Thoughts of the day: February 2, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.


I can’t think about recruiting without thinking about the late Avery Atkins, who was the shining star of Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class in 2005. I am supposed to maintain a level of objectivity and I’m not supposed to have favorites until AFTER they leave the University of Florida, but Avery was my favorite from the night I met him at Citizen’s Field where he led Daytona Beach Mainland to an easy win over Buchholz. Ron Zook was still Florida’s coach then, but when Meyer took over, Avery became priority #1. When he signed with the Gators, the entire Florida staff celebrated because they felt they had a future All-American who would develop into a first round draft choice.

If you ever met Avery Atkins then you will never forget that big, wide grin that was infectious. If Avery was smiling, everybody was smiling. He loved football, loved his teammates and loved his coaches and if you were his friend, you were his friend for life. Unconditionally.

As our friendship developed, he would see me and come running over to me with that big, wide grin and the first thing out of his mouth was, “How am I doing?” Avery was always doing well when he was on the football field. He had star quality about him.

The summer before the 2005 season, I went walking by the practice fields on a hot July afternoon. Avery saw me and sprinted over to see me. He wanted to hug me but he was drenched in sweat so he backed off. I asked him, “What’s a little sweat among friends?” and he hugged me tightly. I was drenched in sweat but it was worth it to hear him ask, “How am I doing?” and then hear him talk about how he loved being a Gator.

He had a good freshman season and saw the field more and more every week. When Vernell Brown broke his leg against Vanderbilt, Avery was thrust into a starting job the next week against Florida State. He intercepted a pass that day plus he broke up a long pass that could have been a touchdown except for a tremendous athletic play. In his post game remarks, Urban Meyer talked about how Avery had stood up before the team, tears streaming down his face and thanked Vernell for coaching him up on the sidelines during the game. When he finished with the media post game, he saw me, hustled over and asked, “How am I doing?” He always asked how he was doing. And of course, he did fine.

Avery ran into problems during the spring of his freshman year. He transferred out and was at Bethune Cookman during the 2006 season. In the spring, he was on the phone with Meyer asking if he could come back to Florida but he got arrested for involvement with drugs and life spiraled out of control. He committed suicide on July 4, 2007.

I’ve never gotten over his death and I doubt I ever will. It’s Super Bowl Sunday. I keep thinking that Avery should be out there playing for either the Broncos or the Seahawks. This is the story I wrote about Avery the day after he took his own life.


With their 69-36 win over Texas A&M Saturday afternoon, the Gators stretched their winning streak to 13 games and their home winning streak to 27. This is as good a defensive team as there is in the entire country and it’s about to get better with the addition of Chris Walker Tuesday night. Walker does not have to be a star to be instantly valuable to Billy Donovan. The Gators have a fine team that is capable of winning the national championship without Walker, but with him, they have a 6-10 athletic freak who can block shots and give the Gators a three-man rotation in the low post. Think back to 2006-07 when the Gators had Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard. The extra five fouls and productivity that Richard gave the Gators off the bench was invaluable and it gave Donovan flexibility and options. With Walker able to give Patric Young and Will Yeguete a couple extra minutes of rest on the bench, Donovan can also find more creative ways to use both Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith, who can play multiple positions. If Walker can be a 5X5X5 guy – 5 minutes, a combination of 5 rebounds, points and blocked shots, and 5 extra fouls – then he will be worth his weight in gold as Florida’s season hits the stretch run.


Ron Zook had less than a month to put together a recruiting class in 2002. A surprising choice to succeed Steve Spurrier, Zook hit the ground running and came up with a class that didn’t pass muster with the experts. But was it a bad class? You decide. Dallas Baker, Ciatrick Fason, Channing Crowder, Randy Hand and Ray McDonald all made All-SEC. Baker, McDonald, Steven Harris, Reggie Lewis, Jemalle Cornelius and DeShawn Wynn were all starters on Florida’s national championship team in 2006. Brian Crum, Kenneth Tookes, Jermaine McCollum and Tremaine McCollum were significant contributors.  Baker, Fason, Crowder, Hand, McDonald, Baker, Harris, Lewis, Cornelius and Wynn all played at least one season in the NFL. Maybe the class didn’t get the high profile recruits that elected to go to the school out west or the one down south, but none of those guys played for national championships.


Just a couple of weeks after adidas lost Notre Dame, its highest profile school, to Under Armour, the German-based shoe giant has taken another serious hit. Tennessee is leaving adidas when its contract expires in July of 2015. The Vols signed an all-sports contract with Nike that will pay $35 million over the eight years of the contract. The deal with Tennessee will give Nike 10 SEC schools. Adidas has Texas A&M and Mississippi State. It’s doubtful that Texas A&M would leave adidas for Nike since Texas is a Nike client, but Under Armour is said to be making a major pitch to land both the Aggies and Mississippi State.


I think Seattle has a great defense, an excellent young quarterback in Russell Wilson and a terrific coach in Pete Carroll. The Seahaws would be a worthy champion if they won the Super Bowl, but I think they will have to do it another year. I think this is Peyton Manning’s year. I think the Broncos have far too many weapons. While I don’t think this will be a shootout by any stretch of the imagination, I am convinced that Peyton will spread the ball around and find the end zone enough times for Denver to win the championship. I like the Broncos by two touchdowns.


On the way to the Florida-Texas A&M basketball game, the 2012 Crosby, Stills and Nash CD “CSN 2012 Live.” Most of the songs are 35 or more years old, but the music endures and is as relevant today as it was when they wrote and recorded the songs the first time. They will be playing in Atlanta on March 24 at the Fox Theater. That’s a Monday night and if there is any way possible, I’ll be there. If you’ve heard these guys once in person, then you know once is never enough.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.