TAMPA — Willie Taggart was excited enough about USF's first spring practice Wednesday morning that after he ran through his practice schedule Tuesday night, he slept in the clothes he would wear, all the way down to the whistle.
"I was ready to go," the first-year Bulls football coach said. "I actually slept in my practice uniform. Just put on the shoes and ready to roll. My hat wasn't on, but my whistle was on."
There was a new energy to the Bulls' practice, starting with the music blasting from speakers in one end zone — Knuck if You Buck by Crime Mob, then T.I.'s Bring Em Out, which had players greeting each other at midfield with enthusiastic celebrations normally reserved for after touchdowns.
"This is just how we do it. We come out here ready to attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind," Taggart said. "Have some juice. (Don't) come out here dull and boring. It's football, and competing time, and I'm excited to get out here. I want the guys excited and fired up. You see them all day, every day, walking around with these headphones on. That gets them going, so why not have a little music to get them going."
Taggart is a detail-oriented coach, and even the playlist ("clean, good music that gets us going") for practice was chosen by his "unity council," a core group of 10 players — one freshman, three sophomores, three juniors, three seniors — selected by Bulls coaches.
"It's their football team," Taggart said. "They're the voice of the football team. You've got an issue, go in front of the unity council. They take care of this football team for me. (They're chosen) from the coaching staff, and from here on, it'll be from the unity council. They'll vote guys in. You've got to have all three things we evaluate our team on: Great football player, great student and great character. You have to represent all three."
There's much to learn in 15 practices between now and USF's spring game April 13. Players have been busy in the offseason, working to learn new offensive and defensive schemes with hopes of improving on last year's 3-9 record.
"We've been working our butts off all spring so far, and can't wait to get back on the field," said senior quarterback Bobby Eveld, fully recovered from a shoulder injury that ended his season one quarter into a November start at Miami.
"I've learned a ton, or what feels like a ton. It's a fraction of the offense so far. But we just had a walkthrough, and I was kind of swimming a little bit. We're going to find out what everything's about today. … We want to do something, want to make some noise in the country this year, not just the Big East or whatever conference we're going to be in."
The music wasn't the only new quirk to Taggart's practice. Special-teams drills saw three large hula hoops, 4 yards in diameter, placed on the field, with players using the arc to mirror their path around an outside blocker to block a kick. One player who later dropped a pass in drills found himself running laps around the practice field with the ball firmly clutched under his arm.
"Everything has a purpose now," said sophomore quarterback Matt Floyd, competing with Eveld for the starting job. "Whether it's just walking into the locker room, we come in with an attitude like we're ready to work. … (Taggart) is a great guy, and he's done a great job coming in, filling in the hole when Coach (Skip) Holtz left. I'm excited to play for him."
SCHEDULING: USF has lined up two more Division I-AA opponents for future home openers, agreeing to deals to play host to Stony Brook in 2017 and Elon in 2018. The Bulls have I-AA teams lined up for the next six seasons: McNeese State this season, then Western Carolina, Florida A&M and Towson.