DeJuan Green faced a tough choice with two uncertain outcomes.
The 5-foot-11 running back out of Jacksonville had two options at the end of the 2000 season: Stay at the University of Georgia and take his chances under new coach Mark Richt or leave and seek his fortunes elsewhere.
“Coming out of high school, coach Richt (then at Florida State) wanted me as a defensive back,” Green said. “When I knew he was going to be the coach, the offense changed from an I-back set to more of a two-back set. He wanted me to play more defensive back.
“But when you’re young, you don’t think of changing positions. I wanted to play running back. That’s where my heart is.”
So the junior packed his bags after two years at Georgia and came back across the border to play for USF. However, Green found the environment under USF coach Jim Leavitt very different from what he had become accustomed to at Georgia under Jim Donnan.
“They have very different styles,” Green said. “But it all depends on the coach. Here, we practice a whole lot harder than we did at Georgia. It was much more laid back, and we just tried to get in the groove.
“(Here) we practice hard everyday. It’s a big difference. Coaching plays a very important part, even more than the playing situation. I’d much rather be here.”
Green had to sit out the 2001 season after transferring to USF.
“It was hard to sit out and look at the sport I love to play,” Green said. “I’d do anything for it. That was the first year ever I had to sit out since I was 10. Not participating was pretty hard.”
The off year allowed Green to improve as well as make a smooth transition to USF’s no-huddle shotgun sets. Green played at Georgia as a true freshman in 1999 and ran 13 times for eight yards in six games. As a sophomore, Green saw playing time in four games, accumulating 44 yards on 12 carries. While practicing with the Bulls in their first season of Division I-A play a year ago, Green picked up valuable tips from sophomore Quinton Callum.
Green found it easy to relate to Callum, who, like himself, was a highly rated prep player and signed with a big name school (Florida State). Callum was academically ineligible at FSU and went to a junior college before he, like Green, transferred to USF in 2001.
“I got to work on my footwork and work on my body weight,” Green said. “I’d talk to the guys, and they’d tell me what I was doing wrong and calm me down. Callum and I had some good times. This offense is pretty confusing until you get the hang of it.”
Green had more than the offensive scheme to worry about as the Bulls had three returners at running back who had all made significant contributions in 2001. But Green, quietly and quickly, found his way into the lineup. By the time USF played Oklahoma, Green was a starter, carrying the bulk of the Bulls’ ground attack that day by rushing 14 times for 33 yards. His friend Callum had no doubts that he would.
“DeJuan has so much talent, it’s ridiculous,” Callum said. “We know we can feed off him, since he played at Georgia in some big games. Me, (I signed) with Florida State out of high school, but never played in an environment like that … He’s a big help. He’s more of a laid back, cool guy.
“Off the field, he’s a good friend, too,” Callum said. “We’re all the same age. We’re all leaders, there’s no followers in our group. We all have our own different styles of running. If I miss an assignment or he misses an assignment, we’ll tell each other, not to be selfish, but this is why you missed.”
While Oklahoma should have been a big day for Green, Sept. 28 turned sour when he fumbled at the Sooner 19-yard line in the second quarter to thwart USF’s best drive. Oklahoma’s ensuing series resulted in another OU touchdown to put the Sooners up 21-0.
Then, against North Texas, Green found himself the odd man out, only getting one attempt. But as all the Bulls’ running backs know, there are plenty of choices.
“Anything goes,” Green said. “It was my fault I should have held on to the ball. … We all motivate each other and try to keep our heads up. Everybody wants to play, but there’s no tension. That’s just the name of the game.”
Oracle Sports Editor Anthony Gagliano covers USF football and can be reached at email@example.com