USF has special place for Raymond, senior class

Senior Mistral Raymond hasn’t had a moment to put into perspective how everything played out during his time at USF.

That’s because he envisioned his rise through the USF ranks – from trim, wide-eyed walk-on to do-it-all cornerback – all along.

“One thing about me is I never sell myself short,” Raymond said. “When I made the decision to come to USF under the circumstances I did come here – regardless of what the circumstances were – I saw myself as a major contributor. That’s why I do what I do.”

Raymond even saw himself a major contributor someday while he was wreaking havoc at junior college in Iowa.

With no scholarship offers out of high school, he began getting noticed by smaller FBS schools such as Temple as time passed.

Eventually, Raymond moved back to the Tampa area to be with family after two years, and he got in touch with the USF coaches about walking on the team.

In 2008, his first year at USF, Raymond played only in mop-up duty. But in 2009, he started four games, and this season, he has been one of the cornerstones of the USF defense.

“He plays with a lot of confidence. He’s got a little swagger about him,” defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “You’d like to have about four of him back there. Football makes sense to him.”

Upon arriving at USF in January with the rest of coach Skip Holtz’s newly appointed staff, defensive backs coach Rick Smith saw potential in Raymond, who at the time wasn’t on scholarship but was poised to be a major contributor to USF in 2010.

Smith said Raymond, who weighed about 175 pounds when he first got to USF in 2008 and is now up to 195, had to bulk up to reach his full potential.

“Physically, he was weak. He hadn’t taken the weight room real serious,” Smith said. “I tried to explain to him he had good tools. But next year, when he’s a senior, when they come through and do the combine stuff here on campus, I said, ‘Son, you’re going to have your shirt off and they’re going to want you to do 225 pounds on the bench press, and you either impress or you don’t.”

Perhaps even more impressive about Raymond is that he learned – and excelled in – three different positions while at USF. In 2009, he worked mostly at nickel and safety, but this year, he’s started all but one game at cornerback.

“It’s pretty remarkable what he’s done mentally to be able to categorize nickel, corner and safety,” Smith said. “I think he’s got a chance to maybe play on Sundays. He needs to get in the weight room after the season’s over and get stronger. He’s made great progress.”

Raymond said he’s thought about the NFL but is focusing on finishing the season strong and leading USF to a win over Connecticut Saturday on Senior Day, which has come too fast for Holtz.

“They’ve been incredible,” Holtz said of the seniors. “I think those guys are setting a great foundation for the way that you build a program. That’s kind of my group. Everybody’s got a position meeting they go to. My position is that senior class. Those are the guys I rely on, I count on, I’ve really developed a relationship with. I think they’re playing great right now. I couldn’t be more proud of what they’re accomplishing with the things they’re doing right now.”

The Bulls still have a chance to finish tied for the best regular season record in school history, and Raymond said he’s been blessed to be a part of it.

“Tremendous, man,” Raymond said. “It’s such a great group of guys, such a great senior class. The coaching staff came in, they really just loved everything about their players and their players bought in to what they were trying to set in stone. The way the team has progressed, and everything the team has been – it’s real special.”