Yes, I'm alive and still blogging
Yes, it's been a few days. Apologies not to have posted earlier. The Buckley kid, back in America, isn't helping out anymore, so it's all on me now.
Football season is one week away. Lots to catch up on here, from the quarterback job to newly discovered suspensions to three (!) more walk-ons getting scholarships.
First, the quarterbacks. It's an awful lot like the case was a year ago, when Pat Julmiste was the returning starter and Courtney Denson was the young, unproven challenger. Denson, of course, got the start at Penn State, had no first downs and a costly fumble in three series and Julmiste took over, essentially for the rest of the season.
How does that decision impact this one? Jim Leavitt has kept it awfully close to the vest on the quarterbacks, reiterating that (1) they're very close and (2) he's confident in them all and (3) if they stay close, he'll go with Julmiste because of experience. But I asked him Saturday how redshirt freshman Matt Grothe compares with where Denson was a year ago. He said Grothe has had much more reps in fall practice, and as such, is ahead of where Denson was. That said, Julmiste is also doing much better than he was a year ago, and has another year of experience and maturity.
Logic says that if Leavitt is bold enough to throw Denson out for his first start on the road in front of 100,000 fans and against one of the nation's top defenses, it's well within his range to let Grothe take on McNeese State at home. Here's a good Grothe story Leavitt offered this week: Wednesday morning, players knew it'd be a light-hitting practice because they were scrimmaging at night. Leavitt goes around checking for thigh pads and finds nine players don't have them, so he sends them back the quarter-mile or so back to the lockers to get them. Grothe takes off running, runs back, misses maybe 10 minutes of practice at the most. The other eight walk there, Leavitt says, and I can see them walking back when Leavitt starts howling at them, angry that they're taking it slow on the way back from something they messed up in the first place. Anyway, there's some third- and fourth-year guys in the walking group, and I think it impressed Leavitt that Grothe ran off and back when they walked. Little things like that can go a long way with a coach.
Again, if I'm reading Leavitt right, I think he's leaning toward Julmiste. I asked him whether Julmiste's back spasms (which kept him from working in the two-minute drill Saturday) would impact his decision on the quarterbacks, and he said it wouldn't. He keeps pointing to Julmiste's experience, the big games he's helped USF win. If he starts Julmiste and he falters, he turns to Grothe and his team's future. If he goes with Grothe and he falters, he's put a dent in the kid's confidence by going back to Julmiste. I think both will play in the first two games, and I think the real decision will be which one gets the start for the Central Florida game. OK, enough QBs already.
The suspensions of three key players -- Ricky Ponton, Jackie Chambers and Josh Julmiste -- has been the worst-kept secret on campus for about three weeks, with Leavitt dodging a lot of very direct questions. If they miss only two games, it's likely a harmless loss on the field and on the scoreboard, but it hurts the reputation of three players who would have taken on leadership roles if they'd done everything right. Chambers was respected enough to have captain's duties as a sophomore last year, and now I understand a bit why Leavitt hinted that he has a redshirt year available. Ponton had a huge opportunity to be the guy who took over for Andre Hall, but now he'll do well just to get himself back ahead of the walk-ons who will get his carries in the first two games. Fans should get a look at Walt Smith -- now on scholarship, by the way -- and speedy Colby Erskin, as well as the short but solid Ben Williams and junior-college transfer Shawn Cannon. I talked to Josh Julmiste two weeks ago and he spoke about how Leavitt expected him to be a leader on the defensive line, stepping up into a major role as a sophomore as his brother Pat did. Julmiste, who had an arrest on theft charges before he got to USF and lost a semester of school because of another off-field incident that didn't result in criminal charges, needs to show he can make better decisions.
What else? Smith, defensive end Treco Bellamy and tight end Devin Gordon have been awarded scholarships for the upcoming season -- that also tells me that nobody is expecting any last-hour miracles on defensive tackle James Jackson. So for those of you keeping score at home, that's NINE walk-ons given scholarships in the past year, and by coincidence, nine members of the February signing class who failed to qualify academically. (Again, that doesn't count Frank Harry and James Boger, who simply quit.) So many walk-ons and former walk-ons should be in significant roles Saturday -- not only on the two-deep, but starting in some instances. I'll write more about that later in the week. ...
Right now, I have the following true freshmen likely playing this fall, in order of likelihood: safety Nate Allen, who coaches say may already be the best at his position, save for his understanding of the defense; walk-on punter Ilia Petrov, who has won the job over scholarship freshman Delbert Alvarado (Leavitt said Delbert will travel with the team all season, in case Petrov is injured, and he's still competing for kicking jobs); defensive end Josh Smiley, who drew high praise from coaches and is recovering from a foot injury that cost him at least a week at a key time; running back Keeley Dorsey, who has missed three days waiting for the NCAA Clearinghouse but should be back early this week and could be the top backup to Mo Plancher; receiver Carlton Mitchell, who impressed coaches early with his speed but is at a deep position. Others? Defensive end Aaron Harris will likely dress and could travel, but coaches would rather him redshirt. All three linebackers will redshirt, and none of the offensive linemen are likely to play. I've heard very little to suggest Aston Samuels, Ed Alcin, Jason Sherman or A.J. Love will play, and tight end Andrew Ketchel will redshirt.
Another thing to remember: just because a guy plays in the first week or two, that doesn't mean he isn't redshirting. After three weeks, they can fall victim to a sudden but very convenient injury that allows them to take a medical redshirt. You could also see this with senior tackle Thed Watson, who coaches still want to redshirt. Thed's arguably the No. 4 tackle, behind starters Marc Dile and Jared Carnes and backup Danny Tolley, and it's doubtful that will change before Saturday. I'm seeing less and less talk of Tavarious Robinson, so I'm sure he'll dress, but it sounds like he'll be able to take the redshirt coaches want him to take.
Monday should be interesting, because school starts and as such, it's the deadline for players who were trying to resolve incompletes over the summer. If they haven't gotten those straightened out, they can't practice anymore. Leavitt can also expand his roster from 105 to 110 players, though he was closer to 103 by my count. He said he's hesitant to bring out new walk-ons because some of the late additions, like former Largo star Fred Marshall, who left after one practice in full pads, can be a distraction to the guys who have been giving it their all for two dozen practices already.
One name I'll drop as a possible addition: Norman Nicholas, who played at Palm Beach Gardens and is on scholarship with the track team as a sprinter, has talked with Leavitt about joining the team as a walk-on. Athletes aren't allowed to be on scholarship in other sports and play football -- they call it the Bear Bryant rule, to keep football coaches from bringing in another 20 recruits as "hurdlers" -- but if they can get around that, Nicholas has great speed, timed as fast as 10.84 seconds in the 100 meters. Scout.com has him listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, so the size isn't bad either.
Wrapping up to keep this under 20 pages ... Amp Hill and Grant Gregory both told me Saturday they'll be ready and healthy for McNeese ... The Austin American-Statesman has Leavitt among its "top five coaches on the rise at smaller programs." ... I'll write more on this later, but Chander Parsons, the coveted forward from Lake Howell High, has committed to Florida, joining teammate Nick Calathes in next year's class. Would have been a huge get for USF, which had the close-to-home card and the Big East card and Reggie Kohn, his high school coach, but it's hard to outsell the national champions that are also two hours from his home.