Getting up to speed
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
The football education of Joe Bain, slow and steady, took a big step last week.
One catch. Five yards.
As a Pasco senior two years ago, Bain was all about big plays, averaging 18.5 yards a catch, pulling in seven touchdown passes and intercepting five passes as an all-state defensive back. After redshirting last fall in his first year at the University of South Florida, he's played sparingly in three games as he works his way into the offense.
"I'm working hard every day, and everything's going all right," said Bain, who wears No. 88 for the Bulls. "I needed that first catch. I've been wanting that for a long time."
Bain's reception came in the final minutes of USF's 42-3 loss to Arkansas, a simple hitch route that seemed trivial to the game, but meant a lot to the former Pirates standout. It served as the first tangible reward after a year of practice, learning and eager anticipation.
Bain, 19, is part of an insanely deep Bulls receiving corps. In three games, eight receivers have caught passes, and between reserves and redshirt freshmen, there are nine other receivers on the roster. Counting all positions, the top 16 pass-catchers from last season all returned, making this an experienced group, all the more difficult to break in with.
"It's a real good group of receivers. I can just sit back and watch, pick up stuff that each of them can do," Bain said. "We all help each other out. It's a family thing for us."
Fortunately for the younger receivers, the Bulls' top two targets this season, Hugh Smith and DeAndrew Rubin, are seniors, making those rare catches by younger players head starts on next year's openings. And Bain is among the most promising of the group, combining a 6-foot-3 body with a 32-inch vertical leap and impressive speed.
Bain said the biggest difference in the college game is the sheer speed. While he could bank on being faster than his opponents most of the time in high school, that's not always the case in Division I. He's spent much of the past year polishing his skills as a receiver.
"The biggest adjustment was getting off the line of scrimmage," Bain said. "I used to get jammed a lot coming off the snap, but I've worked on that. Nobody jams me anymore. I'm better on my routes and I've learned a lot in terms of catching the ball with my hands, away from the body."
The transition to college has been easier for Bain thanks to familiar faces in the locker room. He knew running back Clenton Crossley well when he played at South Sumter, as he did defensive lineman Cedric Battles at Wildwood. Other players he lined up against in high school include defensive end Chris Daley (Hernando), receiver Huey Whittaker (Springstead), guards Nathan Seay (South Sumter) and Mark Sopcik and kicker Justin Geisler (Land O'Lakes).
Bain started this year strong, impressing coaches with a solid preseason, catching several long touchdowns in intrasquad scrimmages. It's taken three weeks for that to carry over to game situations, but for Bain, it's the next step in his maturation.
"I'm enjoying the college experience," said Bain, who took advantage of USF's bye week to attend Friday's Pasco-Hernando game in Dade City. "Playing (at Raymond James Stadium), I really don't get nervous. It's like any other game, so I just block it out. The only goal I have right now is helping the team out however I can."
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