All Eyes Look Towards the 2016 Football Class

As the Florida Gators enter the new year, it’s time to look forward to the new recruiting class. With a roller coaster year for the team, Coach Jim McElwain has stated that he is bringing in 25 to 30 new players for the 2016 season. The Gators started out strong when the new head coach first arrived this year. Winning the first six games, they were on par with No 3 Ole Miss. However, things didn’t take a turn for the better for the rest of the year.

The Gators saw the suspension of quarterback Will Grier in the early fall, lost the final three games of their season, and then got crushed by the Michigan Wolverines in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. They lost to the Wolverines 41 to 7; one of the worst performances the team has ever had in their history. Needless to say, the Gators went home with the taste of disappointment in their mouths and their tails between their legs. McElwain seemed to be chipper after the game though.

Austin Appleby in a game against Iowa. Photo courtesy of Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Appleby in a game against Iowa. Photo courtesy of Marc Lebryk – USA TODAY Sports

He stated to reporters during his postgame press conference that;  “Maybe that’s my fault about being upbeat. Yeah, I’m disappointed. We’re all disappointed. But you also got to learn from disappointment, and we will.”

As four upperclassmen declared for the NFL Draft, McElwain shifted his focus on the players that will shape the years to come for the Gators. Seeing them as leaders, the coach will depend on them to help guide the newcomers over the year. As a result of this new responsibility for returning team members,  the excitement for next season seems to be returning. A crop of fresh and talented newcomers are set to start early in order to be eligible for the fall season. Ten out of the twelve of them have arrived already for spring classes and received a warm welcome from the head coach.

In addition to these new team members, Austin Appleby has announced that he will be transferring to the University of Florida as a graduate student. Currently, Appleby is the head quarterback at Purdue University. The addition of the older player will add an interesting contender for who might the starting QB next year. As I already wrote about in a previous blog post, there are four other contenders for the starting position. However, Austin  is the only one that already seems to fit what the head coach looks for in a starter. He is the same height as all of the other QB’s who played under McElwain’s other teams, can take care of the ball well and has the experience of playing under pressure already.

Whatever the outcome of the transfer window, the Gators seem to be taking the steps towards laying down a solid foundation for the team. It’s an exciting time for both fans and teammates as everyone looks forward to a successful 2016 season.

Who Will Be Golf’s Breakout Star For 2016?

With all eyes towards the new year many professionals in the golf world have been debating as to who the breakout stars of 2016 will be. As some well known players are set to take a break or deal with injuries, the door has been opened for a handful of golfers to make waves. So who are these golfers who have caught the attention of the sport? Here are three of the golfers who have been speculated to break out in 2016.

Branden Grace – First emerging on the golf scene in 2012, the South African golfer has proven that he’s a real contender for breakout star of the year. Branden Grace won the President’s Cup last year and came very close to winning the PGA Championship and the US Open. Besides impressing golf experts during those two events, Grace became the second international player ever to go 5 – 0 in one week at a tournament in South Korea in October. The only thing that holds the golfer back seems to be his inability to be consistent in his game. Grace has stated in the past that he has allowed bad habits to come back into his game on occasion and he’s struggled to fix them. With his ability to get those under the control, 2016 should be a good year for the seasoned golfer.  

Tony Finau - Photo courtesy of http://www.pgatour.com/
Tony Finau – Photo courtesy of http://www.pgatour.com/

Matt Fitzpatrick – At 21 years old, Matt Fitzpatrick won his first professional tournament when he took first place in the British Masters this year. As an amateur, he took first in the 2013 US Amateur tournament – the first time a British man has won since 1911. It was during this tournament he ended up on the radar of golf experts. As his career continued, he seemed to only be getting better and better. In 2014, he went professional after he was invited and played in the US Opens. With less than two years professional experience, it has been exciting to see the young golfer’s career play out. It’s speculated that he will be the next big thing in golf when you look at everything he’s accomplished in these short years.

Tony Finau – As the only American on this list, Tony has made waves in his time as a professional. At the age of 17, Finau turned down various college scholarships to play basketball to focus on golf. Starting with various mini tours that year, his game improved quickly and exposed him to more and more people.  The golfer won his first professional tournament in 2014 when he came in first at the Web.com tour by 3 strokes. Besides his promising future, Tony is the first player of American Samoan and Tongon descent to ever play in the PGA tour.

Of course there are other players that have made a name for themselves in the past year, but it’s these three players that show the most promise. Only time will tell if they will go big or if they will fade away as other names accomplish bigger things. It’s going to be an exciting year for golf and I am looking forward to seeing the ups and downs.

The Triumphs and Trials of the Florida Gators in 2015

2015 was a year of success and heartbreak for the Florida Gator’s sport teams. For every moment that there were thrills and laughs, there were others filled with tears and regret. One thing rings true though, fans of the Gators will stand behind their teams regardless of what happens. Here are some of the best and heartbreaking moments in Gator sports in the 2015 season.

With a football program that seemed to be crumbling, the arrival of Coach Jim McElwain change everything. McElwain was brought in to help improve the Gator’s record, similar to the way that he improved Colorado State’s record in the three years he coached their team. Hired in 2012, Coach Jim brought the CSU team from a 4-8 record to a 10-2 record by 2014. He broke down the different cliques within the team and refocused their energy on playing as a team rather then playing for themselves.  As a result of these coaching techniques, the team improved as the years passed.

Head Coach Jim McElwain. Photo courtesy of http://www.tampabay.com/
Head Coach Jim McElwain. Photo courtesy of http://www.tampabay.com/

Florida saw the potential of what he could bring out of a team and bought out his $7.5 million contract with CSU. At first his arrival generated a tepid reaction out of fans as they saw him as a snooze fest. However, he quickly changed their minds with an impressive 6 – 0 record in the beginning of the season. Seizing the opportunity to make changes within the program, McElwain executed everything that he could to push them forward. He devoted a space in the football complex so NFL scouts could sit in comfort, he scolded players when they needed it and banned swag on the field. Despite the changes though, the suspension of the quarterback and some lackluster performances, the Gators struggle to keep up their winning streak.

The suspension of Will Grier broke the hearts of many Gators fan this year. Will took an over the counter supplement without checking with the staff’s medical team first to see if it was okay to use. As a result of this oversight, the Gators quarterback tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for a year. In a press conference soon after the announcement he had been suspended from playing, Grier stated that “I really hope that people can learn from this, learn from my mistake. I’m really sorry to everyone, just really sorry.” Since that time, Grier has decided to transfer from the University of Florida in a move that surprised many.

The football team wasn’t the only team that saw success in the 2015 season though. The Gators baseball team had their return to the College World Series in Omaha this year. The team, which is ranked 4th in their division, celebrated this milestone after they beat the Florida State Seminoles 11 – 4. This is the first time since 2012 that the Gators have made it to the College World Series, and the fourth time under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Ultimately the Gators were eliminated by Virginia Cavaliers, but the team will continue to strive for greatness in the next baseball season.

Finally, many of the non-revenue sports managed to claim a variety of titles as well. The women’s gymnastic team claimed their third National Title in a row. Freshman Alex McMurtry brought her team to victory after scoring a nearly perfect routine as the final competitor on the bars. They weren’t the only successful women’s team for Florida either. Combined with the various wins from both their men’s and women’s team the University of Florida was award the SEC All-Sports Trophy once again. It’s the 25th time the school has won it.

With such an impact on college sports, the Gators have a lot to live up to in the 2016 school year.

Who is the next Gators Quarterback?

As the new year lingers on the horizon, many Gator fans are asking themselves – who will be the 2016 starting quarterback? As I said in my last blog, Will Grier looked like the next big thing for Gator’s football. This changed when Will, the current starting quarterback, decided to transfer from Florida leaving the spot open to new prospects. However, as Grier has been suspended, he would have missed the first six games of the new year if he had stayed with the Gators anyways. It leaves the open ended question of who is going to take over the starting spot.

Photo courtesy of http://thechtonsports.com/

With so many other questions lingering, I’ve broken down the current starting options for 2016. There are four different players that could fill the role, each having a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

      • Treon Harris – This might be the clear answers for most people. As he will be a junior in 2016, it leaves Harris with plenty of time to grow with the Gators. After Gier was suspended, Treon was appointed to take over the quarter back role as well. However with a poor start to the year, it looks doubtful that he will continue in the new year. He has only completed 49% of his passes, managed five interceptions and seven touchdowns since he took over in October. His specific skill set doesn’t fit in with coach’s Jim McElwain’s style of play either which has caused friction in the Gator’s world.
      • Kyle Trask – As a freshman in 2016, Trask will be enrolling early at Florida. This will help him gain experience and boost his development as a college player. It’s his inexperience at a higher level of the game that will probably hold him back from the starting position though. His height and weight make him an interesting prospect for the role, but most people think he won’t be ready for the starting role in his first year.
      • Feleipe Franks – Franks is the clear cut winner amongst the Gator fans. With a massive arm and weight behind him, his style is the most similar to a pro-style game. As the third best quarterback in the 2016 class, Franks holds an impressive record for a high school senior. Enrolling early, Franks will be a freshman in 2016 but like Trask, will lack the experience of a higher level of play. Many feel that exposing him to the game from the sideline will be more beneficial to the younger player then throwing him into the game right away. Due to the lack of prospects though, he will having the potential to become a starter right away.
      • Luke Del Rio – As the son of Oakland Raider head coach, Jack Del Rio, Luke has been impressing Gator’s coaches over the summer. As a transfer from Oregon State, Luke was not allowed to play in the current NCAA season due to transfer rules. As a walk on to the Alabama football team, Luke later transfer to Oregon before making his final move to Florida. His pro-style makes him a good fit with the coaches training techniques, but also a good fit with the offensive team. However, it doesn’t mean it would be a long lasting thing. If he does get the starting job, it could just be temporary as the Gators groom the younger players.

Photo courtesy of http://thechtonsports.com/

5 Of The Best Snorkeling Destinations In The World

Recently I have fallen in love with paddle boarding. However, it’s not the only water-related activity that I love to do. As I grew up in Florida, there were many different options I had to pick from. One of my favorites though? Snorkeling.  There is nothing more relaxing to do in the water then snorkel. It’s a fairly easy activity to do with your friends or family as well. Not only is it a fun bonding activity, it gives people a glimpse of the lives that live below the water. Looking at the fish, the different types of coral and various other sea creatures can be educational and interesting.

If you have traveled to any coastal country with warm waters, chances are that you have had the chance to snorkel. Most hotels in these areas will offer guided snorkel tours or the chance to rent the correct equipment – that is if you don’t already own your own gear. So what are some of these places then? I’ve listed 5 of my favorite snorkel destinations around the world below.

Silver Bank, Dominican Republic – Silver Bank offers an incredibly unique snorkeling experience. As one of the only breeding grounds for humpback whales, these waters can see up to seven thousand whales pass through them during migration. During these migration times, Silver Bank holds the largest population of humpback whales in the Atlantic. Since the area has been declared as a whale sanctuary, this region of water offers a rare and unique close up to these beautiful creatures.

Snorkeling

Komodo National Park, IndonesiaKomodo National Park offers some of the most unique, and untouched coral reef in the world! With crystal blue waters, all levels of snorkelers can explore the beauty of this park. Snorkelers will get the chance to see such a variety of marine life as well. The park boasts over seventy species of sponge, schools of different fishes like groupers and fusiliers, manta rays, sharks and dugongs. These animals are only a small fraction of the wildlife that life there. Another bonus of the National Park is that it’s home to the Komodo Dragon. The Dragon only lives in two parts of the world and the National Park is one!

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – Due to the long distance between the islands and coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands offers a rare and specific type of animal and sea life. The Islands are home to different types of whales, coral, fish, sea snakes, dolphins and sea lions – who might just give you a bump while you snorkel! With so many islands, it’s hard to know which one to snorkel off of so here is a list of the different islands and what you could find when snorkeling there.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia – Everyone has heard about the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. As it’s one of the seven wonders of the world, it has become a sought after tourist destination. Larger than the Great Wall of China, the reef is the only living thing on Earth that is visible from space. Needless to say with such a vast space, the reef is home to over four hundred types of coral, giant clams that over a hundred years old, sea turtles, dolphins and many other sea and land creatures. With plenty of different places to stay as well, the Great Barrier Reef is not something to be missed.

Isla Holbox, Mexico – The Yucatan Peninsula has always been a draw for tourists from all over the world. With its warm climates and rich history, it’s a no brainer as to why people want to visit the region. Isla Holbox offers a different type of snorkeling for tourists as well. With no coral reef, the sea floor is dominated by seaweed and sand. So what is the appeal of this place? The chance to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. As they are plant eaters, swimmers pose no risk to them. Besides a unique swim, Isla Holbox is a small local island where no cars are driven!

If you snorkel, what are some of your favorite places? Let me know and enjoy!

University of Florida: The Quarterback

A lot of the Florida Gators success over the last 20 year has a lot to do with the play of their quarterbacks. Now you’re probably thinking, “every good college football team has a great quarterback, right?” Not necessarily. Take a look at a team like LSU. They had a stellar defense with a guy like Jordan Jefferson at quarterback. Or even Ohio State today, who recently made a switch at quarterback despite being ranked #2 in the country. Florida has had such great quarterback play that many of them went on to play at the NFL level. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.

Rex Grossman 2000 – 2002

Grossman had a fantastic career at the University of Florida. A Consensus All-American, Grossman was the 2001 Heisman Trophy Runner-up to Eric Crouch of Nebraska. Grossman was also named Associated Press Player of the Year. During his time in Gainesville, Grossman threw for 9,164 yards and 77 touchdowns. His success allowed him to be selected 22nd overall in the 1st round of the 2003 draft by the Chicago Bears. Grossman had a rocky NFL career but played 12 seasons.

Doug Johnson 1997 – 1999

Doug Johnson of Florida

Doug Johnson had a stellar career with the Gators. The one knock on him perhaps is that he didn’t progress as many would have liked. In 1997, he finished with 2,023 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In 1998, he threw for 2,346 yards, 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. During his final year, Johnson threw for 2,574 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While his numbers were somewhat stagnate, they were impressive nonetheless. Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons and played 7 seasons in the NFL.

Tim Tebow 2007 – 2009

Tim Tebow, the legend. Tim arrived at Florida highly touted. Tebows prolific college career went something like this:

  • 66.4% completion rate
  • 9,285 passing yards
  • 88 touchdowns (against just 16 interceptions)
  • 2,947 rushing yards
  • 57 rushing touchdowns
  • 2x National Champion
  • 2x SEC Champion
  • 3x All-SEC
  • 2007 Heisman Trophy Winner
  • 2008 SEC Offensive Player of the Year

Tebow was a 1st round pick (25th overall) in 2010 by the Denver Broncos. After experiencing some early success, Tebow’s career derailed after stints with the Jets, Patriots and Eagles. He officially has played 2 seasons with the Broncos and 1 with the Jets.

Can Will Grier be the next great Florida quarterback? Only time will tell.