Clouds part, practice begins
I'll get to USF's first football practice of the fall in a paragraph or two, but first, the most impressive thing I saw on campus Monday was the sleek black BMW parked at the Sun Dome. Nice ride for Atlanta Hawks rookie Solomon Jones, who is hanging out with his former teammates, working with Terrence Leather and Marlyn Bryant as part of a practice squad for USF's current team, which leaves for 12 days in Italy on Saturday. It said a lot to me that the former players cared enough about the current team to help them out at practice like that, during a time that could easily be spent resting in the offseason before they return to pro teams overseas.
USF will basically have five players for the trip, along with walk-on guard Eddie Lovett. Those five -- Chris Capko, McHugh Mattis, Melvin Buckley, Aris Williams and Melvyn Richardson -- held their own at times during a full scrimmage against the Bulls alums and friends. Capko was especially surprising, draining a pullup jumper (!) and an international three (!!) in a span of five minutes. Midyear transfers Jesus (called "Zeus" by teammates) Verdejo and Kentrell Gransberry are getting good practice time as well, though they can't travel for the trip. It'll be a thin Bulls roster in November, buoyed a bit by three freshman guards, but depth won't be as much an issue by the new year.
Ah, yes, football. The start of practice was delayed 40 minutes by lightning in the area, an anxious Jim Leavitt watching the skies, then sprinting onto the field. So excited were the Bulls to take the field that the entire offense was out there before folks realized that nobody had told the defense the team was taking the field.
It's a time of year where Leavitt is very careful and calculating with his words, and Monday, he said he was impressed by the leadership of all five quarterbacks, even freshman Nate Allen, who he said would stick at quarterback this fall and redshirt rather than shifting to another position such as safety. Senior Pat Julmiste took the field with the first-team line at first -- for the record, that had Jared Carnes, Nick Capogna, Jake Griffin, Walter Walker and Danny Tolley -- but redshirt freshman Matt Grothe seemed to see as much action behind center.
Asked whether he had an early leader at running back -- likely between sophomore Ricky Ponton and redshirt freshman Moe Plancher -- Leavitt was noncommittal, saying even that walk-on Walt Smith had the best yards-per-carry in the spring. (Never mind that Plancher missed nearly all of spring drills with injuries and Ponton, too). He pointed out that last fall, West Virginia's No. 4 tailback entering fall drills was Steve Slaton, who wound up earning Big East Rookie of the Year honors as a dominating runner.
It's hard to tell when a first unit is together, especially in this first week, where the last week of summer school overlaps, forcing some players to come late and others to leave early. It looked like Danny Verpaele and Jeremy Burnett were working out as starting safeties. (On a side note, redshirt freshman Jerome Murphy has shifted from No. 34 to No. 13.) The next foursome working through drills, though not necessarily the secondary secondary, was cornerbacks Tyller Roberts and Ryan Gilliam and safeties Louis Gachette and Murphy, who could play either position.
The only position change of note is more of a novelty. Freshman walk-on Quincy Okolie of Palm Beach Central has the dubious distinction of changing positions twice before his first practice. Okolie, listed at 6-6 and 220 pounds, was first listed as a tight end, but deemed too light and shifted to receiver. Perhaps USF realized it had 15 other guys listed as receiver, as Okolie was working Monday as a skinny defensive end. A walk-on's first year on campus is always an evaluation period, so nothing unusual there.
One other thing that impressed me Monday was seeing would-be freshman Jeremiah Warren, one of eight non-qualifiers from this year's recruiting class, standing in streetclothes with the offensive linemen, watching coach Greg Frey and learning as much as he can without actually participating in drills. Warren will spend the fall in Tampa, working to improve his test scores so he can enroll in January as the first part of next year's recruiting class. If he takes the time to sit in on practice, even on a semi-regular basis, that's a commitment you don't see from many kids.
One more note: Kosha Irby, who came to USF last summer as the program's first assistant athletic director for marketing and event promotions, is headed back to Saint Louis University. He'll be an associate AD there, a solid jump for someone as young as Irby. He'll be missed, but don't take his departure as any knock on USF -- he has family and a fiancee back in St. Louis.
Tuesday is media day, so I've got to purge lots of old quotes from my digital recorders, leaving enough room for two hours of interviews at Raymond James Stadium ...