SIGHTS & SOUNDS OF BULLS FALL PRACTICE – AUGUST 24
By Leo Haggerty

WEEK 3 IN REVIEW

Week 3 is in the books for the University of South Florida.  Had a chance to get three days of interviews with USF coaches and players.

Before I start, I need to explain the featured image.  No, I was not addressing the media as the newest members of the University of South Florida athletic department.  Being that I sit in the front row, an I know that comes as no surprise there, I was asked to do the mike check and our photo journalist Matt Crisp thought it would make a good lead photo.  Good call by Matt.

Started off on Tuesday with our in person day, as usual, with HC Jeff Scott and that was followed by TE Mitchell Brinkman then WR Demarcus Gregory and DT Kelvin Pinkney in the Hall of Fame Room in the Selmon Athletic Center.  On Thursday, it was back to Zoom with OC Charlie Weis leading off with RBs Jaren Mangham then Brian Battie and concluding with Darrian Felix.  Finished off with another Zoom session on Saturday with Coach Scott and OL Brad Cecil plus LB Dwayne Boyles.

Below are my questions of all those individuals.  Some interesting answers to say the least as you’ll see when you read them.

LH : What are your thoughts after attending the funeral of Coach Bowden?

JS : It was a celebration of life.  For me, it was awesome just to see so many players.  The last time I saw a majority of them they were 21 and 22 and 23 years old.  Now, when I walk in the room, they’re 50.  I’m glad I had my Dad there with me to help point out some names.  It was great to get back and see so many of the former players and the former coaches.  Every one of them had the same amount of respect and had different stories on the impact that Coach Bowden had on them.  It was a difficult day but it was a true celebration.  I came back and told our players that football is a priority but it shouldn’t be the priority.  You have a lot of things ahead of you.  Sometimes, we just get caught up in the here and now.  Our guys are going to all grow up and, when they get done here, will be husbands and fathers one day.  I just hope that myself and our staff can have the kind of impact that Coach Bowden and his staff had at Florida State.

LH : USF played 10 games last year.  Some teams in the Big 10 and the PAC 12 only played six.  What do you take from have that extra game experience?

MB : We were very fortunate to even play last season with these guys. USF Health did a great job allowing us to play.  We followed all the protocols so we would have the opportunity to play.  We were very fortunate to play 10 games and we’re looking forward to a full schedule this year.

DG : Unfortunately, we only had 10 at Ole Miss last year.  I got a lot, you know, and I learned a lot like catching and blocking and learning defensive schemes  I learned a lot there that I can carry over to this year.

LH ; What’s your favorite route to run.

DG : Any route.  I’ll get open for you.

KP :  That experience is going to be great going into this year.  Also, I think guys have bought into the program more this year than last year.

CW : Are you planning on playing ultra up tempo this year or are you playing that by ear right now?

CW : Yes sir, and good morning, and we definitely are.  That’s going to be one of the principles that we do.  Both of myself in the past and Coach Scott at Clemson.  We’ve been up tempo teams and it’s part of our DNA.  Now, there’s going to be times where we will want to slow it down and control the tempo.  There’s going to be other times where it’s advantageous to go up tempo.  It’s a little bit of a game by game situations.  A little bit of a feel of the game on how things are going and all that.  So, we have the ability to use different tempos.  To go fast or to go slow.  Whatever it may be but we are definitely going to be up tempo on offense and get things rolling with that.

LH : With the up tempo game in mind, your offensive linemen are looking pretty trim right now.  It’s hard on those big guys with you running a play every 16 to 20 second, right?

CW : Yes it is.  For one thing, they have to be in great shape and be able to move.  They do that and credit Coach Artis, who is our strength coach.  He does a phenomenal job getting those guys in great shape for camp.  We had opportunities, so far camp, for some really long drives and those guys stayed in there and were able to do it.  The other thing you need is that you need to have depth.  You need to be able to play 7 or 8 guys up front throughout the course of the game.  Coach Modridge does a great job of knowing when to rotate those guys and keeping everybody fresh.  You just don’t want to play five guys for the 80 or 90 plays that we strive for.  It’s hard to do that so we have to build depth across the board.

LH :  When you look a a wide receiver that’s running a 7 or 8 or 9 route on a passing tree and he doesn’t get the ball.  Do you have a rule, when you run the deep routes and the ball isn’t completed down the field, that you come out or do you get back to the huddle as fast as you can?

CW : It’s similar to what I talked about with the offensive line where we want to be able to be really deep.  If we go deep and, obviously, we complete a ball that guy is going to stay in.  Now, if he just runs a go ball, and he’s tired, we’ll get him off and pop a guy in.  I’m extremely confident in our wide receiver group this year.  That we’re going to be two to three groups deep.  We are going to be able to rotate a whole bunch of guys throughout the game to keep everybody fresh.  It goes along the same line that we talked about with the O-Line.  When you’re playing and you run 80 plays a game you have to have depth so we have to rotate those guys in.

LH : What’s your favorite play to run?

JM : My favorite play to run, flat out, is the counters.  Personally, anything in that forte, even the basic one, I like.

BB : My favorite play is an outside zone.  I like the fact that it gives me the option to bend back or hit it in there or take it outside.  I like the pulls and stuff where I can use my vision.  That’s the one I like.

DF : Anything going north and south.  Any of those.  Anything going forward or sideways.  Just want to get the ball in my hands.

LH : You met with alumni today that you may not have even met with all of last year.  How nice was it to see a broad contingent of former Bulls?

JS : It’s great.  That’s something that’s been really important to me.  When I got here, and Covid kind of put a stop to it last year, we missed out.  We really had a nice event before the Spring Game this spring.  We had close to 75 former players then and, I think today, we had 75 former players here.  Just to see them interact with our players as they left the field today was awesome.  I really felt the support from all our alumni, our football playing alumni, and I told them that this is your program. I may be the head coach and the leader at this point in our journey but this is your program.  You guys have sweat and bled and have put everything on the line to build the foundation.  It’s really our responsibility, and our opportunity, to really try to build on that and improve our program.  I felt a good bit of support and synergy from our football alumni.  As soon as I get done here, all the coaches are going to go have a nice lunch with the alumni on campus and I’m looking forward to that.

LH : Let’s go back to the PK Challenge.  You laid the gauntlet down to the women’s soccer team when you said you have to beat Florida first and they won with just short of 2,000 people showing up for that game.  How big was that to start off the USF athletic season with a win over a name opponent and have your guys see that?

JS : It was awesome and that’s contagious and I’m really proud of our players.  They came up to me, two days before, and asked if we could move our meetings a little bit and still get in all the meeting times that we needed.  They wanted to move meetings so they could go out and watch the first half.  Sometimes, as coaches, you set it up and you make them go and all that.  For our guys to come to me and ask because they wanted to go and be there as support was huge.  I think that’s one of the small examples of the progress that I’ve seen in the culture of our team and our athletic department.  Yeah, there’s no doubt that it was inspiring watching them.  It’s the first time that our women’s soccer team has beaten Florida during the regular season, maybe.  That was awesome and, for us to be there for the game and to be there to congratulate them the next day, they will be there at the RayJay to support us is a few weeks.

LH : What’s the biggest change at USF from your first year in the program until now?

BC : The biggest change since I started here until now is the coaches.  I talked about it a lot.  I think the coaching change has been the biggest thing.  How much love we have for each other and the love the coaches have for us and vice versa.  I think that’s the biggest change.  It’s had the biggest impact on us especially this year throughout fall camp.  Just having that family atmosphere and building that brotherhood has been the biggest thing.

DB : More accountability and more focus.  More guys taking this serious because it’s a serious game.  Also, our coaches are talking to everybody and so are the players.  You might see a linebacker talking to a specialist now.  A lot of communication.

All photo provided for this article were produced by our photographer extraordinaire Matt Crisp.  Enjoy