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Bulls make special effort against JMU

USF's special teams play was a highlight for coach Jim Leavitt.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


TAMPA -- He had waited three years to break South Florida's school record. But soon after Bill Gramatica kicked a 51-yard first-quarter field goal, he found himself overshadowed by his cohorts on special teams.

First linebacker Vassay Marc blocked a punt that led to the Bulls' first touchdown.

Then there was DeAndrew Rubin's electric 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first such play in school history.

And then after Marc's pressure forced James Madison punter Mike Glover to fumble, USF freshman John Miller recovered in the end zone for another touchdown.

And that was all before the end of the first half.

The Bulls' special teams play accounted for or led directly to every USF point in its 26-7 victory over James Madison on Saturday. And that's a good thing, considering the Bulls' offense was outgained by the Dukes 235 yards to 229.

But USF coach Jim Leavitt will take it.

"'If we get to win a ballgame with just special teams, so be it," Leavitt said. "We take great, great pride in that group. Every week we look real closely at special teams and see who makes great effort and who doesn't. We take them off if they don't."

Here's a guess: Marc, Miller, Rubin and Gramatica aren't in danger of losing their jobs.

Marc did what he had practiced for all week. Leavitt "came up to me Tuesday and said, "Vassay, you've got long arms. Their (punter) is soft on the edges. If you go all out you're going to block a punt,' " Marc said.

The play, which gave the Bulls possession at JMU's 25, shifted momentum in USF's favor. Rubin's return "broke their hearts," Marc said.

Rubin fielded the ball on the right side, darted across the middle and sprinted along the left sideline.

"I was just taking what they were giving me," said Rubin, who also had a 38-yard punt return and two kickoff returns for 44 yards. "I saw daylight so I just took it."

Gramatica, whose first-quarter field goal broke Steve Riggs' 1997 record of 45 yards, could have stolen back the spotlight. He attempted two 55-yarders but fell just short on the first and was just left on the second. He did add a 33-yarder, making him 7-for-9 on the season.

The misses were a letdown, but only somewhat. "(Getting the record) was just an unbelievable feeling," Gramatica said.

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