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USF beefing up for football season

USF linebacker Mi'Cario Stanley (51), left, and linebacker Nigel Harris (57) during the first day of practice on Thursday, August 4, 2016.
USF linebacker Mi'Cario Stanley (51), left, and linebacker Nigel Harris (57) during the first day of practice on Thursday, August 4, 2016.
Published Aug. 14, 2016

TAMPA — Admission to a summer weekend requires a steep toll for USF's players, paid in full on Fridays. Perspiration — and occasionally an upset stomach — is the lone form of currency.

"Everybody hates Fridays," senior linebacker Nigel Harris said.

It starts with a thorough leg workout in the weight room, and what good's a leg day if you don't try to squat at least twice your body weight? Then, the Bulls proceed to their practice field, where various exercises — and typically a ruthless morning sun — await.

If the preseason's near, the Bulls will run roughly two dozen sprints: 100 yards for the skill guys, 90 for the linebackers and running backs, and 80 for the linemen. Everyone has 14 seconds to make his respective distance then 20 seconds for recovery. Third-year strength coach Irele Oderinde has a cruel euphemism for it.

Light conditioning. "Every Friday we have at least one or two people that puke," junior nose tackle Deadrin Senat said.

"During the season we're preparing for Saturday," said Oderinde (pronounced Oh-DARE-en-DAY). "During the offseason we're preparing for Friday, because Friday's gonna be the tough one."

Based on the eye test alone, the organized torment employed by Oderinde and his staff is providing a payoff. For perhaps the first time in the Willie Taggart era, the Bulls physically resemble a Power Five program.

"It's pretty funny because we film our guys when they first get here and then film 'em a couple of years later and you see the change in 'em," Taggart said. "It's pretty cool to see. … All of 'em look the part and look like a big-time college football team."

The projected starting offensive line will easily eclipse a 300-pound average. None of the top three tailbacks entered camp weighing less than 208. The top two tight ends, sophomore Kano Dillon (256) and redshirt freshman Mitchell Wilcox (248), added 11 and 12 pounds, respectively, in the offseason.

Eleven Bulls can squat at least 500 pounds, led by senior right guard Dominique Threatt, whose recent 700-pound effort tied the program record.

"I think in any program, from year to year you'll see progress, and it's just a natural progression. But I do believe we're a lot better off than where we started," said Oderinde, an undersized (245 pounds) nose guard on Western Kentucky's 2002 Division I-AA national title team.

"We have a lot more guys benching over 400 (four), we have more guys squatting over 500, we have more guys power cleaning over 300 (19, compared to 14 last year)."

Even the guys who haven't necessarily added mass have noticeably transformed their frames. Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, who at 210 insists he's roughly the same weight as last season, squatted 505 pounds this summer and appears to possess a thicker core.

Harris, listed at 225 after playing at 231 last season, looks more chiseled in the upper body and says he feels more agile. Even 200-pound long snapper Alex Salvato has turned heads.

"He's got cuts in his chest now," Taggart said.

While Oderinde designs workouts for each position group and individual, he says the overall objective this offseason was more about endurance. In the wake of the 45-35 loss to Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl, the focus turned to finishing.

Hence the succession of sprints after leg workouts. "So we really focused on not leaving any doubt on who's gonna be the best or who's training the hardest," Oderinde said.

"It's got to be something that you can get with conditioning, but it can also be something you get with a finisher: Push-ups, sit-ups on cadence … making sure everybody's moving as one unit, making sure we're dressed the same, making sure our shoes are tied. It's down to the finest detail."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.