TAMPA — On the eve of his team’s first full-squad practice in 150 days, new USF coach Jeff Scott couldn’t resist an 11th-hour tease.
At the end of his “state-of-the-union” address around 9 p.m. Thursday, Scott informed his players that he had a copy of the Bulls’ final, revised 2020 schedule.
“Half of ‘em woke up right there,” Scott said. “And I clicked a button and it had all our dates, and it had the USF logo right there next to every one of those dates.
“The mentality is, we play ourselves 12 times a year. It’s not about who you play ... it’s about how you play. And when you keep that internal focus, then you don’t play up or down.”
Such a philosophy must buoy the Bulls for the time being. Still uncertain as to the date or opponent for their 2020 opener, Scott and his players took the field on a searing Friday morning at the Morsani Practice Complex. It was USF’s first full practice since March 10, when COVID-19 concerns prompted a campus shutdown.
“There’s definitely a little bit of rust, with it being 150 days since we’ve been out there,” Scott said. “But really what you’re looking for as a coach is just the spirit of your team. And these guys were genuinely excited to get back out there on the field. I had to slow ‘em down.”
Scott said no player currently is in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test or contact tracing. But he added of the 514 tests conducted (among players, coaches and staff) over the last 2½ months, 24 came back positive.
Two players — defensive tackle John Waller (an Admiral Farragut alumnus) and veteran receiver Jernard Phillips — have opted out this season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“The biggest things that I told them is, No. 1, I support them 100 percent,” Scott said. “This is a personal decision that each and every one of our young men, players and coaches, have to make. And each player and coach has different situations going on.
“And No. 2, I definitely told them that they’re gonna be able to remain on scholarship and in good standing with our team.”
On Friday, all coaches and support staff wore masks while players participated in helmets, shorts and jerseys. Some drills with a blocking sled were staged under a sprawling white tent on the complex’s south side.
“When you take your helmet off, you’ve got to put your mask on,” said graduate transfer (and Armwood High alumnus) Noah Johnson, one of three players competing for the starting quarterback job.
“And this mask is super sweaty. I’m not used to having to take the helmet off and having to go reach on my neck and pull something on my face. That’s probably the most difficult thing. And then having to space out in the huddle ... that’s definitely something different.”
So is the rampant uncertainty over what will transpire this autumn.
USF’s schedule remains in flux. Because the Big 12 has opted for only one non-conference game per team, the Bulls’ Sept. 5 season opener against Texas likely won’t happen. Similarly, its Sept. 12 home opener against Bethune-Cookman is off, because the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference isn’t participating in fall sports.
The Bulls’ Sept. 19 home game against Nevada also is endangered because the Mountain West Conference (to which Nevada belongs) also has opted for a shortened schedule. USF administrators are trying to find replacement non-conference opponents.
“My job as a head coach, is to get our players ready, so that whenever (athletic director) Michael Kelly and the leadership says, ‘Here’s our games, we’re gonna go play,’ we’re gonna be ready,” Scott said. “And if for some reason they get delayed or we don’t (play), then hey, we’ll adjust from that.”