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Stepping out of a shadow

After patiently waiting in the wings for three seasons, Ronnie Banks’ day in the sun has finally arrived.

Banks will become the fourth starting quarterback in USF’s history when he steps under center in the Bulls’ season opener Saturday against Alabama.

Sitting in front of a room filled with reporters at Tuesday’s media luncheon, Banks calmly basked in the limelight, answering any question thrown his way while showing no signs of anxiety regarding his first collegiate start.

The biggest question is if Banks can step in and fill the shoes of former quarterback Marquel Blackwell, who guided the Bulls for the past four seasons.

Banks constantly reiterated that he can’t fill those shoes, and he knows all too well what Blackwell has done for this program.

For three seasons he watched Blackwell at work. He saw first hand what his predecessor did for USF.

“He did some great things for this program,” Banks said. “Hopefully, I can do the same.”

It is almost impossible to dispute that Blackwell helped transform USF into the team it is today. The record books show that Blackwell is the most established quarterback in USF history.

However, when it comes to emulating the debuts of former USF quarterbacks, it is not Blackwell’s start that shines brightest.

No USF quarterback has ever lost his first start, but that really isn’t too staggering. What is staggering, however, is that USF starting quarterbacks have won by an average of 52 points.

In 1997, Chad Barnhardt led the Bulls in their inaugural season. It’s the one game no USF fan could ever forget. Barnhardt opened the USF program by leading the Bulls to an 80-3 victory against Kentucky Wesleyan at the old Tampa Stadium. That victory is still the largest in school history.

In 1998, Glenn Gaunt became the second quarterback to start for the Bulls. Although he only had three career starts, he led USF to a 69-3 victory against Cumberland in his debut.

In 1999, Blackwell’s debut was the smallest margin of victory for any starter, a 21-6 victory against Western Kentucky.

Banks knows a little about the history of USF starters. And as he did throughout the press conference Tuesday, he calmly addressed the difference in his debut, making a valid point.

“I thought about that a couple of days ago,” Banks said. “You look at who Marquel played against. I’m playing on national television, on ESPN, so it’s going to be quite an experience.”

Nobody expects Banks to lead the Bulls to a massive blowout like his predecessors, and some may not even be expecting him to win. The starting quarterbacks before him have set a high standard, perhaps even unreachable.

Even if Banks doesn’t debut like those before him, it will be his performances over the season that determine how he is remembered in USF football history. But if the Bulls can make Alabama its sweet home Saturday, Banks will have left behind mighty footsteps of his own.