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Baseball: Bulls lineup taking shape

Tampa Catholic alumnus Nik Alfonso remains USF's starter at second base entering the 2015 season.

Times file photo

Tampa Catholic alumnus Nik Alfonso remains USF's starter at second base entering the 2015 season.

During the USF baseball team's media day earlier this week, new coach Mark Kingston offered a sketch of his starting lineup if the season were beginning now. In light of the fact that two weeks remain before first pitch (Feb. 13 vs. Cal State Fullerton in Clearwater), here's how Kingston's lineup card is shaping up (batting order not included):

C Levi Borders, Jr. (with sophomore Andres Leal the backup)

3B Zac Gilcrease, Sr.; Clay Simmons, So.
"One's a righty (Simmons), one's a lefty," Kingston said. "That could be a platoon or that could be one of those two guys earns the job every day."

SS Kyle Teaf, Sr.

2B Nik Alfonso, R-Jr. (with Leal also an option)
"Another left-right potential platoon, or it could be who's swinging the hot bat," Kingston said.

1B Buddy Putnam, Sr. (L/R); Danny Portales, So. (R/R)
"Once again a right-lefty," Kingston said. "The good thing is, a lot of the spots where we're considering more than one guy, we have a right-left combination that will allow us to platoon if necessary."

CF Austin Lueck, Sr.
"He's been very, very good this preseason," Kingston said. "He's one of the guys I think has a chance to take that next step. He's always had great tools, but our hope is that now everything is starting to kind of come together for him."

LF Kevin Merrill, Fr.; Portales

RF Luke Maglich, Jr. (with junior Hayden Kelley the backup)

Friday starter: RHP Jimmy Herget, Jr.
Saturday starter: RHP Casey Mulholland, Sr.
Sun-Tues starter: TBA

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Larry Brown: Antigua will prosper at USF

SMU coach Larry Brown, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, called USF a "sleeping giant" that can be awakened by Coach Orlando Antigua.

BRIAN BAHR | Getty Images

SMU coach Larry Brown, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, called USF a "sleeping giant" that can be awakened by Coach Orlando Antigua.

Since the season's outset, a veritable chorus of coaches -- usually in postgame press conferences -- has suggested USF basketball ultimately will flourish under first-year Bulls coach Orlando Antigua.

The latest refrain was delivered Wednesday, only this time the resonance was a bit more powerful. A Hall of Fame coach delivered it.

"I think (Antigua) will get it done," SMU's Larry Brown said moments after the Mustangs' 63-52 win at the Sun Dome. "I really do."

Brown knows Antigua via Kentucky coach John Calipari, for whom Antigua worked as an assistant at Memphis and Kentucky the previous six seasons. Calipari was a Brown assistant at Kansas in the mid-1980s.

Additionally, Brown coached Bulls assistant Rod Strickland for two seasons (1990-92) with the San Antonio Spurs and said he considers the former point guard one of the smartest players he ever coached.

"I know how good this program's gonna be, and nothing against the coaches that left before; I have a lot of respect for those guys," Brown said. "But Orlando's good people, he deserves this opportunity. This, to me, is a sleeping giant and he'll get it done."

Thing is, USF is mired in roughly its fifth decade of slumber. Brown was asked why he believes Antigua's the one capable of awakening it when more experienced predecessors have failed.

"I've been down here trying to get some kids unsuccessfully, but Billy (Donovan's) done it, and a lot of people said, 'Hey, Florida doesn't care much about basketball,'" Brown said.

"There's ample material here, I think our conference is gonna be appealing. I think they can recruit on a national level because Orlando's done that before and he'll have a lot of people that will help him. So I feel strongly about it."

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Baseball Q&A: Mark Kingston

New USF baseball coach Mark Kingston (left), pictured here on the day his hiring was announced by athletic director Mark Harlan last June, met with reporters during the Bulls' media day Wednesday.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

New USF baseball coach Mark Kingston (left), pictured here on the day his hiring was announced by athletic director Mark Harlan last June, met with reporters during the Bulls' media day Wednesday.

New USF baseball coach Mark Kingston, who makes his formal debut Feb. 13 against Cal State Fullerton, spoke to reporters Wednesday at the program's media day. Here are excerpts from the 20-minute Q&A:

What is something you've learned since you arrived?
"I think now that I've been here for an extended amount of time, I think what I've learned is I'm even more sure that we can turn this into a real special baseball program. Based on what we have in the program now, but also based on how recruiting has gone, and the support we've gotten from our administration in making improvements where we think we need to make improvements."

What needs to be changed or tweaked for USF to finally reach the NCAA Tournament?
"I've tried to make an effort not to figure out what we need to change, because obviously the coaches that have been here have had a lot of success in their careers. But we all do understand that we haven't been to a regional in a long time (since 2002). I'd say making changes is not how we're looking at it, we're just trying to implement everything that our coaching staff believes in, and if that makes changes along the way, so be it. There are a lot of things that have stayed consistent, but there are a lot of things maybe that have changed just because we look at things maybe a little bit different and we have our own certain ways of doing things."

Power was a concern last season (league-low nine home runs). Where will the pop come from in this lineup?
"I think we have guys that are gonna have better power production than in the past. I think the new ball (smaller, tighter seams) is going to help with that. ... We have a new strength coach in Joey Carnes that's done a really good job in making our guys a little bit more physical. I think our offensive approach -- my offensive approach -- always has been with helping guys learn how to really drive the ball to the best of their ability. So I think when you factor and put all those together, I think we will be a more productive team. I think we will hit for more power, and sometimes power is doubles as well. We have a big ballpark here, so there may be times where we hit three doubles that could've been three homers in a lot of ballparks."

You mentioned this team may be in position to surprise some people. Is that a reflection of bringing more untapped potential out of guys or bringing in new elements?
"You look at last year's team, we were 27-31...and we lost 18 games by two runs or less. That means we were really close in a lot of ball games. So maybe with a slightly improved offense, maybe with pitchers that are a little wiser now from being a year older, there's a lot of factors that I think can change that record."

What's your evaluation of (Jimmy) Herget (USF's Friday night starter) from what you've seen, and how good can he become in his third year?
"He's a talented pitcher. He's two years now below a 2.00 ERA. A lot of arm angles, has the ability to run the fastball up to 94 (mph) when he wants to reach back, has a good breaking ball. He's a competitor, so everything you look for he can bring to the table. I think he can continue to get
better as he gains weight. He's still trying to get more physical as a pitcher, but as he continues to get smarter and learn more about the game and get more physical, I think he can go a long way in this game."

When is the last time (prior to this season) that you've had a January practice outside? (Kingston spent the previous six years at Illinois State)
"2008. ... Maybe we snuck out onto the football field and shoveled the snow away so we could be on turf for the last five years. ... And when's the last time we had an intrasquad (game) on grass under the sun and I could wear shorts? It's been a long time. Another reason I'm very appreciative to be here."

It has been a long time since this program has made a regional. Is that how you define success, or how do you define it?
"For this year, I just want to know that we've maximized our potential. ... I'm only gonna define success on, 'Is our shortstop playing as good as he possibly can? Are our pitchers pitching as well as they possibly can?' And if I can look in the mirror and know that we are playing to the best of our ability, however many games we win I'll live with. Do I want to be in a regional this year? Absolutely. Do I think we could do that if we play right and play to our potential? I think we could, if things go right, we stay healthy and catch a few breaks along the way. Yes, I think we can do that."

How wide are you spreading your recruiting net?
"I would say at this point, it's 99 percent the state of Florida. We've signed kids within our city limits obviously, but we've also gone to Miami to get players, we've gone to Naples, we've gone to Orlando, we've gone the high school and juco ranks. Florida will be 99 percent of where our
recruits come from. ... This state is too good to think we have to go outside it too often."

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USF-FSU football game moved

USF and FSU announced Thursday their 2015 matchup in Tallahassee has been moved up two weeks, from Sept. 26 to Sept. 12. The contest will kick off at 11:30 a.m. and will be televised by ESPN.

According to a USF news release, the universities agreed to switch the game to the season's second week to eliminate an early open date and move the bye weeks deeper into the schedule.

As a result of the change, here is USF's updated '15 schedule (times and most dates for remaining games not yet determined):

Sept. 5 vs. Florida A&M
Sept. 12 at FSU, 11:30 a.m.
Sept. 19 at Maryland
Oct. 10 vs. Syracuse

AAC home: Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU, Temple
AAC away: UCF, Connecticut, East Carolina, Navy

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USF's Chris Perry out indefinitely

Four days after USF sophomore PF Chris Perry exited an evening practice with chest pains, the school announced the former Bartow High standout will be sidelined indefinitely with a "health issue." Here's the recent timeline of events involving Perry.

Saturday: Perry is stricken with chest pains during an evening workout at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., and is hospitalized. "I was concerned, I didn't know what really happened," SG Corey Allen Jr. said. "I just know like, 20 minutes into practice, he went with the trainer, and toward the end of practice that's when I learned...he went to the hospital that night."

Sunday: Roughly midway through the Bulls' game against Connecticut, Perry arrives on the Bulls bench in street clothes, and spends the rest of the game vigorously cheering on his team.

Monday: Perry doesn't appear at practice. At some point upon the team's return to Tampa, he undergoes further tests for his chest ailment.

Tuesday: Perry doesn't appear at practice. Coach Orlando Antigua says Perry is "day to day," offering no further details.

Wednesday: Roughly six hours before the Bulls tip off against SMU, USF issues a 16-word statement indicating Perry will be out "indefinitely with a health issue."

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USF's Courtney Williams collects 2 honors

USF junior SG Courtney Williams now finds herself on an awards and scoring tear.

Williams, who stretched her streak of consecutive 20-point games to five with Sunday's near triple-double (24 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) in a 19-point romp of Tulane, was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week on Monday.

The same honor was bestowed by collegesportsmadness.com.

A bona fide All-America candidate at this stage, Williams (20 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.5 assists) shot better than 50 percent (22-for-43) from the floor in two victories last week. During her streak of 20-point efforts, she's averaging 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

The Bulls (16-4, 7-1 AAC), in sole possession of second place in the league standings, are off until Saturday afternoon's game at Memphis.

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USF's Jose Fernandez earns 250th win

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez earned career victory No. 250 on Sunday.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez earned career victory No. 250 on Sunday.

Fittingly, USF coach Jose Fernandez's 250th career victory Sunday embodied most of what he has espoused in his 14-plus seasons in Tampa.

A brisk pace, suffocating defense, and force of will on the glass.

Fernandez received nearly a triple-double from junior Courtney Williams (24 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) and watched the Bulls (16-4, 7-1 American Athletic Conference) hold Tulane to six first-half field goals in a 64-45 romp at the Sun Dome. 

Fernandez now is 250-212 since becoming the Bulls' sixth coach in 2000. His teams have accounted for 43 percent of the 43-year-old program's 580 triumphs, and both its NCAA Tournament appearances.

Berth No. 3 seems secure if the regular season's final month reflects Sunday's effort.

"I thought, the way we defended and played today, we could've beaten a lot of people," Fernandez said.

Tulane (15-4, 6-2), technically tied with USF for second in the league standings entering the weekend, went more than five minutes without a field goal in one first-half stretch. By intermission, the Green Wave had committed 11 turnovers and had been out-rebounded 26-16.

"Our defense was very important because during practice after (last weekend's) UConn game (a 92-50 loss), we really worked on our transition defense," said junior PF Alisia Jenkins, whose squad held Tulane to four fast-break points.

"We had our (all-male) scout team out there making sure that we sprint the floor. Even though they're men, they really ran to their full potential, so that helped us get back and we just transferred that to the game."

Tulane scored the first two field goals of the second half to cut USF's lead to 33-22 before Boca Ciega alumnus Tamara Taylor answered with a 3-pointer. A 10-0 Bulls run midway through the half, starting with a Williams jumper and ending with a Williams trey, sealed Fernandez's milestone win.

"I've been very fortunate," he said.

" Tampa's been very good to my family and I, and I've seen this university grow a great deal in the last 15 years. ... It's been really special being able to build this program and to work with so many great people and coach just wonderful student-athletes."

Williams now has scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games. Jenkins added her 13th double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds), while freshman Laura Ferreira added 13 points and seven boards.

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Telly Lockette: Taggart will 'turn it around'

Former USF running backs coach Telly Lockette recently accepted the same job at Oregon State.

Photo provided by USF Athletics

Former USF running backs coach Telly Lockette recently accepted the same job at Oregon State.

After a round or two of phone tag, the Tampa Bay Times caught up with former USF running backs coach Telly Lockette, who recently accepted the same job (from a former mentor) at Oregon State. Here's the dialogue:

I'm presuming the opportunity to coach in the Pac-12, in a power conference, was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"Came down to it, me and (USF) Coach (Willie) Taggart really talked about it. I asked him what he thought about it and he said it was a great opportunity and he thought you shouldn't turn it down. I consulted with him first, you know. He sort of gave it to me like it was the way he got to Stanford...and learned what he had to learn, and then he came back and did what he had to do."

Did (new OSU coach) Gary Andersen recruit you to Idaho State? (Lockette was a standout ISU linebacker in the mid-1990s)
"He was on staff."

How tough was it to leave a situation where you've a talented young backfield like D'Ernest (Johnson) and Marlon Mack?
"It was tough. And then you've got to take in consideration the kids I recruited there that came to South Florida. ... But I called all my parents, all the kids I recruited...and told them what was going down. A lot of them gave me their blessings. It was just one of those things, you know?"

This is a business and it's your job to recruit the best players possible to your school. Do you still keep recruiting the same (USF prospects) to Oregon State, or how does that work?
"You know, it's a business, and like I said, I'll help those guys in any way I can. But if need be...on signing day, those guys I recruited will sign with USF."

A lot of people I talk to, including coaches, say USF is so close it's not even funny. I know you're biased, but do you see USF on the cusp of turning the corner?
"Yes. ... I think Coach Taggart is doing a tremendous job. You've got to understand, he's trying to change a culture of kids in less than a couple of years. And what he's been doing is a tremendous job. I think he can do it. With the staff that he he has there, they can do it. You've got to understand, we were in a lot of those games last year. ... So yeah, he'll turn it around."

Was the move across the country a tough sell to your family?
"My family's good with it. My wife, my kids, they're cool with it. I talked it over with my mom, and she was like, 'You've got to do what you've got to do to get where you're going.' It's an opportunity but you have to make the tough decisions at some point in time."

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Bulls' Matthew O'Neal sets indoor record

USF junior Matthew O'Neal propelled his wiry frame into USF track and field lore Friday night.

Question is, can he now hop, skip and jump his way into Bulls immortality?

O'Neal shattered the school's indoor triple jump record with a winning effort (53 feet, 11 inches; or 16.43 meters) at the UAB Vulcan Invite in Birmingham, Ala. The performance also broke the  CrossPlex Arena's 3-year-old mark (16.38 meters).

Shane Lewis, a 2014 NCAA Indoor All-American, owned the previous USF record (52-4). O'Neal's career-best entering the weekend was 52-1.

"There’s not going to be many people in the country that will jump nearly 54 feet,” Bulls coach Warren Bye said.

The nation's top 16 performances qualify for the NCAA Indoors, set for mid-March in Fayetteville, Ark. A two-time outdoor All-American, O'Neal appears poised for a shot at becoming the school's first national indoor champion.

USF's only current NCAA track champ: Jon Dennis, who won a pair of outdoor 5,000-meter titles in the early 1990s.

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Officially official: USF-UK to meet in men's hoops

What we reported last summer has become official: USF's men's basketball team will face Kentucky for the first time in program history at downtown Miami's American Airlines Arena on Nov. 27. 

USF will play a return game at Rupp Arena in the 2016-17 season, UK confirmed.

The Bulls-'Cats Black Friday contest may coincide -- or conflict with, depending on one's perspective -- the Bulls-UCF football game, staged the day after Thanksgiving the last two seasons. Dates for '15 American Athletic Conference football games haven't been announced.

The inaugural USF-UK contest, part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational, also will include an Ohio State-Memphis matchup.

Bulls first-year coach Orlando Antigua spent the previous five seasons on John Calipari's UK staff, and served with him one season (2008-09) at Memphis.

"We look forward to the challenge of playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball," Antigua said in a UK news release. "I was fortunate enough to spend five great seasons at Kentucky, so obviously have great respect for that program and (Calipari).”

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T-minus 13 days: USF recruiting notebook

In the final, frenetic days leading to national signing day (Feb. 4), we'll offer periodic updates of USF's recruiting efforts. Here's the latest we know:

* No fewer than four Bulls assistants -- defensive coordinator Tom Allen, cornerbacks coach Alonzo Hampton, defensive line coach Eric Mathies and passing-game coordinator David Reaves -- visited Armwood ILB Jordan Griffin at his school Thursday. Coach Sean Callahan told the Tampa Bay Times that Griffin -- who committed to Wisconsin before the Badgers had a coaching change -- remains "open" to Wisconsin, USF and Vanderbilt.

* No so much news as reassurance for Bulls fans: Trinity Valley (Texas) CC WR Jarvis Baxter told the Times he remains a solid USF commitment and will sign on signing day. Similarly, Plant WR Jordan Reed is a "100-percent done deal" for the Bulls, Panthers coach Robert Weiner said.

* As Runningthebulls.com reported, Bulls pledge Khalid McGee, a three-star cornerback from Miami Northwestern, visits Oregon State this weekend. New OSU -- and former USF -- running backs coach Telly Lockette has recruited McGee for both programs.

* Former Vanderbilt QB/WR Josh Grady said Thursday he has narrowed his transfer choices to Florida and USF. Grady, who quarterbacked Armwood to the Class 4A state final in 2010, has said he wants to play his old position at USF. "I have spoken with (USF) coach (Willie Taggart) since being released to talk to USF," Grady said in a text message to the Times. "Once signing day is over, I'll plan out my visit to USF." …

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Bulls poised for historic February

USF junior Alisia Jenkins (right) and the rest of the Bulls can make history with a February hot streak.

AP Photo

USF junior Alisia Jenkins (right) and the rest of the Bulls can make history with a February hot streak.

Indulge us for a moment as we commit the cardinal sin of sports and look past a few opponents into the future.

The upcoming month potentially could be historic for USF's women's basketball team.

The Bulls (15-4, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) can reach two elusive program landmarks down the regular season stretch. Not only can they eclipse the program record for consecutive wins (nine), they can become the first team in school history to go undefeated in February.

The schedule sets up beautifully for such a run.

USF's current win streak stands at one, but the Bulls -- second only to UConn in the AAC -- likely will be favored in each of their next 10 games. Of those next 10 foes, five already have lost to the Bulls.

The UConn rematch is set for March 2, USF's final regular season game.

Here's a look at the Bulls' next 10 contests, with the result of the season's first encounter (where applicable):

Sunday vs. Tulane (USF, 53-40 on Jan. 4)
Jan. 31 at Memphis (USF, 72-39 on Dec. 31)
Feb. 3 vs. UCF (first meeting)
Feb. 7 vs. Cincinnati (first meeting)
Feb. 10 at SMU (USF, 82-59 on Jan. 14)
Feb. 15 at East Carolina (USF, 69-62 on Dec. 28)
Feb. 18 vs. Tulsa (first meeting)
Feb. 22 vs. Temple (USF, 70-58 on Jan. 11)
Feb. 24 at Cincinnati (first meeting is Feb. 7)
Feb. 28 at UCF (first meeting is Feb. 3)

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Bulls head to Philly near full strength

USF's men's basketball team still might be reeling, but at least it's no longer hobbling.

Coach Orlando Antigua said Tuesday the Bulls could be at full strength for Thursday night's game at Temple, where they'll try to snap a three-game skid. Everyone participated in individual work Monday, he added.

By contrast, the Bulls (7-11, 1-4 AAC) had seven healthy scholarship bodies by the end of Saturday's 75-58 loss to Tulsa. PF Chris Perry banged up his shoulder after a Golden Hurricane player landed on it, G Corey Allen Jr. (two points) was limited to 23 minutes by a sore calf, and PF Bo Zeigler (right knee) didn't play at all.

On Monday, Perry "went through everything," Antigua said. The other two?

"Bo was good. We expect him to be out there, we need him to be out there," Antigua added. "(Allen) looked really good. He had a lot of pop, a lot of explosiveness in his movement (Monday), so that was good to see."

Temple (12-7, 3-3) has lost three in a row, to three of the league's top five teams (Tulsa, SMU, Cincinnati). Its signature win was a stunning 25-point romp of Kansas in December.

"I know they're 3-3 in conference but they've played some tough games," Antigua said.

"They've got three guys averaging double figures and almost a fourth one that could be averaging double figures, and all at different positions. They've got a good mix of veteran guys and young guys, so it'll be another good opportunity."

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USF's Eatmon a finalist for Rare Disease Champion Award

Former USF lineman Quinterrius Eatmon, who has a 20-month-old daughter battling a rare optical disorder, is a finalist for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion Award.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former USF lineman Quinterrius Eatmon, who has a 20-month-old daughter battling a rare optical disorder, is a finalist for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion Award.

One of the most poignant of postseason football honors has yet to be awarded, and a Bulls alumnus remains in contention for it.

Former RT/RG Quinterrius Eatmon, who graduated in December with an economics degree, is among six finalists for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion Award presented by Uplifting Athletes.

The award is given to a leader in college football who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.

Eatmon and his wife Melyza - also a USF graduate -- have a 20-month-old daughter born with a rare optical condition that originally had doctors skeptical as to whether she'd ever see. Following a procedure in New York City, Melaynna gradually has regained a degree of vision, spawning hope she'll ultimately be able to read large-print books.

Fans can vote for one of the finalists at UpliftingAthletes.org. Voting ends Jan. 31, with the winner announced the following day to kick off Rare Disease Month. The Rare Disease Champion will be honored at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala on March 13 in Atlantic City.

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USF's Marvin Kloss named Offensive MVP at Shrine Game

Former USF kicker Marvin Kloss (left) was named Offensive MVP of the 90th East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Former USF kicker Marvin Kloss (left) was named Offensive MVP of the 90th East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.

The final act of Marvin Kloss' college career resembled so many others from the past two seasons.

Only this time, the stocky specialist nicknamed "Money" wasn't performing so much for the USF as he was for his immediate future.

Kloss, who booted a school-record 13 consecutive field goals at one point in his USF career, nailed all four of his attempts to win Offensive MVP honors at Saturday's East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.

The East prevailed 19-3, with Kloss scoring 13 of his team's points. Working without an experienced holder or snapper, but also without a defensive rush, Kloss connected from 39, 30, 47 and 19 yards.

"It's a blessing," said Kloss, a 2013 Lou Groza Award finalist likely to land a free-agent invitation to an NFL training camp.

"It's a little different than at USF; the offense here doesn't really have a problem getting down in field-goal range. ... It helped that the rush wasn't too strong because the operation looked a little shaky at times, but I'm just blessed to get all the exposure that I can get."

The shakiness only seemed apparent to those within this makeshift special-teams unit. …

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