TAMPA — Before little-known Bobby Eveld pulled it off Saturday afternoon, it had been 30 years since a true freshman quarterback led a team to victory at Miami, as the unflappable 18-year-old did in USF's 23-20 overtime victory.
That ended a run of 187 total home games for the Hurricanes without someone so unproven beating them on their field. The last true freshman quarterback to do it was Mississippi State's John Bond, now best known as the man who alleged that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's father wanted $180,000 for his son to play for the Bulldogs.
Eveld, a Jesuit graduate, is a walk-on, which is to say he wasn't even on scholarship when he helped engineer what athletic director Doug Woolard called a "landmark win" for USF.
And as Eveld prepares for what could be his first career start Saturday against Connecticut, Bulls coaches say as surprising as Eveld's strong play was in the second half Saturday, they've known he was something special since August, when he earned the backup job in preseason camp.
"He's a very mature, level-headed, poised kid," quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas said. "Ever since summer, when he's had opportunity to ask questions or learn about the offense, he's done it, knowing his opportunity would come at some point in time. … He was eager. He wanted to learn. He was meticulous."
Even with all that, could he really lead the Bulls to two second-half touchdowns, getting the tying score himself with two minutes left in regulation? Could he do it on the road, against one of the nation's top pass defenses?
"When we knew it was time to go, I looked at him and said 'Bobby, you're totally prepared for this. Go have fun,' " Vaas said. "I had no doubt in my mind he would do well."
Holtz said his only concern was whether the context of his taking the field — at Miami, clinging to a 3-0 lead, senior day for the Hurricanes — would rattle his freshman, who had thrown just seven passes in mop-up roles since the opener.
"The thing you don't know as a coach — to watch him, you'd get encouraged, and we'd say Bobby's really going to be good one day," Holtz said. "You just don't know how he's going to respond when he's thrown into that pressure cooker. Not everybody responds the same way when those lights turn on. We all knew what Bobby could do. If you asked every member of this team, they're not surprised with what Bobby did."
Eveld's success shouldn't be entirely surprising — he has good size in his 6-foot-5 frame, and had good statistics at Jesuit last season, throwing for 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Athletic enough that he was drafted by the Mets as a catcher, he chose football and USF, liking the coaching staff and the chance to play close to home, but still on a major stage.
His coaches at Jesuit warned him that walk-ons could get harsh treatment in college as second-class citizens, but saw none of that at USF, where coach Skip Holtz seemed to treat all his players the same way.
"That went a long way in my thoughts about whether I was making the right decision," Eveld said.
Holtz, weighing at halftime whether to continue playing starter B.J. Daniels despite a quad injury that was limiting his mobility, didn't let Eveld know until the second-half kickoff. Eveld said he wasn't as nervous taking the field for the first time because he didn't have time.
After a strong first drive, then a score for a 10-0 lead, Eveld and the offense stalled, with four straight punts. But given the ball on USF's 19-yard line, needing a touchdown to tie the score, Eveld marched the Bulls down the field, completing passes of 15 and 27 yards. Then after Mo Plancher's 20-yard run, Eveld found receiver Dontavia Bogan for 14 yards to the 1. Two plays later, his skinny frame sneaked between two linemen for the tying touchdown.
One more completion in overtime — a 9-yard dart to receiver Joel Miller at the 1 — and his small but memorable place in USF history was in place when Demetris Murray scored on a run for the win.
Fans are just getting to know Eveld — the novelty of strangers walking up to him with congratulations is still odd to him — but the Bulls have made it clear that if he is their quarterback Saturday and beyond, they like the potential of what they see.
"There's not a nicer young man on the planet," Holtz said. "I just feel comfortable with him. … He's young, he doesn't have a lot of experience, but I think he has a huge upside. I'm glad he's here."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow his coverage at bulls.tampabay.com.