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USF Bulls lose Autry Denson as spring football nears

Autry Denson, Notre Dame's all-time rushing leader hired barely five weeks ago, will assume the same position at his alma mater, 247Sports initially reported Tuesday. [AP photo]
Autry Denson, Notre Dame's all-time rushing leader hired barely five weeks ago, will assume the same position at his alma mater, 247Sports initially reported Tuesday. [AP photo]
Published Feb. 18, 2015

TAMPA

Six days before spring football drills commence on USF's campus, new Bulls running backs coach Autry Denson reportedly has bolted the program.

Denson, Notre Dame's all-time rushing leader hired barely five weeks ago, will assume the same position at his alma mater, 247Sports initially reported Tuesday. USF spokesman Brian Siegrist couldn't immediately confirm the departure early Tuesday afternoon, when Denson still appeared on the Bulls' official coaching roster.

A South Florida native and husband of a USF alumna, Denson will be on his fourth job since fall 2013 if he clears the customary background check. Meantime, the Bulls suddenly find themselves in a short-term personnel pickle.

First-year co-offensive coordinator Danny Hope oversees the run game, but doubles as offensive line coach. Passing-game coordinator David Reaves coaches the quarterbacks. Dick Tomey, 76-year-old former coach at Arizona, Hawaii and San Jose State, is set to begin work at USF on Sunday, but in an administrative oversight capacity.

That leaves coach Willie Taggart as the likeliest stopgap solution. Taggart, who coached running backs at Stanford from 2007-09, could re-assume those duties when the Bulls convene for their inaugural spring workout Monday.

WHAT JITTERS? On an opening night when temperatures crept into the 40s, few among the bundled observers at Bright House Field elicited a cooler comportment than first-year baseball skipper Mark Kingston.

Apparently undaunted by the moment, a debut against nationally ranked Cal State Fullerton and All-America ace Thomas Eshelman, Kingston employed youngsters in key spots.

Freshman Kevin Merrell — a former Steinbrenner High standout — batted second, classmate Joe Cavallaro worked two innings in relief of starter Jimmy Herget, and redshirt sophomore Tommy Peterson logged two more.

The result: a 2-1 Bulls upset, during which Merrell had two hits and scored the tying run, and the Cavallaro/Peterson tandem combined to allow one hit. Peterson got his first career save.

"What you hope as coaches is, if you put them in big situations and show confidence in them, they'll have confidence in themselves," said Kingston, whose club (2-1) faces No. 5 Florida in Wednesday night's home opener. "We gave them a role, and they executed their role very well."

MOVE OVER, MARK: Kingston's premiere as a Bull arguably was trumped two days later in Gainesville. In his first full-squad spring event, new men's golf coach Steven Bradley watched the Bulls shoot 3-under par Sunday to win the 72-hole Gator Invitational by eight strokes.

Bulls freshman Claudio Correa, a Santiago, Chile, native who recorded a hole-in-one Saturday, shot 5-under 205 for the weekend to earn individual medalist honors.

"I know we have a pretty good squad, but it was a pretty good field with Vanderbilt and Florida State … so we knew that we had some good competition here, and I think we wanted to come out and make a statement and try to keep working hard," said Bradley, hired last summer from Mercer when predecessor Chris Malloy took the Ole Miss job. "It was a great weekend for us."

ODDS AND ENDS: Herget, who struck out nine and allowed one hit in five innings against Cal State Fullerton, made the American Athletic Conference's weekly baseball honor roll. … Bulls junior Matthew O'Neal, who won the triple jump (51 feet, 7.25 inches) at Saturday's Hoosier Hills Invitational in Bloomington, Ind., was named AAC field athlete of the week for the second time this year.

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

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