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Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer

Joey Knight

A fourth-generation Floridian, Joey Knight was born in Tampa and raised in Zephyrhills, where he still resides. He moved to the Times in July 2006 after 15 years at the Tampa Tribune, which included a seven-year stint (1997-2004) as University of Florida beat writer. He began covering the University of South Florida athletic department for the Times in 2013. A married father of three, he enjoys running, classic television and classic heavy-metal music.

Phone: (813) 310-6328

E-mail: jknight@tampabay.com

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  1. Nicholas, Selvie say USF a better tackling team

    Blog

    We'll learn soon enough -- in about eight days -- whether the tackling of USF's defense has improved from last season.

    But two significant observers, both of whom know a thing or two about the fundamental, insist the Bulls are better.

    One of them is Bulls two-time All-American DE George Selvie, who has spent the preseason working out on campus and hanging around the team with the thought of eventually joining the staff in an official capacity.

    "It's a very good tackling team," said Selvie, who last played in the NFL in 2015.

    "Coach (Charlie) Strong has been pushing them on defense. He's a defensive coach and he's coming out here teaching them his defense, a hard-nosed defense. That's what he wants and they're responding to it."

    Former first-team All-Big East LB Stephen Nicholas, now a Bulls defensive quality-control assistant, concurred before hedging slightly.

    "Most definitely," Nicholas said when asked if this is a better tackling team. "We're getting better. ... We're working at it, but we're definitely getting better at that, okay?"

    At least twice last season (after losses to FSU and Temple), former Bulls coach Willie Taggart publicly called out his team's tackling -- or lack thereof. USF ranked 120th nationally in total defense (482.0 ypg) and 84th against the run (196.5 ypg).

    When asked specifically about his linebackers' tackling proficiency late last week, new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary indicated he was pleased to a degree.

    "It could always get better," he said. "You've got to think, as far as live reps go, it's limited, because you never want to hurt your own team. So we've had a couple of live scrimmages where we've done okay, but you'd like to see it through a full game and see how we tackle live bodies.

    "We've gotten as close to live as possible, and they've been more than adequate so far."...

    USF redshirt freshman Andre Polk Jr. engages in a tackling drill with fellow linebacker Danny Thomas during a recent practice.
  2. New name for St. Petersburg's bowl game: the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

    Blog

    St. Petersburg, a notable contributor to college football's rich history of bizarre bowl sponsorships, might have just outdone itself.

    The annual contest, held on Tropicana Field's synthetic turf, reportedly will be sponsored by a national lawn mower manufacturer.

    Former ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy reported Friday morning the St. Petersburg Bowl -- set for Dec. 21 -- has been re-named the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. 

    The latter part of the title appears an attempt to further regionalize the game, though the most prominent Gasparilla-themed events each winter are staged in Tampa.

    The bowl is holding a press conference next week, presumably to formally announce the name change. Past sponsors of the bowl -- which began in 2008 -- include magicJack, Beef 'O' Brady's and Bitcoin.

    This year's contest is slated to pit an American Athletic Conference team against a Conference USA squad....

    Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Ross is tackled by Miami (Ohio) wide receiver DeAndre Huff (28) during the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field.
  3. 1997 USF Bulls: Jay Mize, a 'relentless, fearless' safety and entrepreneur

    College

    More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team....

    USF football alumnus Jay Mize, 39, poses for a portrait at Irish 31 Pub House & Eatery located at 1611 W Swann Avenue in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, August 8, 2017. Mize, a member of the first USF football team, has evolved into an immensely successful businessman and entrepreneur and he owns the Irish 31 pubs.
  4. Revisiting the inaugural 1997 USF Bulls football roster

    College

    Eighty-one players were listed on the USF roster the night of the program's inaugural game against Kentucky Wesleyan on Sept. 6, 1997. We tracked down 74 of them. Here's what they've been up to for the past couple decades. (Jersey number, position, year and hometown from USF days; current hometown in parentheses.)...

    Coach Jim Leavitt and the USF Bulls make their way onto the field for their first game vs. Kentucky Wesleyan. (Tampa Tribune/Cliff McBride) 
  5. 1997 USF Bulls: Charlie Jackson navigates life's speed bumps

    College

    More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team....

    USF wide receiver Charlie Jackson (1) strives for extra yardage as he is brought down from behind by the Citadel's Rob Nichols (29) in the first quarter on Sept. 14, 1997. (Times 1997)
  6. 1997 USF Bulls: Scott McCready trades green and gold for black belts

    College

    More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team....

    USF WR Scott McCready (16) attempts to get past Jacksonville State LB Duriel Hardrick (31) durin a Sept. 2, 2000 game. (Times 2000)
  7. 1997 USF Bulls: Cory Porter regains passion for game 10,000 miles away

    College

    More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team....

    Brian Surcy (25) and Cory Porter (80) celebrate USF's first victory, against Kentucky Wesleyan. (Times 1997)
  8. 1997 USF Bulls: Keith Williams proof it's never too late to finish degree

    College

    More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team....

    Keith Williams shows off the bachelor's degree he received last year in interdisciplinary studies from Hodges.
  9. USF journal: Tyre McCants bulks up, Greg Reaves on scholarship

    Blog

    In their perpetual quest to create glaring advantages in their passing game, the Bulls may have come upon the most novel mismatch yet.

    Isolating a speedster against a linebacker? Too routine.

    How 'bout a speedster who resembles a linebacker?

    Fourth-year junior Tyre McCants, who arrived at USF weighing around 210 pounds more than three years ago, now is listed at 236. If he were a backer, he'd be the second-heaviest on the team. (Here's a photo of him following Thursday's practice).

    "I feel comfortable," said McCants, who at 5-foot-11 sports a stocky, muscular frame. "I feel like I'm still running the same."

    Though he says he's closer to 230 after nearly four weeks of preseason practice, McCants is the biggest receiver in the American Athletic Conference based on official roster listings.

    And he's by far the stockiest of any Division I receiver in the state. Florida's Kalif Jackson and FAU's DeAndre McNeal are listed at 236, but stand 6-4 and 6-1, respectively.

    "I like to use it to my advantage, I like being a bigger body," said McCants, a utility force (1,918 all-purpose yards) on the 2013 Niceville High team that reached the Class 7A state title game. "I don't think it ever really holds me back speed-wise, so I just use it to my advantage."

    McCants said he initially bulked up after sustaining an ACL injury his freshman year, and played at around 220 last season, when he enjoyed a breakthrough season (25 catches, 384 yards, four touchdowns). He was limited in spring drills by a sprained right foot, then added 10 pounds in the offseason.

    The coaches plan to exploit that frame -- and fleetness -- by putting McCants in the slot, where he's likely to out-muscle most defenders he encounters.

    "He's a bigger, stockier kid for being inside at the slot, but that's obviously a position we like him in," offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said Thursday. "He's able to apply pressure on people with his size, and it's kind of a mismatch sometimes with either nickels or DBs out there."...

    USF fourth-year junior Tyre McCants (8) had 25 catches last season.
  10. USF offensive scheme veering toward clarity

    Blog

    So far, we've seen it only in glimpses, fuzzy snapshots in the form of public scrimmages. All we know for sure is, it's fast, and maybe that's fitting in a way.

    Because if we know nothing else about new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense, it's this: It has been a blur.

    In 10 days, when the Bulls kick off their most anticipated season ever at San Jose State, we'll finally see the full picture. At that point, all the elements -- the pace, the power, the pass trajectory -- will be revealed.

    Until then, we can only draw conclusions based on (A) Gilbert's history, and (B) what little we've seen to this point in practice.

    With that in mind, we believe Bulls fans will see a solid likeness of the veer-and-shoot offense.

    It's the spread variation Gilbert learned more than a decade ago at the foot of Art Briles, and polished under the employment of current Syracuse coach Dino Babers (at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green from 2012-14).

    As this SB Nation story indicates, the veer-and-shoot differs from other spread schemes in that it's essentially an option offense with a vertical component. A power -- but not necessarily ball-control -- run game lulls defenses to the box, creating mismatches out wide.

    And if linebackers get sucked into trying to stop the run, well, tight ends can find themselves quarantined.

    Moreover, Gilbert is a proponent of having his players execute without thinking, a process he has termed "mind-muscle memory." Such a philosophy, of course, doesn't lend itself to a thick playbook.

    Which might explain why the Bulls have no playbook. Quarterbacks have said Gilbert diagrams a play, and they copy it down themselves.

    But there are still other hints. Girth up front is an obvious prerequisite for a power run game, and USF has it....

    First-year USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system is expected to combine a power run game with a vertical passing component.
  11. Q&A: USF lineman Billy Atterbury

    Blog

    On a practice day devoid of any significant drama (the Bulls worked out in shorts), we were afforded a few minutes with redshirt sophomore lineman Billy Atterbury, who could emerge as USF's most versatile offensive lineman. Here are excerpts from his media session.

    We don't get to watch a lot of practice. Are you still double-training as a tackle and pulling guard?
    "Coach (Matt Mattox) is moving a lot of us around right now. We've got a few guys (with some) little bumps and bruises. We've got a few guys that he's just trying to figure out where everyone is gonna work out at. I think we're all just trying to make the travel team, trying to do our best to get there."

    I assume you primarily played tackle at Clearwater Central Catholic. How much guard did you play?
    "Not really (laughs). I was at Countryside freshman year, and I played a little bit of that when I got moved up to varsity because I was still one of the shorter guys on that offensive line. This is something relatively new to me, but...whatever's best for the team, that's what all of us offensive linemen, we're not here for the glory. It's just a team, collective unit."

    What was noticeably different about your offseason conditioning work to prepare for the pace you guys plan to run?
    "Just a lot of cardio. I think that's the same with every team. A lot of running, a lot of just keeping the pace going. Because like you said, it's not one long sprint, one long mile run. It's every seven seconds, you've got to snap and be able to run 10 yards downfield, turn around and get back on the ball, and snap the ball seven seconds later. So it's a lot of quick turnaround, just very explosive, just seeing how much you can do, as fast as you can go."

    So you'd do a lot of bursts, then get back to the ball?
    "Absolutely. Coach (Pat) Moorer (strength and conditioning coach) definitely tries his best to get as much as he can out of us."

    When you look at the fact that your team appears in another preseason poll almost daily, do you feel it more as a bay area kid? Do you want it more? You want the undefeated season more?
    "Everyone says undefeated season, but as every player on this team will tell you, we're worried about San Jose (State), first game of the year. As a hometown kid who grew up watching this team, especially you want to do well, you want to show some hometown pride. But at the end of the day, it's about what Coach (Charlie Strong) says: every play, every quarter, every drive, every game."...

    Former CCC standout Billy Atterbury has practiced at guard and tackle for USF this preseason.
  12. Fullwood, Valdes-Scantling return to practice for USF

    Blog

    The Bulls received two encouraging signs Monday when senior FS Tajee Fullwood and senior WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling practiced fully after missing part of the preseason with injuries.

    Fullwood even had an interception during the portion of practice closed to reporters.

    Valdes-Scantling hadn't practiced in full-squad drills since injuring his right leg after landing awkwardly during a route-running drill July 29. Fullwood suffered an ankle injury during an Aug. 5 scrimmage.

    Elsewhere, senior WR Ryeshene Bronson (shoulder) didn't suit up again Monday, and still had his right arm in a sling. RB Duran Bell Jr., DE Kirk Livingstone, LB Andre Polk Jr. and RB Elijah Mack also spent Monday rehabbing injuries.

    The Bulls are slated to practice six days this week (Monday-Saturday) before breaking camp and starting a conventional game-week schedule Sunday or Monday....

    Senior receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) had 22 catches for 415 yards and five touchdowns last season.
  13. Rags to roster: USF long snapper Zack Deitz is former manager

    Blog

    He was a grunt, a gofer. Sometimes, Zack Deitz would be the first one to arrive on the USF practice field and last to leave, a routine borne not of nobility but job description.

    That's what student managers do. Except one day, amid his series of mundane duties, Deitz proved he also can perform an essential one.

    The Bulls specialists immediately took notice.

    "He was actually out here one day and he's like, 'Hey, I can (long) snap,'" P Jonathan Hernandez recalled. "And we're like, 'All right, let's see it.' And so he did it and we were like, 'Wow, you should definitely come out next year,' because we knew we were losing (Alex) Salvato."

    The Steinbrenner High alumnus practically has been snapping ever since. When the Bulls kick off the season at San Jose State in two Saturdays, the guy who spent last year washing uniforms will be wearing one.

    "He's a local kid, he's bought into it and these kids have accepted him," Bulls special teams coach Justin Burke said. "He's been a really good part of our team. Doesn't say much, goes to work...we've just got to get him to be a little more aggressive is all."

    Because Coach Charlie Strong typically doesn't permit rookies to speak with the media until they've appeared in a game, Deitz (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) was unavailable for comment after Monday's practice.

    He long-snapped (and played linebacker and defensive end) at Steinbrenner as a senior in 2015 after missing his junior year due to ACL surgery. He also has played for USF's rugby team. (Here's some footage of him scoring in a recent match.)

    Bulls equipment chief Jeremy Lees said Deitz's duties last season ranged from field setup to cleaning helmets and shoulder pads, to assisting coaches with drills. Like all student managers, he normally arrived a full two hours before the start of practice.

    "He primarily worked with the special teams guys a little bit, which is kind of ironic," Lees said.

    "He just came to us (shortly after the Birmingham Bowl) and said he wanted to walk on. We said, 'All right, good luck.' Obviously the team had a need so it was kind of a perfect fit."

    He replaces one of the most consistent Bulls players of the last three seasons. Salvato, also diminutive at around 200 pounds, went at least two consecutive seasons without an errant snap, proving that arguably the most unheralded job in football isn't necessarily a thankless one.

    Willie Taggart awarded Salvato a scholarship in the 2015 preseason.

    "It's one of those deals that, if you invest in that position, it can be yours for a long time," Burke said. "It's a nerve-wracking deal for those guys, 'cause they have to invest in it and their team depends on 'em. So it takes some guts and some confidence to do it."...

    Steinbrenner High alumnus Zack Deitz, a student manager for the Bulls last season, is their new long snapper.
  14. USF journal: Defense draws praise, penalties

    Blog

    Exactly two weeks before its season opener, USF's once-maligned defense spent the better part of a soupy Saturday morning alternately giving their fans reason for excitement and expletives.

    Which is to say, it made one play -- and penalty -- after another.

    The Bulls recorded three interceptions and a fumble recovery (in the end zone, no less), holding the first- and second-team offenses mostly in check in a public situational scrimmage spanning roughly 90 minutes.

    But for every pick, there was a personal foul. Or an offside whistle. Or a hold.

    "We're gonna harp on those," said senior DT Bruce Hector, who had the fumble recovery, "and the next practice, we'll cut down on 'em."

    Whistles aside, there was plenty defensively to encourage the audience of about 200, which grimaced its way through a forgettable '16 season in which USF allowed more than 480 yards a game....

    USF defensive back Naytron Culpepper (27) breaks up a pass intended for fellow freshman Kevaughn Dingle during the Bulls'  public scrimmage Saturday.
  15. USF sees mild decrease in season ticket sales

    Blog

    Two weeks before the USF football season commences, the Charlie Strong effect still hasn't resulted in a spike in season-ticket sales.

    The school reported Friday it has sold 14,074 season tickets, a modest dropoff from last season (15,973), when the Bulls' home slate included FSU, Navy and UCF.

    On the upside: The school reported 600 new season-ticket accounts. Moreover, August typically is its best month for selling season tickets.

    "FSU was a huge, huge draw, and a lot of people bought from us to get good seats for that game," said Scott Kull, USF's deputy athletic director for external operations. "But the good thing is that people who have bought season tickets for three consecutive years renewed this year at about 90 percent."

    Likely pulling down sales this year is an anemic non-conference home slate (Stony Brook, Massachusetts, Illinois), and three non-Saturday home games: Illinois (Friday Sept. 15), Temple (Thursday, Sept. 21) and Tulsa (Thursday, Nov. 16).

    "Those aren't excuses, they're just facts based on our analytics that show when people and particularly families come to games," Kull said. "And we don't control that."

    The Bulls play their first home game Sept. 2 against Stony Brook....

    USF fans stormed the Raymond James Stadium field after the Bulls clinched bowl eligibility with a 44-23 win against Temple in 2015.