The same man who helped end USF’s NCAA tournament run a season ago will lead the charge for the Bulls to make another push for the post-season in 2017.
Bob Butehorn was hired in December to replace former 15-year USF head coach George Kiefer, who resigned from USF to accept the same position at N.C. State. Butehorn – who’s spent the past nine seasons as the head coach of Florida Gulf Coast – led his former team to beat the Bulls in both the regular season and in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year at Corbett Stadium.
Making the sting of the season-ending elimination loss even worse for USF was the way the game ended, with the Bulls failing to convert four consecutive penalty kick’s in a penalty shootout that Florida Gulf Coast would go on to win 3-0.
Butehorn and his Eagles were eliminated from the tournament in the next round, but the first-round loss and thought of ‘what if’ is still with the Bulls today.
“They beat us twice, knocked us out of the NCAA (tournament) last year and in the regular season,” senior defender Gabriel Pfeffer said. “You leave that last game with a little bit of sourness, so it’s definitely a game we’re looking forward to this year.”
USF will have its shot at revenge against the Eagles on Oct. 24 at Corbett Stadium.
Despite his success against USF last season, Butehorn insists that there hasn’t been any talk between him and his players about what happened last season.
“Those days are done,” Butehorn said at the Fall Sports Media Day. “I mean that honestly. I have not spoken a word about that (elimination game) since… I will say my first day here when I introduced myself to the team it was a meat locker, I mean, it was cold in there. Those guys gave me the freeze, but I have to chip away at the ice, put my arm out, and give hugs when I can.”
“I’m a full Bull,” Butehorn added. “I’m all in, and there’s no looking back. There’s no looking for any banter besides seeing who our next opponent is.”
In order for USF to make a third straight NCAA tournament in 2017, they’ll need young players and newcomers to step up after the Bulls lost nine starters to graduation and the MLS super draft in the off-season.
“The one thing I’m good at is teaching,” Butehorn said. “The one thing I can never do is teach experience, so we’re
going to have to go through some things and that’ll be humbling for me.”
To compensate for the loss of starters, Butehorn added 15 newcomers to the roster over the off-season, the majority of whom are freshman.
One of those new faces that has made an immediate impact in the Bull’s first two pre-season games is forward Tomasz Skublak, who transferred to USF from the University of Guelph in Canada.
Skublak, who scored two goals in a two-minute span to close out the Bulls 5-0 rout of the Tampa Spartans on Saturday in the annual Rowdies Cup, was one of four new Bulls to find the back of the net in USF’s two preseason matches.
“I believe that there’s been a lot of young talent that’s came in,” Skublak said. “If young guys keep playing and training well I know for sure there’ll be numerous in the starting 11.”
To go along with the new faces on the pitch and sidelines, the Bulls style of play will have a different look as well.
“I feel like this year we’re going to play even more possession than we did last year,” Pfeffer said. “Despite how much we kept the ball and isolated Epps on the wing (last season), this year we like to overload on the middle, keep the ball, and make them play our game instead of us playing to theirs.”
With two pre-season shutouts complete, USF will play two more preseason matches this week for beginning their regular season on the road against Butler in Bloomington, Indiana on Sept. 1.
USF, currently picked to finish third in the AAC, will begin the defense of last year’s AAC regular season title when conference play begins at home against UCF on Sept. 23.
“I generally teach that I don’t care where we start, it’s where we end,” Butehorn said. “Everything I say sounds a bit cliché-est, but my message today to the guys today was look, the beauty of every season is that you have your own road…Don’t look at where you start, don’t stare at the common goals, just enjoy the road and see where you get (at end of the season).”