TAMPA — In his first three seasons as a walk-on at USF, Kenneth Luberice tried a little of everything: scout-team work at linebacker, defensive end, even defensive tackle.
"I was all over the place," said Luberice, who was the same way in high school, playing fullback and linebacker while mixing in work at tight end.
He made his mark at USF last fall on special teams as the "up back" — the player who reads the opposing team and barks out the punt protection coverage right before the snap. Midway through spring drills, he switched to offense, bringing a physical presence to tight end, where he has shown enough that coach Jim Leavitt rewarded him with a scholarship this fall.
"I think I've finally found a home at tight end. I like it," said the 6-foot, 235-pound Luberice, who came to USF from Boca Raton in 2005, making the team as a walk-on a year later.
Leavitt liked the consistent effort he saw in practice from Luberice, a regional champion as a wrestler in high school.
"He's one of the toughest guys we've got on our team," Leavitt said. "He'll block you from here to tomorrow."
Luberice, pronounced loob-REESE but known to teammates as "Ziggy," likes being an up back — in addition to setting the punt protection, he's the last line of defense against a blocked punt, accountable for the success or failure of the blocking scheme.
"I don't take it lightly," he said. "It's very important, the punt team. It can make or break a game all by itself. You've got to account for everyone, and that's my responsibility."
Luberice drew interest out of Spanish River High from small schools such as Fort Valley State but chose USF for its academics. He remains one of the football team's most ambitious students and was one of eight football players named to the Big East Academic All-Star Team last fall. He is on course to graduate in December with a degree in biomedical science, with a double minor in applied biophysics and public health. He hopes to start medical school next year, ideally at USF.
For now, there's football and a chance to shine at a new position. To get his hands ready for the pass-catching needs of being a tight end, he has gotten to practice 15 minutes early each day, taking 50 balls on the JUGS machine, which launches balls from between two rotating tires.
First-year tight ends coach Steve Bird likes the progress he has seen from Luberice, and in the first two weeks of preseason drills, he has moved ahead of veteran players such as senior Ben Busbee and junior Andrew Ketchel.
"He's a tremendous kid. Gives you great effort, great attitude," Bird said. "He's picked it up great, worked real hard all summer. He'll be right in the hunt."
Luberice, 22, was limited by a hip flexor early last week but is back healthy and hopeful of being able to make a difference this fall, not only on special teams but on offense as well.
"If I just keep going hard, how I've been going … that will take care of itself."