A month ago, when USF football played at Temple, the Bulls had 12 seniors in their starting lineup. On Saturday, when the Bulls ended a six-game losing streak with a win against Connecticut, the Bulls started just five seniors. The season-ending ankle injury suffered by QB B.J. Daniels lowers that number by another senior.
Skip Holtz's youth movement has had more to do with injuries to key Bulls veterans, but it gives USF a head start on next season, lessening the hit it will take from losing a deep senior class. At many positions, young players — even true freshmen — have played without a significant dropoff.
When freshman DE Eric Lee became a starter two games ago, he had one career tackle. He had six in his first start then added his first sack Saturday. When freshman Tashon Whitehurst stepped in at weakside linebacker Saturday, he had one career tackle, he but totaled eight in Saturday's win, including a key fourth-quarter fumble recovery. Sophomore Reshard Cliett has 17 tackles in the past two games since he became a starting linebacker.
The same can be said on offense, where redshirt freshmen Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson have stepped in as starting guards and true freshman Sean Price has become a top target at tight end, with nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the past three games. Junior Marcus Shaw has stepped in for Lindsey Lamar at running back, and expect freshman WR D'Vario Montgomery to play a larger role in the final three games.
There are still glaring holes to be filled for 2013. Redshirt freshman Matt Floyd will likely get an early crack at taking over for Daniels, and the Bulls will have to replace two senior cornerbacks in Kayvon Webster and George Baker, with few experienced corners behind them. The kicking game will have major turnover, with a reliable pair in K Maikon Bonani and P Justin Brockhaus-Kann both seniors.
The biggest challenge is for USF to salvage more wins from its final three games, but in shifting to a younger lineup, the Bulls are picking up experience that will be invaluable next fall.
MORE YOUTH: USF men's basketball team scored eight points in the first eight minutes of Monday's exhibition win against Division II Eckerd, making it all the more impressive when freshman G JaVontae Hawkins later fired off a personal 8-0 run in a span of 74 seconds, taking USF from a 24-22 lead to a 32-22 cushion just before halftime.
Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Flint, Mich., hit a 3-pointer, then a 2, then a three-point play on consecutive possessions. He not only finished with 13 points, he did it on 5-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes.
"He's got that quick first step, has a nice shot when he gets his feet set. He's going to be a nice weapon to bring into the game, like (senior Jawanza) Poland does," coach Stan Heath said. "Bringing those two guys in the game, I don't think we miss a beat, and sometimes we might get better. Both those guys are very electric players."
USF has a versatile newcomer in G Martino Brock, who had nine assists, six points and six rebounds in 28 minutes against Eckerd. Brock showed his speed in transition, and while he'll start at shooting guard, he'll also be the primary backup to Anthony Collins at point guard.