By PETE YOUNG
Revised January 2, 2001
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001
TAMPA -- South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt can't get the smile off his face these days. Things hardly could be better.
His Bulls bucked expectations, going 8-3 in their first Division I-A season. Leavitt is due to negotiate his next contract (the current one runs through the 2005 season), and other schools are interested in securing his services, jacking up his value.
Leavitt was so giddy after Saturday's 34-point second-half outburst in the 34-13 win over Utah State that he drove to the beach Sunday, turned around and drove back, just for the heck of it. It's a natural reaction when your team closes the season with six consecutive wins by an average margin of 27 points.
The Bulls accomplished a lot, and much more is attainable -- soon. Just five starters and three backups graduate. Against a tougher schedule in 2002, USF could match this season's success.
Here's a look at the lineup next fall:
QUARTERBACK: Record-setting Marquel Blackwell (Sr.), the clear choice for team MVP, is back for his fourth season as a starter.
RUNNING BACK: The three leading rushers, Clenton Crossley (So.), Vince Brewer (Jr.) and Quinton Callum (Jr.), all return, and Georgia transfer DeJuan Green (Jr.) is likely to pound his way into the lineup.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END: The top 16 pass catchers all return, pending speedy Hugh Smith's earning another year of eligibility, as is expected. The "Big Four" of DeAndrew Rubin (Sr.), Huey Whittaker (Jr.), Smith and Chris Iskra (Jr.) is back. Also vying for a spot in the rotation are Ryan Hearn (Sr.), Travis Lipp (So.), Brian Fisher (So.), Elgin Hicks (Jr.) and Bruce Gipson (So.). Redshirted players Cedric King, Joe Bain and C.J. Lewis could be factors, too. Tight end Tim Jones (So.) and backup Casey Cobb (Jr.) return.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Standout Jimmy Fitts and Matt Sparrowhawk must be replaced at guard. Levi Newton (So.) and Ken Dawson, who is trying to earn another year of eligibility, played there extensively this season. The other starters return: tackles Mike Snellgrove (Sr.) and Derrick Sarosi (So.) and center Alex Herron (So.).
DEFENSIVE LINE: Everyone is back. Defensive ends Chris Daley (Sr.) and Shurron Pierson (Jr.) both surpassed the school record for sacks and are a menacing tandem. Greg Walls (Sr.) had a team-high 16 tackles for loss, and fellow tackle Tavares Jurineack (Sr.) came on late. Key reserves Cedric Battles (Jr.), Matt Groelinger (So.), Howard Campbell (So.) and Emerson Morris, if he earns another year of eligibility, also return. Plus, junior Lee Roy Selmon Jr. is back from a redshirt year.
LINEBACKER: Leading tackler Kawika Mitchell (Sr.) and Maurice Jones (Jr.) are fixtures, but where they will line up depends on which seldom-used backup claims the starting spot vacated by stalwart Anthony Williams. The main candidates are Mike Minus (Jr.), Courtney Davenport (Jr.), Clay Rebol (Jr.) and Jason Allen (So.).
DEFENSIVE BACK: Two savvy leaders, cornerback Bernard Brown and strong safety Joe Morgan, graduate, but several experienced backups are ready. John Miller (Jr.), Kevin Verpaele (Jr.) and Javan Camon (So.) will compete at safety, and Kenny Robinson (Jr.) and Ron Hemingway (Jr.) are the leading contenders at cornerback. Holdover cornerback Maurice Tucker (Sr.) and free safety J.R. Reed (Jr.) had standout seasons, with Reed earning this observer's vote as USF's defensive player of the year.
SPECIALISTS: Kicker Santiago Gramatica (So.), kickoff man Justin Geisler (So.) and punter Devin Sanderson (Sr.) all return.
-- Pete Young covers USF sports. He can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or via e-mail at email@example.com.