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USF offensive linemen strain, struggle together

Though they’ve had their share of heartbreak this season, the group sees better days ahead for the Bulls.
USF left tackle Donovan Jennings, pictured during a 2018 game, has 29 career starts for the Bulls.
USF left tackle Donovan Jennings, pictured during a 2018 game, has 29 career starts for the Bulls. [ JONES, OCTAVIO | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 19
Updated Nov. 19

TAMPA — The student section was so loud in the end zone earlier this season at BYU that USF left guard Demetris Harris couldn’t hear center Brad Cecil call the plays.

“It was like the stadium was literally shaking, it was so loud,” Harris said. “I was inches from (Cecil), and he was yelling, but I could not hear him. It was unbelievable.”

Yet, USF’s offensive line did not have one false start the entire game and, in fact, dominated for much of the second half. After falling behind by 21 points in the first quarter, the Bulls put together three long scoring drives over the next three, including a 19-play, 94-yard march on their final drive, before falling 35-27.

A week earlier in the same frenzied atmosphere, Arizona State was flagged for seven false starts at BYU.

The difference? Harris, Cecil and left tackle Donovan Jennings say it comes down to intangibles.

It’s about years of caring about the guy lined up next to you. Sticking together through coaching changes and a pandemic. Struggling through heartbreaking losses, which there have been many this season. USF is 2-8 and 1-5 in the American Athletic Conference entering Saturday’s game at Tulane (0-9, 1-6).

“Knowing I can play 12 or more games with these guys, that means everything," said USF center Brad Cecil (74), pictured during a 2020 game in Tampa.
“Knowing I can play 12 or more games with these guys, that means everything," said USF center Brad Cecil (74), pictured during a 2020 game in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“But the thing is, we’ve done all of it together,” Jennings said. “Together for a long time.”

Harris, Cecil and Jennings rank first, second and third on the current squad with 39, 36 and 29 career starts, numbers that will continue to grow.

Though each has professional football aspirations, they are taking advantage of their extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic to return next year to USF.

“There’s always outside noise with people telling you what you should do, how you should leave for a bigger school that’s winning more or go to the NFL, or whatever,” Cecil said. “And If I didn’t have this bond with these guys, maybe some of that stuff would leak into my head.

“But we do have that bond, and nothing is going to change that. Knowing I can play 12 or more games with these guys, that means everything.”

All three say the potential for this line is “off the chart,” because they’re going to get stronger, quicker and better while already being plenty big: Jennings is 6-feet-5, 327 pounds, Harris 6-3, 309 and Cecil 6-4, 302.

USF guard Demetris Harris (64) is congratulated by running backs Yasias Young, left, and Brian Battie, right, after making a play during spring practice in March in Tampa.
USF guard Demetris Harris (64) is congratulated by running backs Yasias Young, left, and Brian Battie, right, after making a play during spring practice in March in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“It’s exciting to think where we can take this together,” Harris said. “We’re already more advanced than most offensive lines because we have played together so long. Now when we look at film, we notice little tendencies in the defense, like this (defender) pulls up his glove before he does a certain thing, or another guy might move his foot a certain way before he does something.

“We got the basics down a long time ago. Now it’s getting more and more advanced.”

Other motivations for coming back — besides the free meal together every Thursday at Mission BBQ — include the positive direction they see the program headed under second-year coach Jeff Scott and the fact they block for electrifying players such as true freshman quarterback Timmy McClain.

“We’re helping build something special here,” Jennings said. “You can feel it happening. We all want to be a part of it.”

To put it in perspective, Harris recalled Michael Jordan answering the question of what he would miss most about playing basketball. Jordan said he would miss that split second where he knew what was going to happen before anybody else knew.

“I feel like right now we’re in that split second, because we know something great is about to happen with this team,” Harris said. “We know it , but nobody else does. And that’s a pretty cool place to be.”

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