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  1. Sports
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Mitch Wilcox exudes grace, not a grudge, over final USF season

The Tarpon Springs alum insists the Bulls’ disastrous 4-8 season benefited him as he prepares for the NFL draft in this week’s East-West Shrine Game activities.
USF tight end Mitch Wilcox with a reception during a drill on the field during the East practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

ST. PETERSBURG ― A de facto job fair, especially one offering quality face time with several prospective employers, is hardly the occasion to bash former bosses.

Not that Mitch Wilcox is prone to such mudslinging in the first place. On Day 1 of workouts for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, the greatest tight end in USF history remains adamant the 2019 season, in which many observers insist he was woefully under used, was hardly a waste.

“I benefited so much from this past season,” said Wilcox, aspiring to become the first Bulls tight end to be drafted.

“I used this year for just my personal growth as a player, learning a new pro-style system. It was a very complex system under Coach (Kerwin) Bell, and it was really good practice for me to learn new route concepts, new schemes, and specifically stuff that will translate to the next level.”

Related: As second signing day nears, which positions will USF target?

If NFL scouts evaluate diplomacy as intensely as they do speed, hip swivel and leverage, Wilcox could be a first-rounder. As it stands, the Tarpon Springs High alumnus currently projects as a Day 3 guy.

His efforts to improve those forecasts recently began in earnest in Carlsbad, Calif.

Wilcox, who weighed in at 240 pounds Monday, is training at EXOS, a global “human performance” company that boasts 84 clients who were selected in the 2017 draft.

Mitch Wilcox's junior season numbers stand out: USF single-season marks for receptions (43) and yards (540) by a tight end. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

“I went out there for 11 days, so I got some training sessions in already,” said Wilcox, who finished his USF career as the school’s career leader in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,326) and touchdown catches (11) by a tight end.

“It’s busy. It’s usually two to three workouts a day; two lifts and a speed workout or two, and then some route running mixed in. It’s a long day, a lot of eating. A lot of sleeping as well.”

Related: USF tight end Mitch Wilcox's role increasing, even if targets aren't

The only Bull invited to this year’s Shrine contest, his practices and game performance will be observed by dozens of NFL scouts, executives and coaches (the Raiders’ Jon Gruden attended Tuesday’s practice, as did Jaguars coach Doug Marrone). By week’s end, he likely will have engaged in on-the-spot interviews with several ― perhaps dozens ― of scouts.

The added bonus: striking up new friendships. Wilcox and UCF speedster Adrian Killins, his roommate this week, bonded almost instantly.

“He’s a baller, man,” Killins said. “He was always a threat to us, we always had to key in on him simply because he can do a lot of things. He’s a great blocker, he can line up in the slot receiver and run routes as well, and he has some great hands. He’s very physical.”

Presumably, most scouts have long since spotted those attributes on tape, though Wilcox’s 2017 and 2018 seasons featured considerably more footage ― at least from a pass-catching standpoint ― than last fall.

After setting Bulls single-season marks for receptions (43) and yards (540) by a tight end in 2018, Wilcox’s numbers diminished greatly (28 catches, 350 yards, five TDs) as a senior. Hampered all season by feeble pass protection, USF was forced to frequently employ Wilcox as a blocking H-back of sorts.

He says the experience made him a better interior blocker, a valued skill set at the next level. Additionally, he believes he now possesses a better general grasp of NFL schemes after immersing himself for a year in Bell’s pro-style system.

“Not necessarily all of (the routes) got put in and run, but the ones that I did learn, the route tree was much more expanded,” Wilcox said. “And the route tree that I’ll be running (in the NFL) is very similar to what I’ve been used to this year.”

As diplomacy goes, dude’s got one of this draft’s highest ceilings.

“No matter what the result (in 2019) was,” Wilcox said, “I continued to work on my craft to try and better myself from a technique standpoint as well as from a football IQ standpoint.”

East-West Shrine Game

Team practices: Through Thursday (East, 9:20-11:20 a.m.; West. 2:404:40 p.m.) at Tropicana Field. General public can attend.

Player experience: 1-3:30 p.m. Friday at Tropicana Field. Free and open to the public.

Game: 3 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

Tickets: $15 general admission. Purchase here

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