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Coach says labors are paying off

Whenever he needs a pick-me-up, South Florida coach Jim Leavitt can look beyond the Bulls' practice field fence and envision the proposed $7-million building that will house the football offices, the locker rooms and an expanded strength and conditioning facility.

When Charleston Southern coach David Dowd needs to feel better about his team's 1-6 record, he looks to the past.

Dowd gazes at his practice field and remembers the days he and his coaches spent installing the sprinkler system. Or the dozens of trips to home improvement centers they made as they were building the locker room and weight room.

"A lot of rewards aren't on the scoreboard," Dowd said.

Leavitt, in his first season as coach, likely would agree. But the young programs he and Dowd are building exist in completely different worlds.

USF's program, just seven games old, is on a fast track to Division I-A. Charleston Southern, which started playing football in 1991, didn't plan to play in I-AA, much less at the highest level. The Buccaneers are just trying to stay competitive.

Like Leavitt, Dowd always is considering the future of his program. But he can't comprehend the advantages the Bulls have _ the money, the alumni base, the NFL stadium, the trailers with immaculate landscaping that serve as temporary offices.

"For four years we dressed out of dorm rooms," Dowd said. "Our offices were dorm rooms. Our weight room was two or three dorm rooms together."

Charleston Southern started its program six years ago for a lot of reasons, things like generating alumni funds and interest and giving the 2,500 or so students something to do on weekends. Winning wasn't one of them.

When Dowd was hired in 1991 to cobble a team together by the fall, the on-campus stadium site was just a track and some weeds growing around it, he said. Now the Bucs have a facility that seats 3,000, "as long as folks aren't too fat."

For the first two years the Bucs played in Division III, where athletic scholarships are not given. But then the NCAA mandated that schools had to play at the same level in all sports. So Charleston Southern, which was Division I in other sports, was forced to move up to I-AA for football.

The school granted the program 10 scholarships that first season in I-AA. Every year they've added about five scholarships. Now the Bucs are up to 30. Finally, the Bucs have six coaches; until last season they had just three.

Progress has been slow, so Dowd worries about other things. Before each season, the team visits a local church (the school is affiliated with Southern Baptists). Every week, the 73 players visit elementary schools as part of a mentoring program.

Finding a way to take time off, Dowd said, is the hardest part about getting a program going. He handles the little things, like mowing the practice field grass and selling advertising for the television and radio shows he pushed for.

He has yet to figure out a way to keep up.

"It'd be real easy to get frustrated and say, "I'm out of here,'

" Dowd said. "But who will have the patience of Job and the perseverance to get it done? These kids still want to play football."