TAMPA — USF and Florida have never met on a football field, so with a meeting in Gainesville coming Saturday, the closest thing the Bulls can claim to a victory against the Gators came Jan. 10, 2009, two days after Florida won its second national championship.
In the middle of a key recruiting weekend, Armwood defensive end Ryne Giddins, weighing a scholarship offer from the Gators, stood and announced to fellow recruits that he was committing to stay home and play for the Bulls. His simple quote ("Why not?") became a rallying cry in USF's recruiting efforts, which snowballed into the best class in program history.
Four commitments came in the next few days, and with that momentum, the Bulls closed with a flurry of 14 commitments that included defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a 2010 first-round NFL draft pick of the Giants, and several key contributors for this year's Bulls — linebackers Sam Barrington and Jacquian Williams, cornerback Kayvon Webster, receiver Sterling Griffin, defensive end Julius Forte, receiver Lindsey Lamar and others.
Now, as Giddins gets to line up in Gainesville and try to help the Bulls to an upset victory, he doesn't think of himself as a pioneer, just someone who liked what he saw in Tampa and preferred it to a great opportunity with the Gators.
"I think we have a great chance of reaching our goals," Giddins said Sunday night after practice. "I love their program. I respect them. I thank them for giving us the opportunity to play them. I just can't wait to get out there."
Giddins, 6 feet 3 and 248 pounds, missed USF's opener with an infected blister on his right foot, but is back practicing and should be in the rotation as a No. 2 defensive end behind senior David Bedford. Giddins, a redshirt freshman, played three games last season, getting two sacks, before suffering an ankle injury which allowed him to take a medical redshirt.
His blister was painful enough that he used crutches last week to keep his weight off the foot, but said he'll be full-go to play in Gainesville.
"I'm out here busting my butt with (defensive ends) coach Vernon Hargreaves. I'm going to give him all that I've got," Giddins said. "I wish I was out there (against Stony Brook). I missed being out there with the team, helping share the win, but I know I'll be helping them this Saturday."
USF will rotate in four or five ends and as many tackles in attacking Florida's offensive line, which coach Skip Holtz said is one of the most physical battles the Bulls will face Saturday.
"Their defense is one of the most physical defenses in the country. Their offensive line is extremely physical," he said. "If we want to be competitive in this game, we're going to have to play a physical football game."
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said Tuesday that in watching his players in Saturday's opener, he found them to be "as fast as I had hoped we would be," and they'll need that speed to keep up with Florida's skill-position players.
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said the coaches are challenging USF to step up in toughness this week.
"You think about speed and athleticism, but we've got one chance to win this game: out-tough 'em," Fitch said. "We played Virginia Tech three years at East Carolina, very similar makeup, great talent, great speed, great effort. We told our kids, 'We can scheme, we can do this and that, put you in all these positions, but if we don't play with tough, physical mind-set, we have no chance.
"We were able to beat Virginia Tech because our kids bought into that. If our kids don't buy into that this week, we'll have a long, long day. If they buy into it, we'll have a fighting chance."
Giddins is buying into it, and while he doesn't want to take credit for getting other players to come to USF, he's glad they did. Saturday, they have a chance to give another class of recruits one more reason to follow in their footsteps.
"I made the best decision for me as a player, and for the USF Bulls," he said. "Everybody has their own decision. I prayed about it, and God told me this was the place I needed to be."