TAMPA — They could be on the other sideline Saturday, wearing the other uniform, going up against the Bulls on Thanksgiving week for the next four years.
Sam Barrington and Kayvon Webster have shown only glimpses of their promise this season, rarely starting as true freshmen on USF's defense, but they represent a change in mentality among recruits in Florida. The two could have been Hurricanes. They had the scholarship papers waiting to be signed. Instead, they chose to be Bulls.
"Miami has tradition. That might be one thing they have over us," said Barrington, a linebacker from Jacksonville. "But anything else, you can level us out. Bottom line, that's how I feel. That's how it is. They've got some great players, a good coaching staff. One of the main things I kept in mind in the recruiting process was I wanted to be part of a USF that was up and coming."
If Barrington turned heads and dropped a few jaws just days before national signing day when he chose the Bulls over Miami, then Webster was the real shocker: a Miami kid, committed to the Hurricanes, changing his mind that very morning and picking USF.
"Twenty-four hours before the signing day, I was a 'Cane," Webster said. "I had two sets of papers."
USF coach Jim Leavitt thought so much of Webster that when he sat down to address the media on national signing day, his first two words were "Kayvon Webster," making good on a promise he'd made the recruit.
Webster had been a Miami commitment, but with Monsignor Pace teammates Sterling Griffin and Derrick Hopkins committed to USF, he eventually decided to join them, even if it went against the local trend for elite prospects.
"Everybody just expects that you're going to Miami when you're down there. They think you want to go to The U," said Griffin, who committed to USF in the days before signing day. "I have yet to regret it. I love it here. It was the best decision I made."
In limited action, Barrington and Webster have played well. Barrington has 25 tackles without starting a game, and Webster has 24 while starting some games when USF opened in its nickel package. Next year, both are safe bets to be starters and perhaps leaders on what should be a strong defense.
"There's no question (Barrington)'s going to be the next guy," defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "We're counting on Sam stepping in next year and taking over."
USF linebackers coach David Blackwell recruited Barrington while he was at Clemson last season and remembers leaving a bowl practice early and taking an expensive chartered private plane to see Barrington, to no avail. When Blackwell took the job at USF, Barrington was the first player he called.
"The day I took the job, I called him. I said, 'I couldn't get you to come to Clemson, so I decided to come to you,' " Blackwell said.
As much as he wanted Barrington out of high school, Blackwell said he has been more impressed with the progress he has shown since August.
"He's come light years. He's very instinctive, but he's learning, and hopefully he has a very, very bright future here if he'll continue to grow and continue to work."
Leavitt said the opportunity to play was something that drew both to USF, but they've earned their way onto the field this fall.
"One reason Kayvon came here was the opportunity to play right away, and it's evident that he is playing," Leavitt said. "It's the same with Sam. … Both of them are great players for us and would be, I imagine, for anyone."
Even as freshmen, the two players appreciate the magnitude of a game like Saturday's USF-Miami showdown and what it could mean to their future as Bulls.
"These are the type of games you get that fire in your stomach for," Barrington said. "If you're a real football player, you get that fire every game, but this is an in-state rivalry, bragging rights, everything, recruiting. It's a big deal. It's a real big deal."