TAMPA — The crevice in the center of their defense wasn't getting any smaller, and their list of immediate options wasn't getting much lengthier. As the calendar nudged closer to spring drills, USF's coaches needed an answer at middle linebacker.
They found one in a fullback who doubled as a throwback; a willing candidate who was fastening chin straps before he could tie his shoes. A guy with the instincts and brawn to both sniff out and snuff out a play.
His full name: Augustin Alberto Sanchez.
The Natural, for short.
"This kid does stuff so quick that you can say you coach it, and that it's reads and keys, but some guys have it more natural than other guys," Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. "And Auggie's one of those guys."
At today's annual USF spring game, where hope for the future can be spawned and breakout performances can be preserved and savored for an entire summer, fans might wish to home in on No. 43 for the White team.
A second-year freshman who spent his redshirt season at fullback, Sanchez, a former two-way force at Northeast High, has both captured and kept the attention of his coaches this spring.
"He's amazing," cornerback Hassan Childs said. "He came over to defense and I was looking at him and I didn't realize who he was. I was like, 'Oh, that's Auggie.' He learned so fast, and he's so smart. He even helps me out sometimes on my coverage."
Which isn't to say Sanchez won't be challenged by incoming freshmen for the starting middle linebacker job in August. Daily competition, after all, is the Bulls' lifeblood.
Yet if this were a September game and not a spring one, Sanchez (6 feet 2, 244 pounds) likely would be tabbed to replace 2013 team MVP DeDe Lattimore.
"I think he has great instincts, and he's one of those guys that trusts his instincts," coach Willie Taggart said. "He looks natural at linebacker where he's not just jumping around and looking. He sees it and goes and gets it, and makes things happen."
The youngest of four kids, Sanchez's nose for the ball and taste for poultry served him favorably at Northeast, where he twice earned Class 7A all-state recognition.
Before each game, he would fortify himself with a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and a dozen nuggets, then take the field and rarely come off. He made his biggest mark at linebacker, collecting 298 tackles and 39 sacks in three seasons.
But upon his arrival at USF, coaches put him at fullback to help deepen the position.
"That was a big need for us," Taggart said. "And Auggie played a little of both in high school."
Then graduation day arrived, and Lattimore departed. Hans Louis — now a fifth-year senior — remained on the middle linebacker depth chart, but the Bulls were tinkering with a 3-4 alignment and needed more inside help.
At season-ending player-evaluation meetings, Sanchez already had inquired about moving back to defense. Coaches obliged.
By the second spring practice, Bresnahan was touting Sanchez's instinctiveness.
"I feel like I'm at home. I really missed playing defense," Sanchez said. "I feel like it's a smooth transition from fullback because I don't think I ever really gave up on playing linebacker in college. I feel like that's where I really have passion for the game."
For Sanchez, spring drills have been about re-acclimating and refining. Bresnahan is quick to note that while Sanchez hasn't been perfect, he's also not panicky. Once the offense runs something a first time, Bresnahan said, Sanchez is a step ahead the second.
In terms of middle linebacker ingredients, Sanchez's seem all-natural.
"There are little things he's doing right now that I'm really excited about," Bresnahan said. "There's a lot of upside to him right now."