When Steve Spurrier first arrived at the University of Florida back in 1990, the two-mile run on the first day of fall practice told the head ball coach who was in shape and who wasn’t. Chris Doering, for example, used that first day of practice in August to catch Spurrier’s attention by finishing first in the two-mile, ahead of all the veterans but more importantly, ahead of Jack Jackson and Ed West. Jackson and West came to Florida with scholarships.
Spurrier set a time limit of 12 minutes. Finish in 12 minutes or less and you were considered in shape and ready to go. Finish in more than 12 minutes and you had conditioning work to do.
Things are done just a bit differently these days and times. Show up on the first day of fall practice out of shape – particularly if you’re a true or redshirt freshman -- and you might find yourself buried far enough down the depth chart that it might take the better part of a year to work your way up. That’s why July is as critical a month as there is on Florida’s football calendar. While Will Muschamp and the rest of the staff will spend the next week or so on vacation, leaving the players to the watchful eye of Jeff Dillman and the rest of the strength and conditioning staff, it will be up to the players to self-motivate to prepare for what will be the single most important August training camp of the Muschamp era.
For true freshman, July is complicated by the hassles of learning their way around campus and getting used to a far different routine than anything they ever experienced in high school. For most of the young guys, it’s also the first time away from home so there will be more than a few instances of homesickness setting in.
For guys like Jeff Driskel, Max Garcia, Dante Fowler Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves III, this will be a month-long experiment in leadership. If these four guys, in particular, succeed, then the Gators will have the on-the-field leaders they will have to have for the fall. Besides a depth chart that was depleted because of injury last year, the Gators came up way too short in the leadership department. If that changes in a big way, then the Gators will be well on their way toward righting the Good Ship Gator, which is still listing after last year’s 4-8.
At 5-9, 175, Jamison Crowder is hardly imposing physically and his 40 time seems rather pedestrian compared to some of the receivers at the University of Florida. But consider this: Quinton Dunbar has caught 90 passes for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns in his three years on the field for the Gators. Last year alone, Crowder caught 108 balls for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns. For his three years of productivity, Crowder’s numbers are a staggering – 198 catches, 2,597 yards and 17 touchdowns.
You could say that Crowder is a product of the Duke system but all the way back to his days as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe’s system has churned out productive wide receivers and they’ve come in all sizes and speeds. So it’s not difficult to project that Dunbar will have his best season ever at Florida with Kurt Roper, Cutcliffe’s offensive coordinator of the previous five years, calling the shots.
But Will Dunbar be THE man in this offense? He could be, but also take into consideration that until last season, Crowder was the #2 receiver at Duke. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Crowder took a back seat to Conner Vernon, who caught 175 passes for 2,030 yards and 14 touchdowns in the two seasons they were on the field together. For his college career, Vernon caught 283 passes for 3,749 yards and 21 touchdowns.
A best season for Dunbar still might not make him Roper’s go-to guy.
The USA-Belgium match in the knockout round of the World Cup drew 16.9 million viewers, making it the second most watched men’s soccer game in United States television history behind the 18.22 million who watched Portugal tie the US in group play. When Brazil beat Colombia in the quarter-finals Friday, the match drew 6.3 million viewers. This is a sign of progress for soccer in the United States, but until the sport develops its own home grown super stars, we’re going to see good television ratings and a certain amount of mania every four years for the World Cup, but slow to average progress the three years leading up to the big event.
Although the women’s game doesn’t have a successful pro league like MLS, it does have a fine feeder system at the college level which has produced superstars on the worldwide level. Young girls aspire to go play for Anson Dorrance at North Carolina or for Becky Burleigh at Florida, believing they will have a chance to develop into the next Mia Hamm or Abby Wambaugh. There are more opportunities for women in soccer (310 Division I schools with 14 scholarships max per school) than men (barely 200 soccer programs with only 9.9 max scholarships available although few use the max to stay within Title IX bounds). Because the men’s game has yet to develop a real superstar on the international level, the women who play soccer aren’t burdened by unfair comparisons to men playing the same sport as they are with basketball, tennis, softball (compared to baseball) and just about any other sport on campus.
Men’s soccer does have a chance to grow, but it’s greatest need is to develop a couple of American superstars who are the equal or superior to the best in Europe and South America. Until that happens, growth is going to be slow and the only real excitement will be every four years when the US sends out another World Cup team that hopefully will win more games than it loses.
In the June Major League Baseball Draft, 234 collegians were taken in the first 10 rounds while only 81 high school prospects were selected. This tells us a couple of things: (1) The college game is getting better and better and (2) unless a high school kid is really, really good and thought to have a chance to advance quickly in the minor leagues, then he’s better off to spend three years playing college baseball. It really wasn’t all that long ago that the majority of guys playing college baseball were considered marginal or in need of serious development coming out of high school. Under MLB draft rules, a kid who goes to a four-year school has to stay three years or until he turns 21, whichever comes first. Figure most kids who opt for college are there three years where they’ll have a chance to play 50-60 games during the college season and another 50-60 in the summer leagues that have popped up all over the country. That’s reasonably comparable to a minor league season (140 games). A kid who’s been in college three seasons and played a couple of summers might have 300 or so games under his belt, which is more than adequate time for MLB scouts to dissect every facet of his game. High school kids who get on a good AAU travel or American Legion team will play half that many games and because they’re still 18 years or younger, a MLB team taking a high school kid is taking a far greater risk. The trend toward drafting more college players has been ongoing the last 15 years and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Round 10 of the June draft offers ample proof: 29 collegians were drafted and Jake Jarvis, taken by the White Sox with the 288th overall pick, was the only high schooler.
Ohio State redshirt freshman defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle was arrested over the weekend, charged with multiple offenses including possession of a couple of bags of cocaine. Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, running back Kenyan Drake was arrested and charged with entering a crime scene after being warned by officers to stay out. What are the odds either one of them misses the 2014 season? ... The professor who ran the African and Afro-American Studies program that is at the heart of the academic cheating scandal for North Carolina athletics, has had all charges dismissed. Word is that he’s singing like a canary and ratting out the entire athletic program in exchange for immunity, which does not bode well for Roy Williams and the Tar Heel basketball program ... The Houston Rockets really don’t think they’ve got a great chance to land LeBron James, but they really like their chances with Chris Bosh. Bosh, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard would give the Rockets as good a front line as there is in the NBA ... Former Gator Mike Miller seems to be locked in on signing a free agent contract worth $5 million a year with Oklahoma City ... P.J. Hairston, who was booted out of North Carolina after some off the court trouble, can’t seem to stay out of trouble. A recent first draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets after spending last season toiling in the D-League, allegedly sucker punched a high school kid in a pickup game in Durham over the weekend ... There were no protestors when Hueytown, Alabama honored Jameis Winston with his own day on Saturday ... Kentucky, which hasn’t beaten Florida in football in Gainesville since 1979 and has lost 27 straight to the Gators, thinks it can pull off a shocker and knock off the Gators on September 13. Seriously. I’m not making this up.
Who will emerge as the go-to guy in Florida’s passing game this fall?
The Tedeschi Trucks Band blew them away at Montreux, Switzerland Sunday. They’ll do a couple of shows in Italy before they play the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, which is second only to Montreux in prestige on the European continent. The more I listen to this band, the more I marvel at Derek Trucks, who is the closest thing on a slide guitar as you’ll ever find to Duane Allman. His wife, Susan Tedeschi, isn’t so bad on the guitar, but she blows me away with the vocals, particularly on this version of “Midnight in Harlem” which was recorded in Atlanta back in 2011.