TAMPA — On his first day of reviewing video of recruits as USF's new offensive coordinator in 2010, Todd Fitch saw a junior offensive lineman from Orlando named Darrell Williams.
He needed only a few plays to see all he needed.
"Offer him," Fitch said, recalling the moment Sunday at Fan Fest at Raymond James Stadium. "He had great feet, great athleticism, but he was only 240-some pounds. If you had your choice of taking a big and heavy or a little lighter and agile, you take the agile guy. To his credit, he went from 247 to 290 … in about a year's span. Talent-wise, you can't go find a better one."
The 6-foot-5 Williams committed that fall and played as a freshman last season, seeing spot duty in nine games. Now the Bulls are taking another chance on him.
It's still an experiment, but USF moved its returning starter at left tackle, senior Mark Popek, to left guard and replaced him with Williams, giving it three sophomore line starters.
"I had a slight idea something could happen, but I was just trying to play as hard as I could," said Williams, who moved to Orlando from his native Jamaica in ninth grade. "I'm happy it happened. The first year I know is going to be tough with three young guys. But the future looks bright."
Fitch said major schools recruited Williams — he chose USF over Florida State and South Carolina — and the only hesitation was if he could quickly add the weight necessary to compete at a BCS program.
"When I talk on the road to guys that recruited him, they ask how he's doing," Fitch said. "I say, 'Well, he's 290,' and they go, 'Oh, my God.' You roll the dice a little bit, but he's been a good story. He's a very dependable kid, pretty good student, disciplined in his life all around.
"He's a quiet guy. But in high school, what I was impressed with the most when I watched him practice was he was kind of a nasty guy. That hasn't come out here yet because he's still feeling his way around, but that will come with confidence. That's the next phase of what he has."
Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler remembers his initial excitement in getting Williams as part of a class that includes four linemen on the two-deep depth chart (tackle Max Lang, guard Brynjar Gudmundsson and center Thor Jozwiak). He saw plenty in Williams to overlook the size concerns.
"You have to look for a couple of things: how well does a kid bend, how well does he move his feet, can he weigh 290 pounds or more in the future and does he play his butt off?" Shankweiler said. "Darrell plays hard. The more he gets confidence, the harder he'll play."
Shankweiler considered keeping Popek at left tackle and going with senior Damien Edwards at left guard. But wanting to get his best five on the line, he decided to see what Williams could bring — even if it meant an inexperienced player at a key position.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in those sophomores," Shankweiler said of Williams, redshirt center Austin Reiter and redshirt right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon. "Austin's first game will be his first game. He's going to be a heck of a player.
"Eatmon's first start last year was against Notre Dame on national TV, and he played pretty well. I know experience is important, but I also know kids that are good players and good athletes. Let's go. Let's play."
Williams said playing last year, even as a reserve, will take away much of the nerves he would have if he starts.
"Last year, I wasn't very mentally tough on the field," Williams said. "I tightened up on the mental aspect of it. (A quarterback's) blindside, it's a tough challenge, but I think I'm up for it. I've prepared well. I go against some of the best pass rushers in the nation every day on our defense. Coach Shank is a great coach. He has confidence in me, so I have confidence in myself."