TAMPA — Twelve games remain in his football career, maybe 13. Each day, Big Mak's eligibility hourglass loses sand as his practice efforts gain steam."I think he's done a fantastic job since I've been here," USF first-year offensive line coach Danny Hope said. "I think he's getting better."It's a heck of a time to be peaking. Then again, for Bulls fifth-year senior right tackle Mak Djulbegovic, the twilight has never seemed so radiant. Isn't it all about how you finish? Big Mak will finish as a starter."He's doing a great job for us," coach Willie Taggart said. "I love 'Mak D.' "Four years of mostly obscure toil — scout team work and special teams cameos, all while transforming his 6-foot-5 frame — have resulted in a staggering 11th-hour payoff. On Saturday night, at a team meeting, Djulbegovic (pronounced Juhl-BEG-o-vitch) was among three veteran walkons awarded a scholarship by Taggart."It's an unbelievable feeling," he said.In two Saturdays, the 293-pound Carrollwood Day School alumnus is almost certain to make his debut as a full-time starter when the Bulls host Florida A&M in their season opener. The son of a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, Djulbegovic, 21, latched onto the first-team right tackle spot in the spring after the graduation of three starting linemen, and he hasn't relinquished it."Five years ago, he came in to fall camp and I thought he was a tight end," said left guard Thor Jozwiak, a fellow fifth-year senior. "Big, tall, lanky kid; 240 pounds soaking wet."And what I've seen him do over the course of five years (is) transition himself into becoming a big dude. … I forget sometimes because I'm around him, but you look at him and you're like, 'Wow, Mak D's a big guy.' I mean, the strides he's made on the field — his technique and being consistent — the guy has really worked hard and … has really transformed himself into a great football player."Had the desire been there from Day 1, maybe the evolution would've been hastened. Turns out, Big Mak — a nickname affixed to him in grade school — couldn't develop polish until he developed passion.Annually the largest kid in his class (though he weighed a normal 10 pounds at birth in Louisville, Ky.), Djulbegovic excelled in tennis and teemed with upside in basketball in his formative years. Coaxed by his mother into trying out for Carrollwood Day's six-man football team, he played on the Patriots' winless six-man squad in eighth grade but gave up the sport before ninth."It just didn't come naturally to me," said Djulbegovic, whose dad, Benjamin, is a distinguished professor at USF's Morsani College of Medicine."I just maybe didn't like the physicality; I didn't understand it. I played tennis growing up, did swimming, played a little basketball, but I never watched football growing up. My parents never (watched) it or never really knew about it until I started playing. I just didn't understand the game."He had sworn off the sport, bypassing spring practice and summer drills before his freshman year, when assistant Dino Leto spotted him in an outdoor lunch area on campus. Leto, part of a new Patriots coaching staff, was scouring the school for anyone bearing a singular athletic feature when he spotted Big Mak."I'm every bit of almost 6 foot 3," Leto said. "And I reached up and touched this player on the shoulder and I said, 'Son, what's your name?' He says, 'Mak Djulbegovic.' And I said, 'Do you play football, son?' He said, 'No, sir, I play basketball.'"And I said, 'Well, you play football now.' "Despite a late start, Djulbegovic helped lead Carrollwood Day to a six-man state title that season, and he stuck around for the Patriots' transition to 11-man. Along the way, he lined up at tight end, guard and tackle, ultimately receiving tutelage from a parent volunteer named Jon Gruden."You can't coach size," coach Lane McLaughlin said. "He had size and speed."But he had no substantial college offers. Djulbegovic got a few Division II and I-AA overtures (including a partial offer from the Citadel) before then-USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch invited him to walk on the spring of his senior year.He made two starts (appearing in 57 plays) as a sophomore and was confined primarily to special teams work in 2014. His depth-chart surge coincided with the arrival of Hope, named co-offensive coordinator and line coach in December after the dismissal of Paul Wulff.One might say Big Mak's career found Hope with nary a season to spare."He pays a lot of attention to details," Hope said."Most of the time he's pretty darn good at the fundamentals part of it, and he almost always gives you a great effort. … He has a real passion not just for playing the game but being successful as a person."