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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Florida starter under center still under wraps


    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    So wide open, coach Jim McElwain said, that he didn't have a frontrunner among Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio heading into Friday night's scrimmage.

    "It's tough to say," McElwain said.

    McElwain insists that uncertainty is a good thing; it means all three have shown enough in preseason camp to be viable options....

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.
  2. Florida Gators' Malik Zaire: 'This is everything to me'


    GAINESVILLE — We're two weeks and one day away from the Florida Gators' Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, and the quarterback position remains unresolved.

    That's assuming coach Jim McElwain doesn't break some major news when he speaks to reporters later today.

    In the meantime, the three quarterback candidates - Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio - addressed the media earlier this morning....

    "This is everything to me..." said Malik Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame. "I have everything to prove, everything to lose."
  3. The Florida Gators' case for QB Luke Del Rio


    GAINESVILLE — It took three years and two transfers for Florida's Luke Del Rio to become a starting quarterback.

    When he finally earned that title a year ago Friday, he wasn't going to let it go easily.

    "It's kind of hard to be like, 'Hey, I'm in pain, I don't want to play,' " Del Rio said.

    But Del Rio was in pain — much more and for much longer than he let on during his six games last year. ...

    Florida Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) warms up next to quarterback Austin Appleby (12) before the game against the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday September 17, 2016 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. Final score was Florida 32 North Texas 0. (Monica Herndon, Times)
  4. AP Top 25: How I ordered Florida Gators, USF and Miami Hurricanes


    The toughest part of my preseason AP Top 25 ballot was figuring out whether Florida State or Ohio State should be No. 2.

    One of the next toughest parts? Figuring out how to order the other three top state schools - Florida, USF and Miami.

    Outside opinions on this are all over the place. USA Today's coaches poll has UF at 16, Miami at 18 and USF at 21. Sports Illustrated ranked the Bulls 17th, above UF (18) and Miami (20). Statistical guru Bill Connelly's advanced S&P+ metrics have USF at 56, the Gators 15th and Miami at 18th....

  5. Lefty quarterback's task? Make sure nothing's lost in translation


    GAINESVILLE — When Florida receiver Brandon Powell met new quarterback Malik Zaire this summer, he was struck by the Notre Dame grad transfer's enthusiasm and outgoing personality.

    But when they began working out together, Powell quickly noticed something else. Zaire's first pass looked … different.

    "It came weird," Powell said.

    It came weird because Zaire throws with his left arm, not his right. ...

    With a left-handed quarterback like new Gator Malik Zaire, passes spin differently, line protection has to change and even a simple center snap requires tweaking.
  6. Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?


    The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

    Not the very top. Spoiler alert: Alabama was a pretty easy choice at No. 1 on my preseason ballot.

    But deciding who to put second was tricky. Like most polls I've seen, Florida State and Ohio State were my next two teams. The question: What order?

    The full top 25 will be announced Monday, and I'll share my ballot in the next few days. In the meantime, let's break down the Seminoles and the Buckeyes....

  7. Ex-East Lake High QB Pete DiNovo leaves UCF program


    Former East Lake High quarterback Pete DiNovo is no longer with UCF after missing recent practices, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday.

    "He's not with us, and he hasn't been at practice and all that, so we just focus on the guys that are here," Knights offensive coordinator Troy Walters told the Sentinel, adding he hasn't communicated with DiNovo and he wasn't sure why the redshirt senior was no longer attending practices....

    Former East Lake High standout Pete DiNovo joined UCF as a quarterback in 2013 but switched to receiver two years ago before going back to QB.
  8. Former East Lake star Pete DiNovo no longer with UCF Knights


    Former East Lake High star Pete DiNovo is no longer with UCF, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday morning.

    DiNovo is no longer listed on the Knights' roster, either.

  9. Disappointment deja vu with Jim McElwain, Antonio Callaway


    GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Jim McElwain stood in front of reporters Monday afternoon to discuss a topic that is growing tiresome to the Gators.

    Not the ongoing quarterback battle. Or the years of offensive struggles.

    McElwain had to address yet another off-the-field issue involving standout receiver Antonio Callaway.

    This one stems from Sunday's suspension of seven players (including Callaway) for the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, reportedly for misusing school-related funds. McElwain said they have been suspended from team activities, and none were seen at Monday's practice. ...

    Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs with a 66-yard touchdown reception against Georgia at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS) 1208713
  10. Jim McElwain on Florida Gators suspensions: 'It hurts'


    GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he is disappointed in the seven players who were suspended for the season opener against Michigan but said he acted quickly in punishing them.

    McElwain's comments Monday afternoon were his first since news broke over the weekend about the punishment to standout receiver Antonio Callaway and the others.

    "It's not just Antonio," McElwain said. "It hurts."...

  11. Florida Gators suspend Antonio Callaway, six others for opener


    Months of speculation about whether Florida would suspend star receiver Antonio Callaway because of marijuana has turned out to be moot.

    The Gators suspended Callaway, their top offensive skill player, and six other players Sunday for other reasons they didn't specify for their blockbuster Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan in Arlington, Texas.

    "We have a small group of players that have made some choices that are extremely disappointing," coach Jim McElwain said in a statement. "Action has been taken. They have missed some practice and will miss the Michigan game. We will use this as a learning opportunity, and we will have some players step up as we move forward."...

    WR Antonio Callaway is the Gators’ biggest loss.
  12. Antonio Callway, six other Florida Gators suspended for Michigan game


    The Florida Gators have suspended seven players, including star receiver Antonio Callaway, for the blockbuster Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, UF announced Sunday.

    The six other players (besides Callaway) suspended: Offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, linebacker James Houston, defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis, defensive lineman Jordan Smith, defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones and linebacker Ventrell Miller....

  13. Lessons from trip to Germany could benefit Florida Gators' Jordan Sherit on, off field


    GAINESVILLE — Given the rigor of being a starting defensive lineman at Florida, Jordan Sherit knew his study-abroad options would be limited.

    The Hillsborough High alumnus couldn't miss too much of the Gators' offseason workouts and still be able to contribute this fall on a defense that should again be one of the best in the SEC. But his graduate school work toward a master's degree in international business requires at least one trip outside the United States....

    Florida Gators defensive end Jordan Sherit (17) hi-fives fans during the Gator Walk toward Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla., before the game between Florida and UMass.
  14. Bucs legend Warren Sapp to be inducted into Miami Hurricanes' ring of honor


    Bucs legend Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Mami Hurricanes' ring of honor this season.

    Sapp will be recognized during the Oct. 12 Thursday night game against Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium.

    Before becoming a Pro Football Hall of Famer for the Bucs, Sapp was the unanimous Big East defensive player of the year in 1994. He won the Nagurski Trophy, became a first-round pick and later helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl....

    Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Mami Hurricanes' ring of honor this season.
  15. Florida Gators release final assistant coach salary, contract information


    The Florida Gators released contract information Friday for the rest of their coaching staff under open-records laws.

    The notable change is for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. His contract has been extended through the 2018 season and will receive a raise from $540,000 to $832,725. But Nussmeier had reportedly been receiving about $300,000 from Michigan as part of his severance package there....

    Doug Nussmeier's contract has been extended through the 2018 season and will receive a raise from $540,000 to $832,725.