TAMPA — Ask Lindsey Lamar for his secret in balancing college football, track in the offseason and a strong showing in the classroom, and he smiles proudly.
"The key is to have no social life at all," Lamar said this week, preparing for USF's much-anticipated home game Saturday against No. 4 Florida State. "Just focus in on what I've got to do at that time and make sure I do what I'm supposed to do, when I'm supposed to do it."
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back always has been that way, going back to Hillsborough High — there is school and football, and little else — and his friends know better than to call him if they're going out at night.
"Lindsey approaches the game like a pro," USF running backs coach Larry Scott said. "If he's not here studying tape, he's in class. If he's not in class, he's with his family. You always know where he is and what he's doing. As a coach, he gives you a good chance to go to bed at night. You put your head down on that pillow, I'm not worried or concerned about him. You're happy when he does something, because he deserves every bit of it."
Lamar was named Big East special teams player of the year in 2010 after he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a sophomore. After starting his Bulls career at running back — he started as a true freshman against FSU in 2009, though he had only two carries — he spent two years at receiver before moving back to the backfield this spring.
USF's depth at running back was solid enough that coach Skip Holtz intended to redshirt Lamar, giving him another year to get bigger and more comfortable for 2013. But when junior Marcus Shaw injured his ankle in the opener, Lamar was pressed into action. He responded with a 35-yard touchdown in USF's win at Nevada, part of a strong day with 85 yards on eight carries.
"It's been a roller coaster, but at the same time it's been good for me," said Lamar, who chose USF over schools such as South Carolina, Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest. "I still came to practice every day, worked hard as if I was playing at all times. I always was ready and kept the mind-set that I wanted to see the team do good, and if there's anything I can do to help the team, whether that meant cheering or playing, whatever I had to do."
He was better still in Saturday's loss at Ball State, catching two touchdowns, one on a shovel pass down the middle, the other a weaving screen pass through the defense. He accounted for 135 yards of total offense — 55 rushing, 80 receiving — and already has as many touchdowns (three) as in any of his previous seasons.
"The coaches gave me a lot of opportunities to make some things happen," Lamar said. "Our O-line stepped up big this week, made a lot of plays. I couldn't have done it without them. It was great. We just have to keep pushing forward."
Quarterback B.J. Daniels calls Lamar "the fastest man in the Big East," and he has earned that title, having won the conference's indoor 60-meter title in February in 6.78 seconds; a year earlier, he took third at 6.80 as teammate Derrick Hopkins won the title. Lamar didn't win a state track title in high school, so the college honor means a lot to him, as does his experience playing football for the Bulls.
Lamar talks about highs and lows in football, but what Holtz appreciates most is his level-headed approach to the game, keeping a sustained level of intensity.
"He's not one of those guys who's an emotional high or an emotional low. He's always very even-keeled," Holtz said. "He's a fantastic young man. You sit down and visit with him, and he's a very deep individual, concerned about his future, his family, a lot of those things as a senior you start to look at as the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to show up now."
Lamar is due to graduate in December with a degree in communications, needing only 3½ years to finish his studies, and he'd like to work in the media after his football days, following a specialization in culture and media. For now, his focus is on football and Saturday's game against FSU, whatever his role.
"I was brought up that way. My dad and my stepmom, that's the way he raised me, to always stay focused," he said. "The way I've combined all that together is what I'm most proud of."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3346. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.