USF walk-on punter Ciabatti now on scholarship
Sophomore walk-on Mattias Ciabatti, expected to be the Bulls' starting punter this fall, has been placed on scholarship by new coach Willie Taggart, continuing a longstanding Bulls tradition.
"We didn't give it to him. He earned it," Taggart said before Sunday's morning practice. "He's been doing a really good job. He came out and really launched a couple of balls the other day. I think he's going to be very significant in our football team this year."
Ciabatti, from Hillsborough High, had a shot at the starting punting job in each of the last two seasons but lost out to veteran Justin Brockhaus-Kann, who graduated after three years as starter. Ciabatti, named to the Big East All-Academic team last fall, had one punt as a freshman, getting 43 yards in the 2012 opener against Chattanooga. He's also likely to be the team's holder on extra points and field goals.
Ciabatti's competition for the punting job starts with walk-on Aaron Munoz, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe who was a two-year starter there, averaging 37.8 yards in 124 attempts from 2010-11.
Taggart said other walk-ons will have the opportunity to earn scholarships this fall, but Ciabatti is the only player who has been told their good news so far.
"No others know they're going to be on scholarship, but I would say they know they have an opportunity to earn a scholarship," Taggart said. "Whenever it allows to, I try to save a scholarship so a guy can earn one throughout training camp. All our walk-ons I put on notice: If they want a scholarship, they have to come out here and do something. They can't just focus on a position. They have to get on some special teams and help us. I think we get a lot more production out of those guys by doing that."
USF has three other players who earned scholarships under Skip Holtz after initially joining the Bulls as walk-ons -- quarterback Bobby Eveld, kicker Marvin Kloss and receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown. Other candidates to earn scholarships this fall are senior Brandon Salinas, who could start at cornerback, and sophomore David Burdetsky, who is in his second season as the team's long-snapper. Fullback Ryan Eppes is the only fifth-year walk-on on roster.
Placing a walk-on on scholarship can have benefits for the team as well, as scholarship athletes count toward the team's APR scores, which measure academic progress in terms of retention and progress toward graduation. Holtz put three other senior walk-ons on scholarship last year in defensive back Ernie Tabuteau and fullbacks Chris Breit and Spencer Cavalieri.