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Extra points

By Compiled by ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


Player profile: Ryan Benjamin

In Ryan Benjamin's case, the issue of publicity is simple: If he gets his name or face in the paper, it's most likely not a good thing for the football team.

Benjamin is a fixture with the Bulls in one of their non-glory positions. He doesn't leap and catch passes that propel him into the end zone for the winning score. He doesn't carry the ball multiple times.

But if Benjamin doesn't do his job, the Bulls have problems.

That's the nature of the long-snapper position.

"There's a lot involved that people don't realize," said Benjamin, a native of New Port Richey. "There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff you don't notice. A lot of times in those positions, it's the guy that doesn't get his name in the paper that's doing the good job. You get your name in the paper and people start recognizing you, it's probably because you screwed up. You probably gave up a sack or you probably lost a snap over a guy's head."

A Times All-North Suncoast selection out of River Ridge High in 1995, Benjamin joined the Bulls as a walk-on defensive tackle.

Shortly after he arrived, he was moved from tackle to defensive end. He had gained weight over the summer and gotten stronger. Suddenly, he was too big for the outside position.

As he struggled to learn the new position, a different challenge surfaced. It was getting close to the first game for the USF program and coach Jim Leavitt realized he didn't have a proven long snapper.

"Coach Leavitt was having tryouts with the team," Benjamin said. "He was just making everybody, pulling everybody off the sidelines. During practice he would say, "Everybody get over here, everybody try it. If you've ever done it before, give it a shot.' "

Benjamin had done it before, at River Ridge. So he gave it a shot.

"I could always get the ball back there, but in college, it's a lot different because you need to get the ball back there fast," he said. "In high school, I didn't have to block. I snapped and ran downfield. In college, I had to practice snapping and getting back and blocking. I could do it, but I needed to fine-tune it."

Then Leavitt sweetened the offer. He said anyone who proved himself reliable at the position would receive a scholarship.

"I was a walk-on, so I said I'm going to work hard and get the starting position," Benjamin said.

And he did.

Four years later, the 22-year-old senior has started every game.

Benjamin said it's a job he wouldn't trade. Not only has it afforded him an education and allowed him to be a part of history -- the first USF football team -- it has led to some special friendships.

"I've grown to like it a lot," Benjamin said. "I like the guys I'm with, the special-teams crew. Bill Gramatica, Devin Sanderson and Eric Schaum. Every year we have one of the tightest groups. We all hang together and we're good friends. We have good chemistry between us."

Quotable

"Players are tired, coaches are tired, my dog doesn't want to walk at night ... he's tired. But this is when you find out a lot of stuff about the character of your team."

-- Coach Jim Leavitt on the impact of two weeks of two-a-day practices

No props

According to one of the most well-known computer ratings systems, USF will finish with a losing record this season.

Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings, one of the programs used to determine the Bowl Championship Series standings, figure the Bulls will finish 4-7.

Not surprisingly, South Florida is considered an underdog to each of the Division I schools it faces this season: Kentucky (32 points), Baylor (17), Connecticut (7), Middle Tennessee State (2) and Southern Mississippi (39).

PULL POWER: Although it is in a transition season and is not I-AA bowl eligible, USF is ranked No. 9 in Don Hansen's National Weekly Football Gazette preseason poll and No. 24 in the USA Today Division I-AA preseason poll.

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