Every year in college football the search begins anew. Starters graduate, and coaches scramble to find their replacements. Can last year’s backup become this year’s starter? Can this player return from injury, or is that redshirt freshman capable of filling a role?
These are the questions that rattle through coaches’ brains.
Knowing that Jim Leavitt can count on Marquel Blackwell and Kawika Mitchell is easy, but who’s going to fill Joe Morgan’s spot at safety, or who can step up and find a spot in the rotation at wide receiver?
The biggest change this year is the quality of the Bulls’ depth, as Leavitt has filled the second and third string with some talented players who could make a difference. With Oklahoma, Arkansas and Southern Miss on the schedule, Leavitt will be counting on many of those younger players to play crucial minutes against those top teams.
Here’s a look at some Bulls who haven’t made a big impact yet but could become the answer to some of Leavitt’s most probing questions:
As part of the Bulls’ quartet at tailback last year, Callum only made one start. A late arrival from Jones (Miss.) Community College in 2001, Callum was immediately behind the other backs in camp. However, he made the most of his opportunities and shined when he got on the field. Against Western Illinois in his lone start last year, Callum ran for 80 yards on 19 carries and tied a USF record with four touchdowns.
Callum seems primed for USF’s one-back set. A solid 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Callum has a quick first step, hitting the holes in an instant. He possesses breakaway speed, which enticed Florida State, with whom he originally signed out of high school. Callum displayed his ability to take it the distance against Liberty as he raced 62 yards for the score, the longest run by a Bull all season.
Callum finished second on the Bulls a year ago with 338 yards rushing on 62 attempts. His 5.5 yards per carry, best on the squad, gave an indication of just how explosive Callum can be. Look for Callum to create some space between himself and the other four backs on the team, though each will get a chance to show his abilities.
Callum also has the talent to line up in the slot as a fifth wideout for the Bulls, and he impressed on kick returns a year ago, gaining 150 yards on nine attempts with a long of 32 yards.
No position is more crowded than wide receiver, with 19 players vying for playing time. Count on Bain to be one of those who earns a prominent role in the Bulls’ four- and five-wide receiver sets. Boasting a 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame with ample speed, Bain has what it takes to find a role as one of the Bulls’ wideouts.
Bain was among a heralded group of freshmen receivers that redshirted in 2001, including Marcus Edwards, Cedric King and C.J. Lewis. All of them will become key components of USF’s spread offense, but Bain will be the first.
The rotation outside is thick, with leading receivers Chris Iskra and Huey Whittaker back, along with Elgin Hicks, who transferred from Florida but played sparingly last season. But with a 32-inch vertical leap and a knack for the deep ball, Bain will force his way into some playing time.
Like Maurice Jones did in 2001, Davenport will entrench himself at the other outside linebacker this season. Possessing outstanding speed and quickness, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Davenport is usually faster than the running backs he’s chasing, which is no surprise since he used to be one.
At small school power North Florida Christian, Davenport ran for 800 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons, and flashed his speed on the track with a 11.1 100 meters. Originally recruited as a running back, Davenport redshirted in 1999 and picked up four carries in eight games at running back in 2000. Davenport stayed there until spring 2001 when he was converted to linebacker.
The change benefited him greatly, as he saw action in all 11 games in 2001. He even made a start against Connecticut, when Mitchell was out attending a funeral.
With a superb ability to cover ground, Davenport recorded 22 tackles and three stops behind the line of scrimmage. Expect those totals to quadruple in 2002 as opposing teams focus on how to stop seniors like Mitchell and tackles Tavares Jurineack and Greg Walls, allowing Davenport all kinds of room from his spot at weak-side linebacker to roam the field making tackles.
When the head coach goes out of his way to move a player to another position just because, “We have to find a place for him to play,” that’s a very good sign.
Royal enrolled in January as a linebacker out of Wharton High School, but the true freshman’s play has so impressed Leavitt that he moved him to defensive end. Out from the shadow of Jones, Mitchell and Davenport, Royal should find a home in the rotation at defensive end very soon.
With Emerson Morris battling back from a broken leg and missing time to catch up on his academics, Royal will probably be the first man off the bench to spell Chris Daley and Shurron Pierson at end. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Royal will be a disruptive force for opposing quarterbacks and should be able to handle containing running backs trying to turn the corner.
Whether end remains Royal’s permanent position or he eventually shifts back to linebacker is uncertain, but count on this Tampa native making an impact in a hurry.
Standing 6 feet tall and weighing a little more than 170 pounds, Camon would not seem like the first guy to be mentioned when talking about big hitters. But on the Bulls, few can pack the punch like Camon.
A special teams’ dynamo, Camon made his presence felt whenever a kick went up in the air. Along with Kevin Verpaele and Sidney Simpson, Camon made other teams’ returners dread catching the ball. Against Pittsburgh, Camon had five stops, including three on special teams.
With J.R. Reed firmly cemented at free safety, Camon, a sophomore, might have trouble finding many starts. But with uncertainty at strong safety following the loss of Joe Morgan, Camon could see time there, and will also figure into the mix in nickel and dime situations against teams like Oklahoma that will employ multiple-receiver sets.
Sitting high up in the press box at Raymond James, I could hear Camon deliver the kind of hits that don’t have to be seen, only heard.
Originally thought to be at least a year or two away, Davis is declaring himself ready with his performance in fall practice.
A native of the Republic of Panama, Davis had limited experience when he came to the Bulls in 2001 as a late addition to Leavitt’s recruiting class. The redshirt freshman has become a quick learner, and when left tackle Derrick Sarosi was sidelined with a sprained shoulder in the middle of August, Davis got most of the work.
Thought to be a defensive tackle at first, the 6-foot-4, 310 pounder made the switch to offense this spring. An immensely strong player with the ability to bench press more than 400 pounds, Davis might be the man to fill one of the three holes along the USF offensive line.
At this point, the only thing that seems to be holding back Davis is a knowledge of the game and the Bulls’ system. Once he has a firm grasp of both, Davis should be a pillar of the Bulls’ line for years to come.