensive coordinator in four seasons, said he “had a little more time” to research his latest hire, honing in on Roper following a detailed search. 

“We needed to be more tempo. We needed to create more snaps. We needed to create more space plays,” Muschamp said. “I formed about four or five candidates that I felt had serious interest in the job and Kurt Roper's name kept coming up.”

While Muschamp has seemingly embraced a different offensive philosophy, Florida’s coach continued to preach “balance” and again denied the assertion he’s handcuffed his two former coordinators (Brent Pease, Charlie Weis).

“I have called that many plays since I’ve been at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said, making a zero with his hand.

“[Kurt] will have the autonomy to run the offense and stay balanced.”

And yet, Roper never mentioned the word balance during his 20-minute session with the media.

His philosophy is much simpler and less measured: score points.

“Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game,” he explained. “It's not yards. It's not going up and down the field. It's how many points we can get. Hopefully we're a PPG team. … If you can play the game with some tempo and speed and you can play it in space, you can create as many 1-on-1 tackle opportunities as you can.”


Points over platitudes -- for the January win, at least.

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January 13, 2014

Driskel set for spring, Jones scheduled for second surgery

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp formally introduced three new assistant coaches Monday, but he also updated UF’s extensive injury report and hinted at a blank-slate approach to spring practice.

The Gators -- decimated by 11 season-ending injuries during their dismal 4-8 campaign -- will enter spring camp (tentatively starting March 19) with their former starting quarterback healthy but remain shorthanded elsewhere. 

Junior signal caller Jeff Driskel, who broke his leg against Tennessee last September, should be ready for spring practice, according to Muschamp.

“His rehab is coming along very well,” UF’s coach said.

The Gators pushed back camp roughly one week in order to give Driskel the most time to heal.

The prognosis was not so good for junior tailback Matt Jones, who sustained a complete radial tear in his left meniscus (Oct. 12) and will miss spring practice following a second procedure expected to take place in about a month.

Muschamp said Jones’ initial surgery repaired “60 percent of the meniscus” and is hopeful the tailback will be ready for the start of preseason camp in August.  

“He had a radial tear, which basically splits the meniscus in half,” Muschamp explained. “We’re going to go back and build the quad back and then we’re going to come back in three or four weeks to have a scope to repair the remaining 40 percent. Our orthopedics feel very confident that they’re going to be able to do so. … We’re very optimistic about the meniscus being fine.”


Also sidelined for spring practice are linebackers Matt Rolin (torn ACL) and Alex Anzalone (torn labrum), as well as special teams ace Jeremi Powell (torn ACL). Wideout/kick returner Andre Debose (torn ACL) is expected to participate in all non-contact drills, while offensive tackle Tyler Moore (fractured elbow) will have an X-ray in a couple weeks to determine his status for the 15 practices. Finally, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Octavius Jackson had offseason shoulder surgery to repair “a chronic issue,” and is questionable for camp.

Meanwhile coming off the school’s first losing season in 34 years, change is afoot and no one is guaranteed a starting job, according to Muschamp.

Florida’s coach refused to tab Driskel as UF’s No. 1 quarterback for 2014, saying, “Every job is open. When you go 4-8, it’s all open.”

“You are what your record is,” Muschamp continued. “I’m a 4-8 coach, and we’ve got a 4-8 ball club. We need to work hard to get better and improve in every facet.”


 UF officially announced nine early enrollees including five-star defensive back Jalen Tabor. The rest of the group includes TE DeAndre Goolsby, QB Will Grier, OL Kavaris Harkless, OL Nolan Kelleher, OL Drew Sarvary, RB Brandon Powell, DL Taven Bryan and DB Duke Dawson.


As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips is one of three finalists for Texas’ offensive coordinator position.

On Monday, UF’s offensive line coach Mike Summers -- who actually recruited Phillips to Kentucky in 1981 -- and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper both spoke glowingly of Phillips and acknowledged their strong ties to the assistant was a factor in their decision to come to Florida.

Musuchamp said he does not anticipate any more changes on his coaching staff. 


“As far as an injury update, I’m not going go through everybody, but what I’m going to do is if I don’t say anything about them, that means they’re a full go for spring. And if I hit on guys — there’s different guys, and I’ve got multiple dates and we could be here all day if you want me to go through it.”

-- Muschamp, on Florida’s hampered roster.  

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Flipapalooza: Wild week on recruiting trail

GAINESVILLE -- Whew. Take a breath.

Florida’s 2014 class continues to have tons of movement, as the last week continued a whirlwind of upheavel (both good and bad) with two new commitments and a pair of (not-so-surprising) decommitments.

In the last prospect update, I wrote, “I'm sure it will be a crazy month. Stay tuned.”

I only shortchanged the chaos by three weeks.

The bad news first.

On Friday, five-star wideout Ermon Lane (Homestead) officially announced his decommitment from UF (via Twitter), following in the footsteps of his South Florida buddy, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook.

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Lane -- like Cook -- Gator chomped for cameras throughout the week during the Under Armour All-American practices, but the talented receiver was actually considered a Florida State lean after word leaked he planned on taking an official visit to FSU in late January.

Also of note: Dalvin Cook is committed to the Seminoles.

The Gators also lost four-star cornerback Chris Lammons (Plantation High), who decommited Thursday, but not without a mega (pleasant) surprise earlier in the day.

Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, an early enrollee and the No. 24 ranked player nationally, flipped his commitment from Arizona to Florida. According to reports, Tabor is set to start classes in Gainesville on Monday.

The Gators continued their flipapalooza Friday, nabbing four-star tailback Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach), who decommitted from Miami after receiving a UF offer Wednesday.

Powell, another early enrollee, is currently UF's lone running back pledge. 

Florida also inched closer to landing defensive tackle Thomas Holley. The four-star prospect, formally a longtime Penn State commit, reopened his recruitment following former PSU head coach Bill O’Brien’s departure to the NFL. Now, the Gators are the presumed favorites to land the Rivals100 defensive lineman.

Finally, 2015 cornerback Deontai Williams (Trinity Christian Academy) committed to Florida in a school ceremony Thursday. Williams is currently UF’s sole pledge for its 2015 class.

Y’all get all that?

In all, the early returns of 2014 have been rather profitable for UF. Since losing Cook on New Years Eve, the Gators have snagged the commitments of Tabor, Powell, Gerald Willis III and Kavaris Harkless, with more likely to come.

Whiffing on Cook and Lane definitely hurt Florida (a lot), but the Gators no longer appear destined for a sputtering finish.

As always, stay tuned.   

Kerfuffle complete: UF's 2014 class remains at 20 commitments.







Duke Dawson




Dixie County


J.C. Jackson






Quincy Wilson




University Sch.


Justus Reed




Central Catholic


Khairi Clark






Dontae Angus




M L King (PA)


Tavern Bryan




Natrona (WY)


Nolan Kelleher




Wando (SC)


Travaris Dorsey






Gerald Willis




Edna Karr (LA)


Will Grier




Davidson Day (NC)


Kavaris Harkless




Trinity Christian


Brandon Powell




Deerfield Beach


C’yontai Lewis




Northridge (AL)


Deandre Goolsby




Derby (KS)


David Sharpe




Providence Sch.


Ryan Sousa




Lake Nona


Moral Stephens




Taylor County


Drew Sarvary




Tyler J.C. (TX)


Jalen Tabor




Friendship Academy (DC)


UF’s early enrollees: Powell, Tabor, Sarvary, Bryan, Dawson, Goolsby, Grier, Kelleher and Harkless

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 10, 2014

HOOPS: M.A.S.H UNIT: Prather out; Wilbekin, Young hobbled for Arkansas

GAINESVILLE -- Senior forward Casey Prather, No. 10 Florida's leading scorer and one of the most improved players in the country, will miss Saturday's game at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) with a bruised knee.

Prather, averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting a league-high 63 percent from the field, banged his knee during UF's win over South Carolina on Wednesday and missed the last two days of practice with significant swelling.

Florida feared potential structural damage to its star forward, but an MRI revealed only swelling.

"We actually thought maybe there had been some cartilage tear," coach Billy Donovan said Friday. "But his knee structure, all that stuff is fine but he is out tomorrow."

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who sprained his right ankle late against USC, also missed practice this week but should play against the Razorbacks.

Donovan labeled Wilbekin's status as "questionable," before adding, "I would say he'll probably give it some kind of try. We'll see what we can get out of him, but I really don't know at this time."

Wilbekin is not expected to start. 

Meanwhile, senior center Patric Young is battling knee tendinitis, but said, "When the buzzer sounds I think I'll be ready to go."

Donovan wasn't so sure, calling Young "questionable" for Saturday's road game.

"He did not practice today, so I mean he's cleared to play but I don't know how much we'll actually be able to get out of him."

With Prather out and Wilbekin and Young hobbled, Florida's recently revived depth will be tested again.  

The Gators will square off against a Razorbacks team dominant at home -- winners of 25-straight at Bud Walton Arena -- with a new-look lineup, as freshman point guard Kasey Hill, sophomore swingman DeVon Walker and sophomore forward Dorian-Finney Smith possibly join the starting five.  

NOTE: Freshman forward Chris Walker, who continues to wait for clearance by the NCAA, was seen leaving the practice facility Friday but his status was not updated.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

January 09, 2014

HOOPS: Harris "realizes big mistake," seeks redemption

GAINESVILLE -- Redshirt junior center Damontre Harris, dismissed from the No. 10 Florida men's basketball team in late December, has been granted a second chance. 

Following Wednesday's 74-58 win over South Carolina, Gators coach Billy Donovan abruptly announced at the end of his postgame press conference that Harris, a 6-foot-10 transfer from USC, has re-enrolled at Florida in hopes of working his way back onto the team.

Donovan said Harris, who has yet to play a single game at Florida, contacted him via text message several times during the holidays, "realizing he'd made a big mistake."

"He wants to be here," Donovan said.

Harris was suspended indefinitely Nov. 1 for undisclosed violation(s) of team rules. On Dec. 21, the center was officially dismissed from the team and was contacted by various schools as a potential transfer prospect.

But the center had a change of heart and Donovan said Harris could resume practicing with the team sometime this spring.

Florida's coach was adamant Harris will not play at all this season.

"He wants to work his way back," Donovan said. "It's going to be similar to the Scottie Wilbekin situation. He has to meet lots of terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don't know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

January 08, 2014

HOOPS: Florida rolls past USC but loses Wilbekin late

GAINESVILLE -- No. 10 Florida throttled South Carolina 74-58 Wednesday night in its Southeastern Conference opener, but UF's record-trying 24th straight victory at home was overshadowed by injury as senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin exited the game late with a right ankle sprain. 

Wilbekin, recently challenged by coach Billy Donovan to be more efficient offensively, scored a game-high 17 points (on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) with three assists and zero turnovers before landing awkwardly on a drive with 2:39 remaining in the second half. Florida's senior was immediately assisted to the locker room by head trainer Duke Werner, souring a bounce-back performance by the point guard. 

BdgYUE0CUAAnEX2(Courtesy @osgators)

Wilbekin, visibly in pain, rolled the same ankle he hurt late in UF's buzzer-beating loss to Connecticut on Dec. 2. 

After the game, Donovan called the senior "questionable" for Saturday's tilt at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) and explained that he had a substitution for Wilbekin waiting at the scorer's table as the injury occurred.

The Gators (12-2), winners of five straight over the Gamecocks (7-7), tied their homecourt winning streak set during UF's first title run in 2006-07. Florida's last lost in the O'Dome was in 2012 to eventual national champion Kentucky to close out the regular season.  

UF's performance Wednesday night was hardly dazzling, but thanks to an early suffocating defense (forcing 15 first half turnovers) and a transition attack (10 fast break points), the Gators jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the game's first six minutes. USC failed to score a field goal until the 10:32 mark in the first half, but the Gators -- a Jekyll and Hyde team all year -- had a lengthy lull of mediocre play on both ends of the court, allowing a undermanned USC team to hang around until early in the second half. 

Following Gamecocks guard Desmond Ringer's and-one layup to cut USC's deficit to eight (43-35), Florida regrouped with a pair of binge scoring runs -- 9-2, 12-0 -- to turn the two teams' first league game into a rout. 

Senior center Patric Young, who chipped in 13 points (6-for-7 from the floor) and seven rebounds, acknowledged after the game the Gators currently "lack a killer instinct" and relax too often against teams they're "better than on paper."

Donovan, admittedly "irritated" by the reoccurring "theme" of UF's tendency to allow other teams back into games, said, "We have a very, very hard time sustaining intensity."

At least on Wednesday night -- against an SEC bottom-feeder -- Florida's up-and-down effort was enough. 


UF led by as many as 23 points in the second half. … Casey Prather submitted another ho-hum performance, scoring 13 points without missing a shot from the field (5-of-5). … USC opened the second half shooting 7-of-10 after making just six field goals the entire first half. … UF was out-rebounded (28-25) for just the fourth time all season. … The Gators shot a paltry 26 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-19), as sophomore sharpshooter Michael Frazier struggled to find his touch (just 2-for-7 from downtown) all night.  


Donovan talks UF's win and Wilbekin's injury


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Orange & Blue Debut scheduled for April 12

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will host its annual Orange & Blue Debut one week later this spring, the school announced Wednesday. 

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The Gators are pushing back practice to mid March, hoping quarterback Jeff Driskel's recovery from a broken right leg is complete.  

No word on whether UF will stage a traditional spring game or again opt for a practice-like format due to so many offensive staff changes and a plethora of players recovering from injuries. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 06, 2014

Gators hire Summers to lead offensive line

GAINESVILLE -- Florida no longer has any coaching vacancies.

The Gators completed their offensive overhaul, hiring Southern California offensive line coach Mike Summers to the same position, the school announced Monday.

"I'm excited to have Coach Summers join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. "He has 34 years of experience, has been an offensive coordinator for 15 years and has coached in the SEC. He has a diverse background and has experience in the NFL. He will be a great addition to our staff." 

Summers, 57, definitely brings a wealth of experience, with multiple stops in the SEC including a two-year stint at Kentucky (2010-12) working under former Wildcats head coach and current UF receivers assistant/recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips.

A graduate of UK, Summers was also a pivotal member of Bobby Petrino's staffs at Louisville, Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons. Florida will serve as Summers' 11th stop in his lengthy coaching career.

"I'm honored to be joining Coach Muschamp and his staff," Summers said. "I have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp, the staff and the support system in place. Having been in the SEC, I have always held the Florida program in high regard and I'm looking forward to getting right to work." 

Summers replaces Tim Davis, fired Dec. 1 after Florida’s offensive line surrendered a conference-high 66 sacks in two years despite operating in a run-oriented attack.

More on the hire to come… 

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Powell goes pro

GAINESVILLE -- Former No. 1 overall recruit Ronald Powell opted to forgo his final year of eligibility at Florida and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft, the school announced Monday. 

"This hasn’t been an easy decision because this is a tough place to walk away from," Powell said in a release. "But really you never walk away from being a Gator. I never thought it would be this hard to make this decision -- most people think it’s easy -- go for the money. It’s hard to leave my brothers behind, but we’ve shared so much more than our time on the field. We’ve lived our lives together and we are truly a family. This place has so many memories that I will carry forever, and I will never forget my coaches, teammates, trainers, strength staff, professors and the entire support staff that helped me during my time here."

(Courtesy Tim Casey | GatorCountry.com)

Powell -- Urban Meyer's premier recruit in UF's lauded 2010 class -- never reached fans' lofty expectations, as the athletic pass rushing linebacker/defensive end struggled with injuries, maturity and consistency during his time at Florida.

The redshirt junior, who tore his ACL twice in 2012 and missed the entire year, was frequently praised by coach Will Muschamp this past season for his improved attitude, leadership and overall development. 

“Ronald has informed me that he has made a decision to declare for the NFL Draft,” Muschamp said in the statement. “This hasn’t been an easy decision for him. I talked to him several times over the Holidays, but it was important for him to come back and look me in the eye and tell me what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it. It’s one of the great experiences as a coach to watch young players mature. It’s been well documented the hardships he has had to overcome and he has always kept a positive attitude."

Powell, a tweaner who projects as a stand-up linebacker at the next level, finished the 2013 season with 26 tackles, eight hurries, four sacks and seven tackles for loss as he constantly shifted between linebacker and end.

Powell was close to teammate Dominique Easley, a fellow 2010 hotshot prospect, who did not leave early last season and returned in 2013 only to tear his ACL before the fourth game of the year.  With two major surgeries already, a third knee injury could derail Powell’s career and likely influenced his decision to turn pro. 

“I want to thank the entire Gator Nation for making a kid from California a part of their family,” Powell said. “It’s hard to put into words what this whole experience has been for me. I’ve had so many opportunities and met so many people. All of them have been supportive and helpful in my time here. Because of that, I’ve had a chance to grow and mature into the man I am today and the man I am going to become in the future. …  

"I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve experienced because they have all helped me grow. I will miss running out of the tunnel into The Swamp and all of the tradition and great rivalries. It has been an honor to be a part of Gator history and I will always represent The Gator Nation and bleed Orange and Blue. Thanks again to everyone and much love for The Gator Nation. Once a Gator, Always a Gator! Go Gators!”

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