Coach Jeff Scott only had one spring practice last year before COVID-19 derailed preparations for his first season in charge of the USF football program.
One year and 13 spring practices later, Scott has gained a full appreciation for what a complete spring season can do to improve his team.
“Last year we only had one spring practice,” Scott said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously we were learning about COVID and everything kind of takes away your attention from spring practice. Then what you realize later on in May is that you’re not going to have spring ball, you’re like ‘well that’s a shame’ but you just move on.
“But after actually going through a spring practice again that gets you going like ‘oh my gosh, how did we not do this last year, how did we even have a chance to play last year without going through this.’”
For the USF coaching staff, a lot of the value from the spring has come not only from getting on the field and seeing the players in action, but also from the time off the field where the team gots to learn new concepts for the upcoming season.
“It’s not just the 15 practices, it’s the meeting before practice and meeting after practice the next day around those 15 practices,” Scott said. “That’s really where you build your team, where you learn the offense, defense, special teams, where you develop and improve in your fundamentals and technique.
“I’m optimistic, I know we got a really difficult schedule next year, but I have no doubt, where we are right now, that we’re on an upward trajectory to show some good improvement next year.”
As it’s the final week of spring practice, this week has consisted of preparing for Saturday’s spring game at Raymond James Stadium.
During Monday’s meeting, the team was split into their respective squads for the spring game, the green team and white team. Players on offense, defense and special teams were all split evenly between both teams.
Linebackers coach Ernie Sims will be the head coach for the green team while the white team will be led by offensive line/assistant head coach Allen Mogridge.
On Saturday, the first three quarters of the game will be played like a regular-season game with stoppages and regular time, but the fourth quarter will be played with a running clock.
Another aspect of the game that will be different is kickoff returns. A kicker will trot onto the field and boot the ball, which will be caught by a returner, but there will be no return. The ball will simply be placed at the 25-yard line after each kickoff. This is to ensure the safety of players by preventing any unnecessary collisions that could cause injuries.
Scott is excited to be playing the spring game at the Bulls’ traditional home stadium at Raymond James. Over the past five years the game took place on campus. He’s excited for his players, especially the newcomers, to get the chance to play at an NFL stadium for the first time in their college careers.
“The guys are really excited about it,” Scott said. “This is a great opportunity for them, we got 15 midyears, so between the high school midyears and the transfers, that have never played in Ray Jay. Our punter that’s going to be out there punting, Andrew Stokes, has never played in a stadium before, I’m not sure he’s ever been in an American stadium period, and he’s going to be out there punting. So, that’s a great experience for those guys.”
One of the players excited for the prospect of playing at Raymond James on Saturday is senior wide receiver Latrell Williams, whom Scott has consistently cited as one of the leaders of the team throughout spring ball.
“Most definitely gonna be one of those exciting things,” Williams said. “Just to be back out there with the whole team, being able to go out and run out of the tunnel at Ray Jay, just feels so good and extremely blessed for that opportunity.’
Although, Scott and his players agree that the spring has been a productive period full of growth and improvement, they acknowledge that the important work starts after Saturday, when each player will be responsible for preparing themself over the offseason in the lead up to the fall where they hope the results are different than last year.
“I think it’s really important,” senior defensive lineman Rashawn Yates said. “Most teams and most people, I would say, when they get their break and when they get their off time, most people just get away from football and they take their focus off. I feel like a lot of guys, we talked about it, are going to still be working, still be communicating. So by the time the season’s ready we’re already a step ahead of everybody.
“I hope it goes smoothly like that so we can be five times ahead of everybody else.”