TAMPA — Skip Holtz had heard from other players that Chaz Hine could sing, but the first time he actually heard the 300-pound offensive lineman, at a team talent show in August during training camp in Vero Beach, his jaw dropped.
"Knocked me over," Holtz said. "I knew that was something people talked about: 'He does opera. He's really good.' But when he started belting that out, and it was, 'Holy smokes.' We should be paying admission. I will say that it exceeded expectations for most talent shows I've been to."
Hine, 22, a junior from Newsome and a former walk-on who is in his second season as the Bulls' starting right guard, is that rare college football player who has an outside passion greater than the love he has for his sport. As great a joy as football has been in his life, if he had to choose between singing and football, he'll admit that he'd turn in his jersey and helmet.
"I feel like singing is part of who I am," said Hine, part of an offensive line that will face a tough test in Pittsburgh on Saturday. "I love playing football, but singing is a part of me and has been with me a lot longer than football."
Hine started singing in the fifth grade, when his mother, Janine, "forced" him into chorus, and he earned a role as Santa Claus and a solo in the Christmas musical. He embraced chorus, continuing through middle school, and started voice lessons in high school at Music Showcase in Brandon.
"Chaz is a very passionate young man, with a big drive to be successful," said Miguel Oquendo, who trained him for three years. "He has worked very hard, in football and in voice, and balanced it very well. With both, there's a lot of technique you have to apply. The biggest thing is discipline, having to do what you're supposed to do. And football is something that will come and go in his life, but he'll always have his singing."
Hine first sang for his teammates at a talent show at the Sun Bowl in El Paso in 2007 at the end of his freshman year, calmly taking the microphone in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans and offering a piece from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro — in Italian, no less — and the legend was born. You can hear him on YouTube singing Amazing Grace from another athletic banquet, and he sang Dean Martin songs for the team in Vero.
He agrees with Oquendo that as odd as it seems, his musical background has served him well in football, giving him an appreciation for the value of proper preparation, not to mention a comfort level performing in front of large audiences.
"There are parallels in how much you need to practice in order to be good at something," said Hine, who earned the football team's scholar-athlete award last season and made the Big East's all-academic team. "It needs to be an everyday kind of thing. You train your vocal cords the same way you train your body. There's a lot of work that goes with it. Singing is a lot less physically demanding, but as a work ethic related to success, they're very similar."
Hine likes to listen to more classical artists like Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, but his girlfriend has him liking another crooner in Michael Buble. He hasn't had time to sing in a chorus since his first year at USF, when he redshirted in football, and while he'll graduate next spring with a degree in business management, he wants to give singing a chance as a career path.
"One day, I'll try maybe American Idol or America's Got Talent, something just once," Hine said. "If it works out, I'll see where that takes me. If it doesn't, I'll just move on to whatever business career I'm in."
The idea of a 300-pound football player is sure to draw interest from TV producers, and Hine has fans from his own locker room, eager to see what he'll do after football.
"I am not a talent scout," Holtz concedes. "But that's something he could truly do, for a living. It was that impressive. I think everybody in the place dropped their jaw, opened their mouth, just, 'Wow.' "