USF's Forte, rest of d-line eager for breakout year
VERO BEACH -- As much as USF sophomore Julius Forte seems poised to break out this season as a powerful outside pass rusher, the Boca Ciega graduate insists it's the entire Bulls defensive line as a unit that has taken a major step forward.
"I don't think it's anything I'm doing special. We're all working hard and getting better," Forte said after practice this week at the Vero Beach Sports Village, where USF is training for 12 days. "The whole d-line, we got a lot better over the summer. Bigger, stronger, faster."
That's good news for a USF defense that has three defensive linemen from last season now in NFL training camps, including ends Craig Marshall and David Bedford. The year before, the Bulls saw both their starting ends -- George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul -- taken in the NFL Draft. So after two seasons training behind a quartet of NFL talents, Forte is poised to show that younger players like himself and fellow sophomore Ryne Giddins can keep the position at a high level and crack the starting lineup.
"The people in front of me are making it very hard -- they're working hard every day, and I'm trying to put a fire under their butt," said Forte, listed as a top backup to Giddins and senior Patrick Hampton.
Forte -- known as "Ju-Ju" around the team -- has been able to add bulk to his frame without sacrificing quickness to get around opposing tackles. When he signed with USF in 2009, he weighed 235 pounds, and he played sparingly last season at 250-255 pounds. Now he's a thick 265 and physically imposing, thanks to working with new strength coach Mike Golden, who has a long history guiding the weight rooms for Skip Holtz's teams.
"With the thing Coach Golden put together over the summer, I don't feel like anybody lost a step," said Forte, who earned USF's Strength and Conditioning Overachiever Award his first year on campus, earning a reputation before he ever got on the field.
Forte had just 10 total tackles and one sack as a redshirt freshman, but he'll likely surpass those numbers in the first month of the season, as the Bulls gear up for the Big East opener Sept. 29 against Pittsburgh, the team he got his first career sack against.
"I've been very pleased with Julius -- that's the maturation process you want to happen," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "He's going to be in the rotation, and just the way he's carrying himself. His confidence is up, he's being more vocal."
His position coach, Vernon Hargreaves, said he thinks of Forte as a starter, so that he doesn't expect any dropoff when Giddins or Hampton come off the field during games.
"I've told those guys that I feel like we have three starters," Hargreaves said. "(Forte) has improved since the spring, had a great summer. His confidence level is so much higher, and that's allowing him to play to his potential athletically. He's always had the athletic ability. Now he has confidence in what he's supposed to do, where he's supposed to be, all those types of things. He understands it a little bit, so he's playing faster."