The 22nd preseason in USF football history commences Friday. As a prelude of sorts, we'll spend the next several days examining various players, trends, issues and records to watch this season. Today: projecting who could emerge as leaders for a team that lost some significant ones.
Few will argue the recruiting of Charlie Strong — and Willie Taggart before him — have propelled USF to a point where it replenishes more than it rebuilds. Exit tailbacks D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice, enter Elijah Mack and Jordan Cronkrite. C Cameron Ruff graduates, Michael Wiggs is plugged in. You get the picture.
But replacing talent and replacing leaders often can be two different things.
"You want your program in a position now where if you do lose players, someone else can step up. We have those guys, it's their turn," Strong told the American Digital Network earlier this week.
"The only thing that concerns me is that I had 25 seniors last year. And so that senior group, for three years they were the force of the program."
To be sure, Quinton Flowers, Auggie Sanchez, Ruff, Bruce Hector and several of their peers were highly influential figures in USF's locker room. Collectively, they formed one of the best veteran presences this program has known, leading by exhortation or example (or in some cases, both).
Their departure has created a leadership vacuum.
"This senior class that I have now, they didn't really have to talk," Strong said. "So now which one of those guys is gonna step forward?"
We have some educated guesses.
Though technically not a senior, veteran RT Marcus Norman — by some accounts — has evolved dramatically since arriving from the east coast as a shy rookie three years ago. A starter for 21 consecutive games, Norman recently made the Outland Trophy watch list. Today's he's one of the team's more personable presences.
Also not lacking personality is WR Tyre McCants, who will have cameras affixed to him from the outset based on how his 2017 season ended.
McCants carries himself well; he was among four Bulls taken by Strong to the American Athletic Conference's media day this past week. His words will carry more weight if he builds on the momentum generated in the UCF (nine catches, 227 yards, one ESPY-worthy touchdown) and Texas Tech games (six catches, 88 yards, two TDs).
Meantime, former walk-on Greg Reaves has emerged as one of the team's most respected players. A former walk-on defensive end, Reaves earned a scholarship in the 2017 preseason, then had a breakthrough year (team-best 14 tackles for loss, including four sacks). A guy who clearly has paid his dues tends to garner admiration.