NEWPORT, R.I. — In taking his football team across the state to Vero Beach for two weeks of training camp, USF coach Skip Holtz says it won't be the grueling 1954 Bear Bryant camp of The Junction Boys.
"It's going to be much more like Remember the Titans," Holtz said Tuesday at the Big East preseason media gathering. "It isn't going to be a brutal last-man-standing kind of camp. It's going to be much more about coming together as a team, about team unity and the building and bonding experience we have to have as a team. We are not where we need to be right now as far as (being) close enough to go through the season we're about to go through."
The Bulls announced Tuesday that they will leave Sunday for 12 days for the Vero Beach Sports Village, known for decades as Dodgertown, spring training home of the Dodgers, who left for Arizona two years ago. It's an all-inclusive facility, allowing the Bulls to practice, eat and sleep in the same place with no distractions.
But trip across the state will also be about healing wounds and ending any divisions. Quarterback B.J. Daniels said one change under Holtz is that the locker room is no longer split into offensive and defensive halves, but instead the players are intermingled in alphabetic order. On one side of his locker Daniels has defensive end Claude Davis; on the other, freshman safety Reshard Cliett.
"In going away, it's just us. It's going to help with our team bonding, help us focus and learn stuff about ourselves, as men and as players," Daniels said. "The only thing we can do is grow closer. … That's what it's going to take for us to go where we want to go and do something we haven't done."
Holtz said that after sitting down with each player during spring, he saw lingering issues and emotions surrounding Jim Leavitt's firing weren't entirely resolved in the locker room.
"We are a team going to camp, (split) offense/defense, pro and con of the situations that happened before," Holtz said. "There are a lot of wedges on that football team. We've got to come back together on one bus. We've got to come back together singing Kumbaya and holding hands."
Senior center Sampson Genus said the team has made progress moving on from Leavitt's firing, that "we were kind of broken up a little bit, people still two-sided about the situation, but at the end of the summer everybody really came together."
Spending two weeks in Vero Beach will cost the Bulls about $185,000, executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis said, though he said it cost about $100,000 just in food costs during the two weeks before school started last season.
Athletic director Doug Woolard said Tuesday that the construction being done in USF's athletic district, including three new practice fields, would have forced the Bulls to practice on the same fields the entire preseason, doing too much damage to practice safely there.
The Holtz era officially starts when the Bulls play Stony Brook at home on Sept. 4, but as far as the coach is concerned, the real beginnings will be next week in Vero Beach.
"We've got to come together as a team. We've got to end it," he said. "We've got to take our complaints or any problems that we've had with the way things have transpired, we've got to put it behind us and move forward."
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.