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Rubin hopes to sustain start

Receiver is quick out of the gate for the third straight season, but this time he'd like to avoid the injuries that derailed him the first two.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002

Receiver is quick out of the gate for the third straight season, but this time he'd like to avoid the injuries that derailed him the first two.

TAMPA -- DeAndrew Rubin's highlight film started in the third quarter when he streaked down the left sideline, reeled in a strike, slipped by the defender and ... was gone.

When he crossed the goal line, about as alone as a receiver can be on a football field, he had set a Bulls' record for the longest touchdown reception: 95 yards, beating Clif Dell's record of 75 set in 1998.

A few minutes later, Rubin caught an 8-yard touchdown, which he followed in the fourth quarter with a 55-yard punt return for another touchdown.

All of which gave USF the cushion it needed en route to a 37-6 victory over Northern Illinois.

Add that to his first-game highlight, a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 51-10 victory over Florida Atlantic, and you have some great expectations on your hands.

So why does South Florida have its fingers crossed?

A little history:

In his first four games as a sophomore in 2000, Rubin had 14 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, plus seven punt returns for 182 yards (including an 81-yarder for a touchdown) and eight kick returns for 254 yards (31.8-yard average).

Then he sprained his ankle and was average the rest of the season.

He returned healthy in last season's opener against Northern Illinois, catching first-half touchdowns of 57 and 52 yards. The next week in a 35-26 victory over Pittsburgh, he set a school record with 11 receptions 144 yards and two more touchdowns.

He entered last season's third week as the nation's 13th leading receiver with 132.5 yards a game, but ...

He sustained a turf-toe injury in the Pitt game and was barely average, when he was playing, the rest of the season.

And now, here we are again, except this time Rubin says he is in perfect health.

"I feel great!" he said. "I'm not thinking about anything except playing hard. That's all I'm worried about."

South Florida quarterback Marquel Blackwell, for one, is hoping Rubin is 100 percent the rest of the way.

"His attitude alone is important to have there," Blackwell said. "He thinks he can go the distance every time he gets his hands on it.

"Early in (Saturday's game) he was yelling at me to get him the ball more (Rubin had one catch for 12 yards in the first half).

"I mean, you just have to get the ball to a guy like that."

South Florida coach Jim Leavitt commended Rubin's play, but he added that his success partly hinged on the entire offense clicking.

"A lot of receivers are playing well and that frees guys up," Leavitt said. "Look at (wide receiver) Hugh Smith; he also played great."

Smith finished with a game-high 10 catches for 70 yards, but Rubin's big plays were the killers.

"(Rubin's) punt return (for a touchdown), that was ridiculous," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "We were supposed to be punting the ball out of bounds. That was so ridiculous.

"Things like that are the things that really bother me."

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