TAMPA ― Preseason camp dawned Friday morning at USF with whoops, whistles, wind sprints and an improvised ad for donations to the program’s football-exclusive complex.
No one made the pitch per se. To the contrary, the dire need for an indoor facility was conveyed via the Bulls’ Day 1 practice schedule.
Charlie Strong had to alter it ― from early evening to morning ― due to the fear of late-afternoon thunderstorms. As a result, several players were absent due to class-schedule conflicts.
“We have rain in the forecast, so I’m trying to move practice around so I can get some work in,” said Strong, who initially scheduled Friday’s workout for 6 p.m.
“I was afraid to go this afternoon ’cause of weather (Thursday) and rain, and we just don’t know the (rain) percentages or where it’s gonna fall for us.”
And so perpetuates the plight of the Bulls, who ― unlike UCF, Miami, FSU and Florida ― remain bereft of an indoor practice facility. By contrast, Miami moved its inaugural preseason practice last week inside its one-year-old, 83,000-square-foot facility due to lightning.
Bulls athletic director Michael Kelly said last month that slightly more than $20 million has been committed to the USF Football Center (projected cost: $40 million), adding he’s hopeful of a ground-breaking next spring.
But until a roofed structure comes to fruition, the Bulls will keep scurrying during the stormy season.
“It kind of disrupts the rhythm,” said Strong, who planned to have a second workout (weather permitting) with rookies Friday afternoon. "We had it set for 6 o’clock this evening because we’ve got (players) who just finished classes.
“Some are finishing and some have exams today, so you’re trying to work it around the class schedule, and now the weather. There are just so many conditions that you have to go through.”
Bulls in bulk supply
On paper, Strong’s offseason commitment to increasing the overall size and strength of his team appears to have been fulfilled.
Per the fall-camp roster, a number of Bulls are carrying considerably more weight than they did last season. Among them: center Brad Cecil (from 290 pounds to 307); defensive tackles Kelvin Pinkney (288 to 305), Tyrone Barber (260 to 273) and Kevin Kegler (284 to 294); right tackle Marcus Norman (301 to 315) and linebacker Dwayne Boyles (210 to 227).
“We’ve put up big numbers (in the weight room), and now when you come out here, you want to make sure those numbers can transfer from the weight room to the field now,” Strong said. “And they look really good.”
Thaxton on board
Strong made his first public comments Friday regarding Tennessee transfer defensive lineman Ryan Thaxton, dismissed last summer by the Vols following his arrest on charges of domestic assault (later dropped) and false imprisonment.
Thaxton is on the fall-camp roster, but isn’t expected to report until mid-August.
“You’re always looking to give guys another chance,” Strong said.
"And with Thaxton coming in, there were a lot of conversations and it was one of those sit-downs where, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make this decision, we’ve got to make it a staff.’
“When you understand all the circumstances behind it, then you can understand why we made that decision.”
After being sidelined for all of spring practice, middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle and 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Cronkrite both practiced Friday and indicated they're 100 percent.
Sawtelle, who hopes to play at around 230 pounds this season, missed USF’s final seven games last fall due to neck and shoulder issues. Cronkrite missed spring drills after undergoing an unspecified surgery
“I got some modifications on the shoulder pads that are gonna help my neck be more stable,” Sawtelle said. “But there’s no pain in my neck, not in my arm, nothing. I’m ready to go.”
Odds and ends
Strong reaffirmed redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud, a Plant High alumnus, is the No. 2 quarterback behind Blake Barnett. The fall-camp roster includes six quarterbacks, but three are walk-ons. ... Strong had no update on whether North Carolina transfer cornerback KJ Sails will be eligible this season. Sails is seeking a hardship waiver that would allow him to play in ’19. ... Tickets remain available for the Bulls Kickoff Luncheon, set for Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. at the Tampa Marriott Water Street. Strong, Kelly and the entire ’19 team will appear. A table for eight is $300; individual tickets are $30. Registration can be done at this link.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.