Former USF Bull Clif Dell was one of the best players to come out of the football program when the Bulls were a little-known Div. 1-AA school.
Dell and others were able to transform the football team into what it is today, a legit football program that is headed to a power conference — the Big East — and now plays big-name teams every year.
After walking on the perennial power football program at Florida State from 1994-1996, Dell took his talents to USF, where he was an immediate standout on the Bulls’ receiving core for his final two years of eligibility.
Dell led all Bulls’ receivers with 31 catches and 466 yards as a junior and in USF football’s rookie season, he recorded 23 grabs for 573 yards as a senior. His 23.3 yards per reception as a senior and 18.6 career average are still school records.
Dell credits his collegiate success to his former coaching staff at USF.
“Coach Leavitt and the whole staff were great to me,” said Dell, who caught two touchdowns in Saturday’s 48-38 win over the Georgia Force. “I was happy there. Leavitt always pushed me and believed in me, and I really developed as a wide receiver at USF.”
Dell’s solid collegiate career enabled him to become the first Bull to sign a pro football contract when he signed with the Orlando Predators in 1999, before joining the five-time champion Tampa Bay Storm in 2003, which turned out to be a great payoff as Tampa Bay went on to win its fifth Arena Bowl title.
Dell is about to wrap up his third season with the Storm and is known around the AFL for his great hands and precise route running during his seven years in the league.
Dell’s quarterback, Shane Strafford, knows how reliable Dell is on the football field.
“It’s easy when you have a receiver that runs great routes,” said Stafford, who is fifth in the league with 2,694 passing yards, 52 TD and seven interceptions. “He’s not always my number one option but in a crucial situation I keep my mind on where he is. I know he’s got a big play in him. He’s as good a player as any to come out of a small (program) like USF.”
USF isn’t a small program anymore, and Dell knew the Bulls would eventually become a big time program in a power conference and is happy that his alma mater has risen so quickly in college football lore.
“Leavitt is a phenomenal recruiter,” Dell said. “I knew they would eventually make the jump, and I think they will do very well this season.”
Dell has put up some big numbers with the AFL. He caught his 50th touchdown against his former team, the Orlando Predators, on May 2, 2004, and added 18 more this season. Dell also hauled in 22 touchdowns for the Predators in 2002.
Dell is also happy to be back playing in Tampa, where he graduated from King High School in 1994.
“It’s been cool playing in Tampa again,” Dell said after Saturday’s home win in front of an announced crowd of 15,114. “Getting to play here for all the stags in my career has been special.”
His quarterback can see how happy Dell is to be back.
“Dell has a great fan base,” Strafford said. “I think he takes pride in it, and I know it’s special to him because when I play in my hometown of Connecticut I feel the same way.”
If you think Dell is just a receiver you would be dead wrong. Dell also plays defensive back for the Storm as well as the ball holder for extra point kicks, but don’t think for one minute he would rather play on defense over offense.
“I like offense a lot more,” Dell said. “But defense is also cool because I get to hit people.”
Dell is also about to make his big-screen debut. He is playing former NYPD Blue star Nicholas Turturro’s stunt double in the remake of The Longest Yard, starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and WWE’s Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose stunt was played by another Storm player, as well: defensive lineman Nyle Wiren. But he won’t be confusing himself with Burt Reynolds anytime soon.
“It was a strange experience,” Dell said. “It was also a great opportunity. It was fun meeting all the actors like Adam Sandler and Chris Rock.”
Dell might not be as well known as Sandler or Reynolds or Rock, but he was just as important in helping put the USF football program in position to get where they are today: a legitimate football program.