After five years of leading South Florida from relative obscurity to national-poll contender, setting hordes of Bulls records and being one of the school's hardest-working role models _ after all that _ Marquel Blackwell got a little emotional before his final home game.
"I didn't feel it until right before I walked onto the field," he said. "I did say, "This is the last time,' to myself as I hugged my family (in a pregame ceremony at midfield for seniors). But then it was time to concentrate. I had to do my job. I wasn't going to let (emotions) get in the way of what I needed to do.
"I didn't want my teammates to get cheated by my (emotions)."
In typical Blackwell fashion, he calmly led his team to a 29-7 win over Bowling Green in the the 19th consecutive home victory for his Bulls.
"I was really, really determined to not go out of here with the senior class that lost that streak," he said. "I just wasn't going to let it happen."
Final Blackwell stats at his final home game: 21 completions, 40 attempts, 220 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 9 carries for 64 yards.
The night pushed him past 10,000 combined rushing and passing yards for his career, far and away the most of any Bulls quarterback.
Most notable among those stats is the zero interceptions. Again. Coming into the game he had attempted 327 passes this season and thrown three interceptions.
His .92 interceptions per 100 attempts was the nation's best ratio. And as much as he helps the offense's efficiency, just as important is that he doesn't put the defense in bad spots.
That fact is not lost on the defense.
"No doubt we know how valuable he is to all of us," defensive back J.R. Reed said. "Whoever comes in next year is going to have to really step up to do what he's done.
"The defense will probably have to play harder. But we'll find a way. We'll have to. Nobody can stay around forever."
The leading contenders to replace Blackwell include sophomore Ronnie Banks, freshman David Mullins and redshirt freshmen Evan Kraky and Jean Julmiste.
Running back Clenton Cross-ley is confident the Bulls can build on the foundation Blackwell laid.
"I'm sure someone will step right in," Crossley said. "We got it going here. We're not going to let it stop."
It might not seem that long ago that Blackwell came in as a sub for his first game, against Division I San Diego State in 1999. He went 6-of-9 in the fourth quarter and threw for 90 yards, leading USF to its only touchdown.
His first career start came a few weeks later at Western Kentucky, as he and high school teammate DeAndrew Rubin connected on two of three touchdown passes in the first half, enough for a 21-6 victory.
At the end of that season Blackwell won the offensive playmaker of the year award.
And the rest, as they say . . .
"You know it's not over yet," Blackwell said. "We still have Houston next week. And we have to win that to have a chance at a bowl. So I have to stay focused on that. I can't let anything distract me."