Leavitt to consult with Washington coaches
As a rule, I try to attend whenever I hear that Jim Leavitt is speaking in public, in the slight chance that he'll slip and say something ridiculously newsworthy. Tuesday offered my second opportunity in less than a day, as Leavitt was the guest speaker for the Kiwanas Club of St. Petersburg's weekly lunch at the Orange Blossom restaurant, just three blocks from the Times' main office in downtown St. Pete.
No huge revelations to report, though Leavitt left the lunch early to catch a flight with his wife Jody for a vacation/business trip to Seattle. The Leavitts have their second anniversary on Saturday, and Leavitt will have a few days to visit with first-year Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.
Yes, Washington was the only winless team in BCS football last season, but Leavitt said he's always admired Southern California's defense, and he's eager to talk with Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who coordinated the Trojans' defense for the past three years.
A few more things to share from the Kiwanis lunch ...
-- Leavitt had been scheduled to be the emcee for the Kiwanis' scholarship fundraiser earlier this summer, but he had to back out at the last minute to attend the funeral of the Darius Wilson, brother of USF linebacker Kion Wilson. Leavitt's a big supporter of the scholarships, which bear the name of the late Jim Fischer, who was Leavitt's middle-school basketball coach in St. Petersburg. Even without Leavitt, the event raised $37,000 -- if you'd like to learn more, visit the Kiwanis site.
-- Leavitt was asked about the in-state games against Florida State and Miami, but he's making it clear his priority is winning Big East games. He expressed concern that both in-state games immediately precede conference games on the road -- the league opener at Syracuse after FSU and the season finale at Connecticut after Miami. If players' thoughts linger after one game, they might not be ready for the next.
-- The big four words for USF -- they're hanging in the weight room, on signs in the locker room, all over -- are Focus, Urgency, Discipline and Intensity. Leavitt's hammering those words into his players as the things they need to improve themselves as a team.
-- Leavitt didn't mention too many players by name, but had praise for St. Pete's own Jerrell Young, saying his "tremendous" play in the St. Petersburg Bowl gave coaches confidence he can step into a starting role next to Nate Allen this fall. The only true freshmen he mentioned by name were cornerback Kayvon Webster and speedy Derrick Hopkins and Lindsay Lamar. He reiterated that senior Aaron Harris, a former starter at defensive tackle, will start at defensive end opposite senior George Selvie.
-- Two areas Leavitt specifically mentioned as needing improvement were pass defense and turnovers. "Last year, we got beat on the deep ball too many times," he said. "And when we don't turn the ball over, we usually win."
-- Specific expectations? "We've got to get away from eight or nine wins. We've got to get up to 10 wins," he said.
-- Having said that, he's not looking past Wofford, noting that the Terriers went to South Carolina last September and trailed 16-13 with two minutes to play before the Gamecocks pulled out a 23-13 win. (Never mind that Wofford's quarterback and top two running backs were seniors last fall, or that its defense gave up 70 to Appalachian State).
-- As he did Monday night at Tampa Palms, Leavitt said he expects redshirt freshmen B.J. Daniels and Evan Landi to push senior Matt Grothe at quarterback. Probably just trying to keep everyone motivated this summer, but he's saying that consistently ...