It was the first intense day of spring practice in 2007 and the Gators were doing a red zone drill. This was in the days when spring practice was open and I was seated somewhere around the 10-yard line when Aaron Hernandez caught a pass and shied away from running over a teammate.
Who could blame him? Hernandez was an early enrollee US Army All-American who arrived at Florida with a big reputation. At 6-2 and somewhere around 240 pounds at the time, he probably didn’t want to lay waste to an undersized corner who was at least 55-60 pounds lighter. You don’t win friends and influence teammates by lowering the boom on someone when you’re just a recent arrival on campus.
Or so it seemed to Hernandez.
It didn’t seem that way at all to Tim Tebow, who had thrown a little pass out in the flat to Hernandez. The way Tebow saw it, Hernandez ran out of bounds when he could have leveled the tackler. The way Tebow saw it, someone who was pretty close to his own size and strength missed out on a double opportunity – (1) to assert himself as a dominant force and (2) to score a touchdown the fun way, which is leaving someone in a heap behind him.
Tebow sprinted over to the sideline about five feet away from where I was seated. He got in the face of Hernandez and screamed out, “You’re a freaking tight end Aaron! Run over him!” The look on Aaron Hernandez’s face was priceless and one I’ll never forget.
That was the first of many memories I have of Aaron Hernandez. The Aaron Hernandez I knew when he was at the University of Florida was always thoughtful, polite, oftentimes quite articulate and occasionally quite playful. There were rumors of a dark side to Hernandez when he was at UF, but when I talked with him and saw him engaged with the media there was nothing to indicate that there were things about him that would send chills up and down my spine.
Here is another Aaron Hernandez memory that I try to dwell on these days.
In the fall of the 2008 season the rules of engagement between media and players had changed drastically, mostly to accommodate Tebow, a crowd magnet who seemed compelled to stop, smile and speak to the throngs that lined up in front of the Sanders Practice Fields. Players were available by request and one afternoon after practice, Hernandez found himself surrounded by about 20 reporters. I was on the back edge of the throng and I listened and watched as Hernandez answered questions. Some of them were – shall we say – rather amateurish but Hernandez answered them all politely. When the assistant SID ended the questioning Hernandez wore this little grin that I’ll never forget. He passed by me, leaned over and asked, “Who thinks up some of these questions?” I laughed and he just grinned wider.
At Florida, Hernandez was one of the best football players in the country. He was an All-American who never gave the impression that he was giving anything less than his best on the field.
What happened since he left UF shows a side of Hernandez I never knew. As I think back to the many times I had a microphone stuck in his face and listened to him answer one question after another, I never saw even a hint of anger or disrespect, yet the things he’s accused of doing in the last few years reek of anger and disrespect.
I find it unfathomable that he murdered someone and was convicted to spend life in prison. I fined it even more unfathomable that he shot a friend in the face and was accused of the cold blooded murder of two others, a crime for which he was acquitted last week. I find it chilling and disturbing that he apparently hanged himself in his prison cell Monday night.
I would imagine there are a lot of people who are asking themselves the same questions I ask myself tonight: Why didn’t we see any of this before? How could someone have these demons torturing his soul to such a degree that he would commit such heinous crimes and yet so very few had even the most remote clue he had this in him?
It is being reported that Aaron Hernandez had used a red marker to write John 3:16 over his eyes and that a Bible in his cell was open to that verse before he used a bedsheet to hang himself.
The idiot talking head Colin Cowherd says Hernandez took the coward’s way out. Others have said the same thing, but I doubt a one of them had any clue what was actually in Aaron’s heart and mind the moment he decided to end it all. He obviously was tormented beyond anything any of us could ever hope to imagine. My only hope is that he truly confessed his sins and received the forgiveness that only God can give. If he did that, then the demons went away forever.
MAJOR RECRUITING COUP FOR MIKE WHITE
It was only a few days ago that Michael Okauru signed his letter of intent to complete an outstanding recruiting class for Florida basketball coach Mike White. Apparently White saved the best for last because Monday night he signed Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov (6-5, 210), who will be immediately eligible.
Koulechov softens the blow of losing scorers Canyon Barry (eligibility expired) and Devin Robinson (early entry NBA Draft). He scored 1,135 points and averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in his two seasons at Rice while shooting 44.5% from the 3-point line. More important, in 2017, Koulechov averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while shooting 47.3% from the 3-point line and 81.9% from the foul line. He was first team All-Conference USA.
Adding Koulechov gives White the kind of shooter who can balance the floor if he goes with a two-wing set with KeVaughn Allen on the other wing. If White wants to go small, he can have Chris Chiozza at the point with Allen, Koulechov and Jalen Hudson in the lineup along with one post player. Hudson has tremendous potential as a scorer and Florida should be much improved offensively in the post next season. That go small lineup could be one of the most difficult to defend in all of the SEC.
What Koulechov does is give White options. He can go big or small without sacrificing scoring.
Some of the people who make way too early prognostications for next season have the Gators picked as high as #5. That was before Robinson left for the NBA but the addition of Koulechov to go with the completion of an outstanding recruiting class shouldn’t drop the Gators very far if at all. It also shows that you can pencil Florida in once again among the nation’s elite teams.
Now go back a year ago. Mike White landed Canyon Barry and all that did was give the Gators the missing link that helped to get them within a game of the Final Four. Now add four outstanding freshmen and Koulechov.
Would you say those questions about White’s ability to recruit have been answered once and for all?
Here is Florida’s roster for 2017-18. It is subject to change in case John Egbunu elects to declare for the NBA Draft but it’s more likely that he will remain a Gator and continue rehab on his torn ACL with Duke Werner.
Post (5): John Egbunu (6-11, 260, RSR); Kevarrius Hayes (6-9, 220, JR); Gorjok Gak (6-11, 231, SO); Dontay Bassett (6-9, 222, RFR); Isaiah Stokes (6-9, 275, FR)
Hybrid Post/Wings (2): Keith Stone (6-8, 240, RSO); Chase Johnson (6-9, 215, FR)
Wings (4): Egor Koulechov (6-5, 210, GR); Jalen Hudson (6-5, 210, RJR); KeVaughn Allen (6-2, 190, JR); DeAundre Ballard (6-6, 200, FR)
Points (2): Chris Chiozza (6-0, 160, SR); Michael Okauru (6-5, 185, FR)
GATORS TAKE OUT UCF, 9-1
Kayli Kvistad and Chelsea Herndon each drove in three runs and Aleshia Ocasio and Delanie Gourley combined to pitch a 4-hitter as the #1 Gators (41-3) hammered UCF (29-14), 9-1, in a non-conference softball game called after six innings by run rule at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium Wednesday night.
The Gators pounded out 12 hits as they scored six runs in the first two innings to make it easy for Ocasio (8-0), who pitched the first five innings to pick up the win. Ocasio didn’t walk a batter and struck out five. She also contributed to her own success with a run-scoring single in the first inning.
Next up for the Gators is #20 Ole Miss (31-13, 6-9 SEC).
MEL KIPER’S THREE ROUND MOCK DRAFT
Here are the Gators selected in the first three rounds if the NFL drafts according to Mel Kiper’s wishes. Notice the absence of Jalen Tabor in the first three rounds. Those slow 40 times at the combine and pro day obviously rubbed Kiper the wrong way.
Jarrad Davis: Miami, first round, #22 overall pick
Marcus Maye: Philadelphia, second round, #43 overall pick
Caleb Brantley: Minnesota, second round, #48 overall pick
Quincy Wilson: San Francisco, third round, #66 overall pick
Alex Anzalone: New York Jets, third round, #107 overall pick
Is there another softball coach in the country with three better pitchers than Florida’s Tim Walton? Delanie Gourley (56-9), Aleshia Ocasio (46-4) and Kelly Barnhill (33-1) have a combined career record of 135-14. This season, Barnhill is 18-0, Gourley is 13-3 and Ocasio is 8-0.
Officially, Central Michigan beat Oklahoma State, 30-27, last season but only because the officials goofed and gave Central Michigan an untimed down on which they threw a Hail Mary for the winning touchdown. Okie State coach Mike Gundy refuses to accept the official outcome. On the Cowboys’ Alamo Bowl championship rings 11-2 is engraved as in 11 wins and 2 losses instead of the official 10-3.
Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, has committed to Arizona for the class of 2018. Shareef is 6-9, 205. He’s still young and growing, expected to add inches and weight before he steps foot on the Arizona campus.
ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett says the Big Ten Conference has the best roster of coaches top to bottom starting with Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), James Franklin (Penn State) and Mark Dantonio (Michigan State). Bennett says the ACC comes closest to the Big Ten with Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Jimbo Fisher (FSU) and Bobby Petrino (Louisville).
In the last 10 years, the Southeastern Conference has produced 459 NFL draft picks, which easily outdistances the ACC (340). After that, it’s the Big Ten (326), Pac-12 (314) and Big 12 (240).
Serena Williams is pregnant and has confirmed that she was two months pregnant when she won the Australian Open in January. That’s quite an athletic feat.
If there is one thing that Lane Kiffin won’t take from Nick Saban with him to Florida Atlantic it is Saban’s penchant for yelling at assistant coaches. “I’m not really big on humiliating assistant coaches in front of everybody,” Kiffin told Greg McElroy on SiriusXM College Sports Nation. “I write down notes. In the staff meeting I explain what I want to get done.”
Now that North Carolina has reversed its controversial bathroom bill, the NCAA will allow the basketball tournament to return to the state. Charlotte will host a regional in 2018 while Greensboro will host rounds 1-2 in 2020 and Raleigh will do the same in 2021.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Put yourself in the role of an NFL general manager. Will Jalen Tabor’s slow 40 times keep you from drafting him in the first three rounds or will you instead look at the tape from college games and believe this kid can get it done against NFL receivers?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Tour is ongoing with more dates to be announced. Warren Haynes, Dr. John, Jamey Johnson, Terrence Higgins and Mark Mullins leading the horn section are featured and there have been special guests (like Taj Mahal and Bob Margolin) at every stop. This is an April 13 concert in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theater.