Florida’s quest for that elusive national championship in baseball begins Friday when the Gators (42-16) host MAAC champ Marist (32-31) in the NCAA Gainesville Regional. This is Florida’s 33rd trip to the NCAA Tournament and tenth straight under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan but the Gators have never brought home the big trophy.
The Gators earned the #3 national seed, which means they will host a super regional should they win the Gainesville Regional that also includes South Florida (41-17) and Bethune-Cookman (33-23). This is the eighth time in nine years the Gators have earned a national seed, which is the top record in the country. The Gators were the #1 national seed last year.
This might be the most impressive of all the years the Gators have earned a national seed under O’Sullivan. Back on April 9 they were sitting at 20-11, 5-6 in the SEC and were being talked about as a team that might struggle to host a regional. From that point, the Gators have been one of the two or three hottest teams in the country, going 20-4 to close out the regular season with an SEC championship and 2-1 at the SEC Tournament.
Florida is one of eight SEC teams in the NCAA field. LSU earned the #4 national seed while Kentucky and Arkansas were selected as regional hosts. Also making the tournament field are Vanderbilt (Clemson Regional), Auburn (Tallahassee Regional), Texas A&M (Houston Regional) and Mississippi State (Hattiesburg Regional).
THE BEST LINEBACKERS IN FLORIDA FOOTBALL HISTORY
Ralph Ortega: It was a recruiting coup for Doug Dickey when he went to Coral Gables High School and signed Ortega, Glenn Cameron and Randy Talbott from the state and national champions. In his four-year UF career, Ortega was in on 357 tackles with 12 forced fumbles and five interceptions. He was an Academic All-American in 1974. Ortega was a first team All-SEC choice in 1973-74 and a first team All-America in 1974. Ortega played six NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins.
Glen Cameron: A high school teammate of Ortega at Coral Gables while playing for the legendary Nick Kotys, Cameron was first team All-SEC and third team All-America in 1974 when he totaled 185 tackles. He played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sammy Green: Green set the one-season tackling standard for UF linebackers in 1975 when he was in on 202 tackles. That year he was a first team All-SEC and first team All-America selection. For his UF career, Green was in on 457 tackles. He played five years in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Oilers.
Charlie Williams: Williams went largely unappreciated by the people who vote for All-SEC. “Horse” made All-SEC second team in 1977 when he was in on 153 tackles. He finished his career with 409 tackles, which is fourth on Florida’s all-time list.
Scot Brantley: Brantley was the ultimate tackling machine. Even though his senior year ended in game two, he still totaled 467 tackles (second most in UF history) in his UF career with 198 in 1978. He was in on 145 tackles as a true freshman in 1976. He was first team All-SEC in 1977-78 and almost surely would have made first team All-America in 1979 even though the Gators were a bad football team. He played eight years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
David Little: In his four years, Little became the top tackler in UF history with 475. Second team All-SEC in 1979, Little made first team All-SEC and first team All-America in 1980 when he was in on 161 tackles. In his12-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Little made the Pro Bowl once and started 125 of the 179 games he played in.
Wilber Marshall: After his freshman year as a backup tight end, Charley Pell moved Wilber to linebacker during spring practice. Distraught and convinced his career was about to end, Marshall showed up at the Pell’s house at midnight that night where he tearfully told Ward Pell he had to transfer. Ward talked him off the ledge. When Charley woke at 4 a.m., Ward told him to go look in son Carrick’s bedroom. Wilber spent the night and all was okay. A good thing for the Gators. Over the next four years he became the most feared defensive player in the country. He was a three-time first team All-SEC (1981-83) and a two-time first team All-America. He was national defensive player of the year in 1981-82. His career totals were 345 tackles, 58 tackles for loss and 25 sacks. He’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. In the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, he won two Super Bowl rings, made the Pro Bowl three times and was the NFC defensive player of the year with the Washington Redskins in 1992. He had 45 sacks and 23 interceptions in his 11-year NFL career.
Alonzo Johnson: When Wilber Marshall graduated in 1983, Johnson stepped in and the Gators never missed a beat. Teams tried to run away from Johnson and they always rolled their QB to the opposite side he was playing but that played right into his hands. Johnson was so fast he simply ran people down from behind. He was first team All-SEC and first team All-America in 1984-85. For his career, Johnson was in on 335 tackles (10th all-time at UF), had 55 tackles for loss (second all-time) and registered 27 sacks (third all-time). He played two years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Clifford Charlton: When the scholarship sanctions hit the Gators hard in 1986-87 due to NCAA probation, Charlton helped Florida’s defense remain among the best in the SEC. Charlton was selected first team All-SEC in 1986-87 and first team All-America in 1987. In his Florida career he forced 15 fumbles, 49 tackles for loss and 25 sacks. His two-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns was cut short due to a devastating knee injury in which he tore multiple ligaments.
Jevon Kearse: Other than Wilber Marshall and Alonzo Johnson, no Gator ever struck more fear into opponents than Kearse. A safety in high school, he grew into a linebacker at UF and then played defensive end in his 11-year NFL career. At UF, Kearse made first team All-SEC in 1997-98 and first team All-America in 1998. In his 1998 All-America season in which he was selected SEC defensive player of the year, Kearse was in on 54 tackles with 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. During his Florida career, Kearse was in on 145 tackles with 34.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. In the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles, he was named to the Pro Bowl three times and was AFC defensive player of the year in 1999.
Mike Peterson: A high school quarterback at Santa Fe, Peterson made the move to defense when he arrived at UF, first as a safety before bulking up to move to linebacker in 1996. When he was selected first team All-SEC and first team All-America in 1998, Peterson totaled 127 tackles with 12 tackles for loss and five quarterback sacks. In his UF career, Peterson was in on 249 tackles with 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In his 13-year NFL career with the Colts, Jaguars and Falcons, Peterson was a second team All-Pro in 2005.
Johnny Rutledge: Rutledge was part of Florida’s Belle Glade connection in the 1980s and 1990s. As a sophomore on Florida’s 2006 national championship team, he finished the season with 108 tackes, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. As a senior in 1998, Rutledge was in on 105 tackles with 1.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He made second team All-SEC in 1997, first team in 1998. During his UF career, Rutledge was in on 307 tackles with 37.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and one interception. Rutledge played five years in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos.
Andra Davis: Davis came back from injury that limited him to one game in 2000 to make first team All-SEC and second team All-America in 2001 when he totaled 107 tackles including two sacks, 10 tackles for loss and an interception. In 1998, Davis had 109 tackles with three sacks and 12 tackles for loss. In his UF career, Davis was in on 232 tackles with 25.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He spent 10 years in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.
Channing Crowder: The son of Penn State great Randy Crowder, Channing was a recruiting coup for Ron Zook. After a redshirt season in 2002 to rehab a knee injury suffered in high school, he was in on 108 tackles as a second-year freshman in 2003. In a season limited to nine games due to injuries in 2004, Crowder was in on 73 tackles with 8.5 for loss, two sacks and an interception. He was first team All-SEC in 2003-04 and first team All-America in 2004. He played six years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
Brandon Siler: The anchor of Florida’s nasty 2006 defense that carried the Gators to the national championship, Siler was in on 73 tackles with nine tackles for loss and three sacks as the Gators finished 13-1. Siler made second team All-SEC and third team All-America in 2006. He finished his three-year UF career with 214 tackles with 29 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback sacks.
Brandon Spikes: Spikes made up his mind that wherever Tim Tebow was going, that’s where he was going, so when Tebow committed to the Gators, Spikes did also (at the US Army All-American Game). He was an impact freshman on Florida’s 2006 national championship team and a team captain on Florida’s 2008 national champions. Spikes was a three-year starter from 2007-09 when he made first team All-SEC all three seasons and first team All-America in 2008-09. For his career he was in on 307 tackles with 31.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks. He intercepted six passes in his career and ran four of them back for touchdowns. He has played six seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
Antonio Morrison: This guy defined toughness. Morrison came back from an ACL tear in Florida’s bowl game in 2014 and never missed a start. He had 103 tackles as a senior to become the first Gator in more than 20 years to record back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. In his 47-game Florida career, Morrison was in on 294 tackles with 21 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception. Second team All-SEC in 2014 and first team All-SEC in 2015. He plays in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jarrad Davis: From the time he arrived on campus Davis kept getting better and better. Although he wasn’t used enough as a freshman and sophomore, he was always productive. He had 98 tackles in 2015 when he should have made at least second team All-SEC. As a senior he was on his way to a 100-tackle year when he suffered a season ending injury. Still, he made second team All-America and parlayed that into a first round selection by the Detroit Lions in the recent NFL draft. For his UF career, Davis totaled 205 tackles with 57 for loss, second most in UF history behind Wilber Marshall, 6.5 sacks and three interceptions.
GATORS OPEN WCWS WITH TEXAS A&M THURSDAY
The top-seeded Florida Gators (55-8) will open their quest for a third NCAA championship in four years Thursday when they open the Women’s College World Series with SEC foe Texas A&M (47-11) at 1 p.m. in Oklahoma City.
The Gators go into the WCWS with the top ERA (0.69) and fielding percentage (.984, only 25 errors all season) in the country. The Gators sport a team batting average of .302, which ranks 35th nationally and sixth best among the teams in Oklahoma City. The Aggies have a 1.88 team ERA and a .301 team batting average.
Florida’s Kelly Barnhill (24-3) ranks first nationally in ERA (0.36) and strikeouts per seven innings (13.4). Delanie Gourley (21-4) ranks fourth in ERA (0.67) and ninth in strikeouts per seven innings (10.1). Aleshia Ocasio (8-1) is seventh in ERA (1.13).
WOOLCOCK FINISHES SECOND IN NCAA SINGLES
Belinda Woolcock’s wild ride at the NCAA Womens Tennis Tournament came to an end Monday when she lost in the singles finals to Michigan’s Brienne Minor in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. Woolcock led the Gators to their seventh NCAA championship in school history last week.
FLORIDA BASKETBALL NOTE
The Gators offered shooting guard Saddiq Bey (6-6, 190, Washington, DC Sidwell Friends) over the weekend. Among Bey’s offers are Rhode Island, Temple, North Carolina State, Miami, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Florida has extended offers to 11 shooting guard prospects.
College baseball’s longest post season streak has come to an end with Miami (31-27) failing to make the NCAA tournament field for the first time after 44 straight seasons. Head coach Jim Morris will coach the Hurricanes next year and then retire, turning the team over to assistant Gino DiMare.
Last year’s national champ, Coastal Carolina, made the jump from the Big South to the Sun Belt and though the Chanticleers won the regular season Sun Belt title, they lost in the quarter-finals of the conference tournament and were left out when the NCAA picked its 64 teams.
The first four teams out when the selection committee picked its teams were Miami, South Carolina, UConn and Old Dominion.
Maryland won both the men’s and women’s NCAA lacrosse championships.
Kudos to Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman. At a charity event last year he challenged Hershai James of Varina High School in the Richmond suburbs to bring up her grades to honor roll level, telling her if she did he would pay for her to go to college. James made the commitment and now Sherman is rewarding her by paying for her to go to college at Norfolk State.
I have tried. Lord knows, I have tried, but I can’t stomach ESPN’s 6 p.m. SC6 with Jemelle Hill and Michael Smith. I want to know the news and see the highlights. I do not wish to be entertained by two people who won’t ever leave their day job for a stand up gig.
I am still debating whether or not to watch the NBA finals. In that the Women’s College World Series and NCAA baseball will be going on at the same time, I think the NBA will come in third.
The University of North Carolina is challenging the NCAA’s jurisdiction in its academic fraud scandal. UNC says the NCAA doesn’t have anything to do with academics, but simply football. If that is the case, then why are there minimum academic requirements and graduation requirements as part of NCAA rules. What the NCAA NEEDS to do is put on a cast iron glove and smack UNC repeatedly across the face.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
How would you rate the greatest linebackers in Florida football history?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One reason the Allman Brothers Band will live on even with the death of Gregg Allman is because of great guitarists such as Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Today’s music is the 40th Anniversary Allman Brothers Show from 2009 which featured Gregg on organ with Haynes and Trucks killing it on guitar in a show dedicated to the memory of the great Duane Allman.