August Run Continues For Florida Gators, Pick Up Another Big Time Commitment


August has been good for the Florida Gators. Fall camp, my birthday, and another commitment.

This time it’s south Florida defensive back Shawn Davis from Southridge high school who pledge to the Gators today via Twitter. 

Head coach Jim McElwain confirmed the commitment with his now famous Gator bat signal.

Davis is a three-star prospect in the 247sports composite rankings but looks much better than his number 500 overall ranking.

He’s a versatile defensive back with good size, great play recognition, natural instincts, solid ball skills, and he’s a fierce hitter who doesn’t shy away from contact.

He uses his hands well in man-press and has good hips in coverage. 

The Gators have led for sometime for him though he was still considering the hometown Hurricanes, his other finalist.

His commitment makes sixteen total so far for the Gators in the 2017 recruiting cycle and is the fifth in the month of August. 

He joins Marco Wilson and Elijah Blades in what will ultimately be a large defensive back class for the Gators. 

Check out his Hudl highlights here.

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Gator Twitter Erupts For Hansard Commitment


The Florida Gators picked up a huge commitment from massive Princeton (NJ) defensive tackle Fred Hansard Friday morning.

He announced his commitment in a video produced by the Bleachers Report website and released on Hansard’s Twitter account.

Appropriately Gators Twitter was well pleased at the commitment which is number fifteen for the 2017 cycle.

Position coach Chris Rumph with the Gator chomp:

 https://twitter.com/andrewspiveygc/status/769174843195592704

California linebacker Rahyme Johnson who is also strongly considering the Gators tweeted this:

 https://twitter.com/rahyme_johnson/status/769173700352495616

Followed by a response by Hansard.

And then this exchange:

Hansard had been considered a strong Gator lean since visiting for Friday Night Lights in July where it was obvious he had a good time.

He also has apparently loved the Gators for much longer.

With three defensive tackles in the fold including high school senior Jordan Scott and JUCO Javier Edwards, the Gators are likely done at the position this cycle. 

It’s a massive haul both in numbers and in size.

He chose the Gators over finalists Rutgers and Tennessee and had over 30 offers in total.

Chomp Chomp! Gators Nab Huge Commitment, Continue August Run


August continues to be a big month for the Florida Gators on the recruiting trail. Friday morning they picked up another huge commitment, literally, from massive New Jersey defensive tackle Fred Hansard.

With the now familiar Gator commitment bat signal head coach Jim McElwain announced it on Twitter.

Hansard made his commitment in a Bleacher Report video posted via Twitter. In the video, he hails a cab in New York City and makes the trip through the tunnel across the river where he stops the cab. He gets out, turns around with the Big Apple in the background, gives a “Go Gators” and flashes his Gator gloves.

Hansard (6-4 310) from the Hun School in Princeton, NJ chose the Gators over the over his other two finalists Rutger, the home state school, and Tennessee. 

He is a composite four star recruit, the 11th ranked defensive tackle nationally and #201 overall according to the 247sports composite rankings.

The third defensive tackle in this class, Hansard brings a good combination of size and ahleticism as a three technique DT who is versatile enough to move around along the line.

A big bodied guy with a compact frame who absolutely blows up offensive lineman, he has great quickness off the ball and can run down the line. 

He is strong at the point of attack and plays with good technique and pad level but that quick first step is unusual for a guy his size and should continue a long line of great Gator defensive tackles.

He is the Gators 15th commitment for this cycle and likely not the last for today as long time Gator lean CB Shawn Davis is scheduled to make his choice known this evening.

 

No longer Rolin With The GatorsΒ 


Confirming rumors that had been swirling around Florida Gators message boards, the school announced on Monday that redshirt junior linebacker Matt Rolin is no longer with the team.

Rolin, out of Ashburn, VA, was a late addition to the Florida Gators 2013 top five recruiting class after flipping his commitment from South Carolina.

Considered a four star recruit by most major services, Rolin was sidelined almost his entire career due to injuries and was never able to flash the talent that made him an Under Armor All American in high school.

He played in only three games in his Gators career all last season and had 11 career tackles.

Rolin came to UF rehabbing a torn ACL suffered his senior year of high school and suffered a second shortly into fall camp of his freshman year. 

Despite being declared fully recovered from his injuries by head coach Jim McElwain last season, he never seemed to be the player he was expected to be and couldn’t crack the depth chart.

Some speculation was that he just had lost his desire for the game or that the injuries had made him too tentative.

Regardless, it appears his college career is over. 

It’s unclear whether he plans to transfer and attempt to pick up elsewhere or if he’s just quitting football altogether but remaining at Florida to pick up his degree.

We’ll know more later this afternoon when coach Mac addresses the media for his Monday media session.

His departure leaves the Gators linebacker corps terribly thin on depth and experience with only three players that have taken a college snap: Jarrad Davis, Daniel McMillian, and Alex Anzalone.

All three were members of the same highly touted 2013 linebacker class for the Gators.

Behind them are converted safety and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson as well as true freshmen David Reese, Jeremiah Moon, and Vosean Joseph.  

Byrd In Hand: Florida Gators Land Big Tight End


The Florida Gators continued their string of recruiting commitments on Saturday as Millbrook (AL) tight end Zechariah Byrd gave his verbal pledge to head coach Jim McElwain and company.

The now familiar Gator bat signal that coach uses when the Gators pick up a commitment.  

Byrd becomes the second tight end in this Gators class along with Miami (FL) TE Kemore Gamble.

At 6-6 243, Byrd is a huge target with a long, lean frame. And he’s not done growing yet pushing 6-7 according to his high school coach. He has a solid frame to pack on muscle and more weight by the time he gets to campus.

More of a basketball player before high school, he’s worked hard to bulk up and refine his skills and it has paid off.

“In the ninth grade, I told him you’ve got this great length,” high school head coach Jeff Foshee was quoted in an AL.com story by Drew Champlin. “You can’t coach that. I don’t know how much he believed me. Nothing’s been given to him, but he’s stepped his game up once he figured out this was going to work for him.”

“He’s figured out that, now, No. 1, I’m a football player,” Foshee added. “He was thinking basketball, which is fine and they can play anything they want, but he’s now getting a lot of attention as a football player.”

Besides being a huge target, Byrd is athletic, has great hands, and is a devastating blocker out on the edge and in the open field.

The Gators were looking to take two tight ends in this class and they honed in on Byrd this spring after taking Gamble’s commitment.

Byrd picked the Gators over the home state Crimson Tide, Michigan, and others.

The Gators have been on a little run of late picking up their fourth commitment since their Friday Night Lights camp a couple weeks ago.

He’s also the Gators fourteenth commitment overall in the 2017 cycle. 

Check out his highlights here

The Gators are hoping their recruiting success continues on with a few more expected commitments before the end of August.

Report: Attorney Drops Bombshell in Callaway Case Β 


The curious case of Florida Gator star wide receiver Antonio Callaway’s very private suspension has taken a nasty, public turn one day after he was welcomed back to practice for the first time since the end of last season.

A report by Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach on ESPN.com on Friday dropped a big bombshell revealing the nature of the original allegations and a nasty turn in the case that many thought was nearing a resolution.

First, lets reveal the backstory.

Callaway was quietly suspended less than a month after the Gators season-ending bowl loss.

Curiously the suspension wasn’t publicly announced until shortly before spring practice for reasons unknown.

At that time little was revealed except for a brief statement by head coach Jim McElwain that Callaway and former Gator quarterback Treon Harris were indefinitely suspended by the university from all team activities and would not participate in spring practice due to a potential student code of conduct violation. They were also suspended from attending classes on campus although they were permitted to finish up classes on line. 

Harris, of course, has since transferred out. 

At the time all coach McElwain would reveal was that the allegation was tied to “an incident which supposedly occurred in early December 2015.”

Throughout the spring and summer, fans and media alike had speculated what the alleged violation might be as well as the possible length of his suspension and any potential further sanctions. 

One prominent Gator blogger even speculated it was a simple noise violation, a story which was later recanted.

When prominent Gainesville attorney Huntley Johnson, who has represented numerous Gator athletes over the years, was retained as Callaway’s attorney, he released a statement basically calling into question the merit of the allegations and suspension.

“At this time, the University of Florida has not presented to Mr. Callaway or [his counsel] any evidence relating to Mr. Callaway’s suspension,” the statement read. “Be that as it may, the law firm of Johnson & Osteryoung has conducted its own investigation as to the allegation that is the basis for the suspension. There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed. This allegation has no merit.”

As a result, many thought the case would be settled in his favor and he would be reinstated in short order. 

In June, Huntley announced that Callaway, while still suspended from the team, was cleared by the school to return to classes on-campus and to use team facilities.

On Wednesday on the eve of fall camp coach Mac said Callaway was still suspended but able to practice.

“There hasn’t been any change in the status [of Callaway],” McElwain said. “He’ll be practicing. Like I said, he’s back with the team from that standpoint. Nothing from a status standpoint has changed and there isn’t a time frame on that.”

It appeared, however, that a conclusion to the case was near.

Then came the bombshell.

Apparently the suspension is due to an ongoing university investigation into allegations by a university coed against Callaway and Harris accusing them of sexual assault.

And to make matters worse, the complainant’s attorney John Clune in a letter to UF deputy general counsel Amy Hass has alleged bias by the university in the selection of a hearing officer to adjudicate Callaway’s student conduct code hearing.

“This has been a difficult decision but as I previously indicated to you, the fact that UF has hired a football booster to adjudicate a sexual assault allegation against one of the team’s own football players is a fundamentally skewed process in which [the complainant] refuses to participate,” the letter read according to the ESPN report.

“To be clear, [the complainant] remains very willing to participate in a fair and unbiased disciplinary process. Mr. Calloway’s behavior has had a great impact on her life and continuing as a student at UF is of great importance to her and her future.”

The booster is Jacksonville attorney Jake Schickel a UF grad and a former trustee of the UF College of Law.

He is a financial contributor to both football and basketball booster programs associated with the university.

“UF should never have asked him [Scheckel] to serve as an objective reviewer and decision-maker on this matter when the claim has been brought against a star member of the very team for which both he and his law partners have provided considerable financial support,” the letter said.

“Quite frankly, short of finding a relative of Mr. Calloway, I’m not sure how UF could have found someone with more conflicts [than] Mr. Schickel.”

As a result, the complainant has chosen not to participate in the student code of conduct proceedings which are scheduled for Friday according to the report.

This leaves UF in a precarious position and its unsure if they’ll be able proceed with the hearing without the complainant’s direct testimony.

But most assuredly it paints the university in a bad light at a time when the NCAA is reeling from multiple allegations of schools mishandling or downright covering up sexual assault allegations against prominent athletes.

Callaway’s attorney Huntley Johnson released a statement on Friday which accuses the complainant’s attorney of intimidation.

“We have read what the complainant’ s attorney has released to the press,” the statement reads. “We consider his actions inappropriate and an attempt at intimidation. Since the complainant’s attorney has chosen to go to the press in this matter, we assume that he will be releasing the hundreds of pages that made up the University of Florida’s investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the sworn affidavits in this case. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s text messages in the investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s multitude of varying and conflicting stories.”

The university offered a brief response to the allegations by Clune according to Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times.

“The University of Florida is prohibited to comment on the existence or substance of student disciplinary matters under state and federal law.”

“However, I can tell you that our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students.”

“Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality. A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.”

Where does this leave Callaway and his suspension?

It appears for now he will remain in limbo. 

Check out the full ESPN report here.

In Search Of: Florida Gators Looking To Solve Offensive Woes


In the late 70’s, Leonard Nimoy, Spock from the original Star Trek tv series, hosted a quasi-sci-fi tv series called In Search Of.

Today, as fall camp has already begun for the Florida Gators in preparation for the 2016 football season, head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could host an episode of their own as they go in search of a solution to last season’s offensive troubles.

By now everyone is fully aware of how the Gators offense tanked after Will Grier’s suspension.

To anyone that watched last season’s offensive debacle there was certainly a stark contrast between the play of Grier and that of his successor Treon Harris.

However, both players have since transferred out leaving Luke Del Rio, who transferred in before last season, to compete with grad transfer Austin Appleby for the starting quarterback job this season.

What will it take to improve on last season’s putrid 111th (out of 127 teams) ranking in total offense?

With that in mind coach Mac was asked in his media session on Wednesday what a successful offense looks like to him.

“I look at it as efficiency in staying on the field,” he replied. “Obviously being successful keeping your defense off the field by not only prolonging series, but you know, the three-and-outs thing just kills you, all right.”

“And ultimately, the production of points, when you’re down inside that score area, is something that to me kind of defines it.”

With that being said let’s look at a couple areas on offense that must improve if the Gators have any shot of defending their SEC East title this season and why they should be improved.

Third Down

Last season, the Gators finished 95th nationally in third down conversion percentage. They converted a mere 36.4 percent (75 of 206) of their third down opportunities. 

This means that they failed to convert on almost two-thirds of their third down chances.

That’s not just bad, it’s putrid.

Tough to have any kind of consistency when you can’t keep your offense on the field.

Not to mention the pressure it puts on your defense.

If third down is money down then offensively the Gators went belly up. 

Broke.

Insufficient funds.

Bankrupt.

Destitute.

You get the point.

They have got to be better on third down.

Period. 

What will it take for them to be more successful on third down?

Better offensive line play…

The Gators started three true freshman last season and only had one returning player who had ever played a down at Florida when the season began. Behind them were more freshman and ineligible transfers.

I’ve been following Gator football since 1977, and I can’t remember a more inexperienced offensive line than what they started the season with last year.

Not exactly a prescription for offensive success for a first year head coach.

Manufacturing ten wins and a division title was pure wizardry. And, of course, a little luck.

Surprisingly, the young line actually played fairly well overall last season. There were some clean pockets and running lanes but the line play was simply too inconsistent. A lot of that can be attributed to poor communication.

Particularly on third down.

Blitzes, stunts, and other tricks can be difficult for young, inexperienced players to recognize and execute properly against. 

They saw a lot of that on third down last season.

The good news?

They gained a ton of valuable experience after having everything thrown at them including the kitchen sink.

While it might be foolish to expect this line to improve by leaps and bounds, we can surely expect improvement.

And after watching the two end of season losses to Bama and FSU repeatedly over the summer, I can assure you, minor improvements in technique and recognition should pay off big dividends this season.

“I would challenge us to be dramatically better [offensively],”  McElwain said. “Now, are we going to get to where we are eventually going to be in the program? No.”

“But with that being said, I think the experience we developed up front is going to be very helpful. And I’m going to challenge those guys to help us get a little better.”

“But you know, I see it drastically much better in operations… or at least winning half a battle up front, right.”

After one practice, it was already obvious to the staff that the line is farther ahead this year than last.

“In a practice like this the one thing I could tell was they [offensive line] were set into the right place in pass protection and they weren’t just sitting there, they were actually talking to each other,” McElwain said. “Which tells me they were communicating at least based off the Mike point, where their combination blocks were going. So I’d say in that case, those guys are ahead of, obviously, where they were a year ago.”

Better quarterback play…

As important as improved line play is, perhaps even more important might be improved play from the quarterback position.

While Grier had his ups and downs, Harris was outright terrible on third down. 

Where do we begin? 

Batted down passes, poor throws, missed reads, happy feet, etc…

Good news for Gator fans is that all of the Gator quarterbacks this season are 6-1 or taller meaning there will likely be less batted down screen passes, a staple of this offensive system. 

I believe both Del Rio and Appleby are a huge step up from Treon and Grier.

Del Rio has experience in the system, is a coaches son which provides a level of intuition others may not have, and he is smart and poised in the pocket.

“I think the big thing there has more to do with growing up around the game,” McElwain said about Luke being a coach’s son. “And you know what, probably seeing it from a little bit different perspective; I think understanding how you can help your team win, sometimes by throwing the ball away and allowing your defense to be successful.”

“You know, there’s certain things in playing the position, I think that help. I think the fact that he grew up around it, is something that obviously helps him.”

Appleby is an experienced game day college quarterback. While his career stats are nothing to write home about, it’s hard to discount the effect of having significant game experience in the pocket particularly considering he’s surrounded by far better skill talent than he had at Purdue.

Together the two combined to go 19-23 for 256 yards and a couple td’s in the spring game. 

While it was only a spring scrimmage, it is important to note that the quarterbacks were finding and hitting the open receivers, something the Gators qb’s struggled to do consistently last season.

“He (Del Rio) did a good job letting the game come to him,” Florida’s second-year coach Jim McElwain said after the spring game adding “it’s amazing what happens when you throw it to the open guy. You get a pretty good stat line.”

Red Zone

As bad as the Gators offense was on third down, they were even worse in the red zone where they finished 124th out of 127 FBS teams.

They scored on only 34 of 51 red zone trips (66.7%) which means they failed to score on a third of their trips inside the red zone. 

That’s unacceptable.

The issues for Florida in the red zone were very similar to their issues on third down. Poor quarterback play and inconsistency along the offensive line.

All too often when they got down into scoring position breakdowns at those two spots doomed them.

Kicking woes…

However, an even bigger issue reared its head down in the red zone: poor place kicking.

When I say poor place kicking, I really mean horrid place kicking.

Have I already used the word putrid?

Out of those 51 red zone opportunities the Gators came away with 5 field goals.

Count em.

1…2…3…4…5 field goals.

Over the course of an entire season.

There are kickers that kick 5 in a game.

The Gators could only manage 5 the whole season. 

When a team gets into the red zone which is inside the opponents 20 yard line, a field goal should be almost automatic. 

Starting kicker Austin Hardin was 5-14 from all distances overall an unheard of 35.7%. That has to be some kind of modern era Gator record for kicking futility.

It led to coach McElwain taking chances by electing to go for it on 4th down in the red zone which mostly led to turnovers on downs.

Driving deep into an opponent’s territory without coming away with points is demoralizing for your offense but even more so for your defense. 

The good news? 

Hardin is gone (transferred out) and in his place is JUCO transfer Eddie Piniero who became an Internet sensation with viral videos of him kicking 77 yard field goals.

Despite being already committed to Bama, Piniero flipped his commitment to and eventually signed with the Gators after a whirlwind courtship by coach Mac.

He brought Piniero in on an official visit and stressed both the Gators need for a top flight kicker and the location being close to home so his family could see him play.

The power play by McElwain worked as Piniero flipped his commitment shortly after his visit to UF.

Will he be kicking 70+ yard field goals for the Gators?

Not likely.

However, he should be automatic inside of 40 yards and high percentage inside of 55.

That’s all they want, that’s all they need.

Consistency is the key to changing their red zone fortunes this season and Piniero along with returning backup Jorge Powell (2-3 last season) should provide that. 

Which should be a huge boost towards moving the Gators up from #100 in scoring last season.