NEWPORT, R.I. — Like the other seniors representing USF at the Big East preseason media gathering today, tight end Evan Landi has experienced just about everything the conference has to offer, including now the lobster at the league's annual clambake Monday night.
Landi came to USF as a quarterback under Jim Leavitt, then migrated to receiver and then bulked up to tight end under Skip Holtz. The Bulls reached No. 10 in the national rankings in his first month of college football, and he saw USF drop seven of its final eight games last season.
"A lot of us seniors, we'll be sitting there, and you reflect back to the 6 a.m. freshman-only workouts 4-5 years ago," said Landi, who graduated in December with a degree in communications. "We've grown a lot, and we're fortunate to be able to contribute to this football program."
With a large senior class loaded with multi-year starters — Landi is joined in Rhode Island today by quarterback B.J. Daniels, linebacker Sam Barrington and cornerback Kayvon Webster — the only commodity in greater surplus than experience might be motivation.
"Going through what we went through last season, not much had to be said," Landi said of the tone in offseason workouts from January to July. "The motivation was that feeling after every close game, just like a heart was ripped out from all of us. That feeling alone was enough motivation to change what had to be changed this summer. We embraced it well and really worked hard as a group."
Tight end is a deep, experienced position. Seniors Landi, Andreas Shields and Jeff Hawkins join sophomore Mike McFarland and freshman Sean Price.
"Any time you have depth, you have competition," tight ends coach Peter Vaas said. "That's an extremely important thing, so that on a daily basis, kids are playing and practicing to the best of their ability."
Landi's role as a leader means getting younger players to learn from the mistakes of past Bulls teams. He has seen USF's traditional September surge, and wants to avoid the second-half disappointments that have overshadowed promising starts.
"Our leadership on and off the field is good for some of the younger guys," he said. "They're so talented from top to bottom, but I think it's good to have three guys who have been here that long, been through some ups and downs to shed that light and teach the younger guys."
If Landi can catch 25 passes this season, he'll be the third Bull in the Big East era to do so in three consecutive seasons, joining receivers Taurus Johnson (2006-08) and Carlton Mitchell (2007-09). USF has many roles for tight ends, and Landi is what Vaas calls a "move" tight end, because he'll often shift and line up as a receiver.
The tight ends have the motivation of competition within their position and against the running backs and receivers trying to get on the field. This spring, Vaas committed to making the tight end a more physical extension of USF's running game, a year after coaches essentially removed the presence of a tight end that lined up with a hand on the ground.
Vaas and Landi said their goals this season aren't quantified in numbers of receptions for tight ends. Their measure of success starts by not dropping any passes, by making sure they don't contribute to the missed opportunities that ultimately doomed last year's Bulls on the way to a 1-6 Big East record. Those tiny changes could add up to a different finish to his Bulls career.
"Whether it's a difficult third-down catch or a first-down catch, whatever comes our way, we have to make the play," Landi said. "We have a lot of weapons coming back, from every position on offense. We're a confident bunch. We've seen how close we were. It goes to show how important each play is in each game."