TAMPA — Lindsey Lamar made a name for himself last year at USF with huge plays on kickoff returns, including a 100-yard touchdown against Louisville and a 94-yard score against Syracuse.
The reigning Big East special teams player of the year's new all-time favorite return is less impressive statistically: a 1-yarder during last week's season-opening win at Notre Dame.
"It was just as big as if it was 100 yards," said Lamar, a former standout at Hillsborough High.
After the second of two long weather delays Saturday, Notre Dame had scored with 21 seconds left, cutting what was once a 16-point USF lead to 23-20. The Fighting Irish lined up for an onside kick, with star receiver Michael Floyd along the sideline.
David Ruffer did a well-executed kick. The ball bounced twice, the second time kicking up high and caroming off the helmet of USF receiver Victor Marc and toward the waiting arms of Floyd, who had already scored two touchdowns against the Bulls.
"When that ball went up, I had an open lane looking across the field, where I could see Michael Floyd coming facing us," Bulls coach Skip Holtz said. "And I saw the ball coming right down for him. It was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.'
"All the sudden, I saw this white flash just jump up right in front of him and take it. It was a gutsy play on (Lamar's) part because there were people running at him. He could have taken a shot. He focused on the ball and went up and got it."
The white flash was the No. 5 jersey of Lamar, who is often the smallest player on the field at 5 feet 9, 172 pounds. He leaped and beat the 6-3 Floyd for the ball, clinching the win for USF.
The deep man on an onside kick is in a difficult position, having to guard against a deeper pooch kick. But once the ball was placed and its path was clear, USF coaches quickly motioned Lamar closer to the 10 yards from where it was spotted.
"All I thought was, 'Throw my body in there,' and I got the ball," said Lamar, who wasn't able to practice or run track last spring after having shoulder surgery, from which he has recovered.
Lamar used the time off in the weight room, adding about 12 pounds to his frame since last year while working closely this spring with first-year strength coach Mike Golden.
"I'm a lot bigger, faster, stronger thanks to Coach Golden," Lamar said. "That's the upside of taking the spring off, that I gained a lot of weight."
Lamar was a running back at Hillsborough High. He now splits time between receiver and running back, and his 36 career catches are the most among current USF players. Those catches have mostly come on short bubble screens, so his speed has yet to be fully used in the offense.
Lamar is one of four receivers from Tampa who could make a splash this season. The others are his cousin, speedy sophomore Terrence Mitchell (Hillsborough), and freshmen Andre Davis (Jefferson) and Ruben Gonzalez (Robinson). None is on the two-deep roster at receiver, but they give the Bulls speed and versatility off the bench.
The next three home games — today against Ball State, next week against Florida A&M and Sept. 24 vs. Texas-El Paso — give USF a chance to test its skill position players in different roles as it prepares for the start of Big East play Sept. 29 at Pittsburgh.
As Lamar waits to find a larger presence in the offense, he's taking pride on the return units and making a difference there.
"(Special teams coach Vernon Hargreaves) pounds it in our heads that special teams wins games, so I take that to heart," he said. "I love it."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.