WRUF Profiles

Putting the Leg in Legend

By on November 21st, 2014

Tebow. Wuerffel. Spurrier. These names scream legend.

Bring them up in a conversation with a lifelong gator fan and you’re sure to hear the story of when Steve Spurrier, quarterback of the 1966 Gators, kicked a 40-yard game winning field-goal against Auburn and went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Or maybe you’ll hear about Danny Wuerffel’s game-winning touchdown pass to Chris Doering in the closing seconds the Kentucky game in 1993. And who could forget when the Tim Tebow jump-pass was born against LSU in 2006?

But there’s another name worth mentioning among these legends, and he never played quarterback for the Florida Gators. In fact, he never touched the field on offense or defense.

The Gator great goes by the name of Caleb Sturgis (simply ‘Sturg’ to many), and he was no question one of the greatest kickers to ever wear the orange and blue.

If for some reason you don’t remember (and perhaps you were too distracted by his teammates Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin to notice), Sturgis had a certain essence about him every time he was called onto the field. He was calm, cool, and collected to say the least, and he never seemed to feel the pressure of the tens of thousand of eyes that fell on him from the stands. He would line up his kick with a sense of confidence that was comforting to Gator fans all over the country.

Sturgis was part of two National Championship teams while playing for the Gators and set school kicking records across the board. He set season records for field goals attempted (30) and field goals made (24), and even broke the school record for field goals made in a career with 68. He was a repeat Lou Groza Award finalist in 2011 and 2012, and qualified for the SEC Honor Roll three times during his time at Florida.

After graduating in 2012, Sturgis entered the NFL Draft and became a fifth-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins where he quickly earned the starting kicking job. He made 76.5% of his field goals as a rookie in 2013 and is 21-for-25 through ten games this season.

Despite his success as an NFL kicker, Sturgis hasn’t forgotten his roots as a Gator.

“I miss the Swamp,” says Sturgis, “[I miss] running through that tunnel.”

The Gator nation should be missing Sturgis right back. Florida’s field-goal percentage has lingered around 66.6% since his departure, a total nightmare compared to Sturgis’ 79.5%.

Sturgis attributes the University of Florida for his success both on and off the field.

“It’s set me up really well with my education and [with me] now continuing football for the Dolphins,” says Sturgis.

He plans on using his studies to pursue a career in finance after football, but for now he’s focused on staying in the league for as long as possible. Based on his accomplishments as a Gator, as well as his early success in the NFL, it’s safe to say that could be a while.

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A Sport Lifestyle, A Profile on Scot Brantley

By on November 21st, 2014

Since the age of 7, Scot Brantley has been playing football. He was born in Chester, South Carolina and moved to Greenville, South Carolina where his love of both baseball and football began.

 Photo Credit: Scot Brantley

“I just fell in love with both of them,” said Brantley.

Brantley played high school football after moving to Ocala and was part of the state championship team his junior and senior year of high school. Brantley’s most influential coach of his career, Coach Hall, was in fact his high school coach, whom he still talks to every couple of weeks.

“You always think back to the one guy that had the most impact, that had the most influence on you,” said Brantley.

Coming out of high school, Brantley had two completely different paths to choose between. He could go and play baseball for a major league team such as the Dodgers or play football and baseball for the University of Florida.

“It was a whirlwind, it was kinda cool,” said Brantley about all of the baseball scouts.

He decided to attend the University of Florida because he wanted to go to school and get an education. Plus, Florida would allow him to play both football and baseball.

Brantley played 3 seasons at UF from 1976 to 1979 and missed out on his senior year of eligibility due to a concussion. He has the second highest all- time career tackles for the Gators and made the all SEC team in 1977 and 1978.

Brantley doesn’t have one memorable moment from being a Gator but said that the overall feel of the Gator Nation was one of the best parts.

“It’s the overall Florida Gator nation and what they mean to the state of Florida, there is only one University of Florida,” said Brantley.

Brantley was selected in the third round of the NFL draft and went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1980’s.

After retiring from football, Brantley was part of the radio broadcast teams for both the Florida Gators and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Photo Credit: Scot Brantley

“I loved every minute of it… you’re attached to that team. When it’s your alma mater or a team you played for it even means that much more. You can look at yourself as part of the foundation of what they have today.”

Brantley has since retired from the football broadcasts but still does a show for Florida Sports Talk in Ocala because he still loves it.

“I pinch myself everyday… I wouldn’t change one thing about (my life) and a lot of it has to do with being in athletics…I truly believe that.”

 

 

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Once a Gator, Always a Gator

By on November 21st, 2014

 

For some Gator athletes, their stay at the University of Florida is short.  But others, like women’s tennis associate head coach Dave Balogh, stay for a very long time.

Balogh just entered his 15th coaching season at UF, but he’s been a Gator for much longer than that.

Growing up in Gainesville, Balogh starting going to football games when he was five and wanted to be a Gator athlete himself.

“When I was in high school, they had a top ten program here and I was just working my butt off every day to try to get a scholarship to come here,” Balogh said.  “I mean for me, the dream was to play for the University of Florida.”

That dream became a reality in 1993 when Balogh started as both a gator student and a gator tennis player.  During his senior year, he suffered an injury and then-coach Ian Duvenhage asked him to help out coaching the team while he waited to get back on the court.

“I just kind of clicked with the guys and it was cool because I got to see what it was like on the other side as a coach, rather than playing,” Balogh said.

Balogh got a job as an assistant coach for the women’s program at Vanderbilt right after graduation, but after only a few years and a brief stint at Florida State, he found his way back to Gainesville and UF.

“I think that was probably the second happiest day of my life,” Balogh said.  “The first beign when I got a scholarship as a student athlete, but the second biggest was to come back and coach.”

In his 15 years on the sidelines for the Gators, Balogh has won two Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Assistant Coach of year awards and helped Florida win a national championship in 2003.

With those accomplishments, it’s no wonder other schools have offered him head coaching positions, but Balogh said it didn’t feel right to leave his alma mater.  He said it was more important to coach at UF than to be a head coach somewhere else.

“It’s not about the title in front of my name, it’s about the number of titles I can help this program win,” Balogh said.

And though his ultimate goal is to help lead the team back to a national title, at the moment he’s just focused on helping the women he coaches improve each and every day.

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Gator Corner: Where are they now?

By on November 21st, 2014

Anderson as a Gator.Most students on the University of Florida campus probably consider athletes like Tim Tebow, Ryan Lochte, or Mike Miller to be great examples of Gator athletes who have achieved amazing success since graduating and moving on to the professional level of their respective sports.

However, if students were to reach back into the history of the university’s athletic programs, they would realize that the Gators have had a long tradition of producing athletes that have had great success at the professional level. One of those athletes happen to be former Gator Running back Neal Anderson.

Neal Anderson was born and raised in Graceville, Florida and was introduced to football at a very young age because of his surroundings.

“I was probably no more than 5 or 6 years old. I grew up in a small city in the panhandle of Florida, Graceville, and football was big. If you were a boy, you were expected to grow up and be a football player.”

After graduating from Graceville High school, Anderson was highly recruited by many universities. Two of those universities were UF and Alabama, but Anderson chose to attend UF because he believed he could help Florida’s football team achieve a level of success they had yet to reach.

“They [Alabama] had won quite a few national championships and a lot of SEC championships and, it was kind of like, well, you go there and there’s nothing new that you can do,” said Anderson. “But at the time, the University of Florida had never won a national championship. They had not even won a SEC championship.”

Under Anderson’s leadership, UF’s football team won its 1st SEC championship in 1984, but the title was vacated after the season because of NCAA infractions committed by the Gator coaching staff.

In 1986, Anderson entered the NFL draft after rushing for more than 3,200 yards and scoring 30 touchdowns in his 4 year career with the Gators. He was drafted 27th overall by the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in the 1st round.

“It was a little bittersweet. They had the best running back in the history of the game, at that time, the leading rusher in the history of the game, Walter Payton,” said Anderson. “He was still there, so I didn’t know what would happen, but I was ready to compete.”

Anderson eventually succeeded Walter Payton as the Bears starting running back in 1988 and went on to play for 8 seasons. In those 8 seasons, he was selected to 4 Pro Bowls, rushed for over 6,100 yards and 51 touchdowns.

Anderson now lives in Gainesville, Florida with his wife and 3 children, and is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. He currently coaches his daughter’s middle school volleyball team to stay active.

 

 

 

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Always a Gator, always a swimmer

By on November 21st, 2014

Tina Hinton-Bates competed in the 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle for the University of Florida swim team from 1992 to 1996. She won an SEC Championship with her relay team, which then was second at the NCAA Championship, and helped the team to win the SEC Championship each of her four years. Swimming for the Gators is an experience Bates continues to appreciate.

“Being on the team really shaped my college experience. Those are people that, when I look back at college, I was around constantly and were very goal oriented.” She added, “We had a really, really good and focused, driven group that I was with, and I’ve learned to appreciate that more in life.”

While in college Bates majored in Telecommunications, so did her husband Gator linebacker James Bates. She graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications and her Master’s degree in Sports Management. Shortly after, she started her family and began working in pharmaceutical sales.

Although sales and swimming are very different, Bates says the lessons she learned from competing helped with her career.

“It’s funny, being in pharmaceutical sales, some of the things I learned from a high level of competitive swimming really transferred over, with competition in sales and how to manage my time well in that area.”

Bates is in her first year coaching the Buchholz Swim Team, a team her son is on, and enjoys being able to work with community while helping kids find a love and appreciation of the sport she loves.

“It’s really cool to be able to coach kids.” Bates says, “It’s really fun to kind of be around and influence kids, and just really enjoy the sport, and seeing other kids enjoying and appreciating the sport.”

Using her degree in Telecommunications, Bates has commentated for several Gator swim meets. She says she used to get a weird feeling being at the meets and not competing, but it has helped her gain a new perspective on what she did at UF and how important it was to her.

“I definitely have much more appreciation for the sport, for the work that I did here, and for representing the University.”

“I think I can look back on it and at the time I didn’t realize what a neat experience it was and what an honor it was, but now I’m really glad that I was able to do those things.”

The family briefly moved to Texas and then Colorado because of Mr. Bates’ broadcasting career, but always returned to Gainesville and its community.

Looking back on her time at UF, besides the difficulty of balancing school and training, Bates remembers the friendships and respect that came with competing on the team.

“We all work so hard and try to reach our goals every year, and just to be part of that is definitely my best memory”

Tina Bates has done more in her life than just swim for the University of Florida, but, to her, she’ll always be a Gator.

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Gator Soccer Spotlight: Player to Watch

By on November 4th, 2014

When most people think of the word freshman, they tend to associate it with connotations that relate to youth, immaturity, and inexperience, among other things. However, despite being a freshman, UF Defender Courtney Douglas has shown that she possesses characteristics that are uncharacteristic of what people would expect of her for her age.

Just like many of her teammates, the St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School graduate was introduced to soccer at an early age and began playing the sport when she was just 5 years old. But the thing that distinguishes her the most from the other players on the current roster is her experience playing at the international level.

Douglas has made several appearances with the Jamaican national team in Caribbean Football Union tournaments and CONCACAF Women’s championships over a 2 year span, and has also played competitively for the Erin Mills Soccer Club in her native Ontario, Canada. Douglas believes these experiences have made her a much better player.

“I think those experiences definitely helped me,” said Douglas. “Playing for a national team, that’s crazy. And I think it’s definitely helped me progress as a player and improve my skills, be more competitive, and play at a higher level.”

Although Douglas, a 2011 Ontario Youth Soccer all-star selection, was pursued by many top notch soccer programs throughout the country thanks in large part to her great defending and tackling skills, she ultimately chose to accept UF’s scholarship offer because of a few key factors.

“The coaches, the program, and the school, academic wise. Compared to other schools, it’s unbelievable to me, said Douglas. “Comparing it to other schools, it just, it met my expectations and it’s been a thrill so far being here.”

The Gators are playing extremely well so far this season and Douglas believes they are definitely capable of accomplishing great things as long as they continue playing well.

“We’re doing well so far. We just have to keep playing our game, stay on task, and just keep up what we’re doing,” she said. “I think we’ll definitely make it to the SEC Finals and win the championship.”

After graduating from UF, Douglas ultimately hopes to be able to play soccer professionally.

 

 

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Erica LaGrow’s Journey: From UNC to UF

By on April 30th, 2014

A first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer at the University of North Carolina her senior year in 2008, Erica LaGrow helped the Tar Heels to four consecutive quarterfinal appearances in the NCAA championship.

LaGrow’s hometown is Skaneateles, N.Y. was a midfielder at North Carolina, who started all four years and ended her career with 80 goals and 15 assists to go along with 90 ground balls and 84 draw controls. She brought that experience to Florida, when she was hired to become an assistant coach once the program was created in 2010.

“Obviously being a part of a program that’s been successful in the past, has taught me a lot about technique, a lot about skills and whole game concepts that I was able to transfer over here to Florida.”

LaGrow was also a member of the United States Women’s National Team for five years. She was a member of the touring team that captured the Prague Cup in 2008. The Prague Cup is a tournament in Europe which hosts lacrosse national teams, and multiple Division I schools to compete for a championship. She credits the experience of being a part of the National Team, to helping her become a better coach.

“You learn a lot, you know how to speak with each other, you know how to coach things, you know how to make each other better.”

At the University of Florida, LaGrow coordinates the offense with assistant coach Michelle Tumolo. The Gators offense last year finished second in the nation in scoring margin. Florida also finished with the fifth best scoring offense in the country, and sixth in points. The team’s offensive philosophy revolves around the players that are currently on the team.

“We create an offense around the players that we have, obviously develop those skills for each player and as a whole on offense,” LaGrow said. “We teach the basics and run more of a motion style offense.”

With the lacrosse season already in full swing, the Gators have set their goals high. “Any division one program, their goal is to win conference championships and national championships,” LaGrow said. “I think on a day-to-day basis, we have to get better each day and improve our skills, improve our offense, and improve the defense from top to bottom.”

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Thornqvist’s Experience is the Best Teacher

By on April 28th, 2014

Roland Thornqvist is nothing but familiar to the game of tennis. As a two-time All-American at North Carolina and a professional in the 90s, Thornqvist has certainly played his fair share.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Thornqvist has made his way through the NCAA. Starting his head-coaching career at the University of Kansas and then spending some time at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, he eventually landed the job at Florida in 2002.

Thornqvist said, “I always thought Florida tennis was the pinnacle of college tennis so when the job opened up here, I basically just applied for it. When I was offered the job, it was a layup to take it.”

Coaching the Gator women tennis team to 3 NCAA Team Championships, he has helped the program achieve monumental success. Now in his 13th year as head coach, Thornqvist isn’t depending on just luck to make it happen again.

Thornqvist said, “Being a good player can be a double-edged sword but I try to use it to put myself in the better players … shoes, and think, ‘what was it I needed?’ and try to provide some of those things to our players.”

However, it’s not solely his experience as a player that has contributed to the achievements he’s made as a coach.

“I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to have been a great player, per say, to be a good coach. I think being a good coach is understanding players, knowing when to say ‘what’ and sometimes that’s even more important than X’s and O’s frankly,” said Thornqvist.  

But he knows his X’s and O’s. Since then the start of his UF coaching career, he has won SEC Coach of the Year three times and has left his mark all over the Florida tennis record books.

“The atmosphere Dave (Balogh, assistant coach) and I have tried to create where it’s one of hard work and sweat and fitness, but yet camaraderie, loyalty, a love for Florida and the Gator tennis program that sort of stays with our players when they leave for a long, long time. I think that’s what I’m very proud of”, said Thornqvist.

The fifth-ranked Gators will seek their 18th consecutive team NCAA appearance under Thornqvist this season

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UF Seniors Hungry for More

By on April 28th, 2014

Three particular members of the Florida women’s tennis team know what it’s like to win 2 national championships. They know how it feels to claim numerous SEC regular season and tournament titles. Most importantly, they know what it takes to be great.

This season, these 3 Gator seniors are determined to make their last season one for the books.

“We’ve been there through all the stress and the very high pressure, and now we might feel a little bit of the pressure coming in but we’re an extremely close team. We’ve been through so much together,” said senior Olivia Janowicz (below).

This past weekend, the fifth-ranked Gators traveled to the state of Alabama to take on Auburn and Alabama. While they were able to top Auburn, 4-0, on Friday, they were unable to capture the second win of the weekend, falling to Alabama on Sunday, 4-3.

Despite some of the recent losses, head coach Roland Thornqvist is confident about the remainder of the season.

“I think we’re getting more physically stronger. Playing outside in the heat and humidity definitely is a positive for this team, “Thornqvist said, “We’ve got great athletes who can run and defend so when it gets warmer, playing outside on slower courts will help us.”

Olivia Janowicz, Alexandra Cercone and Sofie Oyen, who make up the Gator senior trio, are currently ranked 8th, 22nd and 38th in the nation, respectively. Their doubles matchups are all also ranked in the top 50.

“Personally, I feel like I’m playing my best tennis that I have been. It’s nice. That way I can kind of feel like I can be in a leadership position,” said senior Alexandra Cercone (below).

With 6 more matches to play in the regular season, Florida tennis has some time to prepare before heading to the SEC tournament in Columbia, Missouri in April. 

No. 3 ranked Georgia, who already took down the Gators once this season, will present a challenge for the Gators in the tournament. Florida currently has 5 wins and two losses in the SEC regular season but has a chance to fight for a better result in the post-season.

Janowicz has contributed to 3-straight SEC tournament championships and hopes to see one more in her last season as a Gator.

“The things I remember the most are just the team experiences. Winning together as a collective is so much more important to me than winning just as an individual,” said Janowicz.

The Florida Gators will face Arkansas and LSU at home this weekend as they look to improve upon their current 13-4 season.

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Marissa King still contributing to gymnastics as student coach

By on April 22nd, 2014

Former University of Florida gymnast Marissa King has a brand new role with the team this year. She is a student coach.

King, a dual-major in Geography and Telecommunications, is finishing up her degree and graduates in August 2014. However, she is no longer eligible to compete after being on the team from 2010 to 2013.

While competing for UF, King helped the Gators to a national championship in 2013, SEC championships in 2013, 2012 and 2010, is an 11-time All-American and was the 2011 NCAA vault champion, according to Gatorzone.com.

She said she has no doubt that the 2014 team can achieve the same kind of success because of the potential and the amount of talent they have. Her goal as a coach is to help them accomplish those goals.

“Knowing that I’m still helping towards that but in a different way is really cool too,” King said.

She describes this year as a nice transition for her. She has been doing gymnastics her entire life, and is now finished with her competitive career. She was told that this may be a difficult time for her, but she has been taking it fine. King says this is because there was no better way her career could have ended and because she still gets to be involved with the team.

“It’s nice to step back and see, and it’s nice to have a different role being on the sidelines and being that cheerer, that motivator,” she said. “Helping in different ways than actually being a competitor is different, but it’s nice. I enjoy it, and I’m very happy to still be here seeing the girls go through season and compete.”

King said her role as a coach is to help out wherever she is needed. She is an extra voice of encouragement in the gym. She is there to help if anyone needs mats or boards and to watch gymnasts’ routines to help put them in a competition setting.

“The team is kind of small this year. It’s good to have another body, another voice in the gym cheering through practices,” she said.

She said she’s more relaxed before meets this year because she’s not as nervous as when she had to compete, but she still feels the same excitement for the girls this year. This is especially when they’re getting “pumped up” in the locker room and when they run out in front of the fans.

King said her most difficult moment was at the first home meet when the team was doing their introduction. It was hard for her to not be a part of it because she loved it and loved performing in front of the home crowd.

“Now I enjoy it. I have fun with it,” she said. “I still share that excitement with them and I still get that buzz.”

King said she does not plan on coaching as a career. She says it’s an option, but doesn’t see it for herself in the long run. Her current aspiration is to perform for Cirque de Soleil. She is still training and staying in shape to prepare for that.

“That will be kind of like gymnastics but performing and entertainment and acrobatics,” she said.

King has also been working with GatorVision, which records video of all UF athletic events, to gain experience in the telecommunications field. She has a behind-the-scenes role with them doing production and film editing. She said she is enjoying that and would not rule out a future working with GatorVision.

She said she knows she wants a career in the media but does not have any concrete plans. She loves to travel and wants to visit places across the US such as: New York City, Las Vegas, California and the Grand Canyon.

She’s excited to kick off her travels with her first-ever Caribbean cruise with her family right after her graduation this summer.

King said that it’s scary graduating and not knowing what the future holds, but she’s learned it’s important to do what she loves and intends to do just that.

“I’m ready to start a new chapter and to see what more life has to offer me,” she said.

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