By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001
TAMPA -- Derrick Rackard waited four years behind Rafael Williams, among others, to be the No. 1 running back. After finally seizing the job, however, he might end up in a tailback-by-committee system.
The fifth-year senior suffered a pulled quadriceps two weeks ago and only recently recovered.
"He looked good today," coach Jim Leavitt said Tuesday. "No, we won't start him (tonight at Northern Illinois), but Derrick will play."
A special-teams standout and stellar student on an academic scholarship, Rackard has 18 carries for 59 yards in his career. While he was mending, three young running backs stepped up, and they are pushing for playing time.
Vince Brewer, a sophomore expected to start tonight, closed last season with a 14-carry, 105-yard performance against Austin Peay. He has been alternating at first string with redshirt freshman Clenton Crossley, who has flashed tantalizing talent.
Rackard, Brewer and Crossley each are 5 feet 10 and between 210 and 215 pounds. The changeup, or wild card, in the mix could be former Florida State recruit Quinton Callum.
Callum (5-10, 185), who signed a letter of intent with FSU in 1999, played that season for Jones (Miss.) Community College and then sat out 2000 before joining USF this fall.
All four should get a chance to carry the ball, meaning Rackard might find himself as part of a rotation this season instead of being the main man.
RAPID IMPACT: Four freshmen are expected to play significant roles.
Tight end Tim Jones (6-3, 240), from Lakeland Kathleen, is the backup to sophomore Casey Cobb. Jones, USF's top recruit, was considered by several recruiting services to be one of the top prep players in the nation.
"Tim Jones is going to figure in the game plan," Leavitt said.
Long snapper Justin Daniel and kicker Santiago Gramatica are first-stringers, and Leavitt said Levi Newton, a 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman from Jacksonville Trinity Christian, has stood out and "might get in there a little bit."
WOE IS ME: Leavitt seemed to be doing his best Lou Holtz imitation in the preseason, as he has made Northern Illinois seem like a juggernaut and USF a monumental underdog.
It turns out he wasn't exaggerating much.
The Huskies have improved significantly in their five seasons under coach Joe Novak, going from 1-10 in 1996 and 0-11 in 1997 to 2-9, 5-6 and then 6-5 last season. It was the school's first winning record since 1990.
The Sporting News rates Northern Illinois No. 74 of 116 I-A teams, while USF is No. 115, ahead of only Connecticut. USF is a 171/2 underdog.
ON THE MEND: Senior cornerback Bernard Brown has worked his way to primary backup behind sophomore Ron Hemingway.
Brown started 27 games his first three seasons, then decided to redshirt last season. With USF's secondary stocked with seniors, Brown elected to redshirt last fall so he could be the senior presence in an otherwise rebuilt secondary this season.
Good plan, bad luck: Brown broke his hip before spring drills. He nearly is recovered, however.
"He looks good," Leavitt said of Brown, who has five career interceptions. "He won't start this game, but he's going to play a lot."