About that potential transfer ...
Jim Leavitt has had plenty of experience recently with transfers, from Ean Randolph to Amp Hill to Ryan Gilliam to Grant Gregory to most recently linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from Iowa State. Some, like Randolph or tight end Devin Gordon, came to the Bulls as walk-ons, which was what Delaware kicker Zach Hobby is strongly considering doing this summer.
Hobby is a Countryside grad who has been a two-year starter for the I-AA Blue Hens and has decided he wants to transfer closer to home, and to kick at the I-A level. Talking briefly with him Thursday and with his father, Phil (who is special-teams coach at Countryside), they've narrowed their options down to three schools: USF, Florida State and UCF.
FSU and UCF, his father said, have offered Hobby a guaranteed scholarship after he sits out the required transfer year. USF hasn't come as far, as Leavitt has promised Hobby a roster spot and the assurance that if he does well enough to earn the job as USF's field-goal kicker, he'd get a scholarship as well. Hobby is friends with FSU kicker Gary Cismesia, who will be a senior next year, which would be Hobby's transfer year. But the Seminoles also have a strong leg in Graham Gano and just signed a scholarship kicker in Shaun Powell of Rome, Ga., so it's not exactly a clear path to the starting job. UCF coach George O'Leary made a personal visit to Hobby, lobbying for him to join the Knights, but USF has some advantages, being closest to home and having no one kicker entrenched solidly as a field-goal specialist.
Hobby's numbers aren't staggering, but they're better than what USF has had in the post-Gramatica years. He went 7-for-8 as a freshman, then started 7-for-8 this past season before suffering a groin injury, missing 5 of his last 6 attempts. His career long is 45 yards, and he had nine touchbacks in 50-some kickoffs this past year, so it's not an incredibly strong leg so much as it is an accurate one, which is arguably the opposite of what USF has generally found from its two scholarship kickers, Mike Benzer and Delbert Alvarado.
Hobby plans on visiting all three schools during spring workouts, then making a decision in time to enroll for summer classes. He'll be sitting out the 2008 season -- I don't think there's any evidence for another USF hardship waiver -- but it's another name that could be in the mix down the road for USF's special teams unit. If he's confident he can win the job, Leavitt's conditional scholarship offer would be no different from the other schools' guarantees. The fact that USF held off on Pensacola's Michael Taylor, only offering him a greyshirt instead of an outright scholarship in recruiting, tells me they still have confidence in their two young kickers, who have another year to prove themselves as more consistent, reliable options for Leavitt.
Didn't get to stick around for the actual event, but I was over at the Embassy Suites on campus tonight before USF's inaugural baseball/softball Leadoff Banquet, which got a huge turnout. About 480 people were in attendance, including members of both teams, all sold out at $50 a head for the chance to visit with Lelo Prado, Ken Eriksen and some A-list baseball celebrities like Yankees stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. I had to duck home early before Jeter arrived -- apparently USF's Tino Martinez gave Jeter some grief about having the likes of Scarlett Johannson, Mariah Carey and Jessica Biel on his arm of late -- but the Oracle's Kevin Smetana, who also works as a correspondent for the Times, was nice enough to get me a few quotes from Jeter and Posada.
"He's the type of coach that likes to work hard," Jeter said of Prado. "He brings a lot of intensity. He likes to win, so he's going to bring that winning attitude. As a player, if you're working with coaches like that, it's going to bring out the best in you. So I think USF did a tremendous job hiring him."
Strong stuff, and I'll be curious to see what kind of turnout Prado gets for his Bulls debut Friday at 6 p.m. against High Point. Just realized that I neglected to mention in a Prado story running in Friday's paper that the Bulls have shifted the first pitch for nearly all home games from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m., something that should make games more family-friendly and encourage more fans. If you can get a hold of a USF baseball media guide, there's some artist's renditions of what a new baseball stadium might look like, perhaps as soon as three years down the road. After a strong turnout for tonight's event, the fund-raising needed for such a new stadium doesn't seem so difficult to imagine.