NFL Preview, Florida Gators Version: 2017 Player Rankings

When NFL training camps open up in the next two weeks, close to 3,000 men will be able to say they are members of the National Football League. By the time the regular season launches in September, that number will be reduced by over a thousand. Some of those cut will continue to fight and may eventually catch on in the NFL. Others will find jobs playing in the Canadian Football League (see: Will Hill) or the Arena Football League. But for many, the long, difficult dream of becoming a professional football player will end just shy of the goal line. Everyone knows how difficult it is to make it as a professional football player but this time of year it is always helpful to reflect.

Per some studies, your chances of having an IQ of 150 or higher are about the same as the chances of a high school senior football player making the NFL. That’s super genius territory of Bill Gates and Albert Einstein. No wonder we revere professional athletes like we do. Their journeys fueled by hard work, perseverance and determination are as impressive as any of society’s greats.

Just to make it to the NFL is an accomplishment in itself. To play for any length of time, regardless of skill level and contributions, is something to be proud of and cherish forever. It is why the narrative that certain players are busts or bums is so foolish. If you made it to the NFL, you are by definition one of the elite few to ever play the sport. JaMarcus Russell may not have lived up to the expectations of a first-overall pick, but he exceeded any realistic expectations of performance and achievement JUST BY MAKING IT TO THE LEAGUE.

Each year, I enjoy writing this column looking at the University of Florida products playing in the NFL more than just about anything else I write. Part of the reason is because of just how difficult it is to make the league, let alone thrive. In the past, I’ve written this before the Super Bowl and the end of the season. This year, I wanted to do it before camps open for that very reason. Any former Gator who makes a roster is to be celebrated regardless of playing time and statistics. At the same time, we live in a fantasy football world driven by statistics and accomplishments. Those numbers lead to more numbers with our annual rankings of Gators in the NFL.

The Gators had 33 players on NFL rosters in week one of the 2016 season. Overall, 43 former Gators were active at some point with three more on either injured reserve or a practice squad. That was third-most last season behind LSU and Alabama. This year, the Gators could eclipse that number led by a deep draft class and undrafted free agents.

2017 DRAFT PICKS

JARRAD DAVIS
Position: LB
Team: Detroit Lions
Draft: 1st Round, 21st overall

MARCUS MAYE
Position: S
Team: New York Jets
Draft: 2nd Round, 39th overall

QUINCY WILSON
Position: CB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Draft: 2nd Round, 46th overall

TEEZ TABOR
Position: CB
Team: Detroit Lions
Draft: 2nd Round, 53rd overall

ALEX ANZALONE
Position: LB
Team: New Orleans Saints
Draft: 3rd Round, 76th overall

DAVID SHARPE
Position: T
Team: Oakland Raiders
Draft: 4th Round, 129th overall

CALEB BRANTLEY
Position: DT
Team: Cleveland Browns
Draft: 6th Round, 185th overall

JOEY IVIE
Position: DT
Team: Dallas Cowboys
Draft: 7th Round, 228th overall

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

BRYAN COX, JR.
Position: DE
Team: Carolina Panthers

AHMAD FULLWOOD
Position: WR
Team: New Orleans Saints

AUSTIN APPLEBY
Position: QB
Team: Dallas Cowboys

CHRIS THOMPSON
Position: WR
Team: Houston Texans

We’ll see where those rookies land in next year’s rankings after they hopefully make their mark in the NFL. Now onto the rankings, which are broken up into different categories based on performance. The first two groups are players who have played their last games in the league. There is no coming back from these off-field incidents, especially given the lack of production.

DON’T CALL US AND WE DEFINITELY AREN’T CALLING YOU

MATT ELAM
Position: SS
Team: None
2016: 9 games, 4 tackles
Years in the NFL: 4
Elam is one of the most surprising failures among former Gators in the NFL. He was such an electric and dynamic force in Gainesville, and it seemed his style of play would translate well to the league. After a promising rookie season, he fell out of favor in Baltimore. He entered this offseason as a free agent in search of a home, but rather than fighting for his career, Elam was arrested for drug possession. Later this summer, he added another arrest for theft and battery. Those charges have been dropped but not the drug charges. It’s sad to see Elam’s career end, but hopefully he can turn his life around before it is too late.

LOUIS MURPHY
Position: WR
Team: None
2016: Injured reserve
Years in the NFL: 7
Murphy missed all of 2016 recovering from a torn ACL and is currently a free agent. An offseason gun charge, later dropped, probably ended any hopes of his comeback in 2017.

RETIRED

PERCY HARVIN
Position: WR
Team: None
2016: 2 games, 2 rec, 6 yds
Years in the NFL: 8
Harvin officially retired last offseason but was talked back into action by the Bills in November. Like many greats before him, it wasn’t a prudent decision. Harvin was a non-factor for Buffalo and retired again in March. Despite so many injuries, he left his mark in the NFL as one of the best kickoff return men ever punctuated by his Super Bowl touchdown. He is one of the few Gators ever with national championship and Super Bowl rings.

THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL

While not officially retired, this next group of players are on the outside looking in right now. It isn’t impossible that they still might receive a phone call, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

BRANDON SPIKES
Position: LB
Team: None
2016: 11 games, 9 tackles
Years in the NFL: 6
Spikes has had an up-and-down career in the NFL that feels like it left a lot on the table in terms of production. There have been stretches where Spikes was mentioned among the better run-stuffing linebackers in football. But lack of consistency, lack of health and an off-the-field incident in 2015 have all contributed to his vagabond status entering the 2017 season. He is unsigned as of now and given his age of lack of production in 2016, this might be the end of the road. Six years in the NFL after two national championships and All-American seasons at Florida secures Spikes’ legacy.

MAJOR WRIGHT
Position: S
Team: None
2016: 2 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 7
Wright’s career appears to be at an end. He does not have an invite to training camp with a team after being released by the Buccaneers late last year. He hasn’t officially retired so if injuries happen, he might still receive a call at some point. But if it is the end, Wright had a nice career. Over seven seasons, he racked up 326 tackles and 9 picks including three pick-sixes, mostly with the Bears.

NEIRON BALL
Position: LB
Team: None
2016: Injured reserve
Years in the NFL: 1
Waived just this week by the Raiders, Ball likely didn’t show enough in his rehab to earn the trust he could compete for a spot on the roster. Ball has certainly overcome much worse odds so don’t count him out just yet. But it is likely his professional career is over after six games, five tackles and one sack, all coming in 2015. The fact that he played at all in the NFL is truly one of the greatest Gators stories ever.

JUSTIN TRATTOU
Position: DE
Team: None
2016: 16 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 6
Never a star at UF, Trattou was undrafted after his senior season and given little chance of ever playing in the NFL. Not only did he make the Giants roster and play in six games his rookie season, he bounced around practice squads and injured reserve and played at least four games in five of his six professional campaigns. Trattou’s career may be over but he’ll always have the two interceptions with the Vikings in 2015 to his name (two more than legendary Gators Kevin Carter and Trace Armstrong ever got in a combined 435 games).

WILL THEY MAKE A ROSTER?

MACK BROWN
Position: RB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 8 rush, 82 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 1
Brown saw five times as many snaps on special teams as he did on offense in his rookie season. He did impress when given the opportunity to carry the rock, breaking off a 61-yard touchdown in mop-up duty against the Bears. Still, the odds are stacked against Brown in Washington with three backs ahead of him on the depth chart.

FRANKIE HAMMOND
Position: WR
Team: New York Jets
2016: Practice Squad
Years in the NFL: 3
After contributing as a returner for two season with the Chiefs, Hammond spent all of 2016 on KC’s practice squad. The Jets took a flier on him this offseason in hopes he can spark their return game and contribute to an anemic receiving corps.

DEONTE THOMPSON
Position: WR
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 22 rec, 249 yds, 2 TD, 35 kr, 23.0 avg
Years in the NFL: 5
One of the more frustrating Gators during his time in Gainesville, Thompson has worked hard to carve out a nice career in the NFL. This past season was his best to date with a regular role as a kick returner and a spot in the receiving corps. Despite the production of 2016, Thompson isn’t guaranteed a roster spot in Chicago and this training camp will be critical for him.

JAYLEN WATKINS
Position: S
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 30 tackles, 3 passes defended
Years in NFL: 3
Watkins’ slow climb up the Eagles’ depth chart can be credited to his move to safety. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft as a corner, he played mostly on special teams in four games before getting cut right before the start of the 2015 season. The Eagles brought him back later that season and in his third season, the move to safety allowed him to see the field for all 16 games and become a vital part of the Eagles’ defense. He’ll be in a battle this August to keep his role and even his roster spot.

JEFF DRISKEL
Position: QB
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2016: Active for 16 games, no snaps
Years in the NFL: 1
Driskel was picked up by the Bengals before the start of last season after being waived by the 49ers. He remained the third quarterback all season but never saw any action as Andy Dalton stayed healthy. There are rumors the Bengals might deal A.J. McCarron and promote Driskel to Dalton’s backup. That’d be a huge statement of their confidence in the former Gator, but if they don’t do a deal, Driskel may find himself left off the roster.

JOSH EVANS
Position: FS
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 2 games, 1 tackle
Years in the NFL: 4
Evans was cut by Jacksonville last season after starting 36 games in his first three seasons. He signed with the Redskins and made two appearances, both on special teams. The Redskins have him in camp this year but the odds are long that he’ll make the final roster. A sixth-rounder in 2013, he certainly exceeded expectations for a playing career in the league.

MATT JONES
Position: RB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 99 rush, 460 yds, 3 TD, 8 rec, 73 yds
Years in the NFL: 2
Over the past two seasons, Jones has 1,327 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Pretty good? And yet Jones is currently fifth on the Redskins depth chart at running back and unlikely to ever carry the ball again for the team. Eight fumbles, including multiple times on the goal line, will do that. Jones recently hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, perhaps hoping to seek a release or trade and a chance to start over somewhere else.

MARCUS ROBERSON
Position: CB
Team: Houston Texans
2016: 7 games, 2 tackles
Years in the NFL: 3
Roberson was picked up in the offseason by the Texans after a lackluster year in Buffalo. He’ll have to earn a spot as a backup and special teams player to keep his career going. Despite the pressures of performing in a make-or-break year for his NFL career, Roberson spent some of his offseason visiting Rwanda where he helped build homes and played sports with children. Bravo Marcus!

LYNDEN TRAIL
Position: LB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 2 games, 2 tackles
Years in the NFL: 1
One of the good friends of this blog, Trail is a favorite around these parts. Despite never actually playing at Florida, Trail remained a part of Gator Nation, rooting on the school from afar after his transfer to Norfolk State. We rooted for him, too, and after a great career in Virginia, he had a chance to be drafted in 2015. It didn’t happen, though, but he was able to land on the Redskins practice squad. In 2016, he bounced from the Redskins practice squad to the Rams practice squad to the unemployment line. He grabbed a job at UPS, kept working out and miraculously received a call from Washington late in the season. The ultimate journey to the NFL was completed when Trail played in the final two games of the season. He’ll be in Redskins camp next week and we’re rooting hard for him to stick in the league.

CRITICAL SEASON FOR SURVIVAL

SHARRIF FLOYD
Position: DT
Team: Minnesota Vikings
2016: 1 game before season-ending knee injury
Years in the NFL: 4
Coming out of school, Floyd looked poised to become an impact defensive tackle. It hasn’t worked out that way. A disappointing rookie season was followed by two years that showed some improvement and potential. Now after complications from his knee recovery, Floyd’s career is in jeopardy. Fingers crossed he gets back on the field and proves his critics wrong.

DANTE FOWLER, JR.
Position: OLB/DE
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2016: 32 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended
Years in NFL: 2
Imagine dreaming of playing in the NFL all your life, getting drafted in the first round after a spectacular college career, but then in your first professional practice, blowing out your knee before you even signed your contract. Fowler’s ACL tear on the first day of mini-camp in 2015 was cruel but not career-defining. He made an impact in his first season back on the field with the Jaguars and is poised for a breakout campaign this year. That is, if he can stay out of trouble. Fowler was arrested Tuesday night for allegedly pushing a man, breaking his glasses and throwing his bag of booze in a lake. Childish behavior for sure but apparently not Fowler’s first run-in with trouble. Fowler needs to get his act together off the field or he’ll derail a promising a career.

MIKE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Miami Dolphins
2016: 5 games, 5 starts
Years in the NFL: 6
There might not be a former Gator more integral to his team’s success than Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012 and the Dolphins pass protection and run game has suffered for it. Pouncey has a bad hip and received a stem cell treatment this offseason. There is uncertainty to when he will actually see the field for Miami. If he can return fully healthy, he’ll re-establish himself as one of the game’s best centers. If he can’t, he might be closer to retirement than another Pro Bowl.

JONATHAN BULLARD
Position: DT
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 18 tackles, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 1
At Florida, Bullard was a menace. Explosive off the snap, instinctive to the football, he was a disruptive force who lived in opposing teams’ backfields. In his rookie campaign, Bullard flashed very little of what made him a Gator great. This offseason, he trained with former Gators and Bears star Alex Brown. Given Bullard’s obvious skills, quickness and strength, it would be surprising if he doesn’t put together a more complete performance this season and turn into an impact player with the Bears.

COMFORTABLE IN THEIR ROLE

This group of players are the backbone to the NFL. Superstars win championships and get all the accolades, but the lifeblood of the NFL are role players who do their job. Often they do the little things that allow the superstars to do the big things. Some of the guys in this group are my favorite players to watch on Sundays, starting with the first one for sure.

TREY BURTON
Position: TE
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 37 rec, 327 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 3
Quite simply, Trey Burton is a football player. Cliché as it is, Burton just finds a way to make teams better playing wherever he is needed. He did it in Gainesville and is doing it in Philadelphia. Last season, Burton came on as a receiver for Carson Wentz after making his mark mostly as a special teams player. He has developed into a good blocker and spreads the field for Philly both inside and out. Of course wherever the Eagles need him, he’ll play, even if it means long snapping.

D.J. HUMPHRIES
Position: T
Team: Arizona Cardinals
2016: 13 games, 13 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Humphries earned the dubious distinction of being the only 2015 first-round draft pick to be inactive for all 16 games. He was deep in Cardinals coach Bruce Arians’ doghouse. But a good camp in 2016 earned him the starting right tackle spot. He impressed so much that they are moving him to Carson Palmer’s all-important blind-side this year.

ANTONIO MORRISON
Position: LB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
2016: 45 tackles
Years in the NFL: 1
Morrison got his feet wet in the NFL last season and hopes to earn more playing time and possibly even a starting role in training camp this year. The film shows a fundamentally sound and smart linebacker who plugs holes and makes sure-handed tackles.

DEMARCUS ROBINSON
Position: WR
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
2016: 16 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 1
Robinson played in all 16 games for the Chiefs in his rookie campaign as a special teamer. He received just six snaps on offense and was never targeted. That’s about as close to a redshirt year as you can get in the NFL. The buzz out of KC heading into camp, though, is that Robinson is poised for a big second season. Many are predicting he’ll win a starting spot opposite Tyreek Hill. Robinson is definitely one to watch for in 2017.

LERENTEE MCCRAY
Position: DE/LB
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2016: 10 tackles
Years in the NFL: 3
An unspectacular stint in Gainesville littered with injuries led to McCray going undrafted in 2013. One of the least likely Gators to ever make the NFL, McCray now enters his fourth professional season, this one back in his home state with the Jaguars. He has a chance to continue as a special teams ace and situational defensive backup. McCray is an inspiration not just on the field too.

JELANI JENKINS
Position: LB
Team: Oakland Raiders
2016: 9 games, 29 tackles
Years in the NFL: 4
After his worst season as a professional, Jenkins has a lot to prove in Oakland. Injuries were part of it, but even when healthy, Jenkins really struggled both in run defense and pass defense. Perhaps he can regain the form he flashed in 2014 when he was a reliable three-down linebacker for the Dolphins.

JAYE HOWARD
Position: DT
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 8 games, 23 tackles, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 5
Cut in the offseason by the Chiefs, Howard says he’s humbled and determined to return to his 2015 form that saw him emerge as a dominant force in the middle of the defensive line for Kansas City. He’s coming back from a hip injury that cost him half the season, but the Bears believe he can provide depth and improvement, perhaps even pairing with fellow Gator Jonathan Bullard in the middle of their line.

JONOTTHAN HARRISON
Position: C/G
Team: New York Jets
2016: 13 games, 4 starts
Years in the NFL: 3
Harrison has proven to be a versatile lineman, playing all five positions with the Colts last season. The Jets signed him in the offseason to be a backup at a number of positions.

MAX GARCIA
Position: G
Team: Denver Broncos
2016: 16 games, 16 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Garcia has developed into a solid NFL guard, especially adept as a road-grader in the rush game. He’ll likely man the left side of the line this season.

JACOBY BRISSETT
Position: QB
Team: New England Patriots
2016: 3 games, 34/55, 400 yds, 16 rush, 83 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 1
Brissett started two games for the Super Bowl champs last season when Tom Brady was serving his suspension. He managed the game well, doing little to hurt the team. He has earned the trust of Bill Belichick and by all accounts, looks miles ahead of where he was at this point last year. He’ll remain the Pats third quarterback, a good spot for a young QB still learning the game to be. He’s also a pretty good writer so maybe blogging is in his future after his playing days are over.

TRENTON BROWN
Position: T
Team: San Francisco 49ers
2016: 16 games, 16 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
In 2016, Brown started more games than he did in his entire career at Florida. The inconsistency that plagued his two years in Gainesville disappeared as Brown’s work ethic and overall game improved. He is poised to become a fixture on the offensive line in San Francisco and join the growing number of great Gators offensive linemen currently playing in the NFL.

DOMINIQUE EASLEY
Position: DT
Team: Los Angeles Rams
2016: 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Years in the NFL: 3
Easley had his best season as a pro last year in Los Angeles and finally showed the immense potential that made him a first-round pick in 2014. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and Easley may play an even bigger part of their production this season. His ceiling is high and future is bright.

QUINTON DUNBAR
Position: CB/Nickel
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 2
A position switch has made Dunbar a pro and might just turn him into a real force in the NFL. Dunbar caught over 100 passes in Gainesville for over 1,000 yards. But in his first camp with Washington, the Redskins moved him to cornerback. It took some time but last year he began to catch on and really show glimpses of potential. Dunbar might make a big leap with another offseason and more experience.

CRACKING THE TOP 10 NEXT YEAR

This next group includes one bounce back candidate and two young players, one with the opportunity of a lifetime, the other with all the talent to be a star.

JOE HADEN
Position: CB
Team: Cleveland Browns
2016: 13 games, 3 INT, 48 tackles, 11 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 7
Back in 2013 and 2014, there were few corners in the league better than Haden. He appeared destined for all-time greatness despite playing for the wretched Browns. Two injury-plagued seasons later, Haden is fighting for his job. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.

CHAZ GREEN
Position: T
Team: Dallas Cowboys
2016: 4 games, 2 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Getting drafted by the team with the best offensive line in football was a blessing and a curse for Green. He missed all of his rookie season because of hip surgery. In 2016, he was set to contribute, starting two games and playing well, before getting hurt again. Now heading into 2017, Green has a chance to win a starting job at right tackle. If he seizes the chance, he’ll join the best position group in the NFL and help lead the way for one of the game’s most dynamic runners in Ezekiel Elliot.

VERNON HARGREAVES III
Position: CB
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016: 76 tackles, 1 INT, 10 passes defended
There is no tougher position to be a rookie than cornerback. VH3 learned that first-hand in what was widely panned as a miserable year. He led all corners in receptions given up and yards against. But beyond the numbers and big plays, Hargreaves showed toughness as a tackler and some of his innate skills that will pay off once the game slows down for him. It is likely that VH3 makes the biggest jump up this list next season.

TOP 10

Here’s the best of the best, an absolutely scientific ranking of course.

#10 – BRIAN POOLE
Position: CB/Nickel
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2016: 58 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries
Years in the NFL: 1
In Gainesville, we knew Brian Poole could play. In the 2016 draft, the NFL didn’t know. They sure found out, though. The Falcons got a steal in signing Poole as an undrafted free agent. He delivered one of the best defensive rookie campaigns in the league and was a huge part of the Falcons defense and the team’s path to the Super Bowl. The Falcons plan to utilize him as a blitzer more and continue to move him around the defensive backfield. He’s primed for a big 2017 and a long career in the league.

#9 – CALEB STURGIS
Position: K
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 35/41 FG, 85.4%, 30/31 XP, 96.8%
Years in the NFL: 4
Arguably the best kicker in Florida history (pre-Pineiro), Sturgis’ big leg didn’t translate to accuracy early in his career. He appeared headed out of the league when the Dolphins cut him before the season in 2015. He got a shot in Philadelphia when the Eagles’ kicker was injured, but in his first game, he missed an extra point and a field goal in a three-point loss.  At that point, the odds were not good for his career continuing. But since then, Sturgis has become one of the better kickers in the league. He was third in the NFL in field goals made last season and sixth with four 50+ yarders. His accuracy is now above the league average and barring injury, he appears poised to have a long career.

#8 – MARCUS GILBERT
Position: RT
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2016: 13 games, 13 starts
Years in the NFL: 6
Gilbert has improved every season in the NFL and is now a fixture at right tackle for the Steelers. He allowed only four sacks all last season and probably deserved a Pro Bowl selection. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the fifth best tackle in pass protection. He doesn’t get the accolades or recognition fellow Gator Maurkice Pouncey does on the Steelers line, but he’s just as integral to their offensive success.

#7 – MIKE GILLISLEE
Position: RB
Team: New England Patriots
2016: 101 rush, 577 yds, 8 TD, 9 rec, 50 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 4
#FreeGilly was in full effect in 2016. The former Florida fan-favorite led the NFL in yards per rush and scored as many touchdowns as Le’Veon Bell despite receiving only part-time work behind LeSean McCoy. This season, he joins the Super Bowl champion Patriots and has a chance to carve out a workhorse role next to Tom Brady in the backfield. This might be the most prolific rushing season for a Gators running back since Fred Taylor’s heyday.

#6 – KEANU NEAL
Position: FS
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2016: 106 tackles, 9 passes defended, 5 forced fumbles
Years in the NFL: 1
Neal is cut from the same cloth as ferocious, big-hitting Gators safeties Lawrence Wright and Reggie Nelson. In an incredible rookie season with the Falcons, he tied for third in the NFL in forced fumbles and had the fourth most tackles by a safety. He was a star last year and has superstardom written all over him going forward. Just ask Mike Evans.

#5 – JORDAN REED
Position: TE
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 66 rec, 686 yds, 6 TD
Years in the NFL: 4
Hard to imagine that John Brantley’s backup in 2010 would develop like this. Jordan Reed’s move to tight end in Gainesville will go down as one of the greatest position changes in Gators history. When healthy, Reed has established himself as one of the best tight ends in football. He joined Janoris Jenkins as the only Gators in the NFL Network’s Top 100 players countdown, coming in at #65. However, at least six concussions going back to his playing days at UF are scary to think about. Frankly, Reed is the perfect example of why so many of us are conflicted about the sport we love. We root for him to keep playing and become one of the all-time Gators greats in the NFL (he’s already 15th in receptions and 10th in TD catches for former Gators). At the same time, we know his body and brain can’t take much more. Here’s hoping to a safe and successful 2017.

#4 – MAURKICE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2016: 15 games, 15 starts
Years in the NFL: 7
Pouncey returned to Pro Bowl form last season after missing all of 2015 with a broken leg. The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro is the anchor of a dynamic Steelers offense. If you get a chance to watch a Steelers game this upcoming season, take some snaps to focus only on Pouncey and the job he does making calls pre-snap and pulling and leading the way for Le’Veon Bell. I’ve said it before, but who would have thought he’d have the best NFL career of those Urban Meyer-juggernaut teams?

#3 – JANORIS JENKINS
Position: CB
Team: New York Giants
2016: 49 tackles, 3 INT, 18 passes defended, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 5
After signing a big free-agent deal last offseason, Jenkins backed it up with his best season. He made his first Pro Bowl, was named second-team All-Pro, finished sixth in the league in passes defended and helped turn a struggling Giants defense around. Players voted him the 54th best player in the league in NFL Network’s Top 100, the highest spot for any Gator. Jenkins is firmly entrenched as one of the elite corners in the league.

#2 – CARLOS DUNLAP
Position: DE
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2016: 49 tackles, 8 sacks, 15 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 7
How good has Dunlap become? He made his second straight Pro Bowl thanks to 29 quarterback pressures, 8 sacks and 15 pass deflections. He was 13th in the NFL in pass deflections, the only defensive end to rank in the top 75. His 57 career sacks are behind only Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter and Trace Armstrong in Gators lore and rank first among all players in his 2010 draft class. Dunlap has put together an amazing career and is in his prime entering 2017. He falls just short of the top spot, though.

Dunlap has reached his pass-rushing potential.

#1 – REGGIE NELSON
Position: FS
Team: Oakland Raiders
2016: 65 tackles, 5 INT, 12 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 10
The “Eraser” keeps getting better with age. After a slow start to his career in Jacksonville, Nelson found success for six seasons in Cincinnati, culminating with his first Pro Bowl selection in 2015. Last season, he jumped to Oakland and anchored a young defense’s rise to prominence. Nelson has 17 picks in his past three seasons, the most in the NFL over that stretch. He is the all-time picks leader among Gators alums, also ranking fifth in tackles. He’s established himself as one of the game’s best ball hawks with little signs of slowing down entering year 11. For the first time, he sits atop the rankings.

This is the strongest group of Gators there has been in the NFL in at least a decade. Here’s what an all-Gators NFL starting lineup would look like. You could win some games with this bunch.

Offense
QB – Jacoby Brissett
RB – Mike Gillislee
TE – Trey Burton
TE – Jordan Reed
WR – Demarcus Robinson
WR – Deonte Thompson
LT – DJ Humphries
LG – Max Garcia
C – Maurkice Pouncey
RG – Mike Pouncey
RT – Marcus Gilbert

Defense
DE – Carlos Dunlap
DT – Dominique Easley
DT – Jaye Howard
DE – Dante Fowler, Jr.
LB – Jelani Jenkins
LB – Jarrad Davis
LB – Antonio Morrison
CB – Janoris Jenkins
CB – Joe Haden
SS – Keanu Neal
FS – Reggie Nelson
Nickel – Brian Poole

Special Teams
K – Caleb Sturgis
P – Johnny Townsend (he’s coming out early to join this all-Gators squad)
PR – Frankie Hammond
KR – Deonte Thompson

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Many Built Gator Baseball into National Champions

When J.J. Schwarz squeezed the final out of the College World Series clincher giving the Florida Gators their first national championship in baseball, my immediate elation quickly turned to thoughts of 1996. And ’98. And ’05 and ’11. The Gators first title was a long-time coming and wouldn’t have been possible without those teams and others building the program to where it is today. Kevin O’Sullivan has made Florida into one of the top five programs in the country, but he didn’t accomplish it alone. The struggles and pain of falling just short over the past three decades made Tuesday night’s celebration all the more sweet.

The Gators’ first appearance in the CWS was almost 30 years ago. Florida had been playing baseball for over 70 years at that point, but like so many of the other sports in the athletic program, success was very sporadic until the 1980s (UF won three national titles before 1980, two in golf and one in women’s swimming and diving; 36 have been won since). The 1988 baseball team won the SEC for the seventh time, set a then-school record of 48 wins, and confirmed Florida’s arrival as a national power with coach Joe Arnold. Herb Perry and Jamie McAndrew would go on to play in the majors.

Arnold led the Gators back to Omaha in 1991 with the most impressive postseason run in Florida history. The Gators didn’t drop a game in the SEC tournament or the NCAA Regional in securing their second CWS berth. They were led by the dynamic pitching duo of John Burke and Marc Valdes, both future big leaguers. Another future pro, Kevin Polcovich made the CWS all-tournament team. At Rosenblatt Stadium, Florida won for the first time, eliminating #1 seed Florida State. These Gators lost in the semifinals to LSU, and I’m sure the alums watched this year’s finals with a little more passion because of it.

Despite the upward trajectory of the program, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley decided to part ways with Arnold in 1994 and hire Andy Lopez to manage the baseball program. Lopez had won a national title at Pepperdine and by his second year, the Gators seemed poised to duplicate the feat. Led by all-everything freshman Brad Wilkerson, the 1996 team was the best in school history to that point. Five future Major Leaguers were on the roster in Wilkerson, David Eckstein, Mark Ellis, Josh Fogg and Paul Rigdon. Plus, Chuck Hazzard was rewriting the offensive record books and appeared destined for superstardom as well. This squad was loaded. The CWS started with a bang when Wilkerson hit a grand slam to win the first game against Florida State. The Gators knocked off the Seminoles once more to reach the semifinals. Standing in their way again, LSU. And again it wasn’t to be as Florida was eliminated 2-1 in a heartbreaker.

Two years later, it seemed the Gators were on the cusp of finally achieving the ultimate prize. Three trips to Omaha, each time finishing better than the previous one, left Gator Nation confident. Oh and the 1998 team was amazing. I was there for all of it as a graduate school assistant in the sports information office assigned to baseball. I attended every home game keeping the official scorebook, tracking statistics, and helping with game recaps, notes, and interviews. It was an offensive powerhouse led by the greatest player in school history, Wilkerson. Wilkerson, Ellis, Fogg, and David Ross all made the majors from that team and all rank in the top 10 of any list of the best Gators in Major League Baseball history (my personal top 10 is Eckstein, Al Rosen, Ellis, Mike Stanley, Robby Thompson, Darren O’Day, Ross, Wilkerson, Fogg and Doug Corbett). The SEC regular season champs advanced to the CWS in one of the most thrilling games ever played at McKethan Stadium, a regional final won on a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th by Derek Nicholson. They entered the College World Series as the #1 seed for the first time in school history and were the favorites for a title run. Seven lineup regulars hit over .330! But to win a championship, all the offense in the world sometimes isn’t enough. Thin pitching outside of closer Fogg and two-way player Wilkerson left the Gators vulnerable. They scored 23 runs in two games but bowed out of Omaha without winning a game. Disappointment at Rosenblatt was becoming a crushing trend.

Still two CWS trips in three years, Florida baseball was a program clearly established on the national level with expectations for more. Instead, it would be seven long years between trips to Nebraska. In that span, Lopez was let go and replaced by Pat McMahon. Under both coaches, Florida had plenty of talent during that time. Players like Tim Olson (.394/15/75 in 2000), Mark Kiger (.403 avg in ’02), Alex Hart (13-3/3.24 in ’02), Ryan Shealy (.379/23/80 in ’02), and Ben Harrison (40 HR and .342 avg from ’01-’04) kept the Gators competitive but ultimately on the outside looking in at national prominence.

That changed in 2005 when Matt LaPorta belted a school record 26 home runs, Alan Horne, Tommy Boss and Bryan Ball gave the Gators its best rotation in years, and Connor Falkenbach and O’Day were lights out in the bullpen. After a seven-year drought, the Gators didn’t just celebrate a berth in the CWS. The ’05 squad become the first to ever advance to the championship series and play for the title in Omaha. Unfortunately, the Gators couldn’t get past Texas and finished as the runner up.

The modern era of the Gators baseball program began two years later when Foley replaced McMahon with O’Sullivan. Under O’Sullivan, the Gators have made the NCAA tournament each of the past 10 years. There have been six College World Series appearances in the past eight seasons. Yet, the disappointing endings in Omaha continued. The 2010 squad was a familiar 0-2 in Omaha. In 2011, the Gators won a school-record 53 games, had eight players who would eventually play in the majors led by Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker, and were led by a dynamic starting pitching duo in Karsten Whitson and Hudson Randall. Still, they fell short in the CWS finals. In 2012, the team was just as good, with many of the same stars from ’11 as well as two-way studs Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox and yet once again were swept out 0-2. The Gators were back in 2015, led by Schwarz’s amazing freshman season, Harrison Bader, Logan Shore, and A.J. Puk among others. The second most impressive postseason run in school history included an SEC tournament title and eliminating both Florida State and Miami in the Super Regionals and CWS. Ultimately though, two one-run losses to eventual champion Virginia left the Gators short again. The 2016 team featured perhaps the greatest overall pitching staff in Florida history led by Shore, Puk, Shaun Anderson, Dane Dunning, Kirby Snead and this year’s aces Alex Faedo and Brady Singer. But the offense didn’t hit much in Omaha and the Gators once again went 0-2.

Ten trips to the College World Series. Four exits without winning a game. Two losses in the championship finals. If you ask long-time Gators baseball fans what the most talented team in Gators history was, I’m not sure many of them will say it was this year’s squad. There will be lots of votes for 2015. Plenty will sing the praises of 1996 or 1998. Some will debate 2011 or 2012. Expectations this year despite the brilliance of Faedo, Singer and Michael Byrne were tempered due to the team’s lack of offense and the failures of those teams before them. Ironically, it was a Gators team without the pressure of those expectations that finally climbed the mountain. In the end, the ghosts of those Gators teams of the past created the culture, provided the spirit, and built the foundation for what was achieved in 2017. This title is as much for all of them as it is for this year’s bunch.

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A Tale of Two Paths: Spurrier and Donovan’s Departures

Back in 2002, Steve Spurrier finally made the leap. After enduring years of countless rumors about the NFL, Spurrier left the University of Florida to coach the Washington Redskins. He was made the highest-paid coach in the league and charged with transforming a lackluster team into a contender. This turned out to be a disaster for Spurrier, the Redskins and the Gators.

Two years ago, Billy Donovan decided his future was in the NBA. After years of unending rumors and an ill-fated brief commitment to the Orlando Magic, Donovan accepted the head coaching job with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were annual contenders, stocked with two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Despite Durant’s impending free agency and their place in the same conference as the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the Thunder expected to compete for a title in Donovan’s first year. For many in Gainesville and beyond, this had the potential to be another Spurrier-esque disaster for all parties involved. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

If there was only one photo to depict Florida football, it would be Steve Spurrier’s. Heisman Trophy winner. Alumnus. Head Coach. SEC Champion. National Champion. Spurrier took a program known for its untapped potential and turned it into a juggernaut. He won immediately upon arriving. He won every year. And he won big – 6 SEC titles and the one national championship. His style was defined and set – Fun N’ Gun. And he never deviated from the all-out offensive passing attack that relied heavily on big-time quarterbacks (even when there wasn’t a big-time quarterback on the roster).

Billy Donovan is a New Yorker, born and raised on Long Island. His only connection to Florida was the fact that he coached under then-Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and was a part of some teams that tormented the Gators. When he arrived in Gainesville, he was young, unproven and certainly not a sure thing. His first two seasons, the Gators carried losing records. But beginning in the ’98-99 season, Florida basketball evolved from afterthought to national power. Like Spurrier, Donovan eventually won big – 6 SEC regular season titles, 4 SEC tournament titles and back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. His style, originally dubbed “Billy Ball” when he arrived in 1996, evolved over the years depending on the players he had. Run and gun, pressing, 3-point heavy teams gave way to tenacious half-court defenders, ball screens and ball movement attacks.

It was common knowledge around Gainesville that it was always a matter of when, not if, Steve Spurrier would jump to the NFL. He played in the league for many years. His first head coaching gig was in the professional USFL. His competitive nature was such that he wanted to prove he could succeed on the highest level. So when the Head Ball Coach resigned in the first days of 2002, initial shock gave way to the reluctant acceptance that this was inevitable. The decision to leave came on the heels of one of the most disappointing football seasons in Gators history. Florida was the preseason #1 team and rolled through the season minus one tough road loss at Auburn on a last-second field goal. Due to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the Tennessee game was pushed back to the end of the regular season. A win would send Florida to the SEC title game and then after that almost surely to the Rose Bowl to play for the national title against Miami. With the game at the Swamp, the Gators were huge favorites against the Volunteers. Rex Grossman was a Heisman Trophy finalist. The defense was led by Alex Brown and Andra Davis. But the Vols physically pounded Florida (a common theme of Spurrier-era defeats), especially in the second half and held on for the massive upset. The Gators finished 10-2 and #3 in the country but the expectations for championships meant it was viewed as a failure by many fans. This weighed on Spurrier and was likely the final straw in his decision to bolt for the NFL after 12 amazing seasons at Florida.

For the longest time, it was assumed Billy Donovan would bolt Florida for greener pastures either at Kentucky, where he began his coaching career, or in the NBA. But after the reversal with the Magic, some began to think Donovan might remain at Florida and become the school’s version of Mike Krzyzewski. After the two national titles and the Magic fiasco, Donovan rebuilt the Gators back into an annual title contender. He was still young for a long-time college coach at just 50 years of age, but already he was on track to be one of the absolute legends of the collegiate game. With a strong connection to the Gainesville community, it seemed possible Donovan had put down roots too deep to pry him away from Florida. Of course, few saw the difficulty of the ’14-15 season coming. Florida sank into mediocrity and failed to record a winning record or reach 20 wins for the first time in 16 years. Donovan’s frustrations with the limitations of the college game may have reached a peak. Even still, it was a stunning move when he accepted the Thunder job in late April of 2015.

Spurrier’s arrival in the nation’s capital was met with much fanfare. And much skepticism. If you are younger or don’t quite remember, think of Chip Kelly to the Eagles times ten. Spurrier was a champion and proven winner who transformed the SEC and the rest of college football from a physical, plodding game into the free-wheeling, quarterback-driven sport we know now. The Redskins, coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons with an anemic offense, craved the excitement Spurrier’s attack promised. The skeptics pointed to a long line of college coaches who failed to live up to the hype in the pros. The Redskins weren’t loaded with superstars either. There were questions about Spurrier’s work ethic fitting in with the rigors and demands of the NFL. Spurrier’s coaching staff was filled with many former assistants from Florida who had little to no NFL experience. The Redskins also quickly brought in former Gators like Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerfful and Chris Doering, something that didn’t sit well with many thinking there might be some cloudy judgement.

Donovan’s arrival in America’s Heartland didn’t generate nearly the excitement or buzz of Spurrier’s professional leap. The Thunder were already a great team, but the clock was ticking due to Kevin Durant’s contract. Expectations were mixed. The Thunder were annual contenders due to Westbrook and Durant, but the history of successful college coaches in the NBA is even shorter than the failed list in the NFL. Donovan’s mentor Pitino was a complete disaster, as was Donovan’s contemporary John Calipari. Unlike Spurrier, Donovan built has staff around NBA coaching veterans that would bring much needed experience. Despite any concerns with the rookie coach, OKC was among the teams that had a puncher’s chance to knock off the Warriors and win it all.

Initially Spurrier delivered on the promise of his high-flying attack. The Redskins looked explosive in the preseason and won Spurrier’s first regular season game behind Matthews’ big passing day. But the explosion soon fizzled out and the Redskins offense never scared anyone in Spurrier’s two seasons. There has been much speculation about the reasons behind Spurrier’s NFL failure. It likely boils down to his style. He was not able to adapt his coaching style nor his playbook to the demands of the NFL. In the college game, Spurrier was able to mastermind an offense that worked through precision and minimized the weaknesses of his quarterback, receivers and offensive line. Collegiate defensive coordinators were slow to catch up. In the NFL, freakish athletes negated those small windows Spurrier’s passing game relied on. Extensive scouting and coaching meant teams were well prepared to attack Spurrier’s blind spots as well. Spurrier’s relaxed approach to defense and special teams created a culture that was divided and undisciplined. After two years, it was obvious to all that the Head Ball Coach didn’t translate to the NFL. He resigned and walked away from millions of dollars.

Donovan’s first season was a roaring success. He quickly adapted his offense to fit Westbrook and Durant’s strengths, keeping the Thunder’s attack as one of the most potent in the league. The team won 10 more games than the previous season. In the postseason, they were even better. The Thunder quickly dismantled the Mavericks and Spurs setting up a showdown with the defending champs, a Warriors team coming off an NBA record 73-win regular season. Donovan’s ball-movement and physical rebounding game plan stymied the Warriors and OKC built a 3-1 series advantage. The miracle run in Donovan’s rookie campaign wasn’t to be, though. The Warriors won three straight, advanced to the NBA Finals, and altered the course of basketball in Oklahoma City. Durant would leave in the offseason, joining Golden State, and leaving Donovan with one superstar on a team built for two.

Rather than the almost-NBA-Finals-appearance, it was this second season in OKC that has been perhaps most impressive about Donovan’s short tenure. Without Durant, the Thunder still won 47 games (giving Donovan 102 in two seasons) and transformed into Must-See-TV behind Westbrook’s triple-double MVP campaign. Some criticized Donovan for so completely revamping the attack behind Westbrook. But that shortchanges Donovan’s impact on Westbrook’s development. And it doesn’t give enough credit to what both Donovan and Westbrook were able to do given so many new pieces in Oklahoma City, and the huge drop off from playing with Durant and Serge Ibaka to playing with so many young, inexperienced players. Donovan constantly tinkered with lineups and rotations in an effort to integrate the new guys, build their confidence and find the best pieces to fit around Westbrook. While season two ultimately ended in disappointment in the playoffs’ opening round, Donovan showed he has the knowledge, temperament and style to succeed in the NBA.

Spurrier’s departure from Gainesville left a gaping hole. It is usually impossible to replace a legend. Alabama wallowed in the abyss for almost a decade after Bear Bryant retired. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley had to find the right coach to keep the program atop the SEC and nation. Instead, he hired a defensive assistant who had never been a head coach. The Ron Zook era has been analyzed and mostly reviled over the years, but honestly it would have been hard for anyone to step into Spurrier’s shoes in 2002. Florida rebounded a lot quicker than the Crimson Tide did, though, as Urban Meyer’s brief stint after Zook brought two more national titles. But after Meyer’s departure, Florida’s football program is still on shaky ground as a national championship contender. Jim McElwain has two SEC East titles in two years but no one would say Florida is close to the elite level they want to be. And no one will until a quarterback is found, something Spurrier did with ease.

Foley once again had to replace a legend in 2015 after Donovan’s leap. Rather than go with a coach familiar with the program like he did with Zook’s hire, he tried to duplicate the home run hire of Donovan himself. At that time, there were skeptics (raises hand) who saw the hire as a potential failure. Why not chase a proven coach with a proven track record rather than a young up-and-comer? But in just two years, Mike White has proven to be a solid addition to the program and it appears the Gators might just have captured lightning in a bottle again. It took Donovan three seasons to get to the NCAA Tournament and a fourth to make the Final Four. White’s team made an inspiried Elite Eight dash in just his second season and with a roster still not shaped completely by his recruiting touch. The Gators appear poised to continue their place in the upper echelon of college hoops established by Donovan.

The tale of these two choices and two paths will forever be linked together in Gator Nation history. The two founding fathers of Florida’s two biggest sports both made decisions to leave for the professional ranks. They approached the task in two completely different ways. One disastrously failed. One has seen enough success to believe in a long-time future in the league. The professional franchises who hired them suffered dissimilar fates as well. The Redskins have tried four coaches since Spurrier, none producing enough consistently good football. The Thunder survived the departure of one of the game’s best players and look to have enough left with Westbrook and a few young pieces around him to consistently make the postseason. There’s hope of landing another superstar to pair with him soon.  Lastly, the programs left behind by Spurrier and Donovan saw different results with their replacements. Florida football is still trying to find its identity 15 years after Spurrier’s departure. Florida basketball appears set for the next 15 years. Two Paths and two very different results.

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Dissecting The UF-FSU Rivalry

We hear a lot about rivalries in sports. The blind rage and hatred that fans bring to these contests raise them above mere sporting spectacle. For many fan bases, a loss to a rival can ruin an entire season. On the professional level, multiple meetings in a season can muddy the bragging rights. But in college football, one game against your rival is everything. But how do you judge a rivalry across an athletic program’s fan base?

The Florida-Florida State duel is in an interesting place right now. Bragging rights abound in both Gainesville and Tallahassee depending on the time of the year and the sport. That’s healthy for the state, healthy for the rivalry, and healthy for the fans. But for the undisputed flagship athletic program in the state and one of the top five in the country, it is never enough.

For many, the rivalry begins and ends on the gridiron. Football sucks all the oxygen out of debates between relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. FSU’s four-game winning streak and the utter destruction of Florida’s offense the past two meetings taints everything. To say this November’s meeting is crucial for Florida and Jim McElwain is an understatement. The Gators have never lost five in a row to that school out west. Despite FSU’s recent run of dominance, this rivalry is about as even as it gets. Both schools have three national titles, three Heisman Trophy winners, and unparalleled success producing future NFL talent including projections in this week’s upcoming draft. Florida leads the all-time series 34-25-2 but this has been as even as any college football rivalry in the country. However unless UF can break through soon in a big way, it isn’t going to feel that way to Gator Nation.

After the nadir of November’s football loss, a December loss in men’s basketball put Gators fans on the ledge. It was the third straight win by Leonard Hamilton’s gang, tying the longest Gators losing streak in the rivalry. That means that both football and men’s hoops have matched their longest losing streaks to FSU. But this spring has re-tipped the balance of power in the rivalry back towards the Gators and it began with March Madness. The Gators’ men’s hoops run to the Elite Eight for the fifth time in seven seasons was a welcome salve to the wounds of the fan base. It is certainly troubling that Florida has dropped three in a row in the series and that for much of the season, the Noles were regarded as the better team. But in the end in March, FSU bowed out of the NCAA Tournament early (again) and the Gators kept dancing (again). Two national titles, five Final Fours and an overall series lead of 43-24 keeps men’s basketball strongly in the Gators column.

Since Florida’s softball arrival, it is safe to say the Seminoles have been dominated. After last week’s walk-off win by the Gators softball team, Florida has won 17 of the past 18 meetings between the programs. In the short history of this particular rivalry (Florida only began playing the sport in 1997; FSU dates back to 1978), Florida leads the all-time series 24-14. And of course the Gators have won two Women’s College World Series titles in seven trips, while FSU has nine trips but has never seen ultimate glory.

On the flip side, the baseball rivalry has been one that tilts FSU’s way over the course of history. The Noles lead the all-time series record 128-116. They’ve been to 21 College World Series (to Florida’s 10) and finished runner-up three times (Florida twice). But recently, Kevin O’Sullivan’s bunch has completely flipped the script. That was punctuated by Florida’s win in Tallahassee last week that completed a season sweep. The Gators have won 10 of the past 11 meetings. Since O’Sullivan arrived in Gainesville in 2008, Florida has five CWS appearances to FSU’s three. The hammer blow was delivered last season when the Gators ousted the Noles in the NCAA Super Regionals and advanced to the CWS. O’Sullivan’s arrival has flipped this rivalry squarely into the Gators column.

The vast majority of Olympic sports favor the Gators both over time and in recent history. Florida is the only school in the country to be ranked in the top 10 of all Division I athletic programs since the inception of the rankings 32 years ago. The Gators also boast eight straight top-five finishes. UF has 31 NCAA titles to FSU’s seven. FSU has been good overall but not close to matching Florida’s elite excellence. However, there are troubling recent trends. In women’s soccer, FSU has become a juggernaut. The Noles won it all in 2014 and have appeared in the College Cup nine times since 2003. Meanwhile the Gators lone title was in 1998 and they haven’t made the final four since 2001. Florida State has also pulled ahead in women’s hoops. The Seminoles made the Elite Eight this season and have three trips since 2010. Florida has one way back in 1997. Even women’s volleyball, as steady a bastion of Gators dominance as there is, saw heartbreak at the hands of FSU in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As the spring sports season inches toward its conclusion, Gator Nation can hold its head high in any rivalry talks around those summer barbecues and vacations. The overall strength of the program more than makes up for the recent run in football. The NCAA titles scoreboard of 31-7 assures that. Come November though, Florida truly needs a win to stifle the momentum swelling in Tallahassee.

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Loss of Burrito Bros. is Devastating

Primo Beef and Bean Burrito. Black Beans. Lettuce. Cheese. Red Sauce. So simple. A staple of my life for so many years. And now like so many of the good things in this world, gone too soon. So long Burrito Brothers.

As a kid growing up in South Florida in a working-class family, we didn’t dine out very much. If we did, it was your typical fast food dash and grab. Like more kids than not, my exposure to burritos and tacos in my early years was via Taco Bell. Cringe-worthy now but at the time, everyone was doing it. It was the ’80s, man. So imagine my taste buds’ reaction the first time I visited Gainesville in 1991 as a high school senior and was taken to a hole in the wall place on 13th Street for a real burrito.

That initial visit to Burrito Bros. Taco Company was love at first taste. My order was a primo beef burrito, tortilla chips and a soda. We ate in front of my friend Joel Kelly’s dorm hall, Broward. The flavor of the red sauce, the ground chuck melted together with cheese, the green lettuce, the freshness of the tortilla… I mean seriously, this was an option? The mass produced mystery concoction that was tossed out the drive thru window for years into my car wasn’t a burrito. This was heaven on Earth. This was home.

For the next six years as I pursued a bachelor’s and then a master’s at UF, Burrito Brothers would faithfully serve me at least once a month. It was just a quick dash over from Matherly or Norman after class or before a study session at Library East. Diligently, I stuck to the basics. Primo Beef or Primo Beef and Bean (black beans) almost every time. Why mess with perfection? Plus back in the mid ’90s, there wasn’t much more to the menu. Most times I arrived, the line was six or seven people deep, sometimes with a few of us cued up outside. Once you made it inside, you checked the pin boards for notices about which bands were playing where, see if any house parties had posted a flier, check to see if anyone was selling anything you might need. It wasn’t just a place to pick up the best burritos in the world, it was a community.

An eclectic community at that. Gainesville has always been a diverse place and Burrito Brothers was certainly representative of that. Punks with tattoos and piercings, professors, locals from the outskirts of town, businessmen in suits, freshman with fear in their eyes who had been sent there on recommendations from older siblings or parents. All were welcome through that door just north of University Ave. And all came for the feast.

I moved to California in 2000 and was introduced to authentic Mexican food for the first time. There are so many wonderful spots for tacos and burritos but my love for Burrito Brothers never died. In fact, my Mom once sent me a few primo beef burritos packed in dry ice for my birthday. On every trip back to Gainesville, I’ve eaten at Burrito Brothers at least once and sometimes twice.

As the years have passed, Gainesville has morphed and those effects on the old mainstays were obvious. So many longtime hangouts of generations of Gators have long ago disappeared. Joe’s Deli, the Covered Dish, the Orange and Brew, the Purple Porpoise, Common Grounds and countless others… all gone. The corner of 13th and University is prime real estate and the city of Gainesville has exploited that. Burrito Brothers first relocated and spent years operating out of the back of a church. As shocking as that move was to many of us, it still felt like our own special place. It wasn’t the hole in the wall anymore, it was the hole in the back of the church. As long as there was red sauce, we were happy. Surely Burrito Brothers could find a way to survive even when those other Gainesville icons could not.

When I took my family back to Gainesville in November of 2015 for the Florida-Florida State game, as with every trip back, Burrito Brothers was on the itinerary. I had heard about the new digs but when I strolled over for lunch on Game Day, I had no clue what awaited me. An actual restaurant with tables and a patio. Craft beer on tap. A menu with so many items on it, my wife and kids had to take their time figuring out what they wanted. Not me. Primo beef and bean (black) burrito, extra red sauce, guacamole (which incidentally is one of my biggest regrets, not liking guac as a student, I never had it until I returned as an alum, what a loss). I also added a draft of a local Gainesville brew because how cool is that? We took our brown paper bag (I loved that they still stayed true to the brown paper to-go bag) and walked back across University to our tailgate spot in the Plaza of the Americas. And there I consumed what turned out to be my last burrito from the place that binds me to Gainesville as much as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Weimer Hall or anywhere else.

I didn’t know it was my last meal at that time but looking back now, I’m salivating at the taste flashback. The fact that my wife and young sons got to partake with me makes it all the more special. I can’t believe they are closing, the blame lies heavily with the city and I know that my next trip back to Gainesville will be a little less joyous because of it.

Farewell Burrito Brothers. Gainesville is losing another piece of its soul on Saturday. We’ll always love you.

My final trip to Burrito Brothers back in November of 2015

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A Nation Divided

December always brings out the thoughtful reflections on the past year. Not to be trite, but 2016 has certainly been one of the most fascinating and frustrating years many of us can remember. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, the negativity has infected your soul and spirit no matter which side you are on. If you’re of the belief that we are headed in the right direction, that a strong foundation exists and we just need to make smart tweaks and additions in order to continue our path back to greatness, you’ve still been weighed down by the mudslinging and cracks in the façade of togetherness. And if you’re of the belief that rather than build on the successes of recent years, we need to strip the whole thing down and rebuild it from the bottom again, then you’ve been leading the charge of attacks on social media and in real-life conversations with friends and families. If we thought Thanksgiving was tough for us to be together around the dining room table without killing each other, just wait until Christmas.

No, you didn’t mistakenly click on Politico or The Atlantic. We’re talking about something much more important than the political and societal future of the United States of America. We’re talking about a divided Gator Nation. Whichever side you are on, the goal is to “Make The Gators Great Again.”

Two years in, Florida head coach Jim McElwain has done something no Gators SEC coach has ever done in winning a division title in each of his first two seasons. Mac supporters point to 10 wins last season (most ever by a first-year Gators coach) and those two titles as evidence that he’s building the program back up. They’ll talk up 18 wins in two seasons after only 11 in Will Muschamp’s final two. The Gators are 11-1 at home under Mac and 2-0 over Georgia. Florida lost its starting quarterback in the middle of the season both years and suffered some other significant injuries as well. Gainesville only hosted five games this season and despite losing a sure W on the schedule, Mac still guided the team to eight wins (so far) this season. These are all fine, fair points. But as we’ve discovered over the past year, there are truths and then there are fake truths.

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Florida head coach Jim McElwain is 18-8 in two seasons in Gainesville. A divided Gator Nation is split on his prospects of ever turning the Gators around.

Mac detractors will tell you the SEC East is a dumpster fire and those two SEC East titles are as impressive and meaningful as the two Missouri won in 2013 and 2014. The Gators won 10 games in 2015 but short memories forget about the following one-possession games that should could have gone the other way:

Gators’ Close Calls in 2015
vs East Carolina: 31-24, late 4th quarter, ECU deep in Gators territory; Florida wins on a QB fumble and the famous Jarrad Davis tackle of Alex McAllister

at Kentucky: a 14-9 win in which Kentucky had the ball with a chance to take the lead numerous times in the 4th quarter after Florida was completely inept on offense most of the game

vs Tennessee: Gators go an ungodly 5/5 on 4th down conversions, including 3/3 in the 4th quarter punctuated by Grier to Callaway on 4th and 14; UT missed a game-winning 55-yard FG just right

vs Vanderbilt: the worst kicker in Gators history, Austin Hardin drills a 43-yd GW FG in a 9-7 abomination

vs FAU: flashbacks to the low point of the program and the loss to Georgia Southern, only this time Florida somehow escapes with 20-14 win in OT

Mac’s first season just as easily could have been a six, seven or eight-win performance. Of course, winning close games is the sign of a good coach and a good team, right? To some extent, that’s true. The Gators first loss of the McElwain era was on the road at LSU the week of Will Grier’s suspension. By all rights, the Gators had very little chance in this one. Yet they fought and were in the game until Les Miles fooled seemingly only Florida’s coaches in calling a fake FG to win the game. Mac said the loss was “a badge of honor” because of the trickery, failing to understand the Gators had seen Miles do this time and time again over the years. To this point, this is the only loss for McElwain at Florida that was close.

What about losing games that aren’t close? The final three games of the 2015 season were a compilation of some of the worst football the Gators have ever played. UF was outscored 97-23 in drubbings by Alabama, Florida State and Michigan, a stretch of embarrassment that minus the Muschamp era hadn’t been seen in Gainesville since 1988 (a four-game losing streak by a combined 83-23 score). In 2016, all four of Florida’s losses have been by double digits, with an average score of 39-17. Since that overtime win over Florida Atlantic, McElwain’s Gators are 8-7 and have been outscored 312-303.

When trying to evaluate Jim McElwain as a coach and a leader of a program, two seasons is hardly fair. If you look at the recent history of Gators coaches in the modern era, McElwain doesn’t inspire much confidence. Some of this is unfair as well. Comparing any newly-hired coach to a legend is not right. Even Steve Spurrier had his ups and downs. In his first season, the Gators were blown out by Tennessee and Florida State. In 1991, they lost big at Syracuse. And in 1992, back-to-back blowouts on the road at Tennesee and Mississippi State were very discouraging. But Spurrier immediately ended Georgia’s dominance in the rivalry with a 38-7 blowout win in ’90 and had three wins over top-5 teams in his first two seasons. Urban Meyer had an awful first-year loss at Alabama but lost only two more by double-digits (and none by more than 12) until the beginning of the end against Bama in 2009.

Spurrier and Meyer aren’t the only coaches who outperformed McElwain, though. Looking at the Ron Zook era doesn’t favor him either. The Zooker’s teams went 12-4 in the SEC his first two years despite sharing a division with a top-10 Georgia team both seasons. The Gators were blown out four times in Zook’s first two seasons but also toppled two top-5 teams in Tennessee in Georgia in 2002. The final Zook season featured no blowout losses and three either-or games that Mac has been so lucky good in. An awful personal foul call on Dallas Baker, the referees’ failure to restart the clock and the Vols kicker executing on a 50-yard kick at the gun had nothing to do with Ron Zook’s coaching. Against LSU, Florida led 21-7 and lost on a TD pass with 30 seconds left. Zook lost both and Mac won two almost identical ones (UT in ’15, LSU in ’16).

Don’t go to 2:19:00. Don’t do it.

Even big dumb Will Muschamp football beat four ranked teams in 2012. McElwain has two wins over ranked opponents.

The Mac supporters in Gator Nation will point to other coaches around the country that have turned their programs around after some slow starts. The first is James Franklin. He has been at Penn State for three seasons now and the first two were slow going with the the Nittany Lions clawing to identical 7-6 records. Including this season’s blowout at Michigan, Franklin’s teams have also dropped seven double-digit decimations, the same number as Mac’s Gators. Penn State’s magical 2016 made Happy Valley happy again. The win over Ohio State coupled with the B1G championship all seemed so improbable a year ago. Definitely food for thought with McElwain and how long Florida’s administration should allow him to rebuild the program.

Chris Petersen (who we famously penned a love letter to back in 2010) took over a Washington program that was average under his predecessor Steve Sarkisian and promptly went 8-6 and 7-6 in his first two seasons. There were some blowout losses, too, for Petersen with five of the 12 by double digits, not as bad as we’ve seen in Gainesville in 13 months but still not great. The Pac-12 was good and especially the Pac-12 North with powers Stanford and Oregon. So these first two seasons were definitely met with some disappointment in Seattle but there was an understanding that the program’s overhaul was a process. In year three, of course, Petersen and the Huskies are in the college football playoff.

While I don’t like comparing coaches at different programs, there are certainly reasons for optimism in what Franklin and Petersen have done. The biggest reason for alarm in these comparisons for the anti-Mac brigade? Both Franklin and Petersen recruited quarterbacks right away who came in and transformed their offenses into explosive attacks. Trace McSorley redshirted a year because Franklin had the luxury of NFL prospect Christian Hackenberg. Jake Browning, though, started as a true freshman. Both of them had sensational seasons and will probably end up top-10 in Heisman voting. And this leads us to the biggest reasons for concern for the Jim McElwain era.

McElwain has absolutely been hamstrung by what he inherited at the quarterback position. Will Grier appeared poised to break the curse of Tim Tebow before his suspension and ultimate transfer. Treon Harris was never a SEC-caliber quarterback. This season rather than turn the reins of the offense over to either true freshmen recruited by Mac and his staff, the coach went with two transfers in Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. After injuries and struggles, McElwain still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of playing a freshman. College football in 2016 is a lot different than college football 20 years ago. True freshmen are often thrust into action and expected to compete at a high level. Jalen Hurts is an outlier in looking at the performance of true freshman QBs, but even Jacob Eason and Shane Buechele at Texas had their moments. Jake Browning took his lumps at Washington last year before becoming an elite passer this season. Either Mac was too scared to trust his freshmen or they weren’t ready, which given that both were early enrollees last spring doesn’t say much about the staff’s ability to get them ready or to evaluate their potential.

Obviously Grier’s failure was the key in all of this. Mac supporters will say that if Grier doesn’t screw up, Florida is probably set at the QB position for three years. There is clear progress with the offense and no way Florida gets blown out like they have in their past seven losses. Some of those seven are probably wins, too. All good arguments and believable. On the flip side, college kids are notoriously unreliable and Mac and his staff had to prioritize finding good QBs and getting them ready in case disaster struck. Two other issues in pointing to Grier: 1) McElwain didn’t recruit him, he’s a Muschamp signee and 2) Mac could have convinced him to stay and return to the field halfway through this season. It would have been a tough pill to swallow but given the QB situation since Tebow, it was something he should have considered.

In addition to the disputed “facts” of how you look at statistics, records and game results and comparisons with other coaches, there is the on-field subjective analysis that makes evaluating a coach even harder. Play calling is an easy thing for fans and experts to second guess. The 4th down at FSU on the opening drive and the ill-advised pitch at LSU on the goal line after Scarlett and Perine had gashed the Tigers all the way down the field are just two recent calls that drove many to question Mac and Doug Nussmeier. We’re all so much smarter from our seats in the stands and our couches when plays don’t work. At the same time, offensive and quarterback gurus get held to higher standards. Florida’s offense has not been in the top 100 in total offense in either of these first two seasons. There have been long stretches where Florida’s top playmakers Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell and Jordan Scarlett haven’t received touches. For that matter, why did it take so long for the Gators four-headed running-back committee to be settled? Jordan Scarlett is a special runner and most of us saw it well before Mac and Nuss. Lamical Perine is the clear second choice and Jordan Cronkrite is the best third-down option. Mac wasted too many games and too many touches trying to figure out what seemed obvious.

None of this is likely to change minds out there. Gator Nation will remain a divided land filled with those on one side screaming at those on the other side to just see clearly. Often times, things are not as bad as they seem. This is true of what we see in our current situation and what we see coming in the near future if we don’t get our way. I’m on the side of believing that McElwain is not the answer and ultimately we will have to move on from him. I see the “facts” that tell me he’s been lucky on the field despite being unlucky off it. I don’t believe you can be blown out this much and still be a good coach. Good coaches will lose big but when they do, they use it as fuel to spark their team away from mediocrity and toward greatness. All that said, I respect those who see hope in him and think that he’s the right man to get us back on top of the SEC and eventually the country. This includes many of my friends here at Our Two Bits. The bottom line is Jim McElwain will remain Florida’s coach at least for the 2017 season and all Gators fans should hope, well into the future. His success is our success. And unlike our split society and real-world divisions, Gator Nation is united firmly behind our desire to win football games and truly be great again.

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Gators accept the challenge in East Lansing

Gameday

The Gators will face their toughest challenge of the season so far by taking on No.1 ranked Michigan State on Saturday evening. They are currently 6-2 and are coming off a loss 66-55 on the road Tuesday from another ranked team, No.21 Miami. Coach White wasn’t too pleased with the lack of energy or communication from the game down south either “ It was a ‘C’ or ‘D’ effort against a really good Miami team”. Coach White has also hinted at some changes for the upcoming matchup. White is aware of the challenges that the team will face, especially with the type of players that the Gators will be battling against. Denzel Valentine the 6”5 senior guard is the leader for the Spartans who averages 18.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 7.8 assists. “It starts with Valentine, who’s arguably one of the best — if not the best — players in the country. He’s so good in so many different ways; good at everything. And they’re good at everything. Michigan State doesn’t have a weakness. They’re as solid a team as there is in college basketball.” The Spartans are currently sixth in the nation in scoring (57.3 ppg), fourth in shooting percentage defense (.353) 15th in 3-point defense (.270), and fifth in the country in defensive efficiency (.823 points per 100 possessions).

So what do the Gators need to do? They need to fight, right from the beginning, “We got punched in the mouth early” sophomore forward Devin Robinson said on the Miami loss. They need to go back to basics really in order to have a shot at an upset “We all hope that we make some shots up there, make great decisions and execute really well, but it’s simpler I think for this team. While we’re searching a little bit offensively, it’s simpler for us to focus on the things we can control — like being really good defensively — because we’ve shown signs of being a tremendous defensive team.” White said. There was a lack of energy and communication against the Hurricanes and they cannot let that happen against Michigan State, especially in the Breslin center which is known for a wild crowd. “We have to have an us against the world mentality because that’s what it’s going to feel like “Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith said.

The Gators are no strangers to meetings with the Spartans either. This is their seventh time meeting them and currently their matchup record is tied at 3-3. The Gators have also upset the Spartans before back in 2009. This team included former Gators now turned NBA stars Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks) and Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors). MSU at the time was ranked No.2 in the country while Florida was unranked, with the final score of 77-74. “It’s a great opportunity for us, you always dream of beating the Number one team” Dorian Finney-Smith said. With the right mentality and tweaking of basic issues the Gators can utilize this opportunity of playing a top team like this so early to set the tone for the rest of the season.

Broadcast Information:
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WatchESPN.com


Written by Cierra Clark, an undergraduate telecommunications student at the University of Florida. Cierra works for the WUFT news station on campus and has an outside concentration in sports management. She is an avid runner who hails from Winter Springs, Florida a suburb of Orlando. Cierra enjoys all sports from the big sports of football and basketball, all the way to the Olympic sports.

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Gators Squash the Spiders

dunk

Picture Courtesy of Gatorzone

Tuesday night Florida added another win to their record making them (6-1) with a 76-56 domination of the Richmond Spiders. The Gators led from start to finish throughout the game and by halftime they were at 40-17. The defense was really what helped the Gators land this win. “We’ve always been capable of a defense like this” sophomore forward Devin Robinson said. Robinson silenced the crowd in the second half with an ankle injury scare that led him to be carried out into the locker room by trainers. However Robinson came back and was able to play during the end of the game. The Spiders are a high scoring team that is 26th in the nation with their averages of 86 points per game. Last Friday at the Las Vegas invitational Richmond upset California 95-90.Their leading scorer Senior Forward Terry Allen dropped 34 points and 13 rebounds in Sin City.

Star

Star Wars themed evening at the game Picture courtesy of Gatorzone

This was not the case in Gainesville with Allen making 6-for-22 from the floor and 0-4 for three pointers. Allen was also held to 15 points and Richmond shot 34 percent shooting from the floor and only 17 points during the first half. The gators almost had the first trio of players to record double doubles since Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer. Sophomore center John Egbunu added 17 points and 14 rebounds the second of his UF career, sophomore forward Devin Robinson who recorded 12 points, and a career high of 13 rebounds, and Senior forward Dorian-Finney Smith was would’ve been the third double double, and he contributed nine points and 13 rebounds. Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen added 10 points with 4-of-8 shooting and 2 of 4 from the three point rage.

Florida Coach Mike White was proud of how the team used their length and stole rebounds. He also is excited that the team is improving each game and making better decisions with the basketball. “I haven’t been part of a team like this, that’s as talented on the glass as we are, on the offensive glass and defensive glass” White said.

The Gators’ next challenge is on December 8th against in state opponent Miami who is ranked No.21. The team hasn’t had a day off in 15 days, and Coach White is ready for the team to “rest their bodies and their minds” for their next game.

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Written by Cierra Clark, an undergraduate telecommunications student at the University of Florida. Cierra works for the WUFT news station on campus and has an outside concentration in sports management. She is an avid runner who hails from Winter Springs, Florida a suburb of Orlando. Cierra enjoys all sports from the big sports of football and basketball, all the way to the Olympic sports.

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Game Preview – Florida vs. Florida State 2015 Edition

VH3Gainesville, Fla.– With the Florida Gators (10-1) returning from a nail biting win in overtime against Florida Atlantic, they return for their last game in The Swamp for the year. The No.12 Gators face No.13 Florida State for a battle for bragging rights as well as a chance for the Gators to make the college football playoffs.

The Seminoles (9-2) come off of a blowout win against Chattanooga last week and come down to Gainesville for the rivalry weekend. FSU already gave up their ticket to the ACC Championship this year with two losses in the ACC to Georgia Tech and Clemson respectively. The Seminoles have proved to be one of the best teams in the state with wins over South Florida and Miami, with that being the case, they have one thing to do, and that is to defend their back to back wins against the Gators.

For the Gators to grab this win, they plan on stopping FSU sophomore running back and Heisman candidate, Dalvin Cook. Coach Jim McElwain has described Cook as “a fire breather” and “a glass eater”. Cook has rushed for 1475 yards, 16 touchdowns, and has averaged 8.0 yards a carry for the season.

Florida’s defense proves to be one of the best, with being second in the SEC in rushing defense, with 108.3 yards per game. However, the last time they faced a star running back, LSU’s Leonard Fournette they gave up 180 yards.

The Gators also have had some injuries to key players on their roster, including defensive lineman and All-American Jonathan Bullard. Bullard suffered a right knee injury against FAU on Saturday, and although he returned to the game, McElwain said during his press conference on Monday that he “is probably out” for the upcoming game. Edge Rusher Alex McCalister will also be out, as he is still recovering from a foot injury from the South Carolina game.

Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III who had a sick stomach last game is expected to return to the swamp for his final home game as a gator. Hargreaves who is a junior is eligible for the draft and is a projected first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.mac_jimbo

Despite all of the injuries and statistics this game is personal for many of the players. Its senior day and some of these players will walk on the field in a gator uniform for their last time ever.

Florida and Florida State both have a large amount of Florida natives on their rosters. Many of these athletes played against each other or on the same team, from the first time they put on a helmet in Pop Warner, all the way to their final games in college. The Gators and Seminoles are fighting for not only another win to their records, but for the name for the best team in the state, and for bragging rights on the best in the rivalry in this new McElwain era.

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Written by Cierra Clark, an undergraduate telecommunications student at the University of Florida. Cierra works for the WUFT news station on campus and has an outside concentration in sports management. She is an avid runner who hails from Winter Springs, Florida a suburb of Orlando. Cierra enjoys all sports from the big sports of football and basketball, all the way to the Olympic sports.

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Not So Clutch Like MJ: How One Man Fooled Gator Nation

If you are at all active on twitter within the Florida Gator community you have undoubtedly come across a flamboyant brash user named Ryan who went by the handle @ClutchLikeMJ. Ryan proclaimed to have insider knowledge into Gator Football recruiting, current players, coaching decisions, and even claimed to be a “bag man” for the Gators (i.e. paying recruits to attend Florida). He described himself as a rich kid from Destin, Florida with ties to Hawaii and Ohio.

Many (but not all) UF followers would eat up his content, and Ryan seemed more than excited to supply it. He even started a message board charging fees to be a part of his Gator Gang community. The costs escalated quickly, first $10 and then eventually rising to $100 a year for access. Ryan was a master of manipulation fooling many media members, recruits, players, and coaches on Twitter. He would then post their direct message conversations via a screen capture within the forum giving much of his information some credibility. Along with the access fees associated with his forum, “Ryan” would also sell T-shirts online. It is estimated that through these two “businesses” he amassed nearly $50,000 in sales.

After a while a core group got suspicious of “Ryan” when he would not meet them at Gator Football games. So the research began. This group did a reverse phone search and discovered a name…. “Neil Cool”. The group dug further and discovered, via a voter registration website that Neil Cool’s birthday was February 20th; this aligned with when “Ryan” celebrated his birthday on twitter. They also unearthed Neil’s personal Facebook account and some other information about Neil Cool available on the web including ties to the Paypal account for the forum/t-shirts. Here is a screen capture of the Facebook page belonging to “Ryan”, really known as Neil Cool.

NeilCool

Further sleuthing discovered that “Ryan” was using pictures from a gentleman named Drew Walker. Stealing much of his photographic identity for “Ryan” from Mr. Walker’s Facebook account. Mr. Walker lives in Monroe, Ohio and probably has no idea that Neil Cool stole his pictorial identity. The Ohio connection is an interesting one since “Ryan” often claimed to have ties there.

DrewWalkerFB

 

This whole discovery played out via Twitter last night. In fact the content for this post explaining the situation should be credited to two twitter accounts. Big shout out to @tiepod and @MsMiyayo305.

Also, “Ryan” (really Neil Cool) has deactivated his twitter account. But before he did, he left the following image/”apology” note.

Confession

 

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