TAMPA — When Delbert Alvarado starts to think about the dual challenges he faces this fall as USF's kicker and punter, he thinks about four things instead of those two.
"There are four steps I think about every time I go out," Alvarado said Monday. "Having faith to let go of what's in the past, faith to walk into the unknown, faith to stand for what I believe in and faith to wait for my time."
The four things came from a church camp this summer, shortly after friend and teammate Maikon Bonani injured his back in a 35-foot fall while working at Busch Gardens. That pressed Alvarado into both roles for his senior year.
"I don't believe in coincidences," Alvarado said of the camp's lessons. "It fit perfectly to what I was dealing with in my life. God has put me in this position for a reason. It's my last year. I want to try to go out with a bang."
Alvarado, who graduated from Tampa's Robinson High, has been USF's punter the past two years and handled the Bulls' field goals and extra points for all of 2007 before losing his job to Bonani early last season. As Alvarado prepares to juggle both jobs again this fall, Bonani has been an inspiration and a source of constant support, though he isn't with the team as he recovers.
"It's huge. I talk to him almost every day," Alvarado said. "We've both been there for each other. We're best friends. It's a cool thing to have someone who, no matter what the situation, is always behind you, backing you. He told me, 'I may not be able to play, but you've got to promise me you're going to (go all) out.' I gave him my word. It's something I have to do."
USF's coaches have little doubt in Alvarado's leg — he holds the Big East record with a 56-yard field goal against Syracuse as a freshman, and he's the most accurate extra-point kicker in the program's history.
Counting on him for a big field goal has required a bit of faith because he has been inconsistent with his accuracy, hitting 25 of 42 career attempts. In USF's upset at Auburn in 2007, Alvarado missed four field goals (one was blocked) but still hit a tying 18-yarder with 55 seconds left to set up the Bulls' overtime victory.
"It's too early to see how he's going to handle this," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "It's up to Delbert. Delbert can kick — there's no question about it. It depends on how he handles it mentally."
The mental aspect is what special-teams coach John Hendrick is focusing on, keeping the 20-year-old positive and not letting him dwell on a missed kick or an errant punt.
"I think he's doing an admirable job," Hendrick said. "He gets a little down on himself sometimes, which bothers me severely, but we work through all those things."
That Bonani is helping Alvarado is no surprise to Hendrick, who prides himself on friendly competition among kicking specialists. Practicing pooch punts — precise kicks to be downed deep in opposing territory, where accuracy is more important than leg strength — he'll set a target like a handshield and see which kicker can get closest to the mark. Punters will line up from the 35-yard line and see how many consecutive punts they can put through the uprights. The prize may be as small as a Jolly Rancher candy, but it works.
"I try to instill a greater sense of competition, but at the same time, a family value," Hendrick said.
Alvarado is used to doing a little of everything — he regularly handles the public-address announcing at home baseball games, and he's an accomplished rapper whose work, including one song about quarterback Matt Grothe, can be heard at Raymond James Stadium before games.
He admits he hasn't had time to record anything recently — "I've got a lot going on, so that's last on my list," he said — but hopes he can hold down two jobs on the football field the length of the season.
"I've been through it before, so it's nothing new, just trying to stay focused, have fun, enjoy it and do the best I can," Alvarado said. "I feel confident. I'm kicking well. I'm excited. It's an unfortunate situation, but it's an opportunity, and my team needs me."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.