USF hopes Hurricane Ian evacuation galvanizes team as AAC play begins

The Bulls “host” East Carolina at FAU Stadium on Saturday after fleeing Ian.
USF football coach Jeff Scott said the Bulls have handled their trip to Fort Lauderdale well, all things considered.
USF football coach Jeff Scott said the Bulls have handled their trip to Fort Lauderdale well, all things considered. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Sept. 30, 2022

USF withstood the impact of Hurricane Ian relatively well off the field. Every family member affected by the storm is safe. The Bulls’ facilities suffered no major damage, though there was some leakage at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. The unfinished indoor practice facility is fine.

As for the on-field impact of a traumatic week? That will become clear Saturday when the Bulls “host” East Carolina in their AAC opener at FAU Stadium.

“I feel like our guys have handled a difficult week as well as they could up to this point,” coach Jeff Scott said Friday.

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The difficult week included moving to Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, as Ian threatened the Tampa Bay area.

Athletic director Michael Kelly said the Bulls had few options. Everyone wanted to avoid canceling a conference game if possible, but playing at Raymond James Stadium didn’t seem feasible. Though Tampa was spared from a direct hit, a USF game on Saturday followed by a Bucs game on Sunday would still be difficult as parts of the area are still without power.

USF didn’t want to fly to East Carolina for monetary and safety reasons, as Ian approached the Carolinas early Friday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane.

Kelly called Florida Atlantic and Florida International over the weekend, and only FAU was available. Kelly said the Owls cooperated and have been “phenomenal” as hosts.

“All things told, I think this has proven to be the right decision,” Kelly said.

The Bulls practiced at Miami’s indoor facility on Wednesday and on the turf field at Cardinal Gibbons High on Thursday. Scott said those were two of the Bulls’ best sessions of the season. They were scheduled to have a walk-through at FAU Stadium on Friday afternoon, followed by a team movie.

Saturday’s environment will not have the feel of a normal game. Attendance is capped at 15,000 — half its capacity —because of staffing and concession issues. Scott said he expects it to feel like a game from the 2020 coronavirus season.

“We create our own energy from the inside out by how we play, how we communicate, the overall intensity,” Scott said. “I think that’s going to be a big key for us this week.”

Scott said he thinks the Bulls have handled the distractions well and sees a potential silver lining.

Related: Five pressing questions after college football’s first month

With classes canceled, players had more time to rest and undergo medical treatment. The Bulls were still limited to four hours of football work a day, but they could do some team-bonding exercises. They went to the mall together Thursday and got to eat every meal as a team.

“You don’t really realize how big that is until maybe you have an opportunity to do it …” Scott said. “I hope that we take a very difficult situation this week and we’re able to come closer together, spend more time with each other, become a closer team and go out and play well on Saturday. I hope we can look back at this later on in the season or at the end of the year and say that five days that we spend down there in Fort Lauderdale, that’s when our team kind of came together.”

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Ticket information

Tickets are $10 and available on USF’s Ticketmaster site. Season ticket holders and USF students get free tickets. All tickets are general admission. Fans who had tickets for the game at USF will get a refund.

Injury update

Offensive tackle Donovan Jennings will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. The Gaither High alumnus has started 35 career games for the Bulls. Scott said Virginia Tech transfer Derrell Bailey and Calvary Christian product/UCF transfer Mike Lofton are expected to help fill the void.

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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage

HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.

TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath

WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.

POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.

WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?

WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.

SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen quickly after Hurricane Ian passes? It depends.

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at