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USF spring football: Day 8 observations

Former Countryside High star Mike Love (right) and fellow defensive end LaDarrius Jackson engage in a balance/leverage drill during Thursday's practice.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Former Countryside High star Mike Love (right) and fellow defensive end LaDarrius Jackson engage in a balance/leverage drill during Thursday's practice.

Eight quick reads from Day 8 of USF spring practice, staged Thursday at the Morsani Complex:

* After catching a short pass near the left sideline in the red zone, senior RB D'Ernest Johnson juked at least three defenders converging on him near the 10-yard line, cut sharply to his right and dashed into the end zone untouched.

* Wharton High alumnus DeVontres Dukes continued his breakthrough spring, hauling in a long Brett Kean pass down the right sideline in 11-on-11 work.

* Senior RB Darius Tice, who sat out a couple of recent practices with a tweaked hamstring, has returned to action and moved around well Thursday.

* After Day 3, Charlie Strong said redshirt freshman S Craig Watts was logging reps at cornerback while a couple of guys at that spot (namely Ronnie Hoggins) nursed minor injuries. Well, Hoggins is back, and Watts continues working at corner.

* In case we haven't mentioned it in the last day or so, junior TE Kano Dillon (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) has evolved into one of this team's most imposing physical specimens. Despite adding 25 pounds since arriving from Ocala Vanguard two summers ago, Dillon says "I can't feel the difference" in the added weight.

"You look at the guy, he's that tall, he's got that much weight, but he's got a six-pack," tight ends coach Justin Burke said.

* Though new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is bent on establishing a downhill rushing attack, we haven't seen a fullback employed. Then again, Dillon and fellow TE Mitch Wilcox (6-4, 255) are two of the sturdiest H-backs around. Burke said the offensive package includes two-tight formations.

* We're officially past the midway point of spring drills and have yet to see any sign of a jet sweep.

* We wouldn't be shocked if the Bulls stage their most extensive scrimmage to date during Saturday afternoon's practice (Sorry, it's closed to the public, but we'll provide live updates.)

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Brian Bradley, Lelo Prado among Sports Club of Tampa Bay honorees

Former USF and University of Tampa baseball coach Lelo Prado is among the four newest inductees into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Former USF and University of Tampa baseball coach Lelo Prado is among the four newest inductees into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame.

Former Tampa Bay Lightning all-star Brian Bradley leads a four-person class being inducted into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame tonight.

The other inductees: former USF and University of Tampa baseball coach Lelo Prado, former Jefferson High baseball coach Emeterio "Pop" Cuesta and longtime bay area TV/radio personality Jack Harris.

Bradley, who played 13 seasons in the NHL, was acquired by the Lightning in the 1992 expansion draft and later scored the first goal in Amalie Arena (then known as the Ice Palace). He represented the Lightning in the 1993 and '94 NHL All-Star Game.

Prado, a Cuba native who came to the U.S. with his parents, won 849 games in a 26-year coaching career, leading UT to consecutive Division II national titles in 1992 and '93. He also played catcher on the 1979 Tampa Catholic team that won the Class 3A state title at Orlando's Tinker Field.

Cuesta compiled a 646-397-2 record in in 43 years at Jefferson, winning a region title, eight district titles and two Saladino Tournament championships. He also won more than 700 games in 27 years as coach of American Legion Post 248.

Harris, a Tampa sports voice for nearly a half-century, has served in various broadcast capacities for nearly every major local sport franchise including the Bucs, Bandits, Rowdies, Storm, USF men's basketball and the Outback Bowl.

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Former USF player Chad Dollar joins Bulls basketball staff

Former Bulls player Chad Dollar, dismissed from the program nearly a quarter-century ago, has become the second coaching hire of the Brian Gregory era.

A veteran Division I assistant who spent last season at Auburn, Dollar joins former Robinson coach (and veteran college assistant) Scott Wagers on the Bulls' staff.

“He has separated himself as one of the best recruiters in the country and at a high level during his time at Wichita State, LSU, Georgia Tech and Auburn," said Gregory, who had Dollar on his Georgia Tech staff for his entire five-year tenure (2011-16).

Dollar and fellow junior Mike Hostetter were dismissed midway through the 1992-93 season by then-coach Bobby Paschal. The two already were on probation for team-rules violations when they were caught drinking a beer after a road game against Xavier, according to a St. Petersburg Times story.

Dollar finished his career at Milligan College in Tennessee, and earned a sociology degree. He began his coaching career as a graduate-assistant at Gardner-Webb before evolving into a journeyman of sorts.

USF will be his 11th coaching stop in a career that has included stints at Auburn, Georgia Tech, Wichita State and LSU. …

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Bulls equipped for life after Marlon Mack

USF senior D'Ernest Johnson (2), training with sophomore Trevon Sands, projects as the first-team tailback this season.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior D'Ernest Johnson (2), training with sophomore Trevon Sands, projects as the first-team tailback this season.

So far, six of the Bulls' seven spring practices have been staged in the mornings, but we're still not entirely sure how this team will look in the a.m.

After Marlon.

This time next month, Marlon Mack -- greatest tailback in USF history -- is almost certain to be the property of an NFL club. That's one sturdy, sleek dimension off the books.

For all of Quinton Flowers' mobility, having Mack (3,609 career yards, 32 touchdowns) alongside him in the zone-read "Gulf Coast" offense kept defenses a bit more measured. Now, No. 5 is gone and Flowers probably won't be asked to run quite as much in new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's scheme.

Which is to say, the Bulls backfield of 2017 might lack some of the burst, brute force and bounce of recent seasons.

But it won't lack options. 

"We shouldn't miss a beat," fifth-year senior Darius Tice said. "We should be fine, we're gonna be fine."

Arguably the greatest testament to how effectively Willie Taggart replenished the program's depth can be seen in the backfield, where four scholarship guys are vying for carries this spring.

Senior D'Ernest Johnson, a second-team all-conference pick last season and arguably the team's most versatile player, is getting most of the first-team reps. But Tice, sturdy redshirt freshman Elijah Mack (6-foot, 215 pounds) and sophomore Trevon Sands all have had big moments.

"I think the most important part of any organization is talent acquisition," said second-year assistant Shaun King, transitioning from quarterbacks to running backs coach this year. …

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USF veterans Ruben Guerrero, Bo Zeigler to transfer (UPDATED)

USF center Ruben Guerrero (33), expected to transfer, ranks seventh in program history with 121 blocked shots.

Times file photo

USF center Ruben Guerrero (33), expected to transfer, ranks seventh in program history with 121 blocked shots.

Count USF 7-foot senior Ruben Guerrero and veteran F Bo Zeigler as the latest players to leave the Bulls' beleaguered program.

A source close to Guerrero -- a Spain native -- said Tuesday that he's seeking his release. Zeigler, a Stan Heath signee who just finished his redshirt junior season, announced Tuesday afternoon he has been granted his release and intends to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer.

Zeigler said he's set to graduate May 6.

The two become the fourth and fifth scholarship players to exit since the end of the season, joining G Geno Thorpe, F Malik Fitts and F Luis Santos.

That would leave new coach Brian Gregory with five scholarship players, for now.

Arguably the team's top citizen, Guerrero won the 2015-16 NCAA Division I Male Sportsmanship Award -- given by the NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct -- last September.

A 199-pound project upon his arrival at USF in June 2014, he showed immediate potential, totaling 43 blocked shots and averaging 4.3 rebounds as a freshman. For his USF career, he averaged 5.1 rebounds and finished with 121 blocks -- seventh-most in program history. …

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Former USF target Keith Dambrot headed to Duquesne

Veteran Akron coach Keith Dambrot has said in published reports he turned down the USF job. Dambrot reportedly has since been hired at Duquesne.

Paul Moseley | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Veteran Akron coach Keith Dambrot has said in published reports he turned down the USF job. Dambrot reportedly has since been hired at Duquesne.

During college basketball's crazy season, when coaching transactions occur at a dizzying rate, some hires can knock fans over with a feather.

Or slap them in the face, as some Bulls partisans learned Monday night.

Veteran Akron coach Keith Dambrot, who reportedly turned down an offer to become USF's coach, has accepted a seven-year contract to coach Atlantic 10 doormat Duquesne.

On the surface, the decision -- spurning an American Athletic Conference program for an A-10 cellar dweller -- seems peculiar. But consider the fact Dambrot's father played at Duquesne. Also consider the reported terms of Dambrot's deal.

Seven years, $7 million. Guaranteed.

That's slightly more lucrative than the contract signed by new Bulls coach Brian Gregory, who inked a six-year, $6.58 million deal on March 13. And while Gregory has one of the most daunting rebuilding tasks before him, Dambrot's not exactly walking into a hoops mecca.

Duquesne hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1977, and hasn't had a winning season in five years.

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USF defensive back Hassan Childs injured in shooting

Veteran USF defensive back Hassan Childs (22) was injured overnight in a shooting in Tampa.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Veteran USF defensive back Hassan Childs (22) was injured overnight in a shooting in Tampa.

USF senior safety Hassan Childs remains in stable condition after being injured in a shooting overnight that stemmed from an apparent road-rage incident, according to Tampa police.

At about 11:15 p.m. Saturday, police received a call from a man later identified as Jovanni Jimenez, 26, saying that a man, later identified as Childs, pointed a gun at Jimenez and his wife and child at the Eagles Point Apartments at Tampa Palms, 14551 N 46th St.

Jimenez then pulled his gun and shot Childs, 22, in what he told police was self defense. Childs was hit three times in the upper arm and torso, Lee said.

Childs, who practiced with the Bulls on Saturday afternoon, is in stable condition, according to a statement from USF.

"Thankfully Hassan is in stable condition and being well cared for, and no one else was injured," USF coach Charlie Strong said in a statement released by USF. "There is an ongoing investigation of the incident and we are in the process of gathering further information.

"Out of respect for the integrity of the investigation, we cannon comment further at this time." …

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Former Robinson coach Scott Wagers hired at USF

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory took the first step in making good on his vow to bolster the Bulls' recruiting locally, hiring former Robinson High coach Scott Wagers as an assistant.

The first announced hire of the Gregory regime, Wagers ironically served as an assistant to former Bulls interim coach Murry Bartow at East Tennessee State. In all, he has spent the last 17 years at the college level with stops at ETSU (2000-13), Lamar (2013-14) and Jacksonville (2014-17). …

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USF spring football: Day 6 observations

Former Jefferson High star Juwuan Brown and his fellow defensive linemen likely will rotate extensively during the 2017 season.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Former Jefferson High star Juwuan Brown and his fellow defensive linemen likely will rotate extensively during the 2017 season.

Six quick reads from Day 6 of USF's spring drills:

* During the team's final 11-on-11 session Saturday, we kept track of the time between several plays, from the moment the previous play was whistled dead until the ensuing snap. The time ranged from 16 to 27 seconds.

"I think the rule is, 'as fast as possible,'" new defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin said. "So as soon as they can get it set and snapped, I think that's what they're gonna do. We want it to be unrealistic. We want (the defensive players), when they get into a game against a fast-tempo offense, to seem slow to them."

* On a related note, the Bulls no longer do post-practice wind sprints, a staple of the Willie Taggart era. But as DT Deadrin Senat noted, when you're scrimmaging at such a brisk tempo, the conditioning is done during practice.

* Redshirt freshman CB Mike Hampton, a former Hillsborough High standout, had two interceptions during the 11-on-11 session, the latter an easy catch of a wobbly Quinton Flowers throw. Hampton also jumped a route and picked off a short pass intended for Plant alumnus Jordan Reed.

* During five goal-line possessions -- ball placed at 1 1/2-yard line -- at the end of practice, the offense scored twice before the defense held on the last three. On the first snap, Flowers jogged in untouched on a simple bootleg to the left, then found Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- being covered by Ronnie Hoggins -- on a slant route.

* The defense is really emphasizing swarming -- or straining -- to the ball. In fact, Cronin said the plan is to rotate linemen extensively so ball pursuit remains relentless.

"So we expect them, because we're keeping 'em fresh, to play really, really, really, really hard and to strain on every play," Cronin said. "If they can play three plays, they can play three. If they can play five, eight, whatever that number is, we're finding that out right now."

* Okay, this wasn't an observation per se, but we were told Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater -- who played for Charlie Strong at Louisville -- was spotted during the early moments of Saturday's practice. Bridgewater and QB Quinton Flowers also are friends.

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USF spring football: Day 5 observations

New USF offensive line coach Matt Mattox (right center, beard) addresses his group at the end of Thursday's practice.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

New USF offensive line coach Matt Mattox (right center, beard) addresses his group at the end of Thursday's practice.

Five quick reads from the fifth day of Bulls spring drills:

* Though the offensive line remains a mix-and-match proposition, redshirt freshman G Michael Wiggs clearly has made an impression. For the second consecutive workout, Wiggs got significant reps at right guard.

"He's an athletic kid," first-year offensive line coach Matt Mattox said. "We're getting him to just continue to bend and play physical, but he's doing a really good job and he's learned his plays and what he's got to do, so it's giving him that chance to move up a little bit."

Thursday's first-team o-line primarily featured Wiggs, LT Eric Mayes, LG Glen Bethel, C Cameron Ruff and RT Marcus Norman. Senior Jeremi Hall, who started every game at left guard last season, still is rehabbing a minor leg injury.

* Remember LB Jimmy Bayes? The heralded 2014 signee from Immokalee, who has appeared in six total games, darted through a gap and lit up TB Elijah Mack during goal-line work at the end of practice. Starting from the 1 1/2-yard line, the offense needed four plays to push it in.

* Barring injury, it's pretty clear the Bulls again will have the conference's best tight-end tandem. The ongoing duel between junior Kano Dillon (6-foot-5, 267 pounds) and redshirt sophomore Mitchell Wilcox (6-4, 250) could rage throughout the fall.

On Thursday, QB Quinton Flowers found Dillon over the middle -- behind a defender -- for a touchdown of roughly 50 yards.

"I would say for the most part, Kano's dang near as big as anybody in the nation, as far as guys he's gonna go against," Mattox said. …

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Here's a Shocker: Wichita State may join AAC

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has led the Shockers to four 30-win seasons in the last five years.

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has led the Shockers to four 30-win seasons in the last five years.

Less than 24 hours after Brian Gregory's formal introduction at USF, a report has surfaced that could make his long-term rebuilding job even harder.

If that's possible.

ESPN's Andy Katz reported Thursday that Wichita State would accept an invitation to become the American Athletic Conference's 12th basketball member if the league decides in the near future to extend the offer.

The Shockers, currently the crown jewel of the Missouri Valley Conference, have won 30 or more games four of the last five seasons, reaching two Sweet 16s and a Final Four during that span.

AAC spokesperson Chuck Sullivan said the league currently has no comment on the report, but Katz -- citing an unnamed source -- said the AAC could decide on Wichita State soon.

If the Shockers -- who don't have football -- were to join, they would begin AAC play in 2018-19. Under NCAA rules, if a conference takes a basketball-only member, it must take all of its Olympic/non-revenue sports.

Katz reports it would take 75 percent of the current AAC membership to ratify such a move.

The AAC received two men's NCAA Tournament bids this season (Cincinnati, SMU), but UCF has reached the NIT's final four in New York City. If Memphis and Connecticut get back on track and the Shockers join, the "Power Six" narrative AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has consistently pushed would have more merit.

At least from November to March.

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Annapolis to Oakland: Brian Gregory's fateful career twist

In a previous life, new USF coach Brian Gregory was a barely-used guard on Navy's 1985-86 team that reached the Elite Eight.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

In a previous life, new USF coach Brian Gregory was a barely-used guard on Navy's 1985-86 team that reached the Elite Eight.

Virtually every coaching journey contains an odd detour or curious fork that alters the trajectory of one's career -- or even life.

For new USF coach Brian Gregory, that sudden turn occurred after his freshman season at Navy, when he chose to transfer to Oakland University, a Michigan-based school he had never seen.

Today, he credits the very move with his coaching career.

"If I never made that move as a 19-year-old, I never would've gotten the (graduate-assistant) job at Michigan State," Gregory said.

Follow along. …

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Opening statements: Sound bites from Brian Gregory's intro

Brian Gregory was introduced as USF men's basketball coach Wednesday.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Brian Gregory was introduced as USF men's basketball coach Wednesday.

A few of the more notable sound bites from new USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory's introductory press conference Wednesday:

On the rebuilding task before him:
"I know this process is gonna be difficult. It is a process. But we're gonna get after it. I promise you we're gonna get after it."

On the Sun Dome (where USF drew an average home crowd of 2,586 this past season):
"I promise you this is gonna be one of the toughest places to play in the country before it's all said and done."

On developing relationships with local high school coaches such as Sickles' Renaldo Garcia (who recently led the Gryphons to the Class 8A state title):
"I've already talked to Coach (Garcia) and congratulated him; one of the first calls that I made. Just a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment. ... I think every team he played in the state tournament was held below their scoring average. So he won it on the defensive end of the court, which made me very, very excited."

On what happened at Georgia Tech (Gregory was dismissed after posting a 76-86 record in five seasons):
"I feel good because I went through and learned and was able to navigate through a three-year NCAA probation, through APR problems, through our conference realignment that wasn't one or two teams, it was four top-25 teams. I felt great about the culture that we built, the competitive resiliency that we built. ... Was I disappointed? Yeah. Because I thought that's exactly what we wanted to do, but I'm fully aware of the business side of things as well."

On the influence of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in his life:
"There's nothing I do in this profession, and probably to be honest with you, nothing I do in my life that I don't make two calls: one to my dad and the other to Coach Izzo. ... (Izzo) thought this was a special opportunity. One of the things I think he talked about was just the positive belief that you have to have when you face a challenge like we face. He felt that the opportunity, the situation, the infrastructure...he was excited for me."

On the job Murry Bartow did as Bulls interim coach (an outside chance remains that Bartow will remain on staff in some capacity).
"I've known Murry Bartow now for 20 years. He did a tremendous job under difficult situations, and I could only feel for him as he was going through it."

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Why Dick Vitale likes USF basketball's Brian Gregory hire

Dick Vitale attributed Brian Gregory's struggles at Georgia Tech to the cut-throat competition in the ACC.

Getty Images

Dick Vitale attributed Brian Gregory's struggles at Georgia Tech to the cut-throat competition in the ACC.

USF will formally introduce Brian Gregory as its next men's basketball coach later today.

Count ESPN analyst Dick Vitale as a fan of the hire.

"Brian is a quality guy," Vitale said Wednesday morning in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "I've known Brian for a number of years. I watched him as a young guy on a staff with (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo.
"Tom Izzo speaks extremely highly of him and thinks he is a really quality guy and quality coach."

Vitale said Gregory did a "heck of a job" at Dayton, where he had five 20-win seasons and two NCAA Tournament appearances. Gregory struggled at Georgia Tech (76-86 record), which Vitale attributed to the cut-throat competition in the ACC.

"The bottom line is, I think he's a good hire," Vitale said. "I think he's going to be really strong there. He has a phenomenal work ethic, and the other thing he possesses - he's a guy of great integrity...He learned from one of the best, working with Tom Izzo."

Vitale, who is promoting the Allstate Bracket Predictor, is also, well, bullish on the Bulls. …

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Villar leads USF baseball to 19th consecutive win

USF sophomore David Villar's scorching stretch continued Tuesday.

So too, did his team's.

Villar's three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh -- his fourth homer in as many days -- lifted the Bulls (20-1) to a 7-3 victory against North Florida (14-8), extending their win streak to 19 games.

"Our pitching and defense was really good," third-year coach Mark Kingston said. "Kept us in the game long enough so that our offense could find a way to get runs on the board. It's a complete team."

And darn close to being a historic one.

USF can tie the program record for consecutive wins Wednesday night when it travels to Florida Gulf Coast (18-3) -- ranked 12th by Baseball America -- in Fort Myers.

If Villar's bat boards the bus, the Bulls' chances are strong.

After hitting .636 (7-for-11) with three homers and 12 RBIs in a four-game weekend sweep of Harvard, Villar sent a 2-1 pitch from UNF reliever Austin Howze over the right field fence in the bottom of the seventh.

That gave the Bulls a 6-3 lead. DH Luke Borders added insurance with an RBI-single in the bottom of the eighth.

"You see a developing hitter right now is what you're seeing," Kingston said. "A guy that uses the whole field to hit in, a guy that knows what to look for and what to do with it when he does."

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