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Coach Skip Holtz, South Florida Bulls football team come together in Vero Beach

VERO BEACH — Skip Holtz does not mind that traditionally, this is a baseball facility.

USF's second-year football coach chose to have his team run routes and make tackles in an outfield 135 miles away from campus.

For decades, this was Dod­gertown, the training ground of Koufax and Drysdale, the starting points for O'Malley and Lasorda. So if the Bulls and Vero Beach Sports Village seem an odd match, well, Holtz loves odd matches.

Take the rooming, in which 105 players stay in the villas where Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider stayed. Holtz pairs one offensive and one defensive player whenever possible. The traditional social circles of position and class are gone in Vero, where the primary goal is bringing players closer together.

"A lot of thought goes into it," Holtz said. "We look at it from a leadership standpoint, from a camaraderie standpoint. We put some sophomores with some seniors. We try to cross as many lines on this team as we can."

So the line of scrimmage is an invisible one, and Holtz will routinely quiz players about their roommates during meetings: Does he have any brothers or sisters? What high school did he play at?

There are football benefits to sharing a room with someone who approaches the game from the opposite perspective as well.

"It's nice to have someone on the other side of the ball you can talk to about football, but also to get to know personally," said senior cornerback Quenton Washington, who is paired with redshirt freshman receiver Deonte Welch. "You see them on a daily basis, but you don't always get a chance to talk to them. This is really my first time really hanging out with (Welch)."

Last year, when Holtz brought the Bulls to Vero, it was a more fractured team after the offseason firing of longtime coach Jim Leavitt. So the two weeks were as much about healing as anything. A year later, that's not an issue, but Holtz wants to quickly forge a bond between his returning leaders and young talents who will have to step up if USF wants to win its first conference championship.

USF pays $150 per person per night for lodging, food and use of the facilities, a total of about $250,000 over 12 days. Athletic director Doug Woolard said he was convinced of the difference it could make this fall.

"We want to try to put our football team in the best position possible to be as successful as we can," Woolard said. "It felt like that experience last year was so valuable to them that we wanted to provide that same opportunity for them again this year."

And while 11 practices are the obvious means toward building a better team for the Sept. 3 opener at Notre Dame, Holtz mixes in nonfootball activities. Last year featured an informal Olympics with a home run derby in historic Holman Stadium, free-throw shooting, golf chipping and even Hula Hoops.

The goal is by the time the Bulls return to campus Aug. 18 — with just more than two weeks of preparation still remaining for Notre Dame — players have friends all over the locker room and Holtz has a chemistry that would have been tough to create during an on-campus camp.

"It's a great idea. It forces you to basically bond with a person you're not used to seeing on the defensive side of the ball — the so-called enemy," said junior receiver Evan Landi, who is paired with junior linebacker Sam Barrington. "It's good to learn about them, and you get out of your comfort zone a little bit.

"We're going to need everyone on offense and defense, so it's good to come together as a team like that."

Coach Skip Holtz, South Florida Bulls football team come together in Vero Beach 08/07/11 [Last modified: Sunday, August 7, 2011 10:50pm]
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