Two weeks to spring football?
Crazy as it seems, spring football is now less than two weeks away. I've been meaning since Saturday to blog about USF's annual football banquet, which had been postponed from its original date six weeks earlier by the tragic death of freshman running back Keeley Dorsey.
I found it surprising, given its impact on not only the football team but USF as a whole, that there was no mention of Dorsey at USF's banquet. I'd imagine it's simply still a very painful subject for the Bulls, something that would sadden an otherwise celebratory occasion. I expect we'll have news of an official cause of death for the 19-year-old sometime in the next week.
Back to the banquet, which drew an overflow crowd to Busch Gardens -- not the entire park, but the Gwazi pavilion, anyway. There's a long list of awards handed out, with assistant coaches announcing each one. It's a steady procession of high praise and well-edited highlight clips, something the fans in attendance seem to really enjoy. Think the Oscars, dressed down, without the speeches. Onto the awards:
Rookie of the Year: Shared between quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie, two players whose huge impacts weren't expected by many this time a year ago. Grothe was just one horse in the quarterback race, and Selvie was possibly playing center. That those two elevated themselves into such crucial positions early in the season was a big part of USF winning nine games. Grothe, by the way, was cleared to start running last week, a good sign as he recovers from the hairline fracture to his lower leg suffered in USF's bowl victory. I doubt he'll see much contact this spring, just as a precaution.
Overachiever Award: Strength coach Ronnie McKeefery gives this award to a player who shows the most dedication in the weight room, which made it one of the night's least predictable honors. The honor went to a late addition to USF's freshman class, defensive end Brandon Peguese. McKeefery said Peguese has already added 50 pounds to his bench-press total since arriving on campus. One of our high school writers at the Times, Kellie Dixon, worked in Greensboro last year and said Peguese was a true star at Grimsley High, a leader who helped his school to its first state championship game in 45 years. With the recent dismissal of Josh Julmiste, he'll be one of the young players to watch this spring as the Bulls search for a new starter for their outside pass rush.
Golden Bull Award: Given to the scout-team player who best helped the team prepare by simulating its opponents. Again, an intriguing award, one you're left to guess at. The winners? Freshman running back Aston Samuels and redshirt freshman defensive end Shane McElwain. Samuels has gotten lost in the excitement about the incoming backs, but he's a kid who was offered by Ohio State, someone who has his first chance to shine this spring. McElwain, who came to USF as a tight end, played only sparingly on special teams his first season but could move into the rotation if he continues his progress.
Scholar-Athlete Award: This one went to former walk-on quarterback Anthony Severino, now the elder statesman of the Bulls' passers. Severino had considered making this past season his last one with the Bulls as he moved on to postgraduate studies, but he'll be back this fall, providing valuable continuity on special teams as a reliable holder on kicks.
Green & Gold Pride Award: Walk-ons played such an unusually relevant role on the Bulls last season, and this award honors the walk-ons who best represented the team with hard work. Running back Ben Williams, the MVP of USF's bowl victory, was no surprise, and I think Williams' attitude has made him one of the most well-liked players on the team. Lots of applause for the 5-foot-7 sophomore, who was put on scholarship in January and enters spring trying to hold off a slew of new challengers. Running backs coach Carl Franks had just as much praise for the co-winner of this honor, fullback Mike Padilla -- and I should point out that his last name rhymes with gorilla, not tortilla -- who hasn't seen the playing time Williams has but has shown the same selflessness on the practice field.
Lee Roy Selmon Award: Is there a more respected name in USF's athletic family? The award goes to the player who "displays the greatest courage, perseverance and determination in pursuit of team goals." At first, I had this one pegged for linebacker Patrick St. Louis, but the honor went to offensive tackle Marc Dile, who played through injuries as a leader on an offensive line that returns intact (from its end-of-the-season five, anyway) for next season. That reminds me that I'm not sure whether tackle Thed Watson will work out with his teammates at USF's pro timing day on Friday.
First-Teamer Award: "Leadership both on and off the field, has great character, physical and mental toughness ... " This one went to St. Louis. Well-liked, both by teammates and fans -- one of the toughest things to replace from this year's team will be the leadership on defense from St. Louis and Stephen Nicholas. I think guys like Ben Moffitt and Trae Williams are the right kind of rising seniors to step into those roles though.
Top Defensive Front Seven: Maybe the least compelling title among the awards, but the honor was well-deserved for middle linebacker Moffitt, a quarterback of the defense and the team's top tackler. I think back to the story I wrote in August about USF's linebackers being the strength of the team because of their knowledge of Wally Burnham's defense, and I think that held up over the season.
Outback Steakhouse Outstanding Offensive Lineman: An apt sponsorship, I suppose. Can't imagine what award the St. Pete Times would sponsor, given the opportunity. Most consistent attendee for Tuesday interviews? Lifetime Award for Outstanding Candor in the Face of Coachspeak? This one went to center Nick Capogna, a converted tight end who everyone had written off as too small entering last season. He'll face competition this spring, from veterans Jake Griffin and Ryan Schmidt and freshmen Kevin McCaskill and Jeremiah Warren, but this award is an encouraging sign for him.
Outstanding Special Teams Player: Return specialist Ean Randolph -- I can remember in spring 2005 when I first got Randolph's name as a new addition to the roster, Googled the former Durant standout and dropped a short note in the paper. I can remember Jim Leavitt saying with certainty that Randolph would make the fall roster, but I don't know if anyone expected him to be the team's leading receiver, or such a threat on returns. If Randolph and USF could have made a match straight out of high school, there's no telling what he could have done. That said, I think receiver should be an improved position this fall, despite the graduation of Randolph and S.J. Green and the dismissal of Jackie Chambers.
Jim and Laurie Ragsdale Offensive Playmaker of the Year: Went to receiver Taurus Johnson, whose season highlight reel is an impressive one to watch. I think he's one we'll be writing a lot about this fall. By the way, freshman receiver Carlton Mitchell ran the 400 meters in 49.09 seconds in USF's track opener last season, and cornerback Ryan Gilliam was on the record-setting 4x100 relay, which ran in 40.83 seconds, breaking an 11-year-old record set by a foursome that included two Olympians. And my eclectic table at the banquet dinner? The Ragsdales, their parents, and the January trio of late arrivals McCaskill, Warren and David Fonua.
Busch Gardens Defensive Playmaker of the Year: Trae Williams, who finished with seven interceptions. Best play on his highlight reel wasn't a pick, but a great leaping backhand deflection on a deep pass, tipping the ball to another diving defensive back in the end zone. My memory says it was Mike Jenkins in the Syracuse win, but I could be wrong. I'm a little foggy from 10 hours at the ACC Tournament today.
Offensive MVP: Matt Grothe. Defensive MVP: Stephen Nicholas. Like you're surprised. Hey, speaking of Nicholas, got to catch up with him for this week's Page 2C notes. My paper does this weird thing in the middle of the night where they post a link to the story, but the story isn't there yet. So I offer up this link, but it might not work immediately. By morning it should be working. Don't ask me. I just write the stories.
I wrote way too much again here. I dont think the banquet was this long. It's looking more like Friday for the next window of potential Robert McCullum news. Haven't really heard a good explanation for why Doug Woolard hasn't made an announcement yet, beyond the general "he's legitimately torn" type of rationale. I'm not saying it's an easy decision, just one most folks expected to have by now. Thoughts?