On a warm fall night in Thomasville, Ga., current USF redshirt junior linebacker Reshard Cliett sat on the bench with his Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets waiting for the game to start.
Prior to what would be the only game of his junior year of high school, Cliett exchanged a few words with a friend of his on the opposing team. His friend used to play on the same team as Cliett, but after transferring, Cliett gave him “one of the biggest hits of his life” during the game.
Dealing with a string of injuries that season, Cliett relied on the play of his senior year for college recruitment.
In that one season, Cliett recorded 97 tackles and four interceptions, and an impressive display at the Atlanta Combine. After that, Cliett was receiving offers from Eastern Kentucky, South Alabama and Georgia Southern.
With the inspiration of a former USF Bull, Dontavia Bogan, Cliett decided the best choice was to join his hometown friend in Tampa.
“Choosing USF has been one of the greatest decisions of my life,” Cliett said. “Playing in a place like Ray Jay just gives me a certain feeling when I play there.”
After being redshirted his freshman year, the following two seasons didn’t mimic that of his senior year of high school, recording five total tackles in 2011, then 40 the next season. Cliett started in six games during those seasons, and now with USF coach Willie Taggart, the linebacker has had the chance to flourish in the first two games as a veteran starter on the Bulls’ defense.
In an effort to better the program as a whole, Taggart has his players eating dinner and hanging out together with groups on the team they normally wouldn’t.
“It makes me feel more at home,” Cliett said.
Though the first two games of 2013 didn’t go as planned, and despite a shoulder injury against Michigan State that put Cliett on the sidelines against FAU, the 6-foot-2-inch linebacker was quick to find his place alongside senior middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore, who calls Cliett his “little brother.”
“I expected Reshard to start flying around, making a lot of big plays and being a big role on the defense,” Lattimore said. “Reshard is a smart player and he’s making a lot of good plays for us so far.”
And Cliett proved Lattimore right.
In USF’s season opener against McNeese State, the once small town Cliett led the defense in tackles with eight and two for a loss. He followed with seven tackles at Michigan State behind Lattimore, who put up 10 that game.
While Cliett is expected to make more plays than he has in the past, it was his redshirt freshman year that he said would always stand out to him for one play in particular.
“When I got in against Louisville and got a sack on Teddy Bridgewater,” Cliett recalled as his favorite USF memory.
Cliett and the Bulls face the junior quarterback, who is currently on ESPN’s Heisman Watch, for their homecoming game Oct. 26.
“Hopefully I’m ready, but we’re just taking it week by week,” Cliett said.
USF faces a bye week, giving Cliett more time to heal before playing at home against Miami on Sept. 28.