tampabay.com

National champs honored on field

By ANTONYA ENGLISH and IAN FISHER
Published September 10, 2006


GAINESVILLE - For a few minutes Saturday afternoon, Florida football fans focused solely on basketball.

The Gator basketball team was recognized during a pregame ceremony with players past and present on hand for the celebration of the 2005-06 NCAA national championship.

Former All-American Mike Miller, David Lee, Jason Williams, Andrew DeClerq, Dwayne Schintzius, Dan Cross and Craig Brown were among the former players who joined current players on the field. Former associate coach Anthony Grant, now coach at Virginia Commonwealth, returned, too.

The players received their championship rings and a standing ovation at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"We thank you for your support," coach Billy Donovan told the crowd.

"It's exciting in front of so many people, so many Gator fans that really appreciate what you do on the floor," senior guard Lee Humphrey said. "It's fun to get out there and hear their applause."

For some, Saturday was the first and, perhaps, last time they'll wear the rings, which are adorned with an F over a blue basketball net and a ball going through it that reads "NATIONAL" above the logo and "CHAMPIONS" below it. Something that valuable, you don't run around wearing to the mall, they said.

"I'm only wearing it because I'm going to get tired of people saying, 'Hey, where's your ring? Take it out of your pocket. Let me see it.' " senior forward Chris Richard said.

Humphrey said he'll let some of his football friends view the ring as a reminder of what they are working so hard for then give it to his mother to keep in a safe place.

HARRIS, THOMAS RETURN: After missing the season opener last weekend for disciplinary suspensions, defensive tackles Steven Harris and Marcus Thomas returned. Thomas recorded the Gators' first sack of the season when he tackled Steven Moffett 2:45 into the second quarter. He picked up another with 53 seconds left in the first half. Harris also had a tackle for loss midway through the first quarter.

Florida coach Urban Meyer has not disclosed why either was suspended, although Harris has been suspended since the spring for personal issues. The second-year coach said last week he will not make a habit of broadcasting when a player makes a mistake.

"My job is to protect the players," Meyer said, adding he has been asked many, many times why he doesn't announce suspensions. "I think if a young guy makes a mistake, then that's the head coach's business, the family's business. And that's certainly not for the guy in Daytona or someone to pick up the newspaper and the kid's labeled. I don't believe in that.

"I hate to say this, but I think coaches do that to make themselves feel good. 'Violation of team policy,' you'll never hear me say that. If they made a mistake, they made a mistake and he's not going to play. Now if it's a legal issue, it's in the public and I've got to deal with it publicly ... but if it's a team issue, that's why we call it team. But I just don't believe in hurting kids. When I see coaches do that, I don't quite get that."

MAKING HIS DEBUT: Clear-water High's Joey Ijjas made his Gator debut Saturday, handling some kickoff duties. Ijjas is a junior who transferred from East Carolina.