TAMPA — Who are the tough guys? USF football coach Jeff Scott wants to know.
“Come January, we’ll see who are the guys who are still here,” Scott said at a recent news conference. “It’s important to know who is tough and wants to keep fighting. This year is kind of like a filter to see who is tough, because this has been hard.
“It would be easy to raise your hand in the middle of this and say, ‘I’m out.’ You see that happening all over the country. But the guys who stay and keep fighting, those are the ones you want on your team.”
USF never stopped fighting in 2020, despite an inordinately long list of challenges and setbacks.
Scott came in as a first-year head coach, which is difficult enough without working through a pandemic. He had no spring practice. He basically had no summer. He had players opt out because of the coronavirus. Then the pandemic and its outbreaks wreaked havoc on the schedule and on the players, several of whom had to sit out games because they tested positive.
Games were canceled against Florida Atlantic and Navy, and players were dismissed for disciplinary reasons: junior safety Nick Roberts after the Tulsa game and Johnny Ford before the War on I-4 against UCF.
By the time the season ended, USF was down to about 60 players and was using their kickers and a couple of dressed-out graduate assistants to fill out the practice squad. At some positions, the Bulls basically had no serious backups.
“You literally are one ankle injury in practice away from the team not being able to play in the game,” Scott said. “Unbelievable.”
The Bulls’ final record, 1-8 and 0-7 in the American Athletic Conference, may not inspire a lot of confidence. But Scott insists there were positives to pull from this season, particularly from their younger players.
“One of the bright spots from this season is having a chance to see some of the freshmen really step forward and shine,” Scott said toward the end of the season. “In this environment, several of them have been given a chance to jump in and develop.”
A few of the bright lights include some tough 2020 freshmen expected to return for 2021.
Wide receiver Omarion Dollison
A South Carolina native, Dollison accepted a scholarship from Scott without ever meeting the coach in person.
“I knew the history of Coach Scott (being an assistant at Clemson), and I felt a connection,” said Dollison, who got views of the USF facilities through Scott’s hand-held walking tours. “I’m really pleased with my choice of coming here. I feel we have a lot of potential. I fit in well here.”
Dollison, a three-star recruit out of high school, ended up being one of the major bright spots in 2020, playing in every game and catching 21 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve been really pleased with OD,” Scott said before the Memphis game. “I think OD had as good of a beginning of the season as any of the receivers. He plays fast, he’s physical and he knows how to get open and separate. He’s also tough to tackle after the catch.”
Running back Brian Battie
Battie may not be the biggest player at 5-feet-8, 170 pounds, but he is one of the most elusive and explosive.
In eight games, he rushed 46 times for 339 yards to rank second on the team. He was the team’s leading rusher against Memphis (10 carries, 76 yards) and Houston (13-86).
“My confidence has definitely grown through the season,” Battie said after the Memphis game, during which displayed his fearlessness and great vision. “I like the direction this team is moving.”
A Sarasota High alum, Battie said he was inspired by former Sarasota native and USF star running back Marlon Mack, who finished his career in 2016 with 3,609 yards and 33 touchdowns before going on to play for the Indianapolis Colts.
“I look up to Marlon, because we followed him from Sarasota when he was here at USF,” Battie said. “I have talked to Marlon from time to time and he just told me to stay focused and keep doing my job and that things would continue to get better.”
Quarterback Katravis Marsh
The coaching staff loves Marsh’s size (6-5, 198) and strong arm. A three-star recruit, he led Miami Central to a state title in 2019.
He would have gotten a lot more playing this season if not for injuries, including a concussion suffered against Cincinnati, his first start. Against Houston, he drove the Bulls down the field to the Houston 9-yard line before leaving with another injury.
Marsh finished with just 14 completions in 31 attempts for 92 yards. But Scott said he will get plenty of opportunities to show his ability moving forward.
“(Marsh) has a lot of potential,” Scott said. “We are excited to see how he develops.”
Defensive back Chris Townsel
Rangy and athletic at 6-2, 185, Townsel played in all but one game and started four, often showing a maturity beyond his years.
“A lot of these young guys have gotten a lot of reps and experience, kind of learning after being thrown into the fire, and Townsel is certainly one of those guys,” Scott said. “I think this year has been a great learning experience for him. He’s had to play all three of our safety positions and has often had to contribute on special teams, and he has stepped up every time. He still has some things to learn, but we believe he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Townsel, a three-star recruit from Deerfield Beach, finished with 32 tackles and an acrobatic interception in the end zone at Cincinnati.
Linebacker Mac Harris
Harris undoubtedly would have played more if not for the coronavirus, which caused him to miss a couple of games while in quarantine.
Coaches believe Harris, who played at the Villages Charter High School, has a big upside.
“(Harris) kind of hit a stalemate as far as him practicing and playing a lot (because of the virus),” USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He had to start early in the year a couple games because of some other (personnel) issues.
“He’d be the first one to tell you he wasn’t ready. He made a couple plays but also made a lot of mistakes. The best thing is he got it on film. He understood what he needed to correct. That’s a step of correcting it and getting better.
“He desperately needs an offseason at linebacker,” Spencer continued. “He desperately needs a spring ball at linebacker. I cannot wait to get him on the field, get him in the weight room and see his body change. Just physical maturity and then just his mental toughness and his mental approach to the game, that’s my goal.”
Harris finished 2020 with 24 tackles.
Defensive end Tramel Logan
Logan is a bit light at 6-2, 230, but he has a big frame that can take on a lot of muscle, which coaches say will be a priority in the offseason.
Like many of the freshmen in this year of the limited roster, Logan was “thrown into fire,” Spencer said, and got a lot of game-time experience that he may not have in previous years.
“Tramel is another one that played a lot that really wasn’t ready,” Spencer said. “We gotta get some bulk on him. He’s shown that he’s got some hat speed, and he’s got some closing speed. He’s gotta get stronger. He’s gotta put on weight and get in that weight room. He’s got a high ceiling. He’s nowhere close to where he’s gonna be.”
The three-star recruit from Miami Booker T. Washington finished the season with six tackles and one sack.