SIGHTS & SOUNDS OF BULLS FALL PRACTICE – AUGUST 12
By Leo Haggerty

WEEK 1

Are you ready for some football? I sure am, as you can see from the featured picture of me at the football facility, and I can tell more than 100 plus players and coaches at the University are chomping at the bit to hit the gridiron.

As you can see, it’s a whole new day at USF.  It all began, on the first day of fall practice, with the opening of the new and improved locker room as you can see from the picture we took below as well as the uniform combinations that the Bulls will sport in 2021.

Had a chance to catch up with a plethora of coaches and players.  Of course Head Coach Jeff Scott is the highlight and I got a question in with center Brad Cecil plus cornerback Daquan Evans and linebacker Dwayne Bowles and linebacker Antonio Grier

We will be covering the Bulls as they prepare for their Thursday opener on September 2nd.  The opponent will be the Wolfpack of North Carolina State in Raleigh.

Until then, look for our weekly recap of USF football.  Go Bulls.

LH : With the metamorphosis of the entire program, does it fell like a rebirth of the football program?

JS : I don’t know if I would use the word rebirth.  I would just say it’s the next chapter.  There’s been a lot of great things accomplished.  If we look back on the 25 years of our program, and see the progression from the very beginning to where we are now, there’s been a lot of progression.  What I have challenged our players, and the message I will give to them, is that it’s our turn now.  We have the pen and there’s still more chapters.  If you look at the University of Florida and Florida State, we’re looking at programs that have been going for over 100 years of playing college football.  We’re going into our 25th year.  So, for me, it’s the next chapter.  I really believe that how we do and how we embrace these next two to five years will probably have a very big impact on how the next 25 years looks like.  That’s what I believe our focus is.

LH : There’s an old saying that if something doesn’t kill you then you will be stronger.  Is the team stronger by just surviving 2020?

JS : I was have that conversation with someone a little while ago.  Last year I felt like I was just managing.  This year, going into fall camp, we get a chance to coach.  There were a lot of challenges.  Everyone was faced with a lot of challenges.  It wasn’t just unique to our staff and our team but it is unique to our team because we had a first year staff coming together during that time.  It’s something that’s not fun going through but, maybe everything we went through on the field and off the field, after you went through it you realize that’s it’s a necessary step to get to where we want to go.  I believe that we have made two years worth of progress, within our own team dynamics and culture, because there were a lot of tough issues that were forced into our team room.  Boy, you learn a lot about the people that you’re with when you go through adversity.  We had a lot of adversity, probably more than others, last year.

LH : In your former job at Clemson, when they made the coaching change, it didn’t just happen that the Tigers went to 13-1.  How much can you take from the building block process that happened there?

JS : There were a lot of things.  Being there for 12 years, and being around a dynamic leader like Coach Swinney, but I’ll tell the story that a told yesterday at our fund raiser golf tournament.  When Coach Swinney took over, ESPN ran across their ticker, and this was October 13th of 2008, that it was 0 for the last 29 for midseason interim coaches becoming the full time head coach.  That’s, literally, where it started.  Clemson had not had the success that everyone felt that they should have.  What it took was getting the locker room, the leaders, involved.  Get the players involved and getting the players to buy in and to believe.  It took some facilities.  That was the big thing.  Coach Swinney came around and it was a very unique place.  It had a lot of tradition in the past.  A lot of things, when Coach Swinney took over were the same as they were ten and fifteen and twenty years before.  Coach Swinney came in and started meeting with the right people.  First thing is that we got the indoor facility and then the new facility.  Everything works together.  It’s not like you win and then they go build great facilities or that you build a great facility and then you win.  Everything has to happen congruently and together.  It was getting the players to believe and buy in and then seeing those incremental wins and successes that followed.  In our second year, we lost to South Florida in a bowl game.  A lot of the Clemson fans were down on the Coach Swinney Experiment.  He told the media in Charlotte, after losing to South Florida in the bowl game, that he believes the foundation is there and the culture is there and that was 2010. He said that he firmly believed that the next decade was going to be the best decade ever for Clemson football.  Most people laughed but he was exactly right.  We won 10 games the next year and that was the first time we had won 10 game in over 20 years.  Now, they’ve done that 11 or 12 years in a row.   My experiences there, obviously, had some differences.  I would say that, while trying to breathe life into a program that has been there and has a lot of potential, I’m trying to bring some new leadership energy and excitement.  Also, what happened was that a new President, Jim Clements, and an Athletic Director, Dan Radakovich, along with the Board of Trustees became a great alignment.  They could get more done in one year than the previous group could get done in 10 or 15 years.  I’m feeling that right now with our leadership here at the university and the board.

LH : What was it like, and not to make an excuse, trying to get excited to play The Citadel game in a morgue when there is nobody there?

BC : Yeah, for sure.  When you’re playing, and you’re in between the whistle, you don’t really notice it as much.  When you come out of the game and go to the sideline and you’re getting water, on an away game you’re usually getting heckled and during a home game the fans are going crazy.  That aspect of the game, not being there, you missed it a lot and I’m looking forward to it this year.  Like I said, last year was a lot different with only five people in the stands.

LH :  There’s going to be, at least, 67,000 people at Raymond James when you play Florida.  Will you be fired up for that?  

BC : Oh yeah.  Everyone is looking forward to every single game but that one has an X next to it on the schedule.  We’re looking forward to that one.

LH : You open up at North Carolina State and then take on Florida at home.  No one is going to accuse you of ducking anybody, right?

DB : No sir, no sir.  We’re coming in with the attitude not just that we can beat them but that we will beat them.  That’s where we are coming into fall camp.  You just have to have that confidence and keep your head down and grind through this whole camp.  You have to practice like it’s game day.

LH : You want to play hard at practice but these are the guys you’re going to line up with on Saturday’s.  Is it hard to get that mentality?

DB : The way I look at it is the way you practice is the way you play.  You have to establish that.  This is what we have to do to get better.

LH : They say when you get comfortable with the defense that things start to slow down and you see things faster.  Is that the case?

DE : Yes, sir, you got it right.  Once you start to trust what you see, it becomes a lot easier.  Everybody knows their role as well as the other person’s role and it becomes smooth.  Once you learn that, then you know what’s coming.

LH : I asked former NFL cornerback Marcus Trufant what the most important thing is in having a good pass defense and he said a pass rush.  How will that improve at USF right now?

DE : The pass rush, like you said, has to be there.  The back end just has to make sure that we are doing our job of covering and trusting ourselves.  The main thing is technique.  You have to trust your technique and then know what’s going on.  In football, everything comes together.  If you know and play as one, everything will come together and we’ll be one of the better defenses in the country and in our conference.

LH : They say when you start to understand the defense that the game slows down because you see things right away.  Is that correct?

AG : That 100% correct especially with knowing the actual defense.  From the front to the back.  Just talking to one another and that’s what it takes to get better.

All photo by our Its Sports Magazine photo journalist Matt Crisp.