No careers were made or broken Saturday. No one cemented themselves as a guaranteed first-round pick. Instead, seven USF Bulls got another chance to shine in the spotlight and perhaps display some hidden talents that had gone unnoticed prior to Saturday in the Gridiron Classic.
“It was an opportunity,” receiver Hugh Smith said.
But as much as there was a game on Saturday, the practices leading up to the game may have meant just as much or more for the seven USF hopefuls from Saturday’s game trying to land a spot in the 2003 NFL Draft.
“Practices are more important than the game,” receiver DeAndrew Rubin said. “All the scouts were there at practice, and you want to impress the scouts at practice. During the game, you just want to come out and have fun.”
Added defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack, “Anybody can have a great game, but if you can practice everyday and show up on the field everyday, that’s what the scouts are looking for.”
While nearly 20 scouts were at the game Saturday, it paled in comparison to the hundreds of scouts who swarmed the field Monday through Friday while the teams worked out.
“The whole week was an experience within itself,” cornerback Maurice Tucker said. “I wouldn’t trade anything for the world.”
Tucker’s experience was a good one as the former transfer from Indiana had five tackles for the Sunshine State team, second on the squad. Defensive linemen Chris Daley and Jurineack each added one tackle. Defensive tackle Greg Walls suffered a sprained collarbone in the last minute of the first half and did not return.
On offense, quarterback Marquel Blackwell directed the Florida offense to a first-quarter field goal and the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. USF’s four-year starter at quarterback went 7-of-14 for 71 yards passing and had seven yards rushing. For Blackwell, the all-star game further proved to himself that he has what it takes to play in the NFL.
“I definitely can play at the next level,” Blackwell said. “It’s just a matter of fine tuning some things. I’m very positive and confident things are going to work out.”
Blackwell silenced any talk of playing another position, but one player who did display his versatility was Smith, who made an impact on returns, as well as catching passes. While Smith only snagged two balls, he grabbed some attention with his returning ability.
“I wanted to come out and prove to all the scouts that I could do it all, not only be a receiver, but return with the best of them,” Smith said. “They say in the league, to make it you have to be on special teams also. That’s why I came out here and tried to show everyone I could do it.”
Smith nearly had the play of the day as he fielded a punt inside his own 5-yard line. Then, he made a couple of moves to get the ball out to the 20, where he was tripped up.
“I was so close to breaking it,” Smith said. “I went to the right and came back to the left. I had shook him, and I was going to keep going to the left. He fell down and all of a sudden, he hit the back of my heel. If he hadn’t hit me, I was gone, nothing but green grass in front of me. I think at USF, Coach Leavitt would probably be cussing me out right now.
“When I got that punt return, I was like, ‘This is an opportunity.’ I’m trying to show everybody what I can do, and that’s what I did.”