NEWPORT, R.I. — It would be no surprise to find USF center Sampson Genus putting in extra time in the weight room, as the senior is arguably the Bulls' strongest player, able to bench-press a team-best 455 pounds.
But offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler was in the weight room this summer when he looked out the window and saw the 318-pound Genus running in the midday heat.
"It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon, it's about 98 degrees, and he's out there running by himself with a stopwatch, timing himself," Shankweiler said. "No coaches around, and later I grabbed him and said, "Didn't you get enough work this morning?' He said, "Coach, I've got to do all the things I can do."
Genus is in Newport today with quarterback B.J. Daniels and first-year coach Skip Holtz, representing USF at the Big East preseason media gathering. Of eight Big East schools, there are only five offensive linemen in Newport. But after earning second-team all-conference honors last year, Genus can show he's one of the league's best.
"This time of year, everybody's writing big articles about everybody, but this kid, there's something special about his commitment to football and his football team," Shankweiler said. "He's a very unusual kid in that respect."
Genus, 22, was excited about Monday night's famous clambake, where the lobsters didn't have much of a chance ("I can eat a couple of them," he said) and the publicity reminds him just how far he has come. Genus came to USF from tiny Lake City, a quiet city of about 12,000, where he grew up with a love of cooking more than any sport.
"I come from a little old country town. I never really pictured myself doing this," said Genus, who will graduate in December, needing just 31/2 years for a degree in criminology. "Football wasn't really a big thing in my head."
And if Monday brought together football and good food, that's fitting for Genus, who can barbecue just about anything and has a grilling rivalry with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. Genus spent a year on the defensive line, starting five games as a sophomore before moving back to center last fall.
Genus has entrenched himself there, and Shankweiler said his quickness off the snap might be the best he has seen in 28 years of coaching college offensive lines. USF will likely have three seniors and two juniors starting on the line, so there's no shortage of experience, but Shankweiler said Genus stands out as a leader.
"It goes beyond just the line," he said. "The kid has earned the respect of everybody in that locker room, regardless of position."
As the Bulls work to develop a more traditional running game in Holtz's new offense, that commitment starts with the line, and Genus likes to hear that USF wants to establish the run.
"It should be one of our strengths, because we have some big powerful guys up there," Genus said.
USF has had one offensive lineman drafted — Kenyatta Jones in 2001 — but Genus has a chance to become the second with another season of steady progress. Last year, then-offensive coordinator Mike Canales called Genus USF's "bellcow" — the cow wearing the bell, the herd leader, the one you listen for to know where the group is going.
"It means you're leading the charge," Genus said. "It ended up sticking with me."
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.