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USF's Taggart defends keeping freshmen quiet

USF running back Marlon Mack runs for a touchdown against Western Carolin in the second half. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]

USF running back Marlon Mack runs for a touchdown against Western Carolin in the second half. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

TAMPA — For now, the legend of Marlon Mack comes with a mute button. His auspicious night of broken tackles and broken records won't result in broken silence.

Today, USF's newest celebrity has 275 more career rushing yards than sound bites. Strictly adhering to a policy shared by many peers nationwide, coach Willie Taggart doesn't let freshmen speak to the media.

"Our freshmen are not ready for that," he reiterated Monday. "That's something we're going to train them on, how to talk to the media, and they have enough worries as it is. We want those guys to continue to grow and be a part of the team and just play football and not have to worry about those other things."

In the wake of Mack's historic night, Taggart's rule elicited an agree-to-disagree sentiment among reporters. Among the more snarky rebuttals: Mack is old enough for military duty but not a media session. Among the more sensible ones: If college is truly a training ground for careers and adulthood, wouldn't this be the ideal time for Mack to learn how to interact with reporters?

Clearly, a brief interview after a game won't interfere with his film-room or classroom duties. Also consider: Mack is on Twitter, the filter-free galaxy in cyberspace where a few ill-advised characters can damage reputations or futures. The fact that many Bulls freshmen can tweet on their own time but not talk to reporters in monitored settings seems a bit contradictory.

Will any such arguments make Taggart budge? Probably not. And his team won't suffer if he doesn't. To be sure, he has far more pressing concerns, such as the composure of QB Mike White and consistency of his pass defense.

And to be fair, this is not a Bulls-centric issue. Coaches nationwide, from Nick Saban to Jimbo Fisher to Will Muschamp, keep freshmen off limits. Compared to them, Taggart's access policies — he opened the first week of preseason drills to the public and speaks to reporters several times a week — are pretty liberal.

But for a program that recently has made noticeable strides to endear itself to its fan base, this seems a misstep. Fans generally don't like their heroes one-dimensional; they want to see and hear them. Mack's prep coach, former USF safety Johnnie Jones, says Mack by nature is a kid of very few words anyway. Still, a few are better than none.

How did Mack feel before the game, when he learned only earlier in the day he'd start? What did he see develop in front of him on those long TD runs? Was his family there to see it? What inspired him?

We won't know until a bowl game, if the Bulls reach one. At that point, Taggart indicated, he'll break Mack's silence.

In the meantime, perhaps he should break his own rule, or at least bend it. Let freshmen talk once they've appeared in a game.

Off the schneid: The women's soccer team snapped an early drought in the Bulls' non-football fall sports Sunday with a 1-0 victory against Florida Gulf Coast. To that point, the Bulls' soccer (men's and women's) and volleyball teams were a combined 0-6-1.

The volleyball team had a daunting debut, facing two ranked teams (and another that received votes) at last weekend's Mortar Board Premier at Purdue. The Bulls fell in three tough sets Friday to the No. 8 Boilermakers (17-25, 22-25, 23-25), and topped LSU in the first set before the Tigers rallied for a 3-1 win on Saturday.

They ended the event Saturday with another tough three-set loss (18-25, 21-25, 23-25) to No. 14 San Diego. Reigning American Athletic Conference player of the year Erin Fairs posted double digits in kills in each match.

Odds and ends: The cross country teams open their season Friday at their own invitational at The Claw (USF's golf course). Race time is 5 p.m. … The Dominican Republic national basketball team, coached by USF first-year coach Orlando Antigua, won two of its first three games — falling to Ukraine but defeating New Zealand and Finland — in FIBA World Cup pool play in Bilbao, Spain. Antigua's team plays the United States at 3:30 p.m. today (ESPN2).

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

USF's Taggart defends keeping freshmen quiet 09/02/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 9:49pm]
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