The biggest Gator fan with the biggest heart: Jay Ryon’s story

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week a little boy named Jay Ryon went viral within the University of Florida community. When his Aunt tweeted the picture below. Lots of special Gator-related things are about to happen for Jay, and we for one are ecstatic for him!!!



In the midst of college football season we get caught up in the hype of our affinity for sports and we sometimes tend to forget the important things in life. We forget that life is bigger than football and records and rivalries. What 8 year old Jay Ryon has shown me is that life is much bigger than anything I could have ever fathomed.

Jay Ryon was a kid that loved going to Disney World, playing soccer, being a cub scout, and of course, he is a huge Gator fan. Saturday’s in the Ryon household were filled with cheers of orange and blue. Jay grew up, like many other kids in Central Florida, idolizing Tim Tebow and loving Gator football. Jay’s parents, Maggie and Nick Ryon took Jay to Gator games and Orlando Solar Bear hockey games regularly. Jay was a normal young boy that loved sports and being outdoors. He was so full of life and joy with twIMG_25711o loving parents, spending weekends at his uncle’s house in Homosassa and playing with friends.

In January 2014, life threw Jay and his family a curveball that many never even think could be possible. Little Jay Ryon had a bruise on the back of leg that wouldn’t go away. It looked different than a normal bruise and it concerned Jay’s parents, Maggie and Nick. They took Jay to his pediatrician to have it looked at. His doctor sent Jay to get blood work and some x-rays done, but assured Maggie and Nick that it was all precautionary. The x-rays came back negative and blood work was normal. But after some further testing Maggie and Nick got news that would change their lives forever. Jay Ryon was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 7 years old. The doctors discovered that his blood had so much cancer in it that Jay was considered high risk and his cancer was so severe that he needed to begin treatments immediately. He was immediately admitted into Florida Hospital and given 3 blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatment.


Jay and his parents were taking on the toughest opponent anyone can face in life. Not even Gator greats like Kevin Carter, Javon Kearse, Brandon Spikes, or Jack Youngblood could be prepared to stop this. Jay’s parents looked to their faith in God to help get them through a tragedy only seemingly real in parents’ worst nightmares. Jay has received over 800 doses of chemotherapy and has spent 122 nights in the hospital since being diagnosed. While other kids are enjoying picnics and playgrounds, little Jay Ryon was enduring something that is indescribable. It was through Jay’s love of the Gators and Florida football that kept his spirits high during these most trying times. Jay in his hospital bed, decorated with Gators colors, would dream of one day meeting Tim Tebow and playing quarterback at the University of Florida just like his hero did. Jay has an unbelievable support system starting with his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the UF family.

In May 2014, Jay and his family got some refreshing and incredible news. Jay’s cancer had gone into remission. After tears, sadness, and heartbreak there was finally hope. God had answered their prayers. Hopefully Jay would soon be able to resume the normal life he had once enjoyed and the life he deserved. After more months of preventative chemotherapy doses, Jay had a setback. In February of this year Jay was bitten by a fire ant, and due to his weakened immune system, Jay had a serious infection. Jay would receive a course of antibiotics that would last 107 days and he had to cease his chemotherapy doses due to the infection. Jay is now 8 years old and has since recovered from that horrific infection and is on tract to being “cancer free” in less than 2 years. Jay still receives monthly chemotherapy doses and is still battling a giant that only David could slay.

Jay has not been able toIMG_25691 attend any football games in 2 years due to his weak immune system and treatments, but his family is hopeful on taking him to a game later this year when the Gators host Vanderbilt in The Swamp on Saturday, November 7. Gator football has been such an important part of Jay’s story and that is why it needs to be shared with Gator Nation. We are more than sports, books, and colors. We are a family.

I hope we can all learn a lesson from hearing Jay Ryon’s story: no matter what you think may be important going on in your life right now….. life is much bigger than you could ever imagine. Much, much bigger.

A special thanks to Jay’s “Aunt Kathryn” for assisting me in writing this piece.

If you want to help Jay and his family, they have established a GoFundMe.


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Game Preview: Week 4 (Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers)

Gainesville, Fla.– The storyline of this week should have been how Florida’s team was getting ready for a hungry Vols team coming into The Swamp. But instead this week has been overshadowed by selfishness and lack of discipline. On Wednesday it was announced that QB Treon Harris and CB Jalen Tabor were suspended for violating the UF Athletic Association’s drug policy. Jalen Tabor is a starter at cornerback for the Gators and his absence will be felt, but sophomore Quincy Wilson seems poised to step up and fill the void for the secondary unit. The Gators are underdogs at home and are looking to get their first 4-0 start to the season since 2012, when the Gators went 11-1.


This may be the best Tennessee Vols team that the Gators have faced in 8 years. Tennessee is coming off a blowout win of FCS Western Carolina and should have been preparing for the Gators for 2 weeks. From top-to-bottom the Volunteers are a more talented team. QB Josh Dobbs is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and can spin the ball really well. Dobbs has weapons on the outside that can expose the loss of Jalen Tabor, with wide receivers Marquez North and Pig Howard. The Vols’ most dangerous offensive talent is their running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. The Gators defense will have their hands full all afternoon. Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard has to be in the backfield early and often. If the Gators can stop Tennessee’s high powered offense, Florida should be able to win.

Tennessee’s defense has struggled much of the season and ranks near the bottom in every statistical category. But, the Gators offense has struggled as well this season. The Gators offense only scored 14 points against an average Kentucky defense last week and struggled to maintain any consistency in the passing and running game. Will Grier will have to face Tennessee’s scariest player, defensive end Derek Barnett. With a shaky and young offensive line, Grier may be running for his life tomorrow afternoon. Grier will have to get the ball out quick and decisively. He has been jumpy in the pocket and has ran too much. He needs to learn that this Vols secondary is not very good and he must get confidence early by going through his progressions and deliver the ball to the weapons Florida has. If the Gators can establish the running game early, it will drop the safeties down and allow Grier to get some over-the-top big plays to speedy Brandon Powell and big time playmaker Demarcus Robinson.

This game is tough for me to pick because right now Tennessee is a better team.

Does that mean the Gators can’t or won’t win this game? Of course not. This game is almost a coin flip and could go either way. Dobbs and Grier have both been so up-and-down that neither can really be trusted at this moment in time. Maybe without Treon Harris lurking on the sidelines, Grier can let loose and play with more confidence. I think that Florida wins this game on offense. Tennessee is going to “get theirs” on offense but I think this is the game where the Gators’ offense starts to come alive. 11 in a row for Florida.

Score Prediction: Gators 31 Tennessee 28

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Week 3 Preview: Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Lexington, Ky.– After last weeks lackluster performance by the Gators, many pundits and analysts have circled this game as “the game Kentucky breaks the 28 year losing streak”. It would be hard for me to disagree after watching Florida’s offense struggle to get any rythm and the Gators’ defense struggle to stop a mediocre East Carolina offense, allowing 333 passing yards on UF’s secondary, even though the Gators were missing their best player and the best cornerback in the country, Vernon Hargreaves. 

Well this week, the Gators get back Hargreaves and also get back starting safety Keanu Neal after missing the first 2 weeks due to a leg injury, which is great news.

Florida’s running game took a step back against East Carolina, when Florida gained just 168 yards on 38 carries. The Gators averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per attempt. Fortunately for Florida, Kentucky’s run defense is not very good. The Wildcats have allowed 442 yards on 81 carries this season, ranking 111th in the country in yards allowed per game and 114th in yards allowed per rush. Granted, those numbers came against a solid pair of running backs—Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire and South Carolina’s Brandon Wilds—they still point to a deficiency in the Wildcats’ front seven. This defense lost a lot from last year’s two-deep, and Florida would do well to exploit those losses, win the point of attack and establish Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite as early as possible. Doing so should open up the passing game for Will Grier to develop a rythm with his recievers.

For Kentucky, WR Garrett Johnson is an absolute stud and having Hargreaves back will be crucial in taking him out of the game. Quarterback Patrick Towles has been getting better every week and that should make Florida’s defense step up. Towles took care of the ball last season, throwing just nine interceptions on 393 attempts. But three of those interceptions came on 45 attempts against the Gators, and those costly mistakes, which all came in the second half of a game that ended up in triple overtime, were a big reason Kentucky fell short of the upset in 2014. Towles has been even more turnover-prone this season, throwing one interception against Louisiana-Lafayette and one against South Carolina. And with the Gators defense fully healthy, that should concern Kentucky fans.

The Gators need to keep a young but athletic Kentucky defense on their toes. Nussmeier and McElwain should have a good gameplan in place to exploit Kentucky’s youth and inexperience, especially in their secondary. Senior LB Josh Forrest is one of the best linebackers in the country and will be blitzing Grier all night. The Gators offensive line needs to be prepared for Stoops’ exotic looks on defense. Linebacker Khalid Henderson is also a senior and is a tackling machine (18 in the first 2 week).

Kentucky is going to give the Gators everything they got in Lexington on Saturday night. Florida still remains a 3-point favorite even though this could and should be a pick ’em game. I think Florida’s talent is better than Kentucky’s from top-to-bottom and that will be the edge. Gators make a few late plays on defense to seal the win.

Prediction: Gators 35 Kentucky 34



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Game Preview: Week 2 (Gators vs. East Carolina Pirates)




Gainesville, Fla.– The Swamp will be rockin’ again on Saturday night as the Florida Gators host the East Carolina Pirates in a rematch of last years Birmingham Bowl. After Florida’s big win in it’s home opener against New Mexico State last week, many Gator fans are riding high. But do not get it confused. East Carolina is NOT New Mexico State.

East Carolina has one the best run defenses in the country. Last season the Pirates ranked No. 36 in the nation in run defense. Even though ECU lost nose tackle Terry Williams, they return a bunch of starters in the front seven and should continue  their defensive efficiency. The Gators only averaged 3.9 yards per rush against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, which is not good enough. If Florida wants to win convincingly, they HAVE to run the ball well. Controlling East Carolina stud linebacker Zeek Bigger will be pivotal in controlling the tempo on offense. Bigger had 140 tackles in 2014 and 10 tackles in last weeks win over Towson.

Will Grier will be starting over sophomore Treon Harris, and he needs to get the offense moving immediately to set an early tone. Look for Brandon Powell to get a bunch of targets again this week and tight end DeAndre Goolsby to have another big game. If the Gators offense can run the ball efficiently against the Pirates front seven, this game will not be close.

Last week the Gators defense looked shaky at times. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was beat deep and Marcel Harris was torched on a New Mexico State touchdown. Hargreaves did have an interception later in the game. Florida’s defensive line looks scary good and will have Alex McAlister back this week after serving a 1 game suspension. Safety Marcus Maye will also return from suspension and give the Gators their regular lineup tomorrow night. Safety Keanu Neal has been upgraded to “questionable” after suffering a leg injury in fall camp.

ECU lost starting QB Kurt Benkert to an ACL tear in fall camp. JUCO transfer Blake Kemp has taken over the starting role and has looked efficient. He went 29-37 with 230 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against Towson. Florida needs to dirty up the pocket, force bad decisions and prevent him from finding that rhythm. If it allows Kemp to stand in and make low-risk, high-percentage throws, he can move the chains and control the clock. But if Jonathan Bullard, Bryan Cox and the rest of Florida’s front seven dominate East Carolina’s offensive line the way an SEC team should, Kemp becomes a risk factor.

Prediction: The Gators offense looked pretty stellar last week. New Mexico State has a below average defense, so take that with a grain of salt. East Carolina’s defense is much better and will give Florida more of a test heading into SEC play. I look for the Gators to do much of the same this week and the defense will be in better shape with starters returning. This will be a closer game because East Carolina is a better team. But Florida will still control much of  the game.

Score: Florida 38 East Carolina 14

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Game Preview: Week 1 (Florida Gators vs. New Mexico State Aggies)


Gainesville, Fla.—- Tomorrow is the beginning of the Jim McElwain era in Gainesville. This week the Gator Nation got a mild jolt with Coach “Mac” naming Treon Harris Florida’s starting QB for tomorrow’s game. Many had high hopes for 4-star North Carolina high school legend Will Grier. Although Grier will still split time with Harris, I still believe this was somewhat of an indictment on Grier. From all we have heard since spring practice started, it was “Grier’s job to lose” and it resonates to me that he did not seize the opportunity to snatch it and secure it away from 2nd year QB Treon Harris who had flashes of good and bad in his freshman season. With that being said, we look ahead to Florida’s season opener against an inferior opponent from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The biggest thing Gator fans are looking for tomorrow is improvement on offense. Florida’s offense has been mediocre, to be polite, the last 4 seasons. Offensive guru Jim McElwain brings with him new Offensive coordinator and “quarterback whisperer” Doug Nussmeier. Between Mac and Nuss’ experience with offense, this Gators team should score points in bunches tomorrow. New Mexico State’s LB Rodney Butler finished #2 in the Sun Belt Conference with 119 tackles last season. He is the biggest threat to the Gators offense. The Aggies’ defense overall is small and should not pose a threat to running back Kelvin Taylor and the Gators’ shaky offensive line. Freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite should get plenty of reps tomorrow and the coaches should let Harris and Grier throw it all over the lot to playmakers Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, and Ahmad Fullwood.

On the other side of the ball, the Gators boast one the most elite defenses in the entire country and arguably the best secondary in the country. Getting LB Antonio Morrison back is huge. The Gators defense will be missing some key starters for tomorrow’s game, safety Marcus Maye (suspension) and safety Keanu Neal (injury) will not be playing. Look for the Gators defense to shut down New Mexico State’s offense in the passing game led by junior All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. New Mexico State’s QB Tyler Rogers had 23 interceptions last season which should have Hargreaves licking his lips. The Aggies have a very good offensive line and they do not give up many sacks (Total of 10 in 2014). Florida’s inexperienced defensive line needs to get in Tyler Rogers face all night and cause him to turn into a turnover machine.

Prediction: I look for Florida to dominate from start to finish. McElwain emphasizes details to his team and I look for tomorrow to be a good test for Florida to focus on the details. Florida will not let off the pedal as in years past and will run away with this game by halftime.

Final score: Florida 52 Aggies 7

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Why doesn’t Our Two Bits write anymore?

There are a million reasons why we started about 5 years ago. We all share a love for the University of Florida and, of course, its athletic programs… ALL OF THEM.

We embarked on this blog/website with the intention of providing Gators and Gator Fans across the country, fun, new and interesting angles on Gator sports. At our best, we were informative, funny and had an irreverent edge. We opened a Twitter account to help drive people to the blog and interact with Gator fans more.

As time wore on, we changed our name. We held on to the Bourbon Meyer name for a year while the namesake was working for ESPN, but once he took the head ball coach job at a large public University in the mid-west, our staff voted 3-1 to change the name.

Thus, Our Two Bits was born.

It was JUST a name change. Content, and “who we are” was to stay the same. But it hasn’t.

We’ve been fortunate that in our lifespan as a blog, we’ve had guest writers like “the Unsporstmanlike Gent” help out, and others join our crew and write for us. To be 100% honest about it, Dory LeBlanc carried us through an entire baseball season several years ago, and more recently, Morgan Moriarty provided almost all of our writing content for extended stretches of time. For that, we can’t thank you enough.

Today, I thought I’d sit down and share with everyone who may be wondering: “What the hell happened to Our Two Bits?” Here are the reasons, in no particular order, why we don’t write much anymore:

Family Matters: Since the original birth of, each of our key contributors has had no fewer than 2 children. For those of you with children, you may be able to relate to how well, “Hold on I’ll be right there to help. I just need to finish writing for our free blog” goes over in the home.

Kids are a lot of work. It’s funny that our group, who have been friends for over 10 years, have never really talked in depth about what we wanted to be as parents and family men, but it is clear that it’s a top priority for us all. Even though all of our wives are basically playing the role of Michael Jordan, we are happy to be Horace Grant and setting picks, grabbing boards, and having fouls to give… so to speak. We love being Dads and husbands, and it’s hard to sit down and get through a post the way we’d like. Which brings us to #2…

Competency issues: The way some of us like to write involves research from time to time. We would love to create content that is not just opinion based and howling at the moon. We prefer to have stats and metrics and context to back up what we’re saying, and that research takes time that we just don’t have. So rather than howling at the moon and talking out of our rear ends, we’ve taken a pass on writing.

The other competency issue we have is related to the other Gator blogs. I could name names, but don’t want to leave anyone out because we read just about all of them at various points. However, the moment of clarity came one day while reading a post from Alligator Army. It was the one following one of the several Jameis Winston debacles. I read it… and I read it again. And I said out loud… “Why the hell would, or should, anyone read our stuff when this is out there?”

I like to write. I enjoy talking about sports and Gators. But, it’s not my profession or area of expertise. There are a lot of you out there who can express what I’m feeling or thinking in words in a way I can’t imagine doing as well.

Market saturation: There are a ton of Gator Blogs out there and now, Twitter accounts that make up the greater “Gator Online Community”. We strive to be different and add something that some others can’t do. The real pros out there can’t be as irreverent of funny, but some have sprung up that are just that, and some, outright crude.

There’s just so much out there now. A lot of it good. A good amount that’s not so good. We don’t want to be in that latter group.

Identity Crisis: All of those things considered… we are trying to figure out who we are as a blog. We know who we are as people, and as Gator fans, so now we want to crack the code on how to put that into our site.

We were once drunk guys at football games, but we are not about that life anymore. We’re old and the hangovers are heavier and longer. Children are relentless and don’t care if you have a hangover. They’re up at 6am and they’re hungry!!

We are not pros and so, have no real commitment to being impartial. We love Florida and so that’s where we are coming from. We’re never going to bash our coaches or players. Check the tape… We stood behind Brantley, Driskel, and Muschamp. As long as they were ours, we supported them because nothing we write is going to change what’s going on at the time. We choose positivity and uplifting, over bashing and teeth gnashing.

Being strapped for time, makes it hard to post in a timely manner. I have so much I’d like to say about Lauren Haeger, and it’s pretty much too late now. That ship has sailed, and outside of hardcore softball followers like myself, the interest in it ends as soon as the trophy is hoisted in OKC.

We’ve dipped our toes in all the pools trying to figure out what works. At times, it’s ended up with us in pseudo-confrontations and “spats” with everyone from actual active Gator athletes, to other Gator bloggers/tweeters. That’s not who we are. We’re not trolls and we’re not “Twitter Tough Guys” or “Thumb thugs”. We have a healthy respect for everyone we encounter and while we may disagree with some of y’all from time to time, it’s all love. Also, don’t forget there are several of us who tweet from our account, so one of us may have a bug up our butt on a particular day. It happens.

I’m curious to see what we come up with.

Jobs and job changes: Finally, in my previous job, I came to know a lot of the athletes and sometimes had inside information on a thing or two. I rarely wrote about it, because it was a bit of a conflict of interest and probably some violations that would end up with me out of a job.

In my current job, I travel a lot and I work more closely with athletics than I had before and while I’m not an employee of the UAA or Gator Boosters, I still feel part of the greater UF team and have been super conservative in what I share or write.

It’s not a good or bad thing. It is just how I chose to go about things now. This will direct a lot of what’s next for us.

So there you have it folks. This is what’s played into our absence from the blogosphere.

Going forward, we will try to solve the puzzle of differentiation and create a space that is uniquely us. In the end, we have so much interaction and activity on Twitter and at 140 characters at a time, it’s a challenge to tell the story we want.

Thanks for bearing with us.

Thanks for reading and tweeting. Go Gators!

Update: While editing this post, my fingers slipped and hit something that deleted everything and I had to start over… shit like that is how we end up not writing for long stretches of time.

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This One Hurts: So Long Billy Donovan

I remember sitting inside BW3 on the corner of University and Main, enjoying a $3 22-ounce Killian’s when I first heard of Billy the Kid. At the time, Florida basketball was an afterthought. The ’94 “Find A Way” squad that was so much fun and so loveable was a distant memory and seemed like a blip on the radar rather than a new normal. So head coach Lon Kruger left the program for the greener pastures of Illinois. Remember when the Illini were a better program than the Gators? It’s been that long.

Anyway, I was drinking with a couple of buddies, including one of my neighbors from Treehouse Village. His roommate was a student manager with the men’s hoops team and had told us about the new hire replacing Kruger. That night over beers, we were giddy with excitement at the thought of Billy Ball. Kruger’s Gators were gritty but far from dynamic. But Donovan’s style was a replica of Rick Pitino’s, which we had seen first-hand as Kentucky terrorized us and the rest of the SEC in the early and mid-90s. We couldn’t have possibly been more excited for the arrival of a guy we’d never heard of.

Those first few years under Billy D were rough. The team was a combined 27-32 and there was a lot of awful hoops as guys like Eddie Shannon, Greg “Tiny” Williams and Dan Williams were asked to carry the offense. There were just enough signs, though, of what could be when an electric guard tailor-made for Donovan’s run-and-gun offensive style transferred from Marshall. Jason Williams was a rock star, and like most rock stars, he hit insane highs and flamed out early. But with Brent Wright, Greg Stolt and Kenyan Weaks, you saw just enough to know there was potential in this young coach and his system. It was punctuated by one of the greatest upsets in Florida hoops history when J-Will torched the future national champion ‘Cats in Lexington. The entire game is on YouTube if you have two hours to kill. At that point, we were all in on Billy Ball.

From there, Donovan built Florida basketball into one of the elite programs of the past 20 years. Everyone knows the numbers – two national titles, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights, eight Sweet Sixteens, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons before last season’s debacle. Florida had never won the SEC Tournament or regular season title before Donovan but now has four and six titles, respectively. Yet even those monster numbers don’t do justice to just how great he was in Gainesville.

After those first two years with only brief glimpses, the current era of Florida hoops began with what would become a familiar pattern in Gainesville. An experienced group of upperclassmen would help lead a young, talented core to some postseason success, only to eventually see the young guys develop and reset the bar the following season(s). The memorable and improbable Sweet Sixteen run in 1999 (thwarted by an over-the-back that wasn’t called on Casey Calvary and Gonzaga that I will never not mention) was inspired by Shannon and Stolt leading an amazing freshman class highlighted by Mike Miller, Teddy Dupay, Udonis Haslem and LaDarius Halton. That success laid the foundation for the following year’s run to the title game. Remember this pattern.

The O’Connell Center became a desired destination for some of the nation’s top talent because of the charms of Donovan and the exciting style of play he employed. When Donovan landed Miller in 1998, the college basketball world was so shocked, Roy Williams (at Kansas at the time) accused Florida of cheating. But after the on-court results in 1999 and 2000, old beliefs of Florida and its place in the college basketball pecking order were erased and Florida became a premier destination. Donnell Harvey followed in 1999 and the class the Gators signed after their NCAA runner-up finish in 2000 included the nation’s top recruit in Kwame Brown, along with top 10 talent in David Lee and James White.

Gator Nation, as we are wont to do, probably expected a little too much from a coach that was still so young and still learning so much about how to build a program and consistently win. The early 2000s were seen as a disappointment despite the annual tourney bids and 20-win seasons. The trio of Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh were unfairly branded as underachievers. Remember the upperclassmen teaching the young kids how to win model? Lee, Roberson and Walsh were hung out to dry by Dupay’s gambling, Halton’s bad knee, Halton’s punch to Brett Nelson’s head and Nelson’s inexplicable decline. Also, Brown never made it to campus, entering the NBA draft and becoming the #1 pick. What if came to Florida instead? It is one of the all-time great what-if’s for Gators hoops and Brown’s basketball career. Looking back, it is no surprise the talented trio fell short of expectations.

Without this stretch of good but not great seasons in Donovan’s tenure, however, the Gators don’t get to 2006 and beyond. Billy learned how to adapt his system to the strengths of his players and became a great developer of talent. Gone were the days when players like Nelson and Halton peaked in their freshman year and regressed horribly every year after. Donovan and his staff were instrumental in the development of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin from skittish, lost rookies to all-SEC and SEC Players of the Year. This ability to develop players mirrored Donovan’s development of the program as a whole.

The crown jewel of Donovan’s career at Florida is of course the back-to-back national championships. It began in 2004, first with the signing of the class that become the most beloved group of players in Florida athletics’ history. They were little-used freshmen in 2005 but were around for another turning point in the program’s history. Lee, Roberson and Walsh led the Gators to their first SEC Tournament title, an experience that was vital in teaching the Oh-Fours how to win in the postseason. Here’s that familiar pattern again and it lead from the SEC tourney title in ’05 to the NCAA tourney title in ’06. The fact that it happened so suddenly was a surprise then but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Donovan had grown so much as a coach in his first decade in Gainesville and he was ready for his return to the big stage. And as great as the run in 2006 was, 2007 was even more impressive. The Gators were never really challenged on their way to a repeat and it can be argued that they are among the greatest college basketball teams of all-time.


One of the greatest teams in college basketball history.

Inevitably after losing everyone of consequence from the title teams in 2007, the Gators once again underachieved for a spell. Donovan’s resurrection once again relied on upperclassmen showing a young core how to win. Chandler Parsons developed into the SEC Player of the Year by his senior season and helped led the Gators back to the Elite Eight. Along for the ride were a green group of freshmen who took the reins from Parsons and delivered three more Elite Eights culminating in 2014’s magical season and run to the Final Four.

It can be argued that what Florida did from 2011-14 was more impressive than the back-to-back title runs. The 2006-07 run was built with three future NBA lottery picks, guys who have starred in the league for many years now. Billy’s second act was constructed with four guys that may never play a single game in the NBA. To me, that’s what I’ll remember most about Donovan’s reign. He won in so many ways with so many different types of players, all while doing it the right way with much love, some of it tough when it needed to be.

Florida basketball was nothing before Billy Donovan arrived in Gainesville and the fear is that it will sink back into nothing after he leaves. I don’t know who Jeremy Foley is going to target and eventually hire, but I think there is more pressure on this hire than on any of the football hires he’s ever made because of the tenuous nature of Florida basketball’s relevance. Florida football is going to always be a contender because of its location, its conference and its support. Florida basketball isn’t guaranteed a place at the table of national relevance. If this hire doesn’t hit, it could take decades, if it ever happens again.

There will be time to worry about all that in the days and weeks ahead. For now, we grieve. The Mount Rushmore of Florida coaches obviously includes Billy Donovan. I would argue that you could expand that monument to include all of the state of Florida and Billy Donovan’s place is still secure alongside Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula. Football is my favorite sport and I’m sure that is the case with most of you. But since my Florida fandom began in 1992, Florida basketball holds as much importance and as much satisfaction as what’s happened on the gridiron. I was in New Orleans in January of 1997 and Glendale in January of 2007. Those feelings and celebrations were matched by what I saw and experienced in Indianapolis in 2006 and Atlanta in 2007. And that’s going to be Billy Donovan’s legacy. He made basketball cool in a state that will forever be football crazy.

Thank you for everything Coach Donovan. We wish you all the NBA success in the world. The Thunder have acquired a lot more Orange and Blue clad fans. You are always and forever a Gator. And if it somehow doesn’t work out in Oklahoma, look us back up in a few years.

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Glad to be a part of Our Two Bits!

Just a passionate, well versed Florida alumnus trying to make it in this world. That was just a quick sentence to describe myself.

I consider myself well versed in Gator athletics and Gator academics. I never really cared for the food at Gator Dining but I love Satchel’s Pizza. I am old enough to remember The Purple Porpoise and when Bennigan’s was the best Happy Hour spot in town. I play in a softball league in my spare time, enjoy fine craft beer, and love all things Atlanta sports (yes, I was a Hawks fan before they became good and now I am a sad Braves fan).

Thanks to the Our Two Bits staff for allowing me the opportunity to be a contributor for the artist formerly known as Bourbon Meyer.



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4th Annual Gators in the NFL Rankings

Every year, I put together this completely subjective account of all the former Gators in the National Football League. I spend the two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl researching and writing this thing, but despite the time it takes, it is the most fun I have writing something all year. If you are a Gators fan but not a huge NFL person, it is a fun stroll down memory lane catching up with old friends. And even if you are a big NFL fan like I am, it is still enlightening to see the numbers of former Gators compared.

It’s not a news flash that the quality of football in Gainesville has been on the downslide for four or five years. And given the dearth of success in the Swamp, it shouldn’t be surprising the NFL has seen a downtick in former Gators success too. I’ve been doing this column for four years now (2013, 2012, 2011), long enough to remember when we actually wrote things for this website rather than just spamming up your twitter feed begging for retweets and hocking t-shirts. Back in 2011, there were 52 former Gators in the league. This year, there were 43.

2014 was a tough year for former Gators. Many that looked like they might find a way back on the field didn’t even make it on a roster. Rex Grossman was a final roster cut by the Browns. They invited him back to start the final game of the season after losing Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel but Sexy Rexy appears to have holstered his gun for good. Max Starks also called it quits, officially retiring after the Cardinals cut him in camp. Maurice Hurt was one of the final roster cuts by Washington in the preseason. Ahmad Black never even made it to training camp.

Even sadder are the Gators who have disappointed so much off the field that it is hard to see any NFL team asking for their services again. We’ll get to those guys in a minute.

Last year was the first year I took a look at what an all-Gators starting lineup would look like. It was decent.. If I had done it, it would have looked better in 2012 and even better still in 2011. This year is easily the worst looking bunch.

QB – None
RB – Trey Burton (I guess?)
WR – Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy
TE – Jordan Reed
OL – Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Jonatthan Harrison, Xavier Nixon
DL – Carlos Dunlap, Jeremy Mincey, Jaye Howard, Shariff Floyd
LB – Jelani Jenkins, Brandon Spikes, Jon Bostic
CB – Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins
S – Will Hill, Matt Elam
K – Caleb Sturgis
P – None
KR – Frankie Hammond Jr.

That defense isn’t bad but the offense… who boy!

Now, on to the rankings…


Ray McDonald
Stats: 39 tackles, 3 sacks
Last Year: 2
This Year: Done
Despite being only 30 and one of the most consistent and productive members of the 49ers defense over the past few years, McDonald’s career is over due to off-the-field issues. The charges in the first case were dropped and no arrest or charges have been made in the second incident as of yet. Still, the fact that McDonald put himself in any sort of situation that might warrant this kind of attention is disturbing. It is hard to imagine a NFL team risking the public relations nightmare that would come from signing him.

Chris Rainey
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Done
According to a report in August, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano liked what he saw from Rainey and was ready to utilitze the former Gators speedster as a kick returner. But during the first week of training camp, the Colts cut Rainey after an undisclosed incident in which Rainey tweeted he messed around with a fire extinguisher. The Colts backfield was a mess all year and the guy Rainey was fighting in camp for a roster spot, Boom Herron, made a name for himself in the postseason. Rainey’s last chance was his best and he blew it. The Cardinals signed him to their practice squad but cut him soon after. Rainey’s past domestic violence issues mean he won’t ever play in the league again.

Jermaine Cunningham
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Done
Cunningham tore his ACL in a scrimmage before the preseason slate even began. He has now been on more rosters (3) than fields for actual games (2) in the past two seasons. A few weeks ago, he was arrested and now after some very disturbing charges, the former second-round pick is headed out of the league as a bust. And he might be headed to jail.


Deonte Thompson
Stats: 1 G
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Thompson appeared to have secured a role with Ravens after scoring touchdowns in three straight preseason games. But he could never get over the hump, was inactive for two games and then cut. The Ravens still saw something because they re-signed him to the practice squad at a payrate higher than usual. Late in the season, the Bills signed him to their active roster and he finally was active for a game but delivered no stats. Given how erratic Thompson was at Florida, the fact that he stayed in the NFL this long is a miracle. His run might be over though.

Xavier Nixon
Stats: 4 G, 1 start
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Nixon was an undrafted free agent facing long odds in 2013. Despite that, he found a way to impress the Colts, earn some playing time and an invite for the 2014 training camp. The Colts had many issues along the offensive line but Nixon wasn’t the solution. He’s still young and will have one more chance to make an impression and find a place in the league.

Jeff Demps
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Demps has been tantalizing football coaches with his blazing speed since Pop Warner. After an offseason enticing new Bucs coach Lovie Smith, Demps ultimately was one of the Bucs’ last cuts before the regular season. He spent half the season on the Colts practice squad but was never called up to the 53-man. The Colts have signed him to a futures contract meaning they still see potential but you have to imagine this is the last offseason Demps will have a chance to figure it out and make a NFL career.

Jon Halapio
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Halapio did not make the Patriots roster as a sixth round pick. Perseverance paid off in December when the Broncos signed him to their practice squad. Given that he didn’t play a snap this year, it is tough to rank him anywhere but here. That said, you can’t doubt someone with the toughness and grit of Halapio. He‘ll have a chance to make a team next year.

Justin Trattou
Stats: 4 G, 2 tackles, 2 kick returns, 19 yards
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Trattou had more of an opportunity this year with the Vikings than he has ever had in the NFL. He played some on special teams and had a late crack as a rotational defensive end. The Vikings seem to think he has the ability to be a full-time backup and will give him that chance this offseason.

Loucheiz Purifoy
Stats: 11 G, 5 tackles
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Purifoy’s decision to leave Florida early has not paid off. He went undrafted, had an uphill battle to make the Colts and then after showing flashes of promise was cut by them after a reported string of off-field incidents. The Seahawks attempted to sign him but he failed his physical. So instead of potentially playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl, Purifoy is looking for a team to give him yet another chance.

David Nelson
Stats: 6 G, 8 rec, 65 yds
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Headed Out of the League
Nelson began the year as a starter and ended it without a job. Such is life in the NFL. Nelson’s first two seasons in the league resulted in 92 catches for over a thousand yards and eight touchdowns. But since tearing his ACL in 2012, Nelson hasn’t been able to sustain any success. He was cut after six games when the Jets traded for Percy Harvin. Gator on Gator crime has never hurt that bad. But regardless of whether Nelson can find his way back to the league next year, he’s a star with his off-the-field work supporting orphans in Haiti.


Dominique Easley
Stats: 11 G, 2 starts, 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Gotta Stay Healthy
Easley has the natural ability to be one of the best defensive linemen in football. The question is will his knees allow him to reach that vast potential. We all remember the torn ACL he suffered in practice in 2013. He tore the ACL in his other knee two years earlier. Given the history, it wasn’t surprising the Patriots shut him down early this year after constant knee soreness. They invested a first-round pick and want to make sure that investment pays off. It goes without saying that next year is huge for Easley. He’ll be two years removed from the most recent surgery and hopefully the pain will go away.

Mike Gillislee
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Gotta Stay Healthy
Gillislee was hurt in the preseason and landed on injured reserve, missing the entire season. It was a bad break as the Dolphins had some injuries in the backfield and he may have had a chance to backup Lamar Miller. Gillislee is a long shot at this point to make a roster next year, let alone to ever make an impact in the league.


Jaylen Watkins
Stats: 4 G, 3 tackles, 1 pass defended
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
After making his mark as a corner at Florida, Watkins future in the NFL might be at safety. His only action on defense was in the Eagles finale after they were eliminated from playoff contention so he has an important offseason ahead if he has hopes of becoming a regular.

Ronald Powell
Stats: 14 G, 2 tackles
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
Powell was a key contributor on special teams but played only four snaps on defense all year. The Saints will give him a chance to see if he can ever regain the explosiveness we saw pre-ACL injury.

Marcus Roberson
Stats: 10 tackles, 1 INT
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
Just making a roster as an undrafted free agent is an accomplishment. Roberson did that and then played mostly special teams for nine games. He finally received an opportunity in the season finale to play defense and delivered with four tackles and a pick for the Rams. He’ll have a chance heading into training camp to prove his worth.

Solomon Patton
Stats: 10 punt returns, 11.2 avg, 18 kick returns, 23.1 avg, 1 rush, 19 yards
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
An undrafted free agent, Patton surprisingly made the Buccaneers roster to start the season and did a good job returning kicks. Despite that, he was cut midway through the season, joined the Cardinals’ practice squad for a while, before ending up back with the Bucs. After the ups and downs of his rookie campaign, Solo will be have a chance to stick somewhere as a returner next year.

Frankie Hammond Jr.
Stats: 3 starts, 4 rec, 45 yds, 15 punt returns, 13.3 avg, 2 kickoff returns, 37.0 avg
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Role Player
So “Hot Light” Hammond and Deonte Thompson can return kicks in the NFL but Brandon James couldn’t? Baffling. Hammond tied for first in punt return average among players with at least 15 returns and in limited duty flashed potential on kickoffs too. He even started three games at receiver for the team with the worst wideout corps in the league.

Bubba Caldwell
Stats: 5 rec, 47 yards, 12 kickoff returns, 23.2 avg
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
Caldwell is at a crossroads this offseason. He just finished his seventh season in the league and turns 30. The Broncos have a new coach and may have a new quarterback. Caldwell was the Broncos fourth receiver and one of its kick returners, but you have to wonder if he’s part of their plans for 2015.

Lerentee McCray
Stats: 13 G, 8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Last Year: Gotta Stay Healthy
This Year: Role Player
McCray was an undrafted free agent who was hurt before the 2013 season and did not play a down. The odds of him making the Broncos roster this season were long. But he made the team as Von Miller’s backup and played on special teams. In the Broncos playoff loss, he had two tackles. McCray will have to continue to work hard to stick but he’s shown he’s capable of surprising.

Caleb Sturgis
Stats: FG 29/37, 78.4%, 128 points
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
We miss him dearly in Gainesville but as a Dolphins fan, I can honestly say that Sturgis makes me nervous. Inside of 40 yards, he is one of the best kickers in football. Simply automatic. But on kicks over 40, Sturgis is not NFL-caliber. The Dolphins will certainly bring in a kicker to challenge him in training camp, and he simply must improve from long range.

Jonathan Bostic
Stats: 83 tackles
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
Bostic only played in 13 games, starting eight, but still improved his tackle numbers from his rookie campaign, finishing second on the team. At the same time, he still struggles at the point of attack, something crucial for a middle linebacker. New coach John Fox may move to a 3-4 alignment, which could help Bostic but he’ll have to improve his consistency.

Josh Evans
Stats: 90 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
Evans racked up a lot of tackles for the Jaguars this year but should have had more – he led the team with 19 missed tackles. For a safety who doesn’t force turnovers, missed tackles can’t happen. The Jags will be looking to upgrade their secondary and Evans’ playing time next season is in jeopardy.

Major Wright
Stats: 51 tackles
Last Year: 10
This Year: Role Player
Wright only played in 12 games with the Bucs before ending the season on injured reserve. He isn’t much of a playmaker as he didn’t force a turnover and had only one pass defended. But he is a hard hitting safety that should still find a way to play in the league for a few more years.

Jonotthan Harrison
Stats: 15 G, 10 starts
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
An undrafted rookie, Harrison started 10 games and played in 15 on a line charged with protecting one of the NFL’s superstars in Andrew Luck. Yes Harrison struggled, and yes he was benched at the end of the year, but he showed enough potential to warrant consideration as a backup offensive lineman for years to come.

Riley Cooper
Stats: 55 rec, 577 yards, 3 TD
Last Year: 6
This Year: Role Player
Cooper’s emergence in 2013 was a bit of fool’s gold inflated by a five-game stretch where he and Nick Foles just clicked. That led to a five-year contract extension with the Eagles and even higher expectations for 2014. Well, Cooper caught more balls this past season but his other numbers were down substantially. In reality, he wasn’t very good, ranking near the bottom of wide receivers by Pro Football Focus. Lots of drops, including a crucial one in a loss to the 49ers, really hurt his team. Cooper’s days as a #2 are done but he’ll probably hang on in the league for a few more seasons as a third and fourth receiver.

Matt Elam
Stats: 52 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 forced fumble
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
During the Ravens-Patriots game, I tweeted that never in a million years would I have thought Will Hill would be a better pro than Elam. But that’s what happened this year. Elam lost his starting spot to Hill and when you watched the Ravens, it was Hill who impressed you. Elam was such a tremendous tackler at Florida that it was shocking to see him miss a tackle in that Patriots game on Danny Amendola. A move back to Elam’s natural free safety position this year didn’t help and he finished the season as a nickel guy. Reggie Nelson looked lost in his first few years in the league, too, so there’s hope that Elam can turn this thing around and become the type of player we all thought he would be.

Will Hill
Stats: 8 starts, 47 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD return
Last Year: Unranked
This Year: Role Player
OK folks, are you paying attention? Because nobody called me on my Will Hill omission last season even though he played well for the Giants at times. I’ll blame my editor. Anyway, this season Hill moved to the Ravens and ended up starting eight of the 10 games he played after serving a six-game suspension for a failed drug test. It was perhaps Hill’s best stretch of football since high school, given the ups and downs we saw in Gainesville and the erratic play so far in the NFL. Unfortunately as has been the case Hill’s entire career, success is fleeting. He was arrested this offseason and all the good work he put in becoming a solid presence with Baltimore is in jeopardy once again. Despite his legal troubles, Hill’s play in the regular season and in the postseason when he had six tackles and two passes defended to solidify a shaky Ravens secondary should mean he’ll have a role with them once again next season.

Jaye Howard
Stats: 10 starts, 36 tackles, 1 sack
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Role Player
Who can make sense of the NFL? Howard seemed like a decent prospect coming out of Florida, ended up on a team with his collegiate defensive coordinator and did nothing. He moved to the Chiefs in 2013 and was similarly ineffective. Then all of sudden, the light went on and 2014 was a nice surprise for the defensive tackle. The Chiefs have an excellent defense and Howard was an important piece.

Marcus Gilbert
Stats: 12 games, 12 starts
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
The Steelers believe in Gilbert. He signed a six-year contract extension before the season began, and then after a slow start in which he gave up two sacks in each of the first two games, he rewarded their faith with a pretty good season. He’s an anchor at right tackle on a line that leads the way for one of the best young backs in the game (LeVeon Bell) and a 4,000-yard passer (Roethlisberger). He has to be more consistent and durable, having played all 16 only once so far in his four-year career.

Trey Burton
Stats: 7 tackles, blocked punt, TD
Last Year: Gainesville
This Year: Role Player
Just like in Gainesville, Trey Burton wasted little time showing the Eagles his versatility. The undrafted free agent earned instant playing time on special teams where he made a huge impact. He blocked a punt that a teammate scooped and scored on. Later in the season, he picked up a blocked punt and returned it for a TD. Pro Football Focus named him a first team All-NFL special teamer and the Pro Football Writers’ Association named him to its All-Rookie team. Burton only played 15 snaps on offense but if he remains a force on special teams, he’ll have a place in the league for a long time.

Louis Murphy
Stats: 11 G, 31 rec, 380 yards, 2 TD
Last Year: Headed Out of the League
This Year: Role Player
A nice rebound season for Murphy almost didn’t happen. He was cut by the Bucs right before the season started but got a call a few weeks later and didn’t let the opportunity pass. In his first game with Tampa, Murphy went wild with six catches for 99 yards in a huge upset of the Steelers. He found a role as a third receiver and rewarded the Bucs for sticking with him. They in turn rewarded him with a three-year contract extension in December.

Sharrif Floyd
Stats: 14 G, 11 starts, 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: Role Player
Floyd had a very good sophomore campaign under the tutelage of defensive wizard Mike Zimmer, the Vikings head boss this season. Floyd really hit a stride in the middle of the season and was becoming one of the best young defensive tackles in football before hurting his knee in practice. After returning, he eventually regained his midseason form and finished the season strong. We know how talented he is and it will be surprising if he doesn’t develop into a Pro Bowl caliber presence on the Vikings line.

Mike Pouncey
Stats: 12 starts
Last Year: 3
This Year: Role Player
Mike Pouncey’s season is hard to dissect. He had hip surgery that delayed the start of it and then moved to guard so the Dolphins could put their five best linemen on the field at the same time. He helped the Dolphins rushing attack to the second best yards per rush mark in the league. At the same time, the line struggled in pass protection. Pouncey was up and down, ranking 69th among all guards by Pro Football Focus. On the flip side, he was named to the Pro Bowl. Still it was a down year by his standards and that’s why I rated him just outside the top 10. A move back to center and a healthy offseason will be big for his 2015 prospects.

TOP 10

Jordan Reed
Stats: 50 rec, 465 yds
Last Year: 8
This Year: 10
After an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Reed once again missed significant time, only playing in 11 games this year. In two seasons, he’s mimicked his infamous quarterback in Washington with an inability to stay healthy. Still, Reed has shown the ability to be a matchup nightmare and can become one of the premier tight ends in the game. His future is bright but he needs a full season in 2015 to prove it.

Brandon Spikes
Stats: 54 tackles, 1 sack, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Last Year: 7
This Year: 9
At this point in his career, Spikes is what he is. A stout, run-stopping inside linebacker who will be exposed in pass coverage. He played less than 50% of the snaps in Buffalo this past season because of that but still racked up impressive tackle totals and helped make the Bills one of the toughest defenses in the league. He’s a free agent and will have plenty of suitors including Rex Ryan, the Bills new coach. He fits the mode of a tough, physical presence that Ryan’s defenses are known. He is already in the top 15 for former Gators in tackles and should have quite a few years left to climb those rankings.

Percy Harvin
Stats: 13 G, 51 rec, 483 yds, 1 TD, 11 rush, 92 yds, 1 TD, 32 KO returns, 24.3 avg
Last Year: Gotta Stay Healthy
This Year: 8
Hours after this column came out last year, Harvin took a kickoff back for a touchdown and sealed the Seahawks Super Bowl victory. He also was the Seahawks leading rusher in the game and caught a pass. In a game with contributions across the board, Harvin was a viable contender for MVP honors. It will be interesting to see if they miss him this Sunday (they will, they don‘t have any playmakers at receiver and their return game isn‘t good). Did you know that Harvin has played in three championships dating back to 2007’s Florida-Ohio State game and is 3-0? He scored a touchdown in each game with a combined 189 rushing yards and an average of 130 all-purpose yards per game. On the flip side, he has now played for three NFL teams in three years. He is ninth all-time in NFL history in kickoff return average and one of the most electric players in the game but also someone that has struggled to find his place and to stay healthy.

Jeremy Mincey
Stats: 46 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: 7
Few players were bigger surprises in the NFL this year than Jeremy Mincey. The Cowboys defense was predicted to be one of the worst entering the season with big questions rushing the passer. But they found a gem in Mincey, who turned in arguably his finest season in year seven. As good as he was in the regular season, Mincey was a man possessed in the postseason. He racked up nine tackles in two games and had a sack in both as well. Pro Football Focus called him the best defensive end in the playoffs. He quickly became a locker room leader in Dallas and figures to have found a home after playing with three teams in two seasons.

Carlos Dunlap
Stats: 66 tackles, 8 sacks, 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
Last Year: 4
This Year: 6
Dunlap’s production is nice but it continues to fall short of his immense potential. You watch him at times and it seems like a 15+ sack season is easily within reach. And yet in some games, he’s a complete non factor. Perhaps he’ll find that extra gear one of these years. He already has 35.5 sacks in his career, 9th all-time among former Gators.

Janoris Jenkins
Stats: 59 tackles, 2 INT, 2 TD (99-yard return), 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
Last Year: 9
This Year: 5
Plain and simple, Jenkins is a pick-six machine. Two more this year, five now in his three-year career. Throw in a fumble return TD and he’s scored six defensive TDs in three seasons. That’s more than any player in the NFL over that span. At the same time, Jenkins gives up just as many big plays with lapses that kill the Rams. He’s feast or famine on a grand scale. He was a Pro Bowl alternate this year but didn’t make the team in the end. He was also part of the troll moment of year when Jeff Fisher sent all the Rams acquired in the RGIII trade out as captains against Washington.

Jelani Jenkins
Stats: 15 G, 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Last Year: Role Player
This Year: 4
Mincey was probably the biggest surprise among former Gators this season but Jenkins was a close second. He started the season as a backup in Miami but injuries struck, he was thrust into the starting role and he tackled everything in sight. He finished with 110 tackles in 15 games, 93 more than he logged in his rookie campaign. You have to take advantage of opportunities when presented. Jenkins did that and now he’s looking at establishing himself as a longtime starter in the NFL.

Reggie Nelson
Stats: 99 tackles, 4 INT, 1.5 sacks, 12 passes defended
Last Year: 5
This Year: 3
“Reggie ‘F-ing’ Nelson”. “The Eraser”. I don’t know why I don’t put Nelson at the top of these rankings every year because frankly he’s the former Gator I love watching the most. He is the dean of the Bengals defense and has been the best player on it for four seasons running now. The fact that Nelson has yet to make a Pro Bowl is ridiculous. His 22 career picks is fifth all-time among Gators and he’s within striking distance of the top spot if he can play 3-4 more years.

Joe Haden
Stats: 73 tackles, 3 INT, 20 passes defended
Last Year: 1
This Year: 2
Remember when Joe Haden arrived on campus in Gainesville? If you don’t, that’s OK. The class was headlined by Gatorade National Player of the Year John Brantley (LOL) and the ‘Lakeland 7’. Haden was a great high school quarterback and one of the best athletes in the country but had never really played cornerback. Yet he became the first true freshman to start at corner in the season opener in Florida football history. The legend was born and has grown beyond all realistic expectations. The seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, Haden is one of the best corners in the NFL. As impressive as Haden’s performance on the field was this year (he finished second in the league with 20 passes defended), he was even more impressive off it, becoming the first NFL player ever to be a global ambassador for the Special Olympics. Haden has to rank near the top of any list of former Gators that make Gator Nation proud.

Maurkice Pouncey
Stats: 16 starts
Last Year: Gotta Stay Healthy
This Year: 1
Hard to argue with All-Pro status. Maurkice is the only current Gator to earn that and has now done it twice in four years,. He’s also made four Pro Bowls in all four seasons in which he has played more than nine snaps. He is the pre-eminent center in the NFL and one of the most respected offensive linemen in the game today. This was his finest season and the fact that he is getting better is incredible. Who would have pegged him as the most likely to succeed off those loaded Gators teams?

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Is This Billy Donovan’s Worst Team Since 1998?

1998 was a long time ago. Steve Spurrier was still coaching football in Gainesville. AOL was how a lot of people were accessing the internet. I was still a student, working in the SID’s office with the women’s soccer team (sadly, RIP 2014 Florida soccer). Tuition was still somewhat affordable. And Billy Donovan was still an unknown.

The hype with which Billy Ball arrived at UF was starting to fade a little after a 14-15 mark in 1997-1998 that saw his two-year record with the Gators hit 27-32. Luckily for us, Florida was a basketball afterthought back then. The fan base, if they paid attention at all, had zero expectations and were OK with letting a young coach learn and grow on the job for a few years despite embarrassing results. Of course, that season was the last one in which the Gators did not win at least 20 games. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament 14 out of 16 seasons since with eight Sweet Sixteens and four Final Fours.

But even in those first two years or the two post ’04 years, the Gators weren’t as painful to watch as they have been to start this season. It isn’t because of effort that the 2014-15 season has a chance to be Florida’s worst since 1998. Through six games, these Gators battle hard. But hard work can’t overcome lack of skill on the big stage. Florida’s offense is a train wreck. It seems they are often playing 2 or 3 vs 5 on the offensive end. The only player on the team who can create his own shot is Kasey Hill, and while he has come a long way and showed huge strides in the Bahamas, he’s still a very weak go-to-guy. And Hill is likely never going to be good enough to carry an offense by consistently hitting mid-range jumpers or getting layups at the rim. Michael Frazier’s early-season shooting slump will end but he’s not much more than a spot-up shooter (albeit perhaps the best one in Gators history) and will always be subject to streakiness and tough lockdown defense. Dorian Finney-Smith is a nice complimentary piece in a well-balanced offense, but in this offense, he’s a bad jump shooter with little space to attack the paint.

If you look back to 1998, the Gators featured a decent offensive attack led by Greg Stolt and Kenyan Weaks and the occasional explosiveness of Jason Williams (until he was booted from the team for good). In the down years of 2007-2008, Nick Calathes could win games almost by himself and certainly had occasional contributions from Mo Speights, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Erving Walker. In fact, Donovan was notorious for an above-average offense that was usually let down by a suspect defense. This year, if Florida can’t find a way to score inside, they don’t have enough perimeter shooting to threaten 70 points (which they haven’t scored to date). It is shocking to see a Billy Donovan offense as bad as this one appears to be. If MFII isn’t on fire, the Gators frankly have no chance of matching buckets with a good team. I’ve mentioned Hill, Frazier and Doe-Doe. Jon Horford plays too far from the basket. Chris Walker has developed no offensive skills. Devin Robinson is as lost as any freshman under Donovan ever. Jacob Kurtz is a hustle guy with no discernible offensive skills.

This isn’t to knock this team. No one expected greatness, especially early, after losing the best senior class in school history of Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. There is no doubt they were overrated in preseason polls based on past successes. They’ll play hard and they’ll get better as the season progresses. But as bad as the SEC is, you have to wonder what their resume is going to look like even when they turn things around and improve. At this point in the season, those of us looking forward to basketball season to ease the pain of the football season might be in trouble. The NIT isn’t likely to salve Gator Nation’s wounds this year. And be prepared, this might be one of Billy’s worst teams ever if he can’t develop an offensive identity beyond jacking up long-range perimeter shots. The dark cloud over Gainesville continues and might be expanding.

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