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Thursday April 16, 2015 Hamm on Wambach, Anthony Grant, Billy D pushed hard for McCall, plus more links

Updated: 12:03pm, April 16

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I went out to UF’s lacrosse game against Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon – Florida’s final regular-season home game of the season -- to see if I could find something to write about.

Mikki Offit

I found a good story. Her name is Mikki Offit, a senior from Bethesda, Md. Offit scored her first goal in two years and only the second of her UF career in the Gators' 20-1 win. But that's not what makes her story a good one.

Check out GatorZone.com later today to learn more about Offit as the Gators prepare to head off to Connecticut to close the regular season and prepare for the Big East Tournament.

For now, here are some fresh links from around the Internet featuring items of interest to UF sports fans:

--The women’s World Cup is on tap this summer and Time Magazine has named former UF standout and current U.S. National Team star Abby Wambach as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Time had former U.S. star Mia Hamm write about Wambach.

--The return of former UF assistant Anthony Grant sparked a lot of conversation earlier this week, including this column from Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com: Billy Donovan thinks too much of Anthony Grant to hire him as an act of charity

--North Little Rock (Ark.) guard KeVaughn Allen signed a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play for the Gators via ArkansasOnline.com. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 forward Keith Stone out of Zion Lutheran in Deerfield Beach, Fla., also signed a letter of intent with the Gators on Wednesday.

--The Orlando Magic can cross Billy Donovan off their wish list writes Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz.

--Gators coach Billy Donovan was very active in former assistant Matt McCall’s hiring at UT-Chattanooga writes Gene Henley of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press.

--The news of former Gators and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s conviction on murder charges dominated the news cycle much of Wednesday. In what is a tragic story on so many levels, a couple of reads caught my attention on Wednesday about the Hernandez case: The Arrogance of Aaron Hernandez by Brendan I. Koerner of The New Yorker, and True Grace: Odin Lloyd’s mother forgives Aaron Hernandez for murdering her son by Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel.

--A recap of Dodgers’ 5-2 win over Mariners on Wednesday night from The Seattle Times. The game featured former Florida teammates Mike Zunino (Seattle) and Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers).

--A Texas homecoming for some Gator gymnasts at the NCAA Championships writes Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun.

--The charges against UF pitchers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead for climbing a crane have been reduced writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

Tuesday April 14, 2015 Gators offensive lineman Roderick Johnson's career at UF cut short

Updated: 1:20pm, April 14

Roderick Johnson

Gators offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (No. 55) during spring practice. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The promising career of Gators offensive lineman Roderick Johnson is over at UF.

Florida’s medical staff has diagnosed Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who started three games last season, with congenital cervical stenosis. The condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal enveloping the spinal cord, preventing enough fluid to gather around the spinal cord to properly protect it from injury.

Cervical stenosis ended the career of New York Giants running back David Wilson last year and forced Cooper Manning, the brother of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, to retire from football during his college career at Ole Miss.

Johnson did not report or show signs of any previous episodes of the condition prior to suffering a “stinger” on April 3 during a scrimmage. Johnson experienced numbness in his fingers and hands and did not participate in the final week of spring camp or Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut.

Jim McElwain

Following an MRI and consultation with outside specialists and team physicians, it was recommended Johnson retire from the sport.

“One thing I'll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm's way," Gators coach Jim McElwain said Saturday following the spring game when asked about Johnson's status. “Life's too short, man. Ain't gonna do it, ain't gonna do it to a young guy."

Johnson began to blossom last season as a reserve and part-time starter. He was expected to be a full-time starter this season on a Florida offensive line that had just six scholarship players available for the spring game.

Listed at 6-foot-6, 296 pounds, Johnson signed with the Gators in 2013 out of American Heritage High in Delray Beach, Fla. He made his first career start last season against Kentucky and started at right tackle against Alabama and in Florida’s victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

Treon Harris and Will Grier

UF quarterbacks Treon Harris and Will Grier at the Orange & Blue Debut. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida football team concluded spring camp with the Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday before an announced crowd of 21,000 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The Gators baseball team swept a three-game series against South Carolina. The UF women’s tennis team clinched the SEC regular-season title. And the UF softball team won its home series against Kentucky.

In what was billed as Orange & Blue Weekend on UF’s campus, a lot happened in Gator sports the past few days. To help you get caught up, here are some fresh links from around the Internet:

--Florida receiver Ahmad Fulwood was quiet in the spring game but sees hope thanks to first-year head coach Jim McElwain writes Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

--Almost all great Gators moments lead back to Ray Graves writes David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel.

--Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Roderick Johnson’s career is in jeopardy writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--Florida Today columnist David Jones provides his take on where the Gators are after spring practice.

--Gators’ quarterback battle won’t be resolved until preseason writes Graham Hall for the Palm Beach Post.

--The UF baseball team swept South Carolina as freshman JJ Schwarz had a week to remember writes Jordan McPherson of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Gators baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan suspended pitchers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead on Monday following their arrests Sunday for climbing into a crane at a construction site writes Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun.

--The Florida women’s tennis team beat Tennessee 4-0 on Sunday to clinch the SEC regular-season title writes Eneisy Rodriguez of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Congrats to Gators assistant basketball coach Matt McCall, named head coach at UT-Chattanooga via GoMocs.com.

--Florida senior Lauren Haeger was recognized as ESPNW.com’s Player of the Week – and that was before her school- and SEC-record-tying 65th career home run on Sunday via Patrick Pinak of the Alligator.

--Former UF golfer Camilo Villegas was inducted into UF’s Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday and made headlines at the Masters Par 3 contest writes Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com.

--Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler is meeting with the Jets today writes Darryl Slater of NJ.com.

BONUS VIDEO (or whatever you want to call these two talking heads)

My colleague Chris Harry and I discuss some observations after Saturday's spring game:

Sunday April 12, 2015 Gators freshman Faedo delivers in first career SEC start

Updated: 6:00pm, April 12

Florida's Alex Faedo earned the victory in his first career SEC start Sunday against South Carolina. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He won a state championship as a freshman at Tampa’s Alonso High School. He threw a no-hitter as a junior. He struck out 17 Plant City batters once in the prestigious Saladino Tournament, a top showcase of talent for players in the Tampa area

As you can tell, Florida right-hander Alex Faedo arrived at UF already armed with an impressive list of accomplishments.

In his brief time with the Gators, Faedo has shown why scouts and college recruiters saw so much potential in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound power pitcher.

He did it again Sunday in Florida’s 12-2 win against South Carolina to sweep a three-game weekend series.

Making his first career Southeastern Conference start, Faedo retired the first 14 batters he faced.

“Right when I woke up I just knew it was going to be a good day,” Faedo said. “I was really pumped to get the opportunity.”

The start was the fourth of his young career, but this one carried added significance as the Gators tried to close out the Gamecocks and make up ground on defending national champion and SEC East leader Vanderbilt.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan had nothing to worry about with Faedo on the mound and Florida’s torrid lineup keeping its hot streak intact.

In his ongoing search to stabilize Florida’s rotation after Friday night starter Logan Shore, O’Sullivan moved Dane Dunning up to Saturday and handed the ball Sunday to Faedo.

The Gamecocks didn’t get their first hit until the fifth when Madison Stokes doubled down the left-field line. In the sixth, after O’Sullivan noticed Faedo had started to drop his release point, he pulled him after 75 pitches.

Faedo’s job was done with Florida holding a 7-1 lead.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Alex. He’s going to be a really good pitcher,’’ O’Sullivan said after the Gators’ fourth consecutive win. “Today I think he showed it. He threw a lot of strikes, he commanded both sides of the plate, and made big pitches when he needed to.

“That just gives us another option on the weekend. I’m really pleased with his effort.”

Faedo said he shook any nerves away prior to the game by talking with his veteran teammates. From there he went out and threw his game, relying heavily on his slider to keep the Gamecocks quiet. Faedo allowed two hits, one run, struck out six and walked one to improve to 3-1 with a team-leading 2.12 ERA.

“Whatever Sully wanted I was feeling good about,’’ Faedo said of his pitch selections. “I just like winning, sweeping people. It was huge. We really needed this one just to move back up in the standings. We’re trying to win the SEC.”

The Gators travel to Florida State on Tuesday and then face another big SEC test on the road next weekend at Mississippi State, where large crowds at Dudy Noble Field await the Gators.

Faedo hopes he earned another SEC start with Sunday’s performance.

He probably shouldn't lose any sleep.

“The strength of our staff is our depth,’’ said O’Sullivan, who will continue to evaluate the starting rotation heading into each game. “Has Alex earned the opportunity to start another weekend game? Yes.”

Danny Wuerffel

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Players Network is honoring former Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel and his work with Desire Street Ministries during Orange & Blue Weekend at UF.

Wuerffel will be honored during FPN’s fourth annual Spring Spectacular, a series of events to “strengthen and support former Gator football alumni through networking and service” according to FPN President Chris Doering, one of Wuerffel’s favorite targets during their playing days.

FPN logo

First, the FPN is hosting its Gator Greats Golf Tournament on Friday morning at UF’s Mark Bostick Golf Course.

The event, which has an 8 a.m. shotgun start, is open to the public and includes a post-tournament lunch and awards ceremony at noon. Registration is $100 per person and $50 for FPN members.

In addition to the golf tournament, the FPN’s Blue Carpet Extravaganza at the Champions Club is Friday (7 p.m.) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to help raise money for Desire Street Ministries.

Wuerffel launched Desire Street in New Orleans after his NFL career ended and is now based in the Atlanta metro area.

“Danny is a true legacy of our Gator football program," Doering said. “We are approaching a very special 20th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy and National Football Championship, and want to celebrate that and honor his 10 years of service with Desire Street Ministries."

Former Gators running back Errict Rhett is serving as master of ceremonies and Wuerffel will attend the event with other former UF players. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door and $25 for FPN members.

On Saturday prior to the Orange & Blue Debut, the FPN is hosting a tailgate party for members and a flag football game prior to the spring game.

According to a press release, the FPN has more than 2,500 members including some of the biggest names in UF football history such as Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor, Percy Harvin, Lito Sheppard and Jesse Palmer.

For more information or to purchase tickets, you can visit www.floridaplayersnetwork.org or the FPN Facebook page.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his final workout prior to the NFL Draft on April 30, Gators defensive lineman/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. showed up at Florida Field on Tuesday on a mission.

Fowler had already wowed NFL scouts at the combine in February with his unique combination of size, speed and strength. He has climbed the mock drafts since and some analysts project him as the top defensive player in the draft.

During his on-field position drills Tuesday -- the only part of Pro Day that Fowler participated -- he wanted to prove to representatives from all 32 NFL teams his ability to gracefully carry those 265 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

Dante Fowler and media

“I wanted to show the guys that I'm a complete player," Fowler said. "I just want to show them I can move in space. They saw what they needed to see. I just wanted to clear their minds of all those doubts.”

Mission accomplished.

Fowler (photo, left) moved fast, cut quickly and showed off those backpedaling skills he’ll need to drop back in coverage in the NFL.

“Dante Fowler has the highest ceiling in my opinion [of any pass rusher in the draft],’’ ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said on-air later in the day while discussing Fowler’s Pro Day performance.

Fowler spent Wednesday in Jacksonville meeting with the Jaguars and said he had visits scheduled today with the Titans, Friday with the Bucs, and Sunday with the Falcons, led by new head coach Dan Quinn, who coached Fowler as a freshman at UF.

He accepted an invitation to attend the draft in Chicago and with quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota not scheduled to attend, Fowler could be the first player to be greeted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected.

That’s fine with him.

“I love this game," Fowler said. “I want to be one of the great ones when it's all said and done. Whatever pans out, I'm just happy to be there, to be in that environment. It's something special. I’m blessed right now with what’s happening.”

*****

Andre Debose turned in the fastest time in the 40-yard dash at Pro Day, running a 4.38. No surprise there. No one questions Debose’s speed.

Debose finished his Florida career as one of the best kick returners in SEC history, returning four kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns in his career.

Andre Debose

Debose told The Orlando Sentinel he was pleased at his performance despite an injury that forced him to cut short his time performing passing-game drills.

“This was a great day, man," he said. "I showed I can run, showed I can catch the ball a little bit. I felt good running around, other than tweaking my hamstring a little bit. Other than that, it was a great day."

Debose is not expected to get drafted but his return skills and speed should earn him an invitation to a free-agent camp.

*****

Throughout his career at Florida offensive lineman D.J. Humphries had trouble keeping on weight. He would get up to around 300 pounds prior to the season, and then drop 15 pounds or so during the season.

Playing at 300 pounds or above is pretty much a requirement to be an NFL offensive lineman. Humphries weighed in at 307 pounds at Pro Day and said he recently got up to 316.

D.J. Humphries

“I’ve had it on for a while now,’’ he said. “It’s sticking to me. I think that will be the next step, that I can maintain that weight throughout the whole season.”

Humphries, who opted to pass up his senior season to enter the draft, has impressed scouts. He is a first-round pick in most mock drafts. He said he weighed 285 pounds after the season and has changed his diet in the last four months to include foods that pack on healthier weight than he did in college.

“My weight [305] is realistic from the combine,” he said. “I wasn’t just chugging water just to be big. I let them know that my weight is staying on me and I can move at that weight.”

*****

Defensive tackle Leon Orr was back at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Tuesday, five months after his high-profile departure from the program prior to last season’s game at Vanderbilt.

Orr has faced intense scrutiny from teams and the media after his departure, but according to Fowler, Orr is a player that is going to make the NFL.

“He’s going to be a surprise,” Fowler said. “To see how good he looks at 6-5, 315 and he can move pretty well. I know he has been taking the interview process. I’m glad he’s able to be in front of them and talk to them. They have one-on-ones and man-on-mans.”

*****

Jim McElwain

Gators coach Jim McElwain talking to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. (Photo: Tim Casey)

QUOTE OF NOTE I

“I think it gives them a little bit of motivation to see the amount of eyes that are going to be on them. I think it's good. And there, again, in recruiting, you get an opportunity to come here, perfect your craft and show what you have in front of a lot of pro scouts.” -- Gators coach Jim McElwain on Pro Day’s impact on current players

QUOTE OF NOTE II

“I wish someone would have kept tally all those three years. It’s hard to remember. I done took too many hits from the head from Dante.” -- Humphries on his one-on-one battles with Fowler at practice

QUOTE OF NOTE III

“It would be great if I stay in Florida. I’m a Florida native. I was born and raised in St. Petersburg. I have family in Jacksonville and things like that. It would be great. The Florida Gators, all the fan base. It would be awesome.” -- Fowler on potential of being taken by the Jaguars with the third overall pick

*****

EXTRA POINTS

With nine offensive line coaches in attendance, Humphries and offensive linemen Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Trenton Brown and Chaz Green received significant work; Garcia led all players with 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press … South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia served as the passer in drills for UF’s receivers on Tuesday. Gators TE Clay Burton asked Garcia to participate the night before with no one else available. Former Gators QB Chris Leak, a graduate assistant at the time, filled the role last year … Trey Burton, now with the Eagles, watched his brother’s workout … FB Hunter Joyer did not participate in on-field drills. Joyer recently tore his ACL training in South Florida and is scheduled for surgery Friday … Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, a regular at UF’s Pro Day, was once again in attendance.

Wednesday April 8, 2015 Neiron Ball overcame latest obstacle with impressive showing at Pro Day

Updated: 4:09pm, April 8

Neiron Ball

Gators linebacker Neiron Ball showed off his athleticism at Tuesday's UF Pro Day. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As the headliner at Florida’s Pro Day on Tuesday, Dante Fowler Jr. received the bulk of attention from NFL personnel and media in attendance.

But ask Fowler who might be the Gators’ biggest eye-opener in the draft, he quickly mentions linebacker Neiron Ball.

“Neiron is freakishly athletic,’’ Fowler said. “He can rush the passer and be that true Will linebacker or that Sam linebacker. Any coach would love to get him. I know he’s going to be a surprise.”

Seems many are starting to agree with Fowler.

Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, now a senior media analyst for NFL.com, said Ball passed the eye test on Tuesday in a column he wrote.

He really looked good in the positional drills,’’ Brandt wrote. “Ball was smooth and fast, and he has good hips so he can turn and run with no problem at all.”

That is the kind of analysis Ball was hoping to hear when he arrived at Florida Field on Tuesday.

Ball attended the NFL Combine in February but didn’t participate in drills other than the bench press due to a season-ending knee injury last season. Ball was hurt in Florida’s loss to South Carolina and underwent microfracture surgery.

For the past four months he has been training in Miami with teammates Trenton Brown and Chaz Green in preparation for UF’s Pro Day.

“I knew I had to be ready for this day,’’ Ball said.

Ball checked in Tuesday at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds. He posted unofficial 40-yard dash times of 4.59 and 4.65 seconds, and had a 35-inch vertical jump.

He left satisfied that he showed NFL teams he is healthy and worthy of an opportunity.

I think I did pretty good,’’ Ball said. “I put in a lot of work after the season because I had an injury I had to overcome. I feel like I’m almost 100 percent, very close. [I wanted to show] that my knee is fine. There is nothing wrong with my knee, and that I’m fast.

“A lot of the teams are surprised that I’m doing as well as I am because microfracture surgery is a big deal.”

Of course, the microfracture surgery is a distant third on what Ball has had to overcome to reach this point.

Ball lost both his parents before the age of 10 and in February 2011, after suffering a massive headache at practice, doctors determined that Ball had a congenital condition known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is where the brain's blood vessels get tangled and rupture.

Ball overcame those obstacles to become a starter in his final two seasons with the Gators. He said he has a couple of visits planned with teams before the draft and wants to build on the positive momentum from Tuesday.

He liked Fowler’s assessment.

I agree with him,” Ball chuckled. “I think I can pass rush, and play at the Will [linebacker] position. I’m good at all three positions. I can pass rush, I can cover, and I can play in the box. I just need an opportunity. That’s all I need.

“It would be a dream come true. You’ve got to be blessed to play in the NFL and a lot of people don’t get that chance.”

Wednesday April 8, 2015 Gators freshman JJ Schwarz amazed like everyone else at his 4-homer game

Updated: 10:20am, April 8

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Gators freshman JJ Schwarz hit his second home run Tuesday night, he sheepishly shrugged his shoulders toward third-base coach Craig Bell as he headed for home. (Watch video)

A highly touted recruit out of Palm Beach Gardens High, Schwarz was a 15th-round selection by Milwaukee in last summer’s MLB amateur draft. However, he had never hit two home runs in a game.

“After my second one, I was really excited,’’ he told reporters afterward.

After his third homer of the game, his mood turned to amazement.

“I was like, ‘holy crap, what is going on?’ “

And after his fourth home run?

Well, when Schwarz returned to the dugout, he got the silent treatment from his teammates.

To celebrate becoming the first player in school history to hit four home runs in a game -- and only second in SEC history -- Schwarz high-fived the air until his teammates finally turned off the gag. Kentucky's Bill Sandry is the only other player in SEC history (1982 vs. Eastern Kentucky) to hit four home runs in a game.

“I don’t really think I was going to go up there trying to hit my third or fourth home run,’’ Schwarz said. “This is by far the best night I ever had.”

Schwarz wasn’t finished. He had one more at-bat.

In his final trip to the plate in the eighth inning, Schwarz drove a pitch to right-center for a two-run double, finishing the night 5-for-6 with 10 RBIs and a school-record 18 total bases.

“That was heartbreaking,’’ he quipped on the SEC Network when asked if he was disappointed he didn’t homer for a fifth time in the game.

Just think how Stetson’s pitchers must feel.

Schwarz’s powerful display -- he is now hitting .304 with nine home runs and a team-leading 40 RBIs on the season -- is now one of the most memorable in UF baseball history.

Monday April 6, 2015 Injured Gators OL Roderick Johnson out indefinitely

Updated: 7:26pm, April 6

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators coach Jim McElwain discussed last week how the lack of depth on the offensive line has hampered the team this spring.

The Gators had seven healthy scholarship offensive linemen entering Friday's scrimmage. They had six by the time it was over.

Florida offensive lineman Roderick Johnson, No. 55, is out indefinitely after getting hurt at Friday's scrimmage. (File photo)

McElwain said Monday that redshirt sophomore Rod Johnson, who started three games last season, is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. McElwain said Johnson suffered a "stinger" that left his fingers numb and forced him to leave practice.

"We took a pretty big blow in the O-line with Rod Johnson, kind of went down and got banged up a little bit," McElwain said Monday . "We’ve got to check on some pre-existing injury-type of stuff there to see where he’s going to be at."

McElwain said Johnson will undergo further tests and evaluations to determine the severity of the injury.

"They went in and found out there were some things that he might have had well before from that area,'' he said. "We’ll do, obviously, what’s in his best interest. In moving forward, we’ll make sure we do what’s best there."

Sunday April 5, 2015 Former UF All-American Lovett has eyes set on championship season

Updated: 1:17pm, April 6

Former UF hurdler Eddie Lovett is preparing for the championship season later this summer. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eddie Lovett was in familiar territory on Saturday at the Florida Relays.

The former UF All-American turned professional after last season but is back at UF this spring working toward finishing his degree.

Beyond his classwork, Lovett eyes a trip to the 2016 Olympics as one of the world’s top 110-meter hurdlers.

Running for World Express AC on Saturday, Lovett led off in the 4x110-meter shuttle hurdles and helped World Express -- Spencer Adams, Jarret Eaton and Mikel Thomas were his teammates -- set a meet record of 53.65 seconds, eclipsing the 7-year-old record of 54.10.

Lovett competed Friday in the individual 110-meter hurdles, finishing 11th with a time of 13.70. Former Southern Cal runner Aleec Harris (13.23) was the winner.

The 22-year-old Lovett won the NCAA 60-meter hurdle title in 2013 with a meet-record 7.50. He finished runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Lovett spent most of last year competing around the world in professional events and now back at UF, is training under the direction of UF assistant coach Erin Tucker.

The transition from collegiate runner to the professional ranks is perhaps the biggest hurdle in Lovett’s career at the moment.

You’ve got to do some things on your own,” he told the SEC Network. “You have to be in the moment all the time. Everything is go-go-go. You’ve got to be healthy, take care of your body on and off the track.

“When you are in college, you have more of a team aspect. Now, it’s all on me. Pretty much from this point forward, whatever I do, it’s all on me.”

While Lovett was well off Harris’ time on Friday in his premier event, he didn’t seem too worried.

Lovett plans to turn up the intensity in training later this month as he eyes the 2015 outdoor championship season, highlighted by the IAAF World Championships in China in August.

“You want to build up to May, June, July -- that’s when championship season is,’’ he said. “Being consistent is the main thing and hopefully you can keep that peak. No way do I want to be running 13 flat right now. If I’m running as fast as I can right now, once I get to August I am going to be burned out.”

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kentucky gymnast Shelby Hilton, whose fall at the O'Connell Center five weeks ago led to a life-altering discovery, provided an update to fans this week on the CaringBridge.org website.

Shelby Hilton

The Wildcats are at the Columbus Regional today vying for a berth in the NCAA Championships. A senior from the Tampa Bay area, Hilton has another fight on her hands.

"As many of you now know, I experienced a life-changing accident in February when I was competing,'' Hilton wrote. "The nasty fall saved my life."

With her parents and many friends in the stands, Hilton left the O'Connell Center on a stretcher Feb. 27. She suffered no injuries from the fall, but doctors at Shands diagnosed Hilton with Medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor usually found in children under 10. 

Hilton spent a week at Shands and then was transferred to a hospital in Jacksonville for further treatment.

Her story has inspired a #ShelbyStrong movement on social media and Hilton launched her diary on CaringBridge.com this week to keep fans updated on her condition.

So as the Gators compete in the Morgantown Regional today and the Wildcats in Columbus, let's not forget about Hilton and her struggle. Here's to a speedy recovery for the Florida native whose final trip home during her college career was a lifesaver.

Indoor Practice Facility

Construction crews started to put metal frames up for Florida's Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday. The project is expected to be completed by September. (Photos: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For the past two months, workers have prepared the grounds of the Sanders Football Practice Fields for construction of the Gators' indoor practice facility.

IPF

On Thursday the building started to rise from that ground as construction crews began to lift metal frames into place.

The indoor practice facility will house a 120-yard synthetic turf football field, additional space for practice drills on the north end of the field, three camera platforms, satellite training-room facilities, equipment storage and restrooms.

In addition to the indoor practice facility, the Sanders football practice fields will include two natural grass fields, one 120-yard field (two end zones) and a 70-yard field (one end zone).

The indoor facility will have multiple overhead roll-up doors along the east and west side for ventilation, and also for easy access to allow the team to utilize all three fields during a practice. The facility will also be available for other Florida athletic teams to use as needed.

Check out renderings and more information about the project here.

Here are a few more photos from Thursday's construction:

IPF

*****

IPF

*****

IPF

Thursday April 2, 2015 Gator Nation Laughed Along with Coach Fuchs and President McElwain

Updated: 3:50pm, April 2

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Both are relatively new to Gator Nation, but in their short tenures at Florida, UF President Kent Fuchs and head football coach Jim McElwain have shown they know how to laugh.

They say a sense of humor can go a long way in life, and Fuchs and McElwain are living examples.

As part of an elaborate April Fools' Day joke on Wednesday, Fuchs and McElwain swapped jobs.

Fuchs grabbed a whistle and McElwain slipped on a scholar's robe. Actually, they filmed their prank last week and it was released publicly in multiple stages throughout Wednesday on social media.

There was a "breaking news story" in the Independent Florida Alligator. A video produced by GatorVision.tv. A series of tweets and photos from Fuchs' and McElwain's Twitter accounts.

The joke caught the attention of national media and various websites that regularly cover the Gators. University Athletic Association social media manager Bruce Floyd, who played an important role in helping pull off the April Fools' Day fun, collected data on the job swap's impact on social media.

Turns out Gator Nation tuned in and laughed along with Fuchs and McElwain. Here is data Floyd gathered:

  • Our tweets had close to a half million impressions.
  • Video was viewed almost 200,000 times
  • Reached over 800k people on Facebook
  • Was shared by major online sports / news networks including ESPN, SEC Network, Yahoo Sports, SB*Nation.

The UF Communications staff would like to say 'thank you' for playing along. In case you took Wednesday off from the Internet, here is a Storify that captures the day of fun for Coach Fuchs and President McElwain:

Thursday April 2, 2015 Gators High on Wyoming Wild Man Taven Bryan

Updated: 6:43am, April 2

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his brief time around redshirt freshman defensive tackle Taven Bryan, Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph has gleaned some rather colorful observations.

"That's my big Wyoming wild man,'' Rumph said. "He's a big old caveman and wants to use all his brute strength."

A native of Casper, Wyo., Bryan spent more time in cowboy boots than football cleats growing up.

He remains a novice despite playing as a two-way lineman in high school and winning back-to-back state championships.

Taven Bryan

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Bryan continues to grow physically, adding 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at UF as an early enrollee in January 2014.

How much he grows mentally is equally important as he tries to crack the regular rotation this season.

"I never watched much football,'' Bryan said Monday. "I need to learn the total defense as a scheme. That can help me out a lot more knowing what everyone is doing, so I can better understand what I'm supposed to be doing. So once I get that down it will help me out a lot more."

Rumph, who left Texas after a season to join Jim McElwain's staff in February, has seen enough of Bryan to know there is a player inside that growing caveman.

Once Bryan refines his skills and understands how to best leverage that brute strength, he can begin to make an impact in the lineup.

"He’s athletic for a big guy,'' Rumph said. "His football IQ is really, really low because he hasn’t played a lot of football. I don’t know how many great players have come out of the state of Wyoming, but he could be up there.

"Everything right now is just new for him. I got him on Gerber, baby food. I can’t even feed him table food yet; he would choke. But once he learns -- his teeth are starting to come in -- maybe we will feed him off the table before long."

Bryan picked up several late offers on the recruiting trail once schools discovered him, including Colorado State, where McElwain spent three years before coming to Florida.

McElwain mentioned earlier this spring that Bryan's athleticism and size make him a candidate to play fullback should the Gators need one in a jumbo package.

Bryan said he would gladly tackle that opportunity.

"That’d be kind of fun,'' he said. "I've never done that."

In football parlance, Bryan is a player with a lot of upside and raw physical tools at this stage of his young career.

Still, he has flashed enough to make believers out of his coaches and teammates.

Defensive end Alex McCalister won't be surprised if Bryan goes from a caveman to All-SEC defensive lineman.

"It’s crazy. Taven came in and didn’t know what a three technique was, even a shade,'' McCalister said. "Now Taven can tell you the whole front, what everybody’s doing on defense. He's a beast; he's a freak.

"Of course he’s humongous. It’s funny to see how he grows, how big he is. Taven’s gonna do so good, I’m trying to tell you man."

Quinton Dunbar

Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar is working to get a shot at the NFL and recently performed well at the Super Regional Combine in Arizona. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Good Monday morning to everyone out there.

The Florida football team returns to practice this afternoon as spring camp has passed the halfway point leading up to the Orange & Blue Debut on April 11.

Check out GatorZone.com later today for the latest on UF football. Meanwhile, here are some fresh links from around the Internet of interest to Gator fans:

--Caught up with Gators WR Quinton Dunbar, who is confident heading into UF’s Pro Day after a strong showing at the NFL Super Regional Combine in Arizona via FoxSportsFlorida.com.

--Former UF fan favorite Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls is trying to do good work on South Side of Chicago, but violence struck close over the weekend writes Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com.

--As expected, Gators QB Treon Harris, mourning the loss of his cousin, did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, writes the Associated Press via MiamiHerald.com.

--Former UF standout Udonis Haslem, now 34 and in the twilight of his NBA career, showed Sunday he can still produce writes Dave George of the Palm Beach Post.

--PGA Tour pro and ex-Gator Billy Horschel finished in the top 10 for the first time in 12 events this season, finishing third at the Texas Open writes the AP via FloridaToday.com.

--UF linebacker Matt Rolin’s comeback gets good start writes Richard Johnson for the Florida Times-Union.

--Beefed up and confident, Gators DL Joey Ivie looks to make strides this spring writes Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.

--In case you missed it, the Gators baseball team claimed a weekend series against Alabama with a 7-4 win Saturday writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.

--Gators center Cam Dillard eager to make his mark on UF’s thin offensive line writes Jordan McPherson for The Orlando Sentinel.

--Alligator Army writer Andy Hutchins hopes the concession stands will have popcorn on May 9 for a movie event at The Swamp.

A.J. Puk

Gators lefty A.J. Puk had a strong outing to clinch series over Alabama. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan, looking to put away a productive Alabama lineup that threatened to win a weekend series at McKethan Stadium, went to a pitcher he turned away from earlier in the week.

O’Sullivan took sophomore left-hander A.J. Puk out of the starting rotation in the Alabama series -- Aaron Rhodes took a turn instead -- following Puk’s shaky outing in a loss at Ole Miss a week ago.

Puk took the news like you might expect.

“I’m not going to lie, getting pulled from the rotation was not my favorite thing,’’ he said Saturday. “I didn’t pitch well last weekend. I just wanted to come out this weekend and prove myself again.”

Puk got his opportunity in the top of the sixth inning after Florida starter Dane Dunning allowed a two-run homer to Alabama catcher Will Haynie that put the Crimson Tide up by a run.

O’Sullivan immediately trotted to the mound to take the ball from Dunning and called Puk in from the bullpen. Puk struck out five of the first eight batters he faced in 3 ⅓ scoreless innings, and earned his team-leading fifth win in Florida’s 7-4 victory.

Jeremy Vasquez tied the game 4-all with a solo homer in the seventh and the Gators (23-6, 5-4 SEC) scored three runs in the eighth to take the series when Puk finished off the Crimson Tide in the ninth.

“I think today was an important game for us,’’ O’Sullivan said. “To stay above .500 [in conference play] and win a series at home against an older, talented Alabama team. They were hard to put away with two strikes. They were hard to put away with two outs.”

Puk had no trouble in his 54-pitch outing, his first relief appearance of the season after six starts.

He had ample motivation when he replaced Dunning. Puk gave up one hit, walked one and struck out five.

“Coming out, we were down one run, so my mentality was just to keep us in the game,’’ Puk said.

Puk did that and more and now presents O’Sullivan with an intriguing option: return Puk to the starting rotation next weekend at Missouri or use him out of the bullpen.

O’Sullivan hinted at his answer after the game.

“He threw the ball aggressively,’’ O’Sullivan said. “A.J. should feel good about himself moving forward. He’s talented. It’s really simple: just throw it in the strike zone. For us to get to where we want to get to, A.J. Puk, he should be, and needs to be, one of our starters. It’s that simple. I’ve said that to him. I’ve said it to everybody.”

Puk improved to 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA. In 30 innings, the 6-foot-7 Puk has a team-leading 38 strikeouts.

He’s an imposing figure on the mound. He just happened to get there from the bullpen on Saturday.

Chris Rumph

Florida DL coach Chris Rumph is pumped about return to the SEC. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The announcement by Gators head coach Jim McElwain in early February that Chris Rumph was Florida’s new defensive line coach made waves.

For Florida fans, it was the surprise that after only a month on the job, Terrell Williams had left to accept a position with the Miami Dolphins.

They quickly moved on.

As for Texas fans, Rumph’s departure after only a season in Austin lingered for a few days. A well-respected coach and proven recruiter, Rumph’s decision to leave the Longhorns caught many off-guard, including Texas coach Charlie Strong.

“I think initially it was a shock,’’ Rumph said Friday afternoon during his first UF press conference.

However, after Strong and Rumph discussed the matter in detail, the second-year Texas head coach accepted reality.

Rumph’s move was for multiple reasons, not just about football.

“I don’t want to sound conceited or anything, but he definitely didn’t want to lose a coach, to not only Florida, but to any university,’’ Rumph said. “But he knew the tradition here, he knows what can be done here.

“He knows it was closer to home for me, my family. So he was a little disappointed, but after he thought about it and knew where I was going, he could understand.”

Strong knows perhaps as well as anyone what Florida offers. Strong began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Florida in 1983. After stints at Texas A&M and Southern Illinois, he returned in 1989 to coach outside linebackers.

He left again but returned in 1991 as defensive ends coach. And after stints at Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong returned to UF once more in 2003 and stayed through the 2009 season before becoming head coach at Louisville.

For those scoring at home, Strong has served as an assistant coach at UF under Charley Pell, Galen Hall, Gary Darnell, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer.

Rumph, who played at South Carolina and was on Alabama’s staff under Nick Saban from 2011-13, also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to the return to the Southeastern Conference.

“Ain’t nothing like it,’’ he said. “Every week you gotta be on your game, so as a coach you love the challenge. Every week it’s on the line. It’s different when you go up to Tennessee and have 100,000 fans; play here and you got 90,000, Alabama, those other places. That passion here is just different. It’s just different.”

Rumph does want to clear up one aspect of his past. His hometown is often referred to as Orangeburg, S.C., located about 35 miles from Columbia. He is from a smaller town nearby, St. Matthews.

While Rumph might be one of the better-known folks from the small community, he probably ranks behind at least a couple: Academy Award nominee Viola Davis, and former South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffrey, now with the Chicago Bears.

His parents and many friends still live there.

“I’ve been getting threats on my life,” he joked. “From my homeboys and my homegirls back at home. Every time they see something it says that I’m from Orangeburg. I don’t need my friends calling me saying, ‘you changed man, now you’re saying you’re from Orangeburg, man you right here from St. Matthews.’ So I’m from St. Matthews.”

Now you know. And Gainesville is a lot closer to St. Matthews than Austin.

Friday March 27, 2015 McElwain talks Gators on SEC Network

Updated: 9:02am, March 27

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The SEC Network spent parts of Wednesday and Thursday in town for its coverage of spring football.

Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who played for Gators head coach Jim McElwain at Alabama, and former LSU and Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland visited with coaches and players.

Here is video of an interview they did with McElwain about his new team:

McKethan Stadium

The Gators host Alabama for a three-game series starting tonight. (Photos by Tim Casey)

Editor's note: Thursday night's game was rained out, so the teams will play a doublheader today starting at 3 p.m. Florida will start Aaron Rhodes in Game 1, Logan Shore in Game 2.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For the past two seasons, it’s normally sophomore Logan Shore on the mound for the fifth-ranked Gators (21-5, 3-3 SEC) when they open a weekend series.

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan is altering the routine – with help from the schedule – tonight in the first game of a three-game series against Southeastern Conference rival Alabama.

Instead of moving Shore up a day, O’Sullivan is turning to junior right-hander Aaron Rhodes (0-0, 4.05 ERA). Rhodes has pitched 13 1/3 innings in seven relief appearances this season, surrendering eight hits, five walks and striking out 13.

Shore will stay in his normal Friday slot and Dane Dunning will start Saturday. Sophomore lefty A.J. Puk (4-2, 4.72) ERA won’t start against the Crimson Tide (13-10, 3-3) after an erratic performance (2 1/3 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO) in a 5-2 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday.

“Right now, we need to maybe lean on a [upperclassman] who has been there and done that, and that’s why we’re turning to Rhodes,’’ O’Sullivan said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know if it’s a permanent move, but right now I think it’s the best thing for this team.

“We’re going to run A.J. right back out there. His stuff is dynamite. We’ve just got to get him going, it’s that simple.”

Aaron Rhodes

While Rhodes (photo, left) has not started this season, he started four games a season ago and earned Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors for his 1-hit shutout against Missouri.

Meanwhile, O’Sullivan is banking on Shore (3-2, 2.17 ERA) returning to form after back-to-back un-Shore-like outings. In his first two SEC starts of the season, Shore is 0-2 and has allowed five home runs in 9 2/3 innings.

A sophomore from Coon Rapids, Minn., Shore was 7-4 and allowed only one homer in 389 opponent plate appearances in 2014.

O’Sullivan said Shore has left some of his pitches up the last two starts and has paid the price.

“I feel very encouraged about the week he’s had,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He’s going to be fine. It’s just that he’s going through a tough time and you just got to battle through it, and he will.”

*****

Senior third baseman Josh Tobias returned after missing the Ole Miss series and basically picked up right where he left off.

Josh Tobias

Tobias went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in 9-6 come-from-behind victory at Stetson on Tuesday night. Tobias’ two-run homer in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie and gave UF a lead it never relinquished.

“That was definitely something we needed,’’ UF outfielder Harrison Bader said. “It was a huge swing.”

Tobias (photo, right) has been delivering huge swings nearly all season. After coming off the bench early in the season, Tobias swung his way into a regular spot in the lineup.

Tobias is batting a team-high .391 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. A switch-hitter in high school, Tobias hit right-handed his first three seasons at UF and often found himself on the bench because of a lack of production.

He decided to return to switch-hitting this season and has not regretted it. Tobias is hitting .333 right-handed and .436 left-handed. Tobias’ .391 cumulative average is 122 points above his career average (.269) entering this season.

“I’ve never seen this in my career before, a guy hit one way for three years and all of a sudden as a senior come back and swing the bat from the other,’’ O’Sullivan said. “You are not going to see this very often.”

Tobias has always been excellent defensively, which kept him in the lineup at times his first three seasons. Nothing has changed. Tobias has not committed an error this season.

*****

The Gators are 16-0 when they score first, 5-5 when they don’t.

In last weekend’s series at Ole Miss, the Gators fell behind in the first inning in each of the first two games of the series. They lost both.

O’Sullivan wants his team come out with a sense of urgency against Alabama.

“Three of the five losses we’ve had, we fell behind in the first,’’ O’Sullivan said. “We haven’t really shown a whole lot of fight.”

Sophomore outfielder Buddy Reed understands the importance of fast starts, especially in conference play.

“Ole Miss was a tough place. We didn’t obviously play our best baseball,’’ Reed said. “We had great hitting at the end of [Tuesday’s game at Stetson]. That is definitely a big confidence booster going into this weekend.”

*****

Pete Alonso

The Gators have won 21 of 26 games without sophomore first baseman Pete Alonso, who has not played due to a broken foot.

Still, they would like to have him back as soon as possible. O’Sullivan is confident the time is near.

“He’s been doing a lot of baseball activities with his [protective] boot on,” O’Sullivan said. “I think we probably need some time to get him acclimated without the boot on.”

The next step in Alonso’s recovery is for X-rays scheduled Friday to come back clean.

*****

O’Sullivan said he kept right-hander Alex Faedo on strict pitch count Tuesday at Stetson to ensure he could be available for this weekend’s series. Faedo allowed only two hits and one run in five innings against the Hatters, throwing 60 pitches … The Gators were just one of four SEC teams to win their Tuesday midweek games. The SEC was 4-10 on Tuesday, with Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M victorious; Alabama lost to South Alabama 3-0 … Freshman lefty Logan Browning earned his first UF career win Tuesday. Logan’s father, Tom Browning, won 123 games in his big-league career from 1984-95 … This is the first time Alabama has visited McKethan Stadium since 2011, when Florida swept a three-game series … Reed enters the Alabama series with a 13-game hitting streak. The school record belongs to Tim Olson, who had a 29-game hitting streak during the 2000 season.

Treon Harris

Quarterback Treon Harris did not practice Wednesday. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Late Tuesday afternoon, Gators quarterback Treon Harris finished practice with his teammates and boarded a bus back to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from the soccer practice fields.

Not long afterward, Harris shared his emotions on Twitter when he learned of the shooting death of his cousin, 16-year-old Richard Hallman of Miami.

"Never thought I could hurt this bad,'' Harris expressed in one Tweet.

Suddenly, the quarterback battle between Harris and Will Grier this spring didn't seem that important.

Harris did not practice Wednesday and Florida head coach Jim McElwain is uncertain of when he will return.

Jim McElwain

"Really kind of puts everything in perspective when you kind of do this kind of stuff and get involved in these young men’s lives,'' McElwain said. "Treon Harris didn’t practice today, a heck of a tragedy in his family occurred back home.

"He’s still here, but you really kind of wonder sometimes the true importance of what we do when it comes to family and how important third-and-6 is. Right now, our hearts go out to him and his family and what he’s going through and we’re here to support him and his mom and aunt in every way we can."

A sophomore from Miami, Harris played at Booker T. Washington High, the same school his cousin attended and played football.

The Gators do no practice Thursday and are scheduled to have their first scrimmage of spring camp on Saturday. McElwain did not put a timetable on Harris' return.

"He’ll get back when it’s time to get back,'' McElwain said. "Obviously, family first in everything that we do in our program here at the University of Florida, and we’re with him in every way."

Coincidentally, former Gators linebacker Ben Hanks was touched by similar tragedy Tuesday night only blocks from where Harris' cousin was killed. A 10-year-old boy playing outside was shot in the head by a stray bullet and died.

He was a player in the Pop Warner football league that Hanks represents as commissioner.

*****

JACKSON'S ROLE

Redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson is one of the most intriguing players on the roster.

You don't need to be a football junkie to see that Jackson clearly has gifted physical tools to succeed. He is a defensive back, but it's not hard to imagine Jackson playing receiver or running back with the way he moves.

J.C. Jackson

J.C. Jackson's natural athletic ability makes him a versatile option.

The same thought has occurred to Florida's new coaching staff.

"You know, we talked about [moving him to offense] in the offseason, but he’s a guy I think that is going to have some return role maybe, too, where we can get the ball in his hands,” McElwain said. “There’s been some pretty good progress at some of the wideout spots, but he's a guy that we’ve talked about and yet as of right now he’s obviously full-go on defense."

*****

WELCOME BACK

Former Gators defensive lineman Henry McMillan stopped by Wednesday's practice with his young son. Shane Matthews has been by a couple of times.

Ricky Nattiel

Eli Williams and Cheston Blackshear recently visited on the same day. And on Tuesday, "Ricky the Rocket" Nattiel, one of the most excited UF players of the 1980s, came by to meet McElwain and watch practice. (Photo at left is of Nattiel).

While he is new to the Florida program, McElwain has enjoyed catching up with players from UF's past.

"There's been a lot of them. That's exciting to see,'' McElwain said. "For me, that’s really what the program is all about. Those guys that gave their all for this university and for them to come back and support these current Gators, that’s something that’s pretty special."

*****

QUOTE OF NOTE

"He’s such a people person. You can go to him and talk to him about anything else besides football.'' -- Linebacker Daniel McMillian on why he loves playing for McElwain

*****

QUOTE OF NOTE II

"It was the best thing that could have happened. It got a lot of attention and just put me in a place where I was out there publicly and people knew who I was. I really didn't get a lot of grief from it. A lot of people were really more focused on how well I did in the game than anything. I feel like it was that way because I embraced [the incident]." -- Gators running back Adam Lane on his infamous accident in the Birmingham Bowl

Note: I will have an actual story on Lane later this week. He is a worthy subject. While I was mildly surprised he faced this question today from a reporter, his answer is worthy of sharing.

*****

QUOTE OF NOTE III 

“This is pro-style. Straight pro-style everything -- downhill, one-cut [running]. I feel like this offense should be great and I’m excited to carry the ball. I can’t wait." -- Running back Kelvin Taylor on the new offensive scheme

*****

EXTRA POINTS

The Gators practiced in full pads Wednesday and tackled to the ground for the first time in camp. “We got some really good live drills in,” McElwain said. “Third-and-short was really good from both sides of the ball."  ... With no need for a full-time fullback in his offensive system, McElwain mentioned that redshirt defensive lineman Taven Bryan has the potential to be used in the backfield in jumbo packages.

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