Tragic events dampen mood at media luncheon

After Saturday?s victory at Pittsburgh, the USF football team?s weekly media luncheon should have been a happy occasion. Instead, the mood was somber as the tragic events in New York and Washington, D.C. unfolded.

Coach Jim Leavitt expressed his sorrow Tuesday for what had occurred.

?Practice and playing Southern Utah or Pittsburgh is really not that significant when you put into perspective what?s happening on a national scene,? he said. ?As far as from our department, our prayers go out to the families and friends and all things that are happening in Washington and New York.?

At around 1 p.m., moments before Leavitt began his address, a voice rang out on the Sun Dome?s public address system announcing the closure of both the building and the university. Next door, in the player?s weight room, the mood was subdued. Leavitt said he would be talking to his players later in the day about how they felt about what had transpired.

?They need to realize what?s going on around the country and that it?s part of their lives and it?s huge,? Leavitt said. ?I?m just going to challenge them and ask them ?What are you going to do from here????

In the wake of the school closures, Bulls? football practice scheduled for 4 p.m. was canceled, although there was a team meeting at 2:30 p.m. As of Tuesday evening, Saturday?s game against Southern Utah was going forward as scheduled. Leavitt said preparations for the game would continue. Also, Wednesday?s planned practice at 4 p.m. should also go on as scheduled.

?What else are you going to do?? he said. ?Nobody?s going to sit and not keep moving forward and I would ask them to do the same and this country won?t sit still, I don?t believe.?

During the press conference, Bulls? quarterback Marquel Blackwell was presented with a player-of-the-week trophy for his standout performance against Pittsburgh. Blackwell personally set three USF records in the game. Blackwell said he too was saddened by the national tragedy.

?That?s a crazy situation,? he said. ?I walked into the training room earlier today and I thought the building had caught on fire. Then they showed the replay of the plane.?

Blackwell agreed with Leavitt, saying he believes the team must move forward.

?We?ve just got to stay focused right now, that?s out of our hands, and just pray for the people and the families,? Blackwell said. ?We?ve just got to play and hope nothing else goes wrong; we?re saddened.?

Leavitt said he is proud to live in this country and believes his team, as the country, will have to move on.

?This country is going to have to regroup, it’s going to have to get strong and be resilient,? he said. ?I believe the resiliency of the United States will be strong and I think the same thing has to be for our football team.?

Leavitt said even with pushing forward, his team should feel the sadness of the tragedy and should know what is happening. He said it should have an impact for them.

?It?s not going to be easy (to move forward) emotionally,? he said. ?It?s difficult putting into perspective what has happened.?

Rob Brannon covers football and can be reached at