USF has come a long way

All we wanted was something to get behind.

The year was 2001 and USF, with its puke green and gold colors, couldn’t be farther from a proud sports program. Sure baseball, track and field and softball were successful, but nothing that casual sports fans in the student body could gravitate toward. The major players on the college sports landscape – football and basketball – were hardly sources of pride. The basketball team couldn’t get its left foot out of the way of the right and football was only a few years old, with even fewer fans. The dorms were roughly 8,000 years old, the campus had an industrial park feel to it and the student population was mostly transient with little in the way of identity.

It wasn’t cool to wear USF green and gold back then, and not just because the color scheme was hideous. Walking around campus, all you saw was Gators, Hurricanes or Seminoles gear. And when someone was wearing the old green and gold, it made you stop and do a double take.

A superfan named Terry Lucas began a small tent city next to the Sun Dome, camping before basketball games. It was dubbed GreenbergOpolis in honor of our – cough, cough – esteemed coach Seth Greenberg.

That’s how desperate we were to get behind something.

But burgeoning there was something special. And it was all coming from a single trailer located just beyond the baseball field.

Yes, freshmen, the football offices used to be in a trailer.

Nothing fancy. Heck, it wasn’t even a doublewide. Just one tiny trailer located past the baseball stadium’s left field fence. After practices, the ten or so sweaty, stinky coaches would pile into that trailer and hash out the day’s activities.

The gorgeous facility that sits across from to the Sun Dome? Nothing but a far-off concept. But you always got the feeling Leavitt wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

He was a hard-nosed guy with a vision to build from the bottom up. I always suspected that if Leavitt won the lottery, he wouldn’t take the money – he’d give it away and find a way to earn it.

If he didn’t build it from scratch, he didn’t want it.

He was the perfect coach to launch the program – the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a dark alley. At practice, you half expected him to grab a helmet and start hitting guys. In fact, he did that one time, head-butting a player in celebration – only Leavitt wasn’t wearing a helmet and wound up with a nice gash under that unruly, spiky hair.

But the players loved his intensity, his dedication, his moxie. They knew he was one of them and bought into his hard-working philosophy. You could see it in the eyes of guys like J.R. Reed, Kawika Mitchell, Joe Morgan and Marquel Blackwell.

They believed, and so did I.

The football team got the program’s first big win that year, beating Pitt on the road as a 22-point underdog. On a broader scope it was a symbolic win, bigger than anyone realized at the time. That year modern student dorms began popping up on campus. Plans for Greek houses took shape. People started talking about how accurate quarterback Marquel Blackwell was rather than how bad B.B. Waldon’s free-throw shooting was. The colors started looking cooler and were tweaked to their current hues two years later. Looking back, that was when USF became a football school and got that long-awaited identity.

Watching USF beat West Virginia Friday brought back a lot of those memories. Trying to read the clock on ESPN as the camera shook from the packed house at Ray Jay made me smile. To know the Bulls have a shot at a major bowl and – dare I say it – a national championship after seeing where this program came from brings a great sense of school pride.

And finally, we all have something to get behind. ???

Brandon Wright covered USF football for the Oracle in 2001 and now works for the St. Petersburg Times.