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    Times wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    NEW YORK — Andy Pettitte characterized his decision to pitch in 2013 as an "easy" one.

    Once he informed the Yankees of that, he said the dominoes fell quickly.

    Pettitte officially signed a one-year, $12 million deal — with incentives — Wednesday and said the agreement actually was hammered out before Thanksgiving.

    "This was very easy," said Pettitte, 40, who made $2.5 million last season. "The Yankees made it easy on me. Literally the negotiations, it seemed like, were for a day or so, that was it."

    Pettitte said when he left for his Texas home after the AL Championship Series loss, his sense was he would return. Conversations with his family reinforced that and, after guiding his son Josh through his college decision — the right-hander committed to pitch for Baylor — Pettitte went about working toward 2013.

    "Once I started working out and I felt like I still had to the desire to put in the work, it was pretty easy for me to realize that this is something I wanted to try and do again," Pettitte said.

    GM Brian Cashman also played a significant role.

    "As soon as the season was over I spoke with Cash and he said, 'As soon as we can, we want you back, as soon as you decide, we want you back,' " Pettitte said. "That's huge for a player. For Cash to reach out to me and tell me that … you feel like the organization feels pretty good about bringing you back and feels pretty good about what you've done. That was a huge part of me coming back also."

    REDS SIGN FORMER CLOSER: Cincinnati signed right-hander Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million contract, giving the NL Central champions a potential closer and a chance to reconfigure their rotation.

    Broxton came to the Reds in July in a trade with the Royals and was part of their playoff push. He filled in as closer when left-hander Aroldis Chapman came down with a tired shoulder and had four saves in six chances overall with a 2.82 ERA, impressing the Reds.

    Now they have the option of turning Chapman into a starter, which was the plan last season until closer Ryan Madson tore up his pitching elbow.

    MADSON TO L.A.: The right-hander agreed to a one-year deal with the Angels, who believe the reliever will make a strong comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery.

    DRUG TESTING: Players' union head Michael Weiner said there have been talks with Major League Baseball about increasing the drug testing program.

    ROYALS-PIRATES TRADE: Kansas City traded right-hander Vin Mazzaro and first baseman Clint Robinson to Pittsburgh for minor-league pitchers Luis Santos and Luis Rico.

    DELMON HAD SURGERY: Free agent outfielder/DH Delmon Young, the former Ray, had ankle surgery Nov. 10 to remove bone spurs and smooth out jagged cartilage. He is expected to be ready for spring training.

    A'S: Right-handed reliever Pat Neshek agreed on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.

    MARINERS: Infielder Chone Figgins, the former Brandon High standout, was released a week after being designated for assignment. Seattle will eat the remaining $8 million on his contract for 2013.

    RED SOX: In a flurry of moves, the team traded right-handers Zach Stewart to the Pirates and Sandy Rosario to the Athletics for players to be named and sent third baseman Danny Valenci to the Orioles for cash considerations. The club also hired Greg Colbrunn as hitting coach.

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    His arm may not be as strong, the result of four surgical procedures on his neck that forced him to miss a year of football. His timing with new receivers may not be as crisp. A month after watching his brother win a Super Bowl in Indianapolis, he was released by the Colts and spent several weeks auditioning teams before choosing the Denver Broncos, where doubts were stacked a Mile High. • But it turns out there still is time left on the clock for quarterback Peyton Manning, which is all he has ever needed win football games. • "Obviously, it was uncharted territory for me being with a new team, missing an entire season, two things I had certainly never experienced," Manning said Wednesday. "So it was an adjustment process, it continues to be an adjustment process every day.

    "It really became more of a performance issue for me. Could I recover my strength? Could I perform? And I really feel like I am a different quarterback. I don't feel like I'm trying to be the quarterback I was when I was 28-29. I'm 36 years old, I'm coming off a season off, I'm with a new team and new teammates. I'm kind of re-establishing myself as a quarterback at this time. It's a totally new chapter of my football career and I'm trying to be the best quarterback I can in this chapter. I'm not really trying to outdo the player I was earlier in my career."

    In some ways, Manning has been as good or better. Despite missing all of 2011 recovering from surgery to repair a bulging disc and then cervical neck fusion, Manning has not only survived but thrived. He's the league's second-highest-ranked passer behind the Patriots' Tom Brady with a 104.8 efficiency rating and has thrown 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Broncos are 8-3 and can clinch the AFC West with a win over the Bucs on Sunday.

    "He is the epitome of a pro quarterback," Bucs safety Ronde Barber said. "He always has been, and nothing has changed. A different team, the system seems similar to what he was doing in Indy. But he's still very smart with the ball. You don't see any dropoff. I know he had the issue with the neck, but it's a nonfactor on film. He's still putting it where it's supposed to be."

    That could mean a long day for the Bucs secondary, which will be playing again without cornerback Eric Wright, who has missed time due to injury and is now suspended by the league. Tampa Bay is ranked last in the NFL in pass defense, having surrendered 51 pass plays of at least 20 yards this season. Manning and the Broncos have 48 pass plays of at least 20 yards this season, a total that includes eight touchdown passes.

    "I just can't keep doing this interview without saying, 'I'm really looking forward to this. It's Peyton Manning!' " Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "Arguably I think he's the best QB to ever do it. I'm just being honest. … I'm not going to go in there, star-struck like, 'Ah, that's Peyton Manning!' because I've met the guy before. But I never played against him. Playing against him, it's just like when a basketball player came into the league and they had a chance to play against Michael Jordan."

    Perhaps nobody has been more impressed by Manning than Broncos coach John Fox. Early in the offseason, when coaches could have no direct contact on the field with players, Manning organized practice with such precision that Fox said it was like he had "eight coaches on the field."

    "I think it's pretty historical what he's done and what he had to overcome to do it," Fox said.

    Manning acknowledges he still has much work to do. Even if his arm has lost some zip, he has always beaten teams with his head, dissecting defenses with surgical precision.

    "It's hard to know what's different for me and what the reason is because of the variables," Manning said. "I mean, yeah, I'm not sure I can do some of the things I did when I was 28. Is that because of my injury? I don't know. Is that because I'm 36 years old? Could be. Is that because I'm playing with a different team and you're getting on the same page with different teammates? It could be all those, it could be a combination of a couple of them."

    That's okay with Manning. He has enough time left for his greatest comeback of all.

    "They're 8-3, so three teams figured out how to (beat them)," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "We're trying to be No. 4."


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  • 11/28/12--18:19: Sports in brief
  • Times staff, wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    sides spend day with mediators

    With the help of federal mediators, the NHL and the players association got back to bargaining Wednesday after a week apart. The session began at 1 p.m. at an undisclosed location and lasted about 61/2 hours. The sides said they would meet again today.

    Most of the day was spent with the league and union in separate meetings with mediators. Neither side would comment on what was discussed, adhering to the news-blackout request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

    coyotes: The Glendale, Ariz., City Council voted in favor of a reworked $320 million arena management deal with the ownership group of former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison, clearing the way late Tuesday for the group to complete its purchase of the team from the NHL.

    red wings: Center Riley Sheahan faces charges under Michigan's "super drunk" designation after a traffic stop during which he was found wearing a Teletubby costume. Sheahan, 20, twice registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.30 percent after his Oct. 29 arrest, Grand Rapids police said. The limit at which a driver is considered impaired is 0.08; the "super drunk" benchmark is 0.17. Sheahan, who plays for AHL Grand Rapids, was dressed as purple Teletubby Tinky Winky, police said. Sheahan, of St. Catharines, Ontario, faces 180 days in jail and possible deportation.


    Man U keeps EPL lead with victory

    Robin van Persie preserved Manchester United's narrow lead atop the English Premier League with the quickest goal of the season, scoring 32 seconds into the host's 1-0 win over West Ham. Manchester City remained a point back with a 2-0 win at Wigan.

    rowdies: Midfielder Keith Savage got a new three-year deal good through the 2015 season, and midfielder Evans Frimpong and defender Draymond Washington signed new two-year deals, the NASL champions said. The team also exercised its 2013 option for midfielder Shane Hill, son of coach Ricky Hill, and declined one for forward Fafa Picault.

    brazil: Luiz Felipe Scolari was expected to be announced today as the new national team coach, returning 10 years after leading it to the 2002 World Cup title.

    et cetera

    autos: NASCAR will race on dirt for the first time since 1970 next season when the truck series visits the Tony Stewart-owned Eldora Speedway in Ohio. … Pastor Maldonado will return to drive for Formula One's Williams team next year. Bruno Senna was fired; Valtteri Bottas was promoted to replace him.

    track: The Drake Relays said it is offering more than $500,000 in prize money next year for rematches from the London Olympics. The event is April 24-27 in Des Moines, Iowa.

    Times staff, wires

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick, who has led the 49ers to wins in his first two NFL starts, has earned a third straight start at quarterback over Alex Smith, coach Jim Harbaugh announced Wednesday.

    "The rationale is we have two quarterbacks that we feel great about as a starting quarterback," Harbaugh said. "Both have earned it, both deserve it — Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last three games. It tips the scales. Colin we believe has the hot hand. We'll go with Colin. And we'll go with Alex. They're both our guys."

    Harbaugh is leaving open every possibility, saying it still could be a week-to-week decision. All Kaepernick knows is he will begin Sunday's game against St. Louis under center.

    Kaepernick has completed 48 of 74 passes for 680 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and six sacks. He has a 102.3 passer rating.

    "I don't know if it's a hot hand. Whatever you want to call it. I'm just happy I get to go back out there," Kaepernick said.

    Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, was medically cleared from a Nov. 11 concussion but did not play last week.

    Suh fined, not suspended: Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was fined $30,000 but not suspended for unnecessary roughness against Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, did not appear to be remorseful. "A lot of things happen to me. It's part of the game," said Suh, whose foot hit Schaub below the belt. "… It's a crazy play, it's one that unfortunately happened. … I can't do much more about it. I was being dragged to the ground and my foot inadvertently hit the man."

    Viking fined $21K: Jared Allen's hit on Lance Louis, which knocked the Bears guard out for the year, earned the Vikings defensive end a $21,000 fine from the NFL, the Associated Press reported. Allen blindsided Louis with a block after an interception, and Louis suffered a torn ACL. Several Bears called the hit dirty. Allen said he never intended to injure Louis.

    More fines: Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said he was fined $15,000 by the NFL for his roughing penalty against Miami's Ryan Tannehill.

    Jaguars take Babin: Jacksonville claimed two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia and will pay the remaining $1.69 million of his 2012 salary, essentially taking a low-risk look at someone who could significantly upgrade one of the league's worst pass rushes.

    Bengal Calls Raiders cowards: Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth, who expects to be fined after his ejection along with Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly, said Raiders players gouged his eyes during a scrum. "You've got guys that want to make names for themselves and can't, and then they get frustrated," Whitworth said. "… Most of those guys, they are what they are: They're cowards."

    Browns: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who suffered a concussion last week, practiced and will likely start this week against Oakland.

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    Times staff
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Midfielder Keith Savage got a new three-year deal good through the 2015 season, and midfielder Evans Frimpong and defender Draymond Washington signed new two-year deals, the Rowdies announced Wednesday.

    The team also exercised its 2013 option for midfielder Shane Hill, son of coach Ricky Hill, and declined one for forward Fafa Picault.

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    The Lightning lost $13.1 million last season despite tying a franchise record with $88 million in operating income, according to Forbes magazine's annual report on NHL team values, released Wednesday.

    The Lightning declined to comment on the report, which is based on available information and not team financial records.

    The Maple Leafs, at $1 billion, was the most valuable team and also led with an $81.9 million profit.

    The Lightning's value of $174 million, 23rd in the 30-team league, is the same as 2011, Forbes said. See the list at tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.

    Also, the Lightning had two of the NHL's 15 highest-paid players, including endorsement money, Forbes said: Steven Stamkos at No. 5 ($8.3 million) and Vinny Lecavalier at No. 8 ($7.9 million). No. 1 was the Penguins' Sidney Crosby at $12.7 million.

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  • 11/28/12--19:36: Louisville heads to ACC
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    ACC presidents voted unanimously to add Louisville to the conference Wednesday.

    Louisville's athletic director, Tom Jurich, said it left the Big East because he was concerned his school would be left behind in the latest round of realignment, which began last week with Maryland and Rutgers leaving the ACC and Big East, respectively, for the Big Ten in 2014.

    "There's no question about it," Jurich said, "especially when you're sitting in our chairs."

    Louisville has not negotiated an exit deal with the Big East. The league has a 27-month notification period. But Pittsburgh and Syracuse paid $7.5 million, $2.5 million more than the exit fee, to join the ACC in 2013. The Big East's fee now is $10 million.

    "When you look at Louisville, you see a university and an athletic program that has all the arrows pointed up," said ACC commissioner John Swofford, who added he is comfortable at 14 full members with the addition of Louisville.

    Football and TV remain the driving forces for realignment.

    The four-team playoff and six bowl games associated with it begin in 2014. Champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC are guaranteed berths. Only one team from the other conferences — Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — is guaranteed one.

    Meanwhile, each of the five automatic leagues has TV deals worth at least $2.5 billion. In April 2011, Big East turned down a nine-year, $1.17 billion offer from ESPN. At that time, it still had Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville. The conference is still seeking a deal.

    Louisville was a candidate to join the Big 12 last year before it took West Virginia. Maryland's move created a new chance. But it wasn't a lock. Connecticut and Cincinnati also submitted applications to the ACC.

    "I know this may seem like a tough moment for our fans, but we need to focus on the fundamentals of academic success across the university and in our athletic program," said UConn president Susan Herbst, whose school, unlike Louisville, is in the top 20 nationally in research dollars and top 40 in TV markets. "We will be athletically successful regardless of our conference."

    Said Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock, whose school also has a bigger TV market than Louisville: "I hope (our fans) will hang in there with us and give us a chance."

    Louisville is the fourth school over the past 15 months and seventh over the past decade to leave the Big East for the ACC. Notre Dame announced in September it will join for all sports except football and hockey at an undetermined date, and Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech previously left.

    "I don't know where the end is or if there is one," USF football coach Skip Holtz said. "Everybody thought at the end of last year, 'Okay, the dust settled. We're pretty much set. Let's develop these new traditions and rivalries.' I think everybody has to continue to build their program from top to bottom. You don't know what's going to happen in the future."

    In a statement, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco wished Louisville well and said, "We are committed to a vibrant and dynamic future."

    Tuesday, the Big East replaced Rutgers with Tulane and brought in East Carolina for football only. Both will join in 2014 to give it 12 football teams. Wednesday, Navy reaffirmed its commitment to make it 13 in 2015.

    While AD Chet Gladchuk said the caliber of schools departing the Big East is, "not necessarily what we envisioned," he said the Midshipmen no longer can continue as an independent and the conference fills their needs in terms of scheduling and TV.

    More realignment: Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic will leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA, according to multiple media reports. Neither the schools nor C-USA commented. The moves are expected for the 2014 season. FAU will join Florida International, which previously left the Sun Belt.

    Gruden, Browns say no truth to Vols report

    Jon Gruden and the Cleveland Browns denied a report that he could get a ownership stake in the team as part of a deal to coach the University of Tennessee.

    Late Tuesday, Memphis' WREG-TV reported Gruden, the former Bucs coach and Vols graduate assistant whose wife attended Tennessee, has an offer from the Vols to replace the fired Derek Dooley that includes "a piece" of the Browns. New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam went to Tennessee and is a big booster.

    "Jimmy Haslam has no involve­ment in the University of Tennessee head coaching search," the Browns said. "And the report that Jon Gruden would potentially have an ownership stake in the Browns is completely erroneous."

    Gruden denied the report during ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike show.

    "I'm just excited about Monday Night Football," he said. "I like what I'm doing."

    Miles gets extension: A day after reports of talks with Arkansas, Les Miles has a new seven-year contract to remain LSU's coach. The deal runs through 2019, which amounts to a two-year extension. Financial terms weren't disclosed. But the Associated Press reported he will get $4.3 million a season, up $550,000. Miles, 85-20 with one BCS title and two BCS title game appearances in eight seasons with the Tigers, said representatives from Arkansas reached out to him in a preliminary way but denied they offered a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

    Ohio State: The Ohio Supreme Court suspended for one year the law license of an attorney whose emails sparked a scandal. Christopher Cicero sent emails to then-coach Jim Tressel in April 2010, warning him that players were selling or trading memorabilia for tattoos. The court ruled he was wrong to discuss his talks with tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife because he was a potential client.

    Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    By Eve Edelheit, Times Staff
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Every year, as Thanksgiving rolls around, it becomes a time for families to reunite over food and football. Last week, Joe and Will Worth did just that. For the first time since he left Lithia and Newsome High School for the U.S. Naval Academy, Joe was able to see his younger brother play football. And not just any game, but a playoff game against neighboring rival Durant High.

    For years in high school they played together on the field at Newsome, but now they play thousands of miles apart.

    "It made us grow closer being on the field together. It made us trust each other," said Joe Worth. "When you spend that much time on the field together, the relationship grows."

    Watching from the sidelines, Joe could be seen experiencing a variety of emotions. This playoff game was getting closer and closer by the play. From excitement and cheering to sitting in a crouch position, hands over his mouth and a furrowed brow. Farther back, his parents endured the same emotions.

    But mother Susan Worth was just happy to have her sons reunited on the field.

    "I always feel at peace when everyone is back at home," said Susan Worth. "Joe is his (Will's) biggest supporter and Will loved playing with him there."

    With a nail-biting ending, Newsome beat Durant 21-14, and the team's excitement spread out onto the field like a rushing river of energy. Joe waited for Will on the sidelines with a big hug. The next day, standing around the kitchen island eating Thanksgiving leftovers, smiles could be seen in between bites. A brief moment of relaxation for the Worth brothers before they go on to their next football battles.

    Will and the Wolves play Kissimmee Osceola tonight. Joe and the Midshipmen play Army on Dec. 8.

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    By Kelly Price, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Aaron Murray says his roommates tell him they feel bad for him.

    They feel bad because when you type "Aaron Murray" into a Google search bar, the first two suggestions that pop up are "girlfriend" and "Twitter."

    Murray, the 22-year-old quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs, laughed at the notion of people Googling about his love life.

    He doesn't read the online criticism — or the praise.

    "Even the positive stuff, you don't want to get into your head and think of yourself too high or get mad at people because they talk trash," said Murray, who will guide the No. 3 Bulldogs into Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship game vs. No. 2 Alabama.

    "Everyone has their opinion."

    It's difficult, however, for the former Plant High quarterback to ignore flak when it lands on your doorstep.

    On Oct. 7, Murray tweeted, "Probably the worst 12 hours of my life . . ."

    The day before, Georgia lost 35-7 to the Gamecocks in South Carolina. When Murray and his four roommates returned home to Athens, their house had been egged and covered in toilet paper.

    Ty Frix, 23, one of the four other Georgia players who share the house with Murray, said they were "so low" that they just looked at each other and silently walked inside.

    "It was one of those things like 'Oh, man. Well we'll deal with that tomorrow. Right now, all we want is to go eat and go to bed,' " he said.

    "Obviously, it still hurt that someone would really take the time to find where I live and come egg my house," Murray said. "It was very disturbing."

    The worst was yet to come.

    • • •

    His parents drove back from South Carolina and came back to his house, too.

    While he was in his bed, with toilet paper and eggshells littering the property outside, his parents told him his dad, Denny, had thyroid cancer and would have surgery the next day.

    "It was just a whirlwind of bad, bad stuff," he said. "At that moment, I didn't even think about a football game for two or three days. I was just worried about him."

    Lauren, Murray's mom, said he led a prayer in a waiting room at Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center.

    "We really just thank God for how blessed we are and that we have each other," Lauren said, choking up.

    Murray's parents have gone to all his football game for 14 years, except one. Lauren said they missed this year's game at Auburn. Denny was receiving chemotherapy.

    They came to him for Thanksgiving dinner, joining his sister and brother, who also live in Athens, she said. On football weekends, the only time Murray can spend with his family, they gather in the hotel room and watch Duck Dynasty, an A&E reality show about a bearded family living in the Louisiana bayou.

    Doctors think Denny is now cancer-free, a relief as Murray prepares for the biggest game of his life.

    • • •

    In the SEC, football is king. Murray said he felt like he lost sight of his priorities.

    "I mean, y'all are going to be doctors and lawyers and saving people's lives and doing all this great stuff and just because I can throw a football doesn't mean I'm more special than anyone else on this campus," he said.

    "I want to come here, obviously play football, get an education, have some fun along the way. But if you're in my position, you have to be careful because people are looking at you at all times no matter what you're doing."

    Frix said he doesn't know how Murray handles the pressure.

    "Quarterbacks, when things go right, they get all the credit they deserve, but when things go wrong, they get the credit they don't deserve in a bad way," he said. "With the spotlight he's under, people scrutinize his every move. I've got to commend him for how he handles it."

    • • •

    An upbeat attitude and a driving focus appear to be Murray's greatest assets in handling the pressure.

    Plant High coach Robert Weiner, who talks to Murray every week, described the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback as "truly the eternal optimist."

    Weiner recalled how in Murray's first start at Plant, the defense knocked him around and sacked him five times. After the game, he said Murray told him, "Coach, that was the most fun I've ever had in my life."

    In 2008, Murray broke his leg during the sixth game of the season. Doctors told Murray his injury required a four-month recovery. His mom said they told Murray the next time he'd put on a jersey, it would be at Georgia.

    But thanks to intense rehab work, Murray returned in seven weeks for the state semifinals and went on to help Plant win the state title.

    • • •

    Murray's a clean guy, Frix said. Doesn't leave his stuff lying around. Stays in "his little hole studying" when he's not watching film.

    Frix said he and his roommates go eat after practices, come home, watch TV and go to bed.

    Murray, though, eats and then returns to the practice facility to watch that day's tape.

    "He puts in the hours, and that's something that I think from the outside, you can't understand that about him," Frix said. "People see him out there on Saturday, but they don't see all the time he puts in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."

    After away games, Frix said Murray will leave the airport or buses to watch the game film and film of the next opponent. By Monday, Murray knows the week's game plan.

    He doesn't get too high over the wins, he doesn't get too low over the losses.

    "Aaron doesn't have time to boo-hoo about whether it's a loss or whatever," Lauren Murray said. "He wants to review what he did wrong, he wants to learn from it and he moves on. He's not going to keep beating himself over and over again because he doesn't have time."

    When he isn't studying football, Frix said he sees Murray downstairs pounding psychology textbooks. After graduating high school in three and a half years, he finished his undergraduate degree at Georgia in three and a half years. Now, Murray is pursuing a master's degree in industrial psychology, which he hopes to apply to a coaching career, Lauren said.

    "He has two lives: He has football and he has school. I don't know if he ever does anything other than that," Frix said.

    • • •

    The winner of the SEC title game will likely face Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game in Miami on Jan. 7.

    This week, Georgia media outlets reported Murray isn't doing interviews leading up to the SEC championship.

    He's not paying attention to the buzz — the national title implications, the assertions he'll choke in the spotlight again.

    His mom said he'll likely be in the tape room, watching film.

    Kelly Price can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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    By Brandon Wright, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    No one knows for sure how Newsome will fare tonight when the Wolves travel to Kissimmee Osceola for a Class 7A region final.

    But Sal Varotta, who owns Park Square Pizza, is ready to party Saturday night.

    "We had them all here last Saturday," Varotta said of the victory party following Newsome's 21-14 win against Durant last Friday. "Hopefully we can do it again."

    The FishHawk community is abuzz as Newsome is now just two wins away from state.

    "Everywhere we go people are wishing us good luck," quarterback Will Worth said. "It definitely shows you how the people around here feel about this team."

    Varotta, a Bronx native who opened Park Square Pizza a year and a half ago, also held a preseason pep rally and has supplied pregame meals in addition to last week's victory party. Varotta, 48, said he can sense the community's support —even if it's at the expense of his business.

    "When (Newsome) is at home, you know because there are a lot less people in the restaurant and walking around Park Square," he said. "They show up afterwards, but it's quiet during the games. It's like Friday Night Lights around here."

    A number of area businesses have put signs outside their shop windows urging on Newsome, a team that has endeared itself to the tight-knit FishHawk community.

    Pam Parisi, the marketing director for FishHawk developer Newland Communities, said excitement over the Wolves is palpable.

    "FishHawk Ranch is a very tight-knit community to begin with, rallying in both tough times and good," Parisi said. "So it's especially exciting when the community has something like Newsome's success to celebrate.

    "We're very proud. Their win over Durant should give them great confidence."

    A tangible sign of support could be seen last week in the visitor's stands. If Durant supporters outnumbered Newsome fans, it wasn't by much.

    "It was great to look up and see full stands, especially at an away game," Worth said.

    Newsome's two playoff wins in 2012 have already doubled its postseason win total in the school's first 10 years of existence. The Wolves' influence has trickled down to the local youth team — Pinecrest runs the identical offense Newsome does.

    "They run the Wing T, too," coach Ken Hiscock said. "And we also go out and do clinics at FishHawk (Pop Warner) as well."

    Hiscock laughed when asked how many transfers he has had in his seven years. Newsome, unlike a number of schools that have kids enroll from other districts, isn't interested.

    "We've had a couple kids move in from out of state or out of the area into our community," he said. "But no, no transfers."

    This insular approach also has produced kids who appreciate what they have and are as quick with a "no, sir" as they are with a highlight-reel play.

    "They are all like that," Varotta said. "They all call me Mr. Sal and are extremely polite. You can even see it in the little kids around here. We're really just one big happy family."

    Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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    By Darek Sharp, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    The idea of an early-season tournament, whatever the sport, is to set it so the home team has the best chance to win.

    Well, the Cougar Invitational has let that notion go by the wayside. And it's not because Durant has lost its strength as a wrestling program.

    South Dade and Kissimmee Osceola, the teams that finished second and third behind perennial power Brandon in last year's 3A state meet, are both in town for the tournament.

    So are the 2A state tourney's top three teams — Springstead, Lake Gibson and Riverdale (Fort Myers). Toss in the 1A team titleholder Lake Highland Prep from Orlando.

    Oh yeah, the squads that finished 1-2 in Georgia's largest classification (Collins Hill and Camden County) also will be on board.

    "We decided about 10 years ago to really ramp it up," Durant coach Drake Millard said. "We just looked at the top five schools from the past year's tournament and started soliciting those types.

    "Some host schools are very selective in who they bring in so they can at least place, or win. We take the approach that our guys will rise to the competition."

    The Cougars will have to rise to the competition without competing in its home gymnasium.

    Now in its 17th year, the tournament is today and Saturday at the Strawberry Festival Grounds' Madonia Center, with room for eight mats and a crowd of 1,200.

    Starting out as an eight-team event, the field has steadily been expanded to include some of the state's super-elite and then branched into Georgia. There are four teams from Georgia this year.

    In fact, fewer than half of the 28 schools are from the immediate bay area with just eight from Hillsborough County. Strawberry Crest, which has a promising young group, will join Durant, Hillsborough, King, Freedom, Robinson, Steinbrenner and Tampa Prep. Brandon, which won the last two invitationals, does not compete this year but the fact that they were invited in 2010 and 2011 reflects Durant's willingness to take on all challengers.

    Darrien Kelly is Durant's top returning performer from last year's state meet, where as a junior he overcame a first-round loss to finish fourth.

    He's wrestling at 132 pounds, up from 120. Levi Williams is another with high hopes among a group of seniors that includes Evan Booher, Matthew Millard and Keith Watford.

    Twins Reagan and Austin Haley, both juniors are forces at the lighter weights.

    "I think we'll be real competitive," Millard said of the Cougars' prospects in the invitational. "We might surprise some people this year."

    Millard takes over from coach Dennis Kitko, who took a position with the School District, leaving the Cougars' wrestling post after 13 seasons. But Millard was Durant's head coach for the first years and he's also been coaching with the Thundercats Wrestling club affiliated with the school.

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    By Brandon Wright, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    SEFFNER — Even though the game was nearly three months ago, there was no sugarcoating Armwood's 36-28 early-season loss to American Heritage.

    "We just laid a big old egg against them," Armwood defensive coordinator Matt Thompson said. "It was a classic case of seniors against young guys."

    There were some big holes to fill from last year's dominant Hawks defense and that game clued Thompson into exactly how much work lay ahead.

    "They put it on us," he said. "But we came out and shut out Tampa Bay Tech the next week and things got going from there."

    From the loss to American Heritage to last week's 9-7 region semifinal win against Hillsborough, Armwood's young defense never gave up more than 21 points, pitched a pair of shutouts and held the opposition to 8 points or less six times in those nine games.

    "They really have played above and beyond all expectations," Thompson said.

    Thompson's biggest rebuilding job was replacing six starters from last year's unit. And as big of a physical challenge as that was, getting the new players up to speed mentally was equally as daunting.

    "A lot of people think playing defense is easy," he said. "Sure we could line up in a 4-4 man (coverage) and let them go, but we have a lot of switches before the ball is even snapped."

    And with those new players came growing pains. Sophomores Jordan Griffin, Aaron Covington, Nehemiah Miguel, Byron Cowart and Kaylaun Edwards have all seen significant playing time this season.

    "It's the typical thing with young guys," Thompson said. "They make great plays out there and are flying around and the next thing you know, they do something that makes you want to pull your hair out."

    But down the stretch things have fallen into place. The Hawks gave up 6 points against Largo in the first round of the playoffs and 7 last week to Hillsborough.

    "These last two games, have certainly been (the defense's) best two games," said Armwood head coach Sean Callahan.

    This week of practice has been spent getting ready for a rematch against a more diverse Gainesville offense, the top-ranked team in 6A. The 9-3 Hawks travel to the 12-0 Hurricanes tonight, the winner getting a spot in the state semifinal.

    "Hillsborough had four shifts," Thompson said. "Gainesville has nine."

    The strength of the Hawks' defense lies in the back with safeties Leon McQuay III and Kyle Gibson. Thompson called McQuay, committed to the University of Southern California, "a ball hawk who can make up for others' mistakes with his athleticism." And it was Gibson who jarred the ball loose from Gainesville quarterback Mark Cato late in last year's region final meeting that led to the Hawks' winning score.

    "Some people are just born to hit," Thompson said. "Kyle is one of them."

    If the trappings of youth aren't enough, Armwood enters tonight's rematch hobbled defensively as well. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Griffin is playing with a broken hand and Zeric Coleman is dealing with an ankle injury. The team may have to play without senior linebacker Marcus Jacobs, who has an ankle sprain. If Jacobs can't go, freshman Eric Frazier will get the start.

    "We're hopeful that (Jacobs) can play," Callahan said. "But we're preparing like he won't."

    Either way, Callahan is confident in his young Hawks — mostly due to his staff's preparation.

    "As a coaching staff, I think this is our best year," he said. "We were under the microscope after the (player eligibility) investigation and came in here with a bunch of kids who weren't big enough, strong enough and felt entitled. We had our hands full and embraced it. And this is the time we live for."

    Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

    TYLER TJOMSLAND   |   Times (2011)TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times (2011)

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    DURHAM, N.C. — Mason Plumlee had 21 points and a career high-tying 17 rebounds, and No. 2 Duke rallied late and held on to beat No. 4 Ohio State 73-68 on Wednesday night.

    Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon scored all his 17 in the second half. Ryan Kelly added 15 and hit 3-pointers on consecutive trips downcourt early during the 20-7 run that put the Blue Devils (7-0) ahead to stay and sent them to their third win over a top-five team this month.

    Deshaun Thomas scored 16 for Ohio State (4-1), and Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 11 each.

    Shannon Scott pulled the Buckeyes within 66-64 with a free throw with 28.9 seconds left before Quinn Cook sealed it by hitting six free throws in the final 27.3 seconds.

    Cook had 12 points for Duke, which shot 58 percent in the second half to remain unbeaten at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and preserve its school-record home winning streak against nonconference foes.

    The Blue Devils — who beat then-No. 3 Kentucky in Atlanta and then-No. 2 Louisville in the Bahamas — won their 97th straight against non-ACC visitors to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    But for much of the way, nothing came easy for them. They were outrebounded 40-37, couldn't get anything going on the offensive glass, struggled to keep up with Ohio State's quick ball movement and couldn't find their touch.

    Then came the flurry of 3-pointers.

    Sulaimon hit one from the key to pull the Blue Devils within 51-50 with about 6½ minutes left. Kelly then hit 3s on consecutive trips down the court, including one in Amir Williams' face that put Duke ahead to stay, 56-53.

    'CANES STUN SPARTANS: Attendance-challenged Miami drew a sizable, boisterous crowd for its game against No. 13 Michigan State. When it ended, many of the fans stormed the court.

    Senior Trey McKinney Jones scored a career-high 18 and Miami held the Spartans (5-2) without a field goal for a pivotal 5½-minute stretch in the second half in a 67-59 victory in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    Miami (4-1) held the ball to run out the clock, and students in the crowd of 5,791 swarmed around their team.

    "I was thinking, 'This is what college basketball is all about,' " coach Jim Larranaga said. "In fact, what I was really thinking was, 'This is what being a college student is all about.' Your greatest memories don't come in the classroom. They come at events like this that you'll remember years down the road."

    NO. 9 ARIZONA 93, N. ARIZONA 50: Mark Lyons scored 18, Nick Johnson had 10 points and seven assists and the host Wildcats (4-0) showed no signs of rust after an eight-day break.

    BOISE ST. 83, NO. 11 CREIGHTON 70: Derrick Marks scored a career-high 35, including 18 straight in the second half, and the Broncos beat a ranked foe for the first time in four seasons and on the road for the first time since March 2005. Creighton (6-1) hadn't lost a regular-season November home game since 1989.

    NO. 22 ILLINOIS 75, GA. TECH 62: Joseph Bertrand made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and scored every point in a 10-0 run to ignite the host Illini (8-0) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    NO. 24 UNLV 85, UC IRVINE 57: Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett had 19 points each for the host Runnin' Rebels (4-1), who blew open a tight game early in the second half.

    NO. 25 NEW MEXICO 76, MERCER 58: Alex Kirk had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Cameron Bairstow added a career-high 16 points for the host Lobos (7-0).

    SOUTH CAROLINA: Coach Frank Martin said two-sport standout Bruce Ellington is back with the basketball team until the Gamecocks start bowl practice next month. Martin had said earlier that Ellington would not return until after the football team was completely finished. But the first-year basketball coach said Ellington and football coach Steve Spurrier convinced him the junior point guard could handle the load.

    STANFORD: Junior guard-forward Anthony Brown will miss the rest of the season because of a hip injury. Brown is scheduled for surgery in mid December and will apply for a medical redshirt.

    UCLA: Junior center Joshua Smith quit the team, and the school gave him his immediate release. He's the second player to leave the program recently. Junior guard Tyler Lamb said last weekend that he would transfer to pursue more playing time.

    VIRGINIA: Backup point guard Malcolm Brogdon will redshirt this season. Coach Tony Bennett said Brogdon has been slow to recover from foot surgery performed March 7.


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  • 11/28/12--20:06: USF romps to stay unbeaten
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Freshman point guard Courtney Williams had career highs of 16 points, seven rebounds and six steals for USF, which cruised to a 77-29 win over UNC Asheville on Wednesday to improve to 5-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

    Two straight layups by Caitlin Rowe sparked an opening 11-2 run for the Bulls, who forced 26 turnovers, had a season-high 24 steals and allowed just nine field goals.

    "This team can be very good if we trust our help and communicate better," coach Jose Fernandez said.

    Andrea Smith also scored 16, twin Andrell Smith added 13 and Caitlin Rowe had 10. Ten Bulls scored.

    "We had 20 assists on 29 baskets; that's pretty good," Fernandez said. "That's sharing the basketball, and I'm pleased with that."

    USF also hit a season-best 72.7 percent of its free throws and set a season low with 13 turnovers, but Fernandez said the Bulls can get better.

    "There are plenty of things we can get on tape to improve on," he said.

    FSU 83, IOWA 69: Leonor Rodriguez had a career-best 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and the host Seminoles cruised in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to improve to 6-0 for the third time in four years.

    AVE MARIA 55, ECKERD 54: Hayley Thompson hit the eventual winner with 32 seconds left for the Gyrenes, who held off a rally from a 12-point second-half deficit and snapped a three-game winning streak by the host Tritons (3-2).

    Top 25

    NO. 2 UCONN 101, COLGATE 41: Brianna Banks scored a career-high 20 and Stefanie Dolson added 18 for the host Huskies (6-0), who went undefeated in November for the eighth straight season.

    NO. 4 DUKE 71, MICHIGAN 54: Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams scored 19 each for the host Blue Devils (5-0) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    NO. 7 LOUISVILLE 76, E. KENTUCKY 42: Sisters Jude and Shoni Schimmel had 12 points each and all 11 players scored for the host Cardinals (8-0), who failed to score for the first 3:47 before going on a 19-0 run.

    NO. 8 GEORGIA 83, FURMAN 47: Khaalidah Miller was one of three guards to score in double figures for the host Bulldogs (8-0) with 17 points and added six rebounds.

    NO. 9 KENTUCKY 92, MIAMI (OHIO) 53: Bernisha Pinkett had career highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds, A'dia Mathies added 14 points and the Wildcats (5-1) won their 25th straight home game.

    NO. 11 MARYLAND 90, NO. 21 NEBRASKA 71: Alyssa Thomas scored 25 and Tianna Hawkins 21 for the visiting Terrapins (4-1), who cruised over the Cornhuskers (5-2) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    NO. 14 PURDUE 85, GA. TECH 73: KK Houser scored 19, hitting all 10 free throws, and added 10 assists for the host Boilermakers (6-1) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    NO. 22 UNC 57, NO. 15 OHIO ST. 54: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had four of her 11 points in the final minute, and the host Tar Heels (7-0) scored the game's final six to rally. Tayler Hill missed a 3-pointer with one second left for the Buckeyes (4-2).

    NO. 16 TENN. 88, MIDDLE TENN. 81, OT: Bashaara Graves had 15 points and 12 rebounds and reserve guard Kamiko Williams made several huge plays down the stretch as Vols (5-1) erased an 11-point second-half deficit.

    NO. 18 OKLA. ST. 90, TEXAS ST. 55: Toni Young had 24 points and 19 rebounds for the host Cowgirls (5-0), who pulled away in the second half.

    NO. 20 KANSAS 101, GRAMBLING ST. 47: Chelsea Gardner had 26 points and 10 rebounds, Asia Boyd added 15 points and 10 rebounds and all 11 players who saw action scored for the host Jayhawks, who are 6-0 for a third straight season.

    NO. 23 DAYTON 95, WRIGHT ST. 73: Ally Malott and Samantha Mackay scored 20 each for the visiting Flyers (7-0), off to their best start since they moved to Division I in 1984-85.

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    TAMPA — Jordan Omogbehin rises from his seat on the USF bench and pulls off his warmup, and before he is even at the scorer's table, the buzz is audible from the Sun Dome crowd.

    The Bulls' mammoth redshirt freshman center — all 7 feet 3, 329 pounds of him — is entering the game, to the delight of Bulls fans. Put the ball in his hands and the place goes wild.

    "I really didn't expect that. The first time it happened, I was like 'Oh my God,' " said Omogbehin (pronounced oh-MOG-b'HAIN), 20. "I was surprised. It's a good thing, a humbling thing. It gives me confidence to know they support me in the Tampa Bay area."

    Fans have the same reaction to Omogbehin, shortening his last name to the text-message exclamation OMG. He gets his share of grief from teammates about his rock-star following.

    "Crowd favorite," forward Victor Rudd says, smiling. "He was the crowd favorite last year, and he didn't even play."

    Omogbehin, who came to the United States at age 15 in January 2008 from Nigeria, is a lot like USF's basketball team, full of promise but still finding himself in a 4-2 start to the season heading into tonight's home game against Georgia. Coach Stan Heath has introduced the big man in small doses, with a total of 35 minutes in his first six games. The early results — like six points and six rebounds in a home win against Bradley last week — have only added to the fans' frenzy.

    "It's been an exciting thing for our whole team, and a great lift for Jordan, a kid who's trying to figure out his way," Heath said of the crowd's response to Omogbehin. "To have that extra support behind him, especially a kid who's from another country, it's a tremendous thing. It gives him that sense of family and support behind him. I think everybody's embraced that. They want him to succeed. We all know if he can succeed and his game can go to another level, it can change a lot of USF basketball."

    Omogbehin played high school ball in Virginia alongside current Villanova center Mouphtaou Yarou and drew attention from top programs such as Georgetown, Connecticut, Marquette, Oklahoma, Florida and Florida State. But an ACL injury his junior year scared most programs away. USF never wavered in its interest, and he rewarded that loyalty by signing with the Bulls.

    "Not many colleges would take a chance on a player when they don't know how he'll turn out after an ACL surgery," Omogbehin said. "(USF) didn't blink one time."

    He had another knee surgery last year while at USF, and last spring he had a growth removed from his pituitary gland, something that should help him keep his weight down.

    Omogbehin is majoring communications with a minor in art. He'd like to go into advertising or graphic design and is constantly drawing. "Cartoons, comic books, all kinds of stuff," he said. His Netflix queue is loaded with episodes of the TV shows Family Guy, Breaking Bad and Prison Break. He and point guard Anthony Collins (14-inch height difference) goof around playing video games such as God of War.

    His height is something of a family mystery. His mother is 5-8, and his father 6-1. An older brother who plays basketball is 6-2. As excited as USF fans are every time he sets foot on the court, Omogbehin is just as excited. Having sat out a year and had multiple surgeries and rehabilitations, a few minutes of college basketball are something he has waited a long time for.

    "Just being able to get back on the court, after everything I've been through in the past year and a half, that's the biggest thing for me," Omogbehin said. "It's a blessing."


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    By Joe Smith and Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writers
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    TAMPA — Jon Gruden sat in rented office at a local strip mall pouring over video as the founder of his Fired Football Coaches Association a few months ago.

    His visitor on that day was former Bucs DT Warren Sapp, and soon the discussion turned to the 10th anniversary reunion of their Super Bowl XXXVII championship team at halftime of the Dec. 9 home game against Philadelphia.

    Sapp said Gruden cocked an eyebrow and gave his famous Chucky scowl when asked about attending. His schedule called for him to be in Foxborough, Mass., to prepare to broadcast the Monday Night Football game between the Patriots and Texans for ESPN.

    "I told Jon, 'I can't go without you,' " Sapp said. "'Me and you are going to be the only two missing? Really? That's what we're going to do? We'll have a Mexican stare down and the head coach and the captain aren't going to be there? That's what we're going to do?'

    "Yeah, he's coming," Sapp said. "I'm telling you, I've never been back to that stadium. I'm not going back without the head of my ship. We've got to have him. I grinded on him for a good two months."

    Sapp got his way. The Bucs announced Thursday that Gruden will attend the celebration.

    The Bucs are expecting a contingent of 51 players and coaches from the 2002 team, including still-active Ronde Barber, Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, S John Lynch (broadcasting the game for Fox), QB Brad Johnson, DT Simeon Rice, FB Mike Alstott, WR Keenan McCardell and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson.

    Keyshawn Johnson, the former receiver who is now an analyst for ESPN, said he couldn't get out of his work commitment and won't attend.

    For a list of players and coaches returning, see tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.

    WITH HONORS: From the beginning, the Bucs haven't treat LB Lavonte David like a rookie. They have handed the second-round draft pick out of Nebraska a lot of responsibility by starting him at weakside linebacker and having him wear the helmet communicator to make all the defensive-scheme calls.

    David has responded by playing like a veteran, and he was honored Thursday as the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for November. He had 47 tackles this month, most in the NFL.

    RB Doug Martin was named the league's offensive rookie of the month for October.

    "The veterans told me I'm not a rookie anymore," David said. "Once you get in the NFL, all that rookie junk is gone. You've got to handle your business. That's what I've been trying to do."

    David said the award is a great honor and credited his teammates for their support and help.

    He leads the team in total tackles (98) and tackles for loss (14), but defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said the most pleasant surprise is how he mentally has handled playing every down.

    "We all thought he was going to be a fantastic player," Sheridan said. "But you never know until you get him into your system if he can handle it, making all the calls at the line of scrimmage and recognizing formations. I'm not shocked."

    ON THE SPOT: LB Dekoda Watson takes pride in his role on special teams and was honored to be named November's NFC special teams player of the month.

    Watson's biggest play was blocking a punt against San Diego that was returned for a touchdown by LB Adam Hayward. Watson thanked his teammates, saying he was just in the right place at the right time.

    "It wasn't just me," Watson said. "They just made it open for me, and I took advantage of it."

    MISCELLANY: DT Roy Miller and C Ted Larsen returned to full participation in practice after missing all or part of Wednesday due to illness.

    Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@tampabay.com and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.

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    By Larry Blue, Times Correspondent
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    What's hot: The abundance of baitfish off the beach earlier this week was incredible. However, the lack of Spanish mackerel was obvious. In their place were schools of bonito, which are in the tuna family, but not widely accepted as table fare. They have the ability to control their body temperature. Generally, they can make themselves warmer than surrounding conditions, which keeps them active when other fish are cold and lethargic.

    Tips: Since the water cooled suddenly, many of the slower swimming baitfish were essentially trapped in the cool water and became prey for bonito. The baitfish and bonito are easy to find. Seabirds dive from above as the bait is pushed up by bonito below.

    What to watch for: We will see some Spanish and king mackerel caught in the coming weeks, but it will be fewer and fewer. The baitfish will continue their migration south with the bonito following.

    Larry Blue charters the Niki Joe from Madeira Beach Marina. Call (727) 871-1058 or visit CaptainLarryBlue.com.

    Solunar chart

    AM PM

    Minor Major Minor Major

    11/30 6:15 12:00 6:50 12:35

    12/1 7:05 12:55 7:35 1:20

    12/2 7:55 1:45 8:25 2:10

    12/3 8:45 2:35 9:15 3:00

    12/4 9:35 3:25 10:05 3:50

    12/5 10:25 4:15 10:55 4:40

    12/6 11:15 5:05 11:45 5:30

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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    The calendar could not save Ellis Johnson.

    The university diploma on his wall could not save Jon Embree.

    The championship trophy in the case could not save Gene Chizik.

    Fired, all of them. Quickly. Cruelly. Cold-bloodedly. Their colleges could not wait to get rid of them.

    Hard-working? (So what?) Well-intentioned? (Who cares?) The regular season is not over in many places, but already we have seen college administrations strip coaches of their power, of their prestige, of their positions.

    Yes, it seems unfair. Yes, it seems unreasonable. In some cases, it seems insane. Coaching a college football team has never been a nastier way to make a living, and patience has never run out quicker. In other words, they cook discontent in the microwave.

    In other news, USF coach Skip Holtz makes his final arguments to keep his job Saturday night against Pittsburgh.

    Here, too, there is hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and the sounds of discontent. USF has never had a more disappointing season than this one, never had a team that fell so short of its own expectations, never had so many restless fans calling for the head of the football coach.

    And why not? This is college football, and losing smells as bad here as it does anywhere. If one year was not too soon to judge Johnson at Southern Miss, if two years were not too soon to judge Embree at Colorado, is three years too soon to judge Holtz?

    For most of the season, I have defended Holtz. I still do, but frankly, it's getting harder. This team had many shortcomings, and yes, coaching was one of them.

    The prevailing opinion seems to be that Holtz is safe for another year. With the athletic department under the cone of silence, who really knows? It does seem like common sense that a coach stays long enough to see his recruits grow up — "until they learn to shave,'' Holtz said earlier this year — but common sense left college football about the same year as leather helmets.

    In other words, the question for Doug Woolard, the athletic director, and Judy Genshaft, the university president, shouldn't be how long Holtz has been here or how long he has left on his contract. It shouldn't be if players still like him or when Holtz got an extension or how much money it will cost if you change. USF should be guided by a simple, pointed question:

    Is Holtz the man to lead USF into the future?

    It's as simple as that, really. If Woolard is convinced Holtz is the best coach to make this season a bad memory, if he still sees the qualities that led the school to hire Holtz to begin with, then he should bring Holtz back.

    If Woolard still has his doubts, if he wonders where improvement is coming from and where the program's momentum went, then he has to make a change. If he thinks Holtz is the wrong fit for the program, why wait another year just to be fair?

    Pretty much, isn't that the job description of an athletic director?

    Again, it is a crazy time in the profession. Look at Auburn. The first Auburn coach to win a national title, Shug Jordan, has his name on the stadium. The second has unemployment papers. Two years after winning the title, Gene Chizik is gone.

    It shouldn't surprise him, either. The two Auburn coaches before Chizik each had an unbeaten season, too. And both of them were fired, too.

    How about Embree, who got the Colorado job in part because he played for the Buffs. He was fired after two years. That doesn't sound like a lot unless you were Johnson, who lasted one year at Southern Miss.

    At N.C. State, Tom O'Brien was fired despite getting to a bowl game in four of his last five seasons. For N.C. State, is that really underachieving? Purdue is going to bowls in back-to-back seasons, but it still fired Danny Hope. Kentucky is Kentucky, but it fired Joker Phillips after three seasons.

    In other words, coaching has a lot less staying power than it once did. Coacheshotseat.com, which ranks the temperature of college coaches around the country, has 22 coaches still on the hot seat. Of those, 16 have been in their jobs three years or fewer.

    In that ranking, by the way, Holtz has the fifth-hottest chair in the country behind Maryland's Randy Edsall, Southern Cal's Lane Kiffin, Kansas' Charlie Weis and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

    Is that fair? In college football, does it matter if it is?

    When the season is over, you would anticipate that Woolard and Holtz would meet to discuss this season and, perhaps, those to come. Woolard needs to ask some pointed questions.

    What happened?


    And how in the world can USF be sure it won't happen again?

    Is there a junior college quarterback out there who can lift a program? Should Holtz evaluate his staff? Are a better level of recruits coming in? And what exactly happened with the clock management against Louisville and Miami?

    For USF, this is a crucial time. As embarrassing as the lessening of the Big East is, it also affords the Bulls a chance to claim the league as their own. For that to happen, USF needs to be sure it has the right coach and the proper direction.

    After all, there have been too many questions lately.

    Soon, it will be time for some answers.

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    TAMPA — Doug Martin has more than 28,000 followers on Twitter. The record-breaking Bucs running back often posts about random thoughts or events for his rapidly expanding fan base on the social networking website.

    Considering he's the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, maybe it's no surprise that what he hears in response usually centers on a single subject: fantasy football.

    "That's all I hear about," Martin said Thursday. "Even if I post something totally unrelated, they'll say, 'Hey, man, I really need some fantasy points this week!' It's crazy."

    Given Martin's subpar (for him, anyway) performance Sunday against the Falcons, when the rookie rushed for a season-low 2.4 yards per carry and his fewest rushing yards in six weeks, the online pleas for fantasy production will only intensify.

    But there's no desperation in Martin, only perspective. Instead of dwelling on why he couldn't match his output of weeks past, Martin instead took pride in turning would-be negative runs into positive yardage against Atlanta to finish with 50 yards. And rather than worry if the never-ending string of injuries might finally be catching up to an offensive line that underperformed in the game, Martin vows that it will be ready to rebound Sunday in Denver.

    Most of all, Martin said he plans to continue doing what he has all season: take the running lanes he's given, big or small, and maximize them.

    "If I try to do more than I can, that's when something bad can happen," said Martin, who set a franchise record Nov. 4 with 251 rushing yards against the Raiders.

    "I just try to go out and keep in mind that I have to just do my job and let things play out. I'll just let it come to me."

    When you've had the kind of instant success Martin has, why change anything after a single bad day? Using his current approach, Martin managed to set marks, such as the most yards from scrimmage (486) in a two-game span since Hall of Famer Walter Payton in 1977.

    Besides, the Bucs will tell you that, in some ways, Martin didn't have a bad game against Atlanta. Considering how many times he was contacted by unblocked defenders in the backfield, Martin could have had far more than his five negative-yardage runs if not for his elusiveness.

    "That is a key thing to what a great back does," coach Greg Schiano said. "No one talks about that. But those are the hidden things that help teams win. Something happens up front and a (defender) flashes into the backfield, and a back like Doug can stick his foot in the ground, redirect and make it second and 10 instead of second and 14. It changes the whole play-calling sequence. If you get it back to second and 9, the fans say, 'Crap, it's second and 9.'

    "The reality is it could have been a lot worse."

    Martin's knack for making the first defender miss was on display against the Falcons.

    "It's the way I run," he said. "I try to run physically. I try to escape from as much as I can. I might spin out of it, I might plow through somebody, I might shake somebody, stiff-arm, whatever. I have a few tools. The idea is not to go down."

    Ideally, Martin wouldn't be dodging tacklers in the backfield to begin with. That has the Bucs on a mission this week to determine the source of the penetration. Quarterback Josh Freeman said the video highlighted Atlanta's savvy use of extra defenders at the line of scrimmage, varying the location of that extra pressure to keep the Bucs guessing.

    Left tackle Donald Penn said the offense had "a great film session" this week that pinpointed many of the problems.

    The Bucs aren't surprised opponents are adjusting. Martin for the past six weeks has been the NFL's equivalent of a hot-handed basketball player sure to draw a double team.

    If the Bucs can resolve the schematic issues, it leaves only the matter of the offensive line being able to win matchups up front, something that didn't always happen Sunday.

    "We left so much meat on the table," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "You can't leave stuff on the table. We have to come out and redeem ourselves."

    If that happens, perhaps those fantasy owners tweeting encouragement will instead be passing along thank-yous to Martin.

    "Hey, all you have to do is give the guy a little bit of a crease," Dotson said, "and he's good to go. He's got a chance to do some big things."

    Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

    0 0

    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoor/Fitness Editor
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — You know marine manufacturers must be feeling good about the economy when the hottest thing at a local boat show is a 27-foot yacht tender that costs more than most homes.

    "We are definitely going after that upscale market," said Ken Rawley, spokesman for the Hacker Boat Company, manufacturer of high-end, mahogany speedboats in Silver Bay, N.Y. "We are targeting people who have an appreciation for classic or retro styling."

    The Hacker-Craft, a longtime favorite of European princes and movie stars, looks like it would be more at home on a northern lake than the fickle waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But Rawley said the special Tommy Bahama edition Hacker-Craft, with a price tag of $329,000, could be a big seller in a market such as St. Petersburg, which is hosting its annual power and sailboat show this weekend.

    "This is a beautiful city with a great waterfront," he said. "We think it holds great promise for us and that is why we are here."

    Others are also optimistic about Florida's marine industry. Danny Grant, spokesman for Show Management, which produces both the Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg shows, said momentum is building for a rebirth of boating after a recession that saw many boat dealers go out of business.

    "We are coming off a very strong Fort Lauderdale boat show, which despite a little rain and wind from Hurricane Sandy, saw a real increase in sales," Grant said.

    "Overall, new boats were up 14 percent. And boats under 80 feet, which suffered the most during the economic downturn, were up 13 percent, which is very good news for the industry as a whole."

    Hacker-Craft, which has built boats for the King of Siam (now Thailand), movie star Donald Sutherland, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and John Walsh, host of TV's America's Most Wanted, has been in business since the 1930s. Once described as the "Steinway of Runabouts," the Hacker-Craft also has been named by Forbes magazine as one of "50 of America's Best Products."

    Tommy Bahama, a maker of high-end resort wear, is synonymous with the island lifestyle, and both companies hope the signature-edition Hacker-Craft will prove popular on both coasts.

    Hacker-Craft plans to open a showroom in January in Fort Lauderdale, Florida's top boating market. It takes about 1,400 hours for craftsmen to make each wooden boat by hand. The company builds a variety of runabouts, sport boats, launches, yacht tenders, utilities and custom boats, which range in length from 24 to 35 feet.

    For boat lovers, the Tommy Bahama model is well worth the price of admission to the show. The custom-colored mahogany hull and decks gleam with 15 coats of hand-brushed varnish. While it may look like a piece of art, the Ilmor MV8 6.2-liter 430-horsepower engine gives this 27-footer plenty of pep, making it a pleasure to drive.

    But once you're done dreaming, this year's show will have plenty for the average boater, including 10,000-square feet of new exhibits on everything from depth finders to man-overboard equipment. Show organizers have several new manufacturers, including several new bay boats and flats skiffs, the most popular watercraft in fish-happy Tampa Bay.

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