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Michael Kelly pitches indoor facility at USF luncheon

Stormy weather continues to disrupt the Bulls’ preseason football practice schedule.
USF's football players including linebacker Dwayne Boyles (11) dined with boosters Thursday at the Bulls Kickoff Luncheon at the Marriott Water Street in Tampa. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF's football players including linebacker Dwayne Boyles (11) dined with boosters Thursday at the Bulls Kickoff Luncheon at the Marriott Water Street in Tampa. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Published Aug. 15, 2019|Updated Aug. 16, 2019

TAMPA — USF athletic director Michael Kelly stepped to a makeshift podium inside a sprawling ballroom Thursday and began talking about the weather to a vast audience of Bulls boosters.

It wasn’t so much a pleasantry as a plea.

USF, with no immediate plans to relocate from Florida’s peninsula any time soon, remains in dire need of an indoor practice facility.

“As you probably read, we had a lot of rain and storms (Wednesday) that inconvenienced the heck out of our guys and all of our staff,” Kelly said at the inaugural Bulls Kickoff Luncheon at the Marriott Water Street.

“It’s one thing when we do it in the summertime and we don’t have class. We can navigate around that, as inconvenient as it is. But when you get to class time, there’s no way. … We’re not missing class.”

MORE USF: Now, Blake Barnett has the ingredients to lead USF

This first-time luncheon — which attracted approximately 540 USF supporters and local dignitaries — featured the entire Bulls football team and coaching staff.

It came one day after Tampa received 2.59 inches of rainfall, a daily record for the city according to Fox 13 meteorologist Paul Dellegatto.

As a result, the Bulls twice were forced off the outdoor fields at the Morsani Practice Complex, coach Charlie Strong told the audience.

The preseason’s first practice on Aug. 2 — when summer classes were ongoing — also had to be adjusted (from early evening to morning) due to the fear of late-afternoon thunderstorms. As a result, several players were absent due to class-schedule conflicts.

Hence the reason Kelly seized Thursday’s opportunity to pitch the USF Football Center, which would include an indoor facility as well as an operations complex featuring a lounge, locker room, coaches’ offices and meeting rooms.

“Many of you have heard us preaching this for over a year now,” Kelly said. “We’re gonna keep on preaching it till we get it built.”

Kelly told the Tampa Bay Times in July that slightly more than $20 million had been committed to the center, which had an original price tag of $40 million when plans were announced in the fall of 2017.

He’s hopeful of breaking ground as early as next spring.

MORE USF: New faces, old issues stand out at USF scrimmage

“There’s always been a lot of talk about the center, but it’s really been my first opportunity to really talk directly about it to a big audience,” Kelly said after the luncheon.

“I know our die-hard fans are intimately aware of it, but this was an expanded group. When you have a lot of people that invite seven, eight, nine, 10 people that are guests at a table to kind of hear the vision of USF football and to hear what we have in store for the future … it’s a great opportunity for us.”

If Kelly’s message didn’t quite resonate, Mother Nature helped him along as the guests exited the hotel early Thursday afternoon.

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It was raining.

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