In order to make sure Florida Gators-related news stories don't fall through the cracks, once or twice a week Orange & Blue News will keep you up-to-date with the latest goings on in the world of University of Florida athletics.
Getting their season started on Thursday was the No. 4 Florida softball team, which picked up a dominant 10-3 victory against South Florida on the road in Tampa, FL. The Gators, which finally have their roster back at full strength after having some players unexpectedly depart two years ago for off-the-field reasons, are still looking for the program's first national championship despite advancing to the Women's College World Series in five of the last six years.
Although the list has not yet been officially released by the organization that runs the event, the NFL on Thursday published its list of invitees to the 2014 NFL Combine. Eight former Florida players have received invitations to the event including "tight end" Trey Burton; offensive linemen Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison; defensive tackle Dominique Easley; linebacker Ronald Powell; and defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins. Easley, according to his agent, will not participate in the event as he is still rehabilitating after tearing his ACL during the season. He hopes to be ready to work out for teams at UF's Pro Day in mid-March. Notably left off the NFL Combine list is wide receiver Solomon Patton, but DT Damien Jacobs, LB Darrin Kitchens and OL Kyle Koehne also missed out on receiving invites.
Telling his own side of the story to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, redshirt senior DB Cody Riggs denied Thursday that he is leaving the Gators because he was unhappy with his position (he has played safety the last two seasons). Instead, Riggs claims, he is interested in attending graduate school in hopes of earning an MBA and would like to do so elsewhere in order to "expand his network." Said Riggs: "This was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I love my teammates and the fans here. I really feel awful about leaving my teammates, especially a young secondary. This was something I needed to do." He also complimented head coach Will Muschamp, calling him "the best coach I've ever had" and noting that "his defense is always going to be good, regardless of who is back there."
On Wednesday during his National Signing Day press conference, Muschamp announced that former Florida linebacker Mike Peterson, who spent the last year earning his bachelor's degree while serving as an undergraduate assistant with the team, will be hired full-time in the weight room. According to a UF spokesman, Peterson will begin working as the Gators' new strength & conditioning coordinator (under director of strength & conditioning Jeff Dillman) beginning on Feb. 24. The school would not comment as to whether Peterson, a staunch supporter of Muschamp during his first two seasons (before he was an employee), is replacing a current staff member or being added as a new contributor.
Respect from his peers is something Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan receives plenty of these days, but national recognition is something he continues to lack (though if you ask him, he could probably care less). In fact, Donovan - he of back-to-back national championships, three total finals appearances and three-straight Elite Eights - has never been named National Coach of the Year (outside of recognition from ESPN in 2001). The Wooden Award-winner, two-time SEC Coach of the Year and future Naismith Hall of Famer has Florida back at the top of college basketball, playing as well as any team in the country despite being forced to deal with a plethora of suspensions and injuries early in the season. What Donovan has done with these Gators is remarkable…and perhaps it will finally be rewarded.
Scheduled for double duty at NBA All-Star weekend is Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who will participate in both the Rising Stars Challenge (Friday, Feb. 14) and Three-Point Shootout (Saturday, Feb. 15) in two weekends. Beal has steadily improved as the 2013-14 season has gone on (and he has gotten healthier). He is currently shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the arc and draining an average of two treys per game. In last year's Rising Stars Challenge, which Beal participated in as a rookie, he finished with 12 points in just over 22 minutes.