After an incredibly disappointing second half of the 2018 season in which the Bulls went 0-6 in their final six games, then-coach Charlie Strong dismissed 11 players.
The official reason given for the suspensions was unspecified violations of team rules. Reports also claimed that the 11 players suspended were unlikely to return to the team for the following season.
Now, two years later, only one of the 11 players remains on the team — wide receiver DeVontres Dukes.
Dukes is now the first receiver on the depth chart and one of USF’s leading receivers heading into Game 2 against Notre Dame. The 2020 season may be a new start for first-year coach Jeff Scott, but it’s also a second chance for players like Dukes.
He made some noise right away Saturday in the 27-6 win over The Citadel, scoring USF’s first touchdown of the season, a 10-yard fade pass from quarterback Jordan McCloud.
From being on the fringes of the team to becoming an immediate playmaker, gratitude comes to mind for Dukes.
“Just thankful and grateful, I’m just feeling blessed because you guys know my story,” he said after Saturday’s game. “Three years ago, two years ago, I wasn’t like this at all. Just being able to line up and help the team win, to me that’s one of my accomplishments.
“I was grateful to do that tonight.”
Even before his showing against The Citadel, Scott had high praise for Dukes.
“He [Dukes] came to see me when I got the job … and really kind of talked about his situation,” Scott said, referencing a meeting with Dukes in January. “He was a little unsure whether he was going to stick around here, or go somewhere else and get a fresh start.”
But Scott ensured Dukes that he could have a fresh start at USF.
“[I told him], ‘You’re a big wide receiver, and I know in my past we’ve had lot of success with big wide receivers…the great thing for you, and the great thing for all of your teammates is, regardless of your career up to this point has gone the way you’ve wanted it to or not, you’re going to get a fresh start … why don’t you just hang around, see how it goes here for a couple months, and if you feel like you want to stay and be a part of it, I hope you will,’” Scott said.
Scott has a history of being around great wide receivers. In his time at Clemson he has worked with players such as Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Tee Higgins, all who currently play in the NFL.
Scott’s history with elite receivers stood out to Dukes.
“Coach Scott, he comes and talks to the receivers in meetings,” Dukes said. “He tells us about D-Hop [Hopkins], he tells us about Sammy Watkins, that he coached those guys and sometimes we can’t help but to think about, man, he’s been around some great receivers.”
But Dukes said he doesn’t want to strive to be those elite players. He wants to be a better version of himself.
“The thing about it is, we don’t want to be those guys, we just want to be ourselves,” Dukes said. “I know I can’t be D-Hop, I can’t be Sammy Watkins.
“I just can only be Tre Dukes.”
Since his USF revival, Dukes has positioned himself to be a key member of the Bulls.
On the first day of fall camp, the coaches asked the offensive players to tell them whom they saw as leaders on the offense.
“Tre Dukes had the most votes,” Scott said. “I think that says a lot about him.”
Dukes’ return to the fold doesn’t just position him as a leader for USF. He’s also poised to be an impact player in the pros, according to Scott.
“I believe that he has a chance to play at the next level,” he said. “That’s really what I see when I watch him. I’m just really excited for how hard he’s worked, and I think a lot of it has been maybe his mindset with a new approach.”