Coach Jim Leavitt couldn’t wait.
He had to see freshman quarterback Carlton Hill in action.
Never mind that it was on senior night, in front of the biggest crowd ever to see a USF game at Raymond James Stadium and against the No. 12 team in the nation.
Why did Leavitt do it?
“I just wanted to,” Leavitt said. “I wanted to see what he could do.”
Hill played more than half the snaps as quarterback in the Bulls’ 28-13 loss to West Virginia and was behind center three of the five times USF managed to get into Mountaineer territory.
But it was uncharted territory for the talented but inexperienced freshman.
With the Bulls down 7-3 in the second quarter, Hill came in for quarterback Pat Julmiste, and after a false start penalty, Hill completed his first pass of the season – a 12-yard toss to wide receiver Cedric Hill.
Hill, who is known more for his speed and running ability, threw the ball 21 times in the game, completing 10 of those passes for 98 yards.
Hill’s production through the air was surprising, considering the fact that before the West Virginia game, running back Andre Hall had thrown more passes this season than Hill. Hill even had more experience at receiver, tallying three receptions for 19 yards on the year.
In past games, most of the plays the freshman ran were running plays, and 59 of Hill’s 78 total yards of offense this season were off draws and scrambles.
“Carlton’s a great athlete,” Julmiste said. “I told him to get out there and stay focused and make plays. That’s what we recruited him for – he’s a playmaker.”
Hill’s playmaking ability was just too much for Leavitt to ignore.
“He’s done a lot of good things in practice,” Leavitt said. “I don’t think we’ve given him a lot of reps. He can really throw well; the guy’s got an arm – he throws better than he runs.”
Hill finished the game as USF’s second leading rusher, with 50 yards on the ground including his first career touchdown – an 11-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. Despite seeing meaningful action at quarterback in only two games – Cincinnati and West Virginia – Hill’s effort on the ground helped him finish the season with 109 rushing yards and an average of 4.2 yards per carry.Hill’s lack of experience did not diminish the confidence Leavitt had in the true freshman.
“He just doesn’t understand it all right now,” Leavitt said. “When he gets throwing down, I think he’s going to be something really good, because you know he can run.”
Hill said Leavitt had told him before the game that he might receive more playing time than usual.
“I expected to get in and play, but not as much,” Hill said. “It’s not easy, you have to stay calm and poised, try to make things happen, but that’s what I do best: make things happen.”
What’s happening next for the Bulls is the Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina State on Dec. 31. Leavitt said both Hill and Julmiste are “his guys,” and based on the West Virginia game, either could play in USF’s inaugural bowl game.
“Pat’s a very good quarterback and (has) done a real good job,” Leavitt said. “But we got to get another guy that can get in there and play, and I really wanted to see what Carlton could do.”