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Florida State begins replacement search for RB Dalvin Cook

For the third straight year, the battle to fill one of Florida State’s major offensive positions will once begin be the Seminole’s main focus during spring practices.

This time though, it isn’t quarterback. It’s running back.

With Dalvin Cook leaving early for the NFL draft, coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff began spring practices on Monday seeing who can replace the school’s career rushing leader.

Cook is still a big fixture around the school’s football facilities, and not just from the 20-foot mural of him that adorns the player’s lounge. Fisher said that he saw Cook working out in the weight room after he returned from the NFL scouting combine.

Fisher believes it may take more than one player to replace Cook’s contributions.

“You would always love to have that one guy, but you also know at that position that you are going to need to have a stable of guys,” Fisher said. “That’s just something we will constantly be continuing to grow in.”

Jacques Patrick, who will be a junior, is the most experienced and averaged 5.4 yards his first two seasons. He also has two 100-yard games, including 124 yards last season in a win at South Florida.

At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Patrick is more of a bruising back who doesn’t have the initial burst of quickness that Cook possessed.

Freshman Cam Akers has generated the most interest among the coaching staff. The five-star recruit, considered the nation’s top running back by many recruiting services in the Class of 2017, is an early enrollee and has already impressed Fisher with how well he has adapted on and off the field.

Senior Ryan Green and sophomore Amir Rasul also should see their share of opportunities. Rasul will not participate in contact drills the first two weeks while he rehabs from offseason shoulder surgery.

The Seminoles’ other significant position battle is at left tackle, where Roderick Johnson started 31 straight games before also opting to leave a year early. Fisher said that Ethan Firth has emerged as one of the early favorites along with redshirt freshmen Josh Ball and Jauan Williams. Firth was Johnson’s backup last season, but did not see much playing time.

An opening that won’t be that hard to fill is at defensive end, where DeMarcus Walker had 26.5 sacks the past two seasons. The Seminoles have a lot of youth and depth on the defensive line, including junior Josh Sweat, who had 4.5 sacks in last season’s final three games.

One thing Fisher will not be spending most of the spring on is preparing his team for the Sept. 2 opener in Atlanta against Alabama. He said there may be some blitz concepts that he will install but that isn’t different from other seasons.

What Fisher is more concerned about is making sure his team knows the high expectations that will exist immediately. He wasn’t happy with how his team came out the first week of spring drills last season, and the lethargic performance seemed to carry over to the first month of the regular season when the Seminoles got off to a disappointing 3-2 start before winning seven of their final eight games.

Fisher is putting an increased effort on accountability. During conditioning drills prior to spring practices, players wore garnet jerseys for giving what Fisher calls “championship effort.” They will continue to do so during spring workouts: garnet for championship effort, white for average performances and orange for underperforming.

As of last week, 90 percent of the players were wearing garnet jerseys.

“We’ve got a long way to go but we’re farther along now than we were then by far,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Mistake in overtime allows Rangers to edge Tampa Bay Lightning

In one of their tightest-played games of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning made the crucial mistake and paid for it.

Late in overtime, an errant pass by defenseman Victor Hedman sailed off target, and the New York Rangers turned it into a breakaway and the winning goal by Mika Zibanejad with 1:04 left in the extra period. The Rangers went on to win, 1-0.

The single point picked up for a regulation tie allowed the Bolts to get to 69, which puts them two points out of the final wild-card slot.

“Victor had it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. He tried to make a pass and we didn’t get it. All of a sudden now, it’s a quick strike and that’s what overtime becomes. Overtime’s not about creating chances. It’s about capitalizing on mistakes. We made a mistake and they capitalized. That was it.”

Considering how badly the Bolts needed the two points that would have come with a win, Cooper seemed in good spirits.

“I’m really pleased,” Cooper said. “In the end, they’ve got a really good hockey team. They’re good. We’ve been playing really well. It was one of those games that I thought both teams deserved a point. I thought we deserved the other one. But, I say that, and then I think back to the Carolina game and their coach probably was thinking the same thing in that game. Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you don’t. We did everything we could do to try to win that game. Tip your hat to both goaltenders. I know everybody’s screaming for more scoring in the league, but that was a pretty darn exciting 0-0 game.

“You’re talking a Monday night, and that building was rocking. I think the Witkowski-Glass fight had a lot to do with it. I think that got it going, but there was chances (on) both ends. There was big saves. The game had it all. I liked our emotion. Were we perfect? No, but we did everything in our power to win. Give them a  lot of credit: They’re a 40-plus win team and rightfully so. They hung in there. We tilted the ice at times during the game and their goalie made the saves for them. When they tilted the ice on us, Vasy was making saves. Fans got their money’s worth tonight, except for the disappointment of not getting the last point. We needed that point a heck of a lot more than they did.”

The Bolts were 0-for-6 on the power play.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy ran his record to 3-0-1 since Ben Bishop was traded.

The Rangers this year have won 24 games on the road, highest in the league.

“I think we took another step tonight,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. I think we upped our game. Maybe for five minutes in the third they had some momentum going, but otherwise I thought we played strong for 60 minutes. That’s what you need this time of year. It’s not the one game that’s going to decide it. It’s the team that can play the most consistent throughout this last stretch that’s going to make it.”

 

Tampa Bay will play at home Thursday night against Minnesota.

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Bucs sign defensive end William Houston before free agency

William Gholston has struck gold.

Gholston, 25, has signed a contract extension with the Tampa Bay Bucs that will pay him $27.5 million over the next five years.

Gholston (6-6, 281) was selected in the fourth round (126th overall) out of Michigan State by Tampa Bay in the 2013 NFL Draft. In his four-year career, the Detroit native has played in 57 games, with 36 starts, totaling 188 tackles (29 for loss), 10.0 sacks, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.  In 2016, Gholston led all Buccaneers defensive linemen in tackles (49), tackles for loss (nine) and run stuffs (5.5), in 14 starts, prior to missing the final two games of the season with an elbow injury.

 Since 2013, Stats, Inc. credits Gholston with 21.5 run stuffs, the ninth-most in the NFL among defensive linemen during that time. His 188 tackles during that span are also the ninth-most among defensive linemen in the NFL, while his 29 tackles for loss are fourth-best among defensive linemen from the 2013 NFL Draft class.

“I’m very excited. It’s an amazing day, a great day for me and my family,” said Gholston, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Michigan State. “I’m very glad to be able to spend the next five years of my career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hopefully more than that. I’m ready to go.”

Gholston can make as much as $9-million more over the five-year contract with incentives.

“We really went over everything, all the numbers, all the pros and cons, and I felt like Tampa came with an offer I couldn’t say no to,” said Gholston, who made a total of $2.56-million in his first four seasons but will get double that each season in his new deal. “I love the area, love the team. I have relationships with everybody in the locker room and really respect the knowledge of all the coaches that we have.”

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Clearwater’s Keith Thurman beats Danny Garcia for another belt

Over his left shoulder, Keith Thurman held a world championship belt.

In his right hand, Thurman held another world championship belt.

Next?

Thurman beat previously unbeaten champion Danny Garcia in a split decision Saturday night to double his titles. The two were divided on judges at 115-113, while the third judge scored it 116-112 in favor of Thurman. The CBS unofficial scorekeeper also had at 116-112.

“One Time became Two Times, baby,” said Thurman, referring to his “One Time” nickname. “I thought I outboxed him. I thought it was a clear victory. “Danny came to fight,” Thurman told CBS after the fight. “If a judge likes his fight style and didn’t like that I was moving backward, I understand.”

It was the 10th unification fight in the welterweight division, the third between unbeaten opponents.

Neither fighter knocked down the other.

Where does Thurman go next? He owns two of the four welterweight belts, and if he wants to unify the rest, he’s going to have to wait a while. Titlist Kell Brook is fighting Errol Spence next, and titlist Manny Pacquiao is supposed to be fighting Amir Khan.

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Rowdies pull exhibition victory out late against Tampa Spartans

Okay, give the Tampa Bay Rowdies more MLS competition.

These college kids are just too tough.

The Rowdies took a 1-0 victory in an exhibition game against the University of Tampa Spartans, scoring in the 89th minute to take the win. Trialist Martin Paterson scored the game’s only goal in the final minute.

“We played in some difficult conditions tonight,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s windy and the pitch is bobbly, but the guys just kept going. We had loads and loads of possession but didn’t quite capitalize on it until the end.”

There are now three weeks and just two matches left before Tampa Bay opens the 2017 United Soccer League regular season.

Paterson’s goal, which took a slight deflection before beating the Spartans goalkeeper, was assisted by Alex Morrell.

“UT sat very, very deep and let us have the ball,” Campbell said. “I spoke to the team at halftime to tell them we’re going to come up against this at times during the season when opponents just sit off and let us have the ball but make it hard for us to break them down, so we have to keep moving the ball quick and find a way through. I’m happy with the way the guys kept going. It would have been easy for the guys to let the game wither away and finish 0-0, but the guys had so much drive to not let that happen.”

Tampa Bay dominated possession and nearly the entire match was played in the Spartans’ end, but the Rowdies weren’t sharp enough in front of goal to put the match out of reach until very late.

Tampa Bay’s remaining preseason schedule includes matches against the Jacksonville Armada next Saturday night and then Miami FC on March 18. Both matches will be played away from home.

“It was a strange game, but I think we stayed on track for the regular season,” Campbell said. “They were very compact and solid and they protected their goalkeeper very well. I have to give a lot of credit to (UT Coach) Adrian Bush because that’s the best UT team we’ve come up against and we play them just about every year.”

The Rowdies’ lineup featured just eight signed players, joined by trialists Akira Fitzgerald and Kyle Porter, plus training player Zack Hamm. Fitzgerald played the full 90 minutes and kept a clean sheet.

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Nikita Kucherov’s fancy move gets shootout victory for Lightning

Nikita Kucherov brought the playground to Buffalo Saturday night.

In a shootout against the Sabres, Kucherov, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, swept toward the goal. He shot, then whipped his stick over the puck as it slid past Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

“He brought the schoolyard to the big stage,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “You better score on that, and he did.”

Tyler Johnson scored in regulation, and Brayden Point and Kucherov scored in the shootout for a 2-1 win.

Ryan O’Reilly scored in regulation for Buffalo.

“It definitely was on purpose,” Tyler Johnson said. “He does it in practice all the time. I think a lot of people mess around doing that but you never think in a NHL game. But that’s Kuch. That’s going to be a goal that’s on YouTube forever, so I can’t wait to see it.”

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won his third straight game for the Bolts, stopping 31 of 32 shots in regulation and two more in overtime.

The Bolts are now within three points of the Islanders for the final wild-card slot.

Tampa Bay is home on Monday night against the Rangers.

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No. 15 Florida State earns second seed in ACC Tournament

Florida State’s 66-57 victory over No. 25 Miami on Saturday gives the 15th-ranked Seminoles a double-bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and their first unbeaten home season in 41 years.

But coach Leonard Hamilton wasn’t about to get philosophical.

“We have to keep things in perspective,” Hamilton said. “We’re not done yet. We have a ways to go. We want to get as much out of this season that we can. Let’s go do some other things that will give us fonder memories.”

Florida State (24-7, 12-6) will be the second seed for the tournament, which begins Tuesday at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. It is their highest seeding since they were second in 1993. Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame are tied for second but the Seminoles have the higher seed based on a better combined record over the Irish and Cardinals.

Since the conference expanded beyond nine teams in 2004-05, FSU’s highest tournament seeding was third in 2012, which it won in Atlanta. That is also the last year the Seminoles made the NCAA Tournament.

“I know how hard it was last year playing on the first day, so now we get to rest a lot and get to see who we will face (on Thursday),” said Dwayne Bacon, who led Florida State with 23 points.

The win also wrapped up the Seminoles’ first unbeaten home season since 1975-76. They are 18-0 at the Tucker Center this season, with six wins against ranked teams. They have won 21 straight at home dating to last season.

The first half saw five ties and nine lead changes as Florida State led 37-34 at halftime.

Miami’s Davon Reed, who had 22 points, started the second half with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 37 before FSU went on a 12-3 run to take control. Jarquez Smith, who was one of two seniors playing his final home game, had five of his 11 points during the run.

A dunk by Bacon with 4:19 remaining gave the Seminoles a 59-48 lead but the Hurricanes (20-10, 10-8) went on a 9-2 run to close within 61-57 with 19 seconds remaining. FSU closed it out by scoring the final six points.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga said that it wasn’t a good sign for his team that they shot 11 of 21 from the field, including 5 of 8 on 3-pointers, in the first half and was trailing. The Hurricanes shot 31.8 from the field (7 of 22) in the second half and were 6 of 11 at the line.

“In the second half we came up empty,” Larranaga said. “Another key was our inability to score in transition while they could. When another team has a 17-7 edge in points off turnovers that is a big difference.”

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes are still looking for their first March win over a ranked team in Larranaga’s six years as coach. The loss to FSU dropped them to 0-7.

Florida State: The Seminoles have won both regular-season games against Miami for the fifth time in ACC play and first time since 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Seminoles are 7-3 against ranked teams and should remain among the top 15 despite the loss earlier in the week against Duke. The Hurricanes, who are 3-6 against ranked teams, made their first foray into the poll last week and are likely to drop out with two straight losses.

TIP-INS

This was the first time in 79 meetings between the teams that both were ranked when facing each other. … Michael Ojo, who was also playing his final home game, had no points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. … Miami’s Bruce Brown, who had 15 points in the first meeting on Feb. 1, was the Hurricanes’ only other player in double figures with 10. … Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, who had 15 points in the first game, was held to two points and was 0 of 3 from the field.

HE SAID IT

“We feel like we have two more seasons left — ACC Tournament season and NCAA Tournament season. We have to keep playing the way we have been playing,” — Bacon.

UP NEXT

Miami: The Hurricanes are the ninth seed in the ACC Tournament and will face eighth-seeded Syracuse on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles’ first game in the ACC Tournament will be on Thursday against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest or Boston College.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Clearwater’s Keith Thurman seeks to add another belt tonight

Deep down, Keith Thurman knows. Deep down, he believes.

This one, this one, will be tougher than his fight-of-the-year victory over Shawn Porter. This one, this one, will be more of a challenge. This one, this one, puts his face at risk.

For Thurman, this is the fight to silence any doubters, although after his victory over Porter, there can’t be many left. This time, he fights to unify the WBA and WBO welterweight title belts when he matches his unbeaten record against that of Danny Garcia, who is 33-0.

“I’m bigger than Danny, naturally. He was always smaller than me in the amateurs. He’s smaller than me in the pros. He’s moving up (in weight). He may hold the weight well but I’m just a little bigger so that gives me some confidence there.

“I have less fights and more knockouts so I believe that I do punch harder and that I’ll just edge him out statistically a little bit. It’s going to come down to who lands the right punches at the right time. I don’t bow down to nobody. I know I’m the greatest challenge most fighters will ever face, so there’s where my confidence comes from.’’

USA Today polled 33 boxers and trainers about the fight. Thurman got the edge 17-15-1. In other words, it’s expected to be a close fight.

Perhaps, the fight of the year.

Again.

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Pittsburgh takes over third period to handle Tampa Bay Lightning

For 88 seconds, the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to be in good shape.

And then they were not.

The Lightning, still scrambling to get back into the wild-card race, fell 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. The Penguins, who beat the Bolts in last year’s conference finals, scored the game’s final three goals. After the Lightning tied the game at 2-2, it took only a minute and 28 seconds to take the lead.

Mark Streit, who was a member of the Lightning briefly last week, scored the tie-breaking goal.

“We weren’t going to go 20-0 down the stretch,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It makes (Saturday night’s) game (against Buffalo) critical. We need these points. Buffalo is in the same situation we’re in.”

Adam Erne scored his first NHL goal to give the Bolts a lead. After Evgeny Malkin scored twice, Nikita Kucherov tied the game at two.

Goaltender Peter Budaj make his first start for Tampa Bay and took the loss.

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Ageless Monte Kiffin to join son Lane on FAU coaching staff

The new football program at FAU will be a family affair.

Monte’s back.

Monte Kiffin, the irrepressible former defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs, is joining son Lane — the head coach — at FAU. The elder Kiffin, 77, will join the Owls in a yet-to-be specified role.

Kiffin, who worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, won’t be the defensive coordinator. Another son, Chris, will be. But Kiffin, the mad scientist of the Bucs during their best years, will have a place on the staff.

Kiffin has 29 years of NFL experience, and coached a Tampa Bay defense that featured Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Simeon Rice.

 

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